Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Communicate high standards and confidence in students through feedback

In general, feedback is most effective when it is prioritized, actionable, constructive, timely, and specific (Ambrose et al, 2010). However the tone of your feedback can also have an impact on student success. Students who are at risk for experiencing stereotype threat or imposter syndrome also tend to interpret critical feedback differently from their peers. Claude Steele describes this in Whistling Vivaldi as such:

“The mere fact of being black, in light of the stereotypes about it, creates a quandary over how to interpret critical feedback on academic work. Is the feedback based on the quality of their work or on negative stereotypes about their group’s abilities? This ambiguity is often a contingency of black students’ identity” (2010: 162).

As an instructor, you can practice delivering effective feedback by:

  • Giving students multiple opportunities for low-stakes practice and feedback such as draft submissions, small quizzes, or in-class exercises.
  • Communicating your confidence in your students’ abilities - remind students that learning is a process, but that you believe in their potential for success with practice and effort (Cohen et al, 1999).
    • “The comments I provide [below] are quite critical but I hope helpful. Remember, I wouldn’t go to the trouble of giving you this feedback if I didn’t think, based on what I’ve read in your [work], that you are capable of meeting the higher standard I mentioned” (Cohen et al, 1999).


Ambrose, S…. (2010). How learning works: 7 research-based strategies….

Cohen, G.L.; Steele, C.M., & Ross, L.D. (1999). The mentor’s dilemma: Providing critical feedback across the racial divide. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 25, 1302-1318.

Steele, C. (2010) Whistling Vivaldi: and other clues to how stereotypes affect us. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

GO TO:  Stereotype Threat  |  Imposter Syndrome