This is easy, you can do it! Feedback during mathematics problem solving is more beneficial when students expect to succeed

  • Emily R. FyfeEmail author
  • Sarah A. Brown
Original Research


Students’ problem-solving success depends on more than their knowledge and abilities. One factor that may play a role is the teacher’s expectations of students. The current study focused on how a teacher’s explicitly-stated expectations influence students’ ability to learn from corrective feedback during problem solving. On the one hand, setting low expectations (e.g., this task is hard, you’ll likely fail) may help students avoid disappointment in response to negative feedback, thereby facilitating student learning. On the other hand, setting low expectations may produce a self-fulfilling prophecy in which negative feedback confirms the teacher’s expectations and hinders student learning. In a controlled experiment, undergraduate students (N = 160) were randomly assigned to one of four conditions based on a crossing of two factors: teacher expectations for the student (success or failure) and verification feedback during problem solving (yes or no). Posttest performance revealed that feedback had negative effects when teachers set low expectations for students. Results suggest that basic feedback may be more beneficial when teachers help students set their expectations for success.


Feedback Teacher expectancy Mathematics Problem solving 



Support for this research was provided in part by Institute of Education Sciences, U. S. Department of Education, training Grant R305B130007 as part of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research Postdoctoral Training Program. The authors would like to thank Haley Beers and Alexis Hosch for help with data collection and coding.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychological and Brain SciencesIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA

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