Bonnie A. Green, East Stroudsburg University – Oppositional Mindset

Students react in different ways to criticism.

Bonnie Green, professor of psychology at East Stroudsburg University, explores the ways a critical remark has an effect on a student’s learning capabilities.

Bonnie A Green, Ph.D. is an experimental psychologist who specializing in research in the Science of Success, particularly as it relates to academic achievement and reducing recidivism. Through the application of cognitive development, psychometrics, and mathematical modeling, Bonnie is seeking ways to improve educational access, achievement, and success for ALL students, Kindergarten through college, while also seeking ways to assure a healthy transition for people re-entering society following incarceration.

Oppositional Mindset


Anyone who works with students has seen them do some pretty silly things, like skip class or not do their homework. It could be easy to think they are just lazy or don’t care about their learning, but psychology researchers have uncovered dozens of trainable attitudes, behaviors, and thoughts associated with student success.

One example is Oppositional Mindset. In this process, imagine a high school student is told by a teacher, “You write like a second grader.” How would that impact a student? We are finding it depends on several factors.

Does the student care about writing well? Is the comment believable?

If the student doesn’t care about writing well or doesn’t believe the comment, then there is no impact of the negative comment. If the student cares and believes the criticism, he or she will stumble, sometimes just for a matter of seconds, other times it could be years before the student tries to be successful again. Some will never try again.

One of the ways to help a student to keep going even after criticism is to set up the environment so the student experiences a small success. This experience in success has to be both recognizable as a success and big enough to give the student a sense of … “my teacher is wrong about me.” With such a success the negative comment becomes mildly motivational … “I’ll show my teacher that I can be a great writer.”

So, the next time you think a student is being lazy or does care about learning, provide an authentic experience that, though challenging, can enable the student to achieve success. Then watch the growth.