Coaching Students Through Feedback

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Articles referenced are hyper-linked.

Today started out like any other weekend morning. I woke up, poured my coffee, and powered up the IPad for my daily PD ritual: Twitter and blog reading. As I browsed the articles and read a few updated posts, something caught my eye.  Among the hashtags and updates was the quiet retweet of a blog. Something about the title attracted me, so I followed the link. For the next hour I was totally engrossed in what I was learning on the website Authentic Education and a few blogs entries written by Dr. Grant Wiggins, President of Authentic Learning and co-author of the program Understanding by Design.  One of his blog entries in particular really resonated with me: “Feedback-How Learning Occurs”. Here is the beginning of his post:

Feedback is a word we use unthinkingly and inaccurately.  We smile at a student, say “good job!” and call it feedback.  We write “B-“at the top of a paper and consider it feedback.  We share a score on the state test with a student and his parents and consider it feedback. But feedback is something different. It is useful information about performance. It is not praise, it is not evaluation, it is not a number on a standardized test. So, true feedback is critical—perhaps the key element—in effective learning. -Grant Wiggins

Now let’s pair this with the wiki definition of feedback below:

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The key part of this which I focused on was “….used as a basis for improvement“.

Now, a few things to note: I tend to think systemically.   My thinking process revolves around (and among, and between) relationships and connectedness, seeing separate ideas as systems. Synthetic thinking. When I am introduced to something new, I immediately begin connecting ideas and configuring information in ways that make sense—bringing different parts together into a whole. This is why things like integrated curriculum, contextual understandings, and even PBL are such natural and comfortable areas for me.  So naturally, I pulled out a Hattie & Temperley article on feedback (here) which I’d read a while back and began synthesizing information. Considered together, the article written by Dr. Wiggins seemed to help bring these big ideas into focus for me. I won’t bore you with the connections I made between the two. Unless you ask 🙂

I then navigated to another article by Dr. Wiggins, “The Shift From Teaching Content To Teaching Learning“. This is a fascinating article on changing our mindsets and moving from teaching content to being learning coaches. What I got was this: I don’t want my feedback, or teaching, to be a “yes you did this correctly” or “no you need to work  on this”.  I want to coach the learning process11 itself. I want students to understand the results of their thinking and the outcomes of their ideas. In this way they can begin developing the self-regulation and meta-cognition processes they need in order to experience understanding.  I want the feedback to serve as a push forward, not a destination to which they arrive. I found myself fascinated with this joining of topics: feedback and coaching.

I pulled out a stack of narratives written by my students which I’d brought home to “grade” over the break. My focus at this point was on applying the principles of effective feedback and coaching their learning. I also wanted to compare my results with how I might have done this before. How was my feedback different this time? How did I approach this task, compared to the way I approached it before? Below are some examples of my changes:

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In each of the examples above, my first feedback was more “destination” focused (and more like advice):

You did this – Now do this -Here is your score.

In the second attempt, I tried to design my feedback as more of a tool, while including some “learning coaching” within it.  I think this is much higher quality feedback and will hopefully lead to greater internalization and understandings on my students’ part. When mastering a process, Hattie’s research points to delayed feedback as being most effective. So I think this will further the effects I’m after.

What I’m understanding is that feedback is the journey, rather than the final destination.

I am eager to continue exploring these ideas as I shift the goal of feedback from an outcome, performance based judgment- such as  “You scored a 3!” -to one which truly serves as a vehicle for shaping my students’ understandings and strengthening their conceptual knowledge of writing. I want to make sure that, as the definition above reads, my feedback is given as a basis for improvement. I want to be careful that it is serving as a means to an end, and not the end itself.

I can’t wait to share these remarks with my students. What is your system of giving feedback? How would you classify the purpose it serves? How is it evolving? How can you incorporate more opportunity for-and combine- effective feedback and learning coaching?

Sources:  http://grantwiggins.wordpress.com;  http://www.authenticeducation.org; education.qld.gov.au/ originally published at http://rer.sagepub.com/content/77/1/81; The Power of Feedback, John Hattie & Helen Temperley. Review of Educational Research, March 2007, Vol. 77, No. 1, pp. 81–112.; Wikipedia-dictionary.

All sources downloaded and linked within the article on 12/29/13.

Harnessing Positive Energy

The end of the first semester is a good time to reflect on the year thus far. But often times, that reflection is tilted toward a sea of negativity. We talk about what we haven’t done, where the students aren’t yet, how annoyed we are with this or that. Instead, what if we shift that focus to what has already been accomplished. Let’s decide to shine a light on all that has gone right!20131215-081356.jpg

In thinking about my first semester, I can’t help but smile when I think about:

The kid who didn’t like to read four months ago who excitedly showed me his newest book choice Friday.
The touching Veterans Day program our kids and committee put on.
The beautiful choir performance I was blessed to see this week.
Our Reading Possee and the excitement they’ve brought to local neighborhoods.
The positive relationships I have with the parents of my students.
The motivated kids who are at my door every Tuesday and Thursday morning for tutorials.
Our new laptops and IPads!
The volunteer who graciously gave her time and expertise as she came and spoke with students about our garden designs.
My first TLAP lesson, The Maya Mystery Experience, and how motivated the students were during that unit.
My ever growing PLN and the invaluable learning I’ve experienced.
The way my students are engaging in discussions and giving feedback to one another each and every day.

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We have much more learning to do this year. Time is valuable now more than ever as we work to catch up from the ice days and tightly packed curriculum. But we have so much to celebrate and be positive about!

As you go through your last week before break, inevitably worrying about time and content to cover, I encourage you to reflect on your own proud moments and the incredible growth that has taken place in your students at this point. Celebrate the small moments because, when considered together, they show an engaged, motivated and successful group of kids who have already come leaps and bounds! Know that you have made a difference, and the world is a different place because of the lives you touch. We have a mighty purpose!

Let your positivity shine this week, and close out your first semester with the excitement and enthusiasm with which you began the year, because you’re a beacon of light to many!

20131215-081520.jpgHappy last week of 2013!

Fielding A Winning Team

What teacher leaders can learn from football.

I love the movie Remember The Titans.  This film is based on the true story of Coach Herman Boone and his experience at T.C. Williams High School in Alexadria, Virginia in the 1970’s. So many messages and so much inspiration in this Hollywood version of a team facing, and overcoming, challenge and adversity.  I think we can learn a lot from football.

One of my favorite coaches of all time is Tony Dungee. Not only a Superbowl-winning coach and accomplished author, but a successful man. His wisdom and morale stance is something I have admired for a long time. During the past five ice days I’ve had plenty of time to watch a little football and listen to Coach Dungee as he comments on the games being played.  I’ve also had a chance to catch up on our local Texas high school football season as we edge closer and closer to the greatest feat of all time in these parts…the Texas State Championship game.  And it got me to thinking about the lessons of football, and how we might apply those in our leadership roles.

Coaching Teams To Victory

bearcatsTalent abounds on many teams. One local high school team in particular is fielding 70 and 80 points per game as they drive on toward another state championship appearance. Week in and week out this team travels to playoff games, and begins emptying the bench towards the end of the second quarter. Yet the talent is just as strong on the second and third rotations. This team has depth. Playmakers and game-changers are found in every position at every level. How does this staff continue fielding the best of the best?  

Building A Team 

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Building relationships and a team mindset is the first order of business for coaches developing successful programs and continues throughout the season. They seek to develop trust, to support each other, to play to each other’s strengths and have an “all for one and one for all” mindset. These relationships are developed on and off the field and are tended to day in and day out.

“There are certain bridges that are not worth crossing, no matter what others think. Loyalty and relationships are important.”  – Tony Dungee

Just as coaches develop teams among players, they also develop cohesiveness on their staff.  The contributions of team members are valued and individual talents are recognized and used to better the program. Loyalty is important on a staff and imperative to healthy team dynamics. Thoughts and ideas are shared and “locker room talk” is just that. All members know, and appreciate, the freedom to engage in honest discourse as they seek to improve their program collectively. There is an awareness that breaking trust and confidences has a detrimental affect on morale, which leads to a negative impact on the larger team.  Players don’t have confidence in coaches who don’t demonstrate confidence in each other. This leads to program break-downs and contributes to a less-than-cohesive team. You can put this team on the field, but you won’t win many ballgames.  

Teacher leaders must have this same relationship-minded approach when leading teams. You cannot impact a teacher without first having a strong relationship in place; one of mutual trust, respect, and appreciation. Why should your team follow you? What makes a team want to buy-in to the core values of the program? It starts with the relationships that have been built. Honor your team by developing strong, authentic bonds which will be able to withstand the winds of change and struggle that are sure to arise as you go through your own season.

Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman, in an open letter to Texas High School coaches, wrote “Be who you say you are.  Where there is no truth, there is no trust. If there is no trust, there is no relationship. If there is no relationship, there is no value or substance to what you are doing.”

Reading The Field 

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Ever notice how some players seem to have a knack for anticipating the movement on the field as the play develops?  They can read the field. They’ve studied tape. They know when X player does Y motion, it means Z. But it also seems as if some players can just anticipate- in split second reaction time- and adjust accordingly. They see the gaps, they “feel” that secondary player’s next move. If the route is blocked ahead, they quickly recover and seem to create another equally successful one. Successful teacher leaders have this same knack. They can anticipate staff reactions, and make decisions on how to put team members in the best position to move the ball down the field. Are you aware of the unique gifts and struggles on your team? Do you anticipate where clarity might be needed and adjust accordingly? Do you delegate according to strengths, gifts, and motivations on your team?

Having A Game Plan 

The best coaches are the ones who have studied the game, considered their own team strengths and weaknesses, and have a play book that allows for multiple ways to score. Their overall philosophy is intact – “We run the spread”….”We run a veer”… “We use a nickel defense”… and is built around the talent present on their team, but they do have a variety of plays that can be used depending on the situation they are facing. Talented teacher leaders recognize strengths, stay aware of opposition, and see challenges as opportunities to develop creative ways of scoring buy-in. They are aware of district initiatives and beliefs and build their programs around this common vision.

Breaking Down Film

Teams all over the state arrive at the field house on Saturday mornings to break down game film. Why do they do this? To reflect, learn, celebrate andfilm grow. Why did this occur in the first quarter? Where was our tight end during that play? The coaching staff will gather this information, identify trends and patterns, reflect on their play, and share this information with players. Adjustments are made as they go throughout the season. Successful leaders study student achievement data.  They analyze performance. They break down plays and look for areas of strength and opportunities for growth, they collaborate with others to identify causes and make adjustments. Staff leaders guide teachers in developing authentic ways to share this information with their players (students) and set goals. They celebrate successes and work with others to strengthen the team. Above all, they remain learners of the game.

Sticking To Fundamentals

“If you want to win, do the ordinary things better than anyone else does them day in and day out.” Coach Chuck Noll

What are the fundamentals for a sound football program? In that same letter Coach Sherman advised, “Sometimes coaches get too tied up in the scheme and they sacrifice fundamentals in the process. There has to be a consistent commitment to this from beginning to end of season. It’s still a game of blocking and tackling, throwing and catching. That will never change. If you do those things well, you will win regardless of what scheme you run.”  What are the fundamentals of your program? How much of a priority does your staff place on team planning, looking at student work, lesson development, vertical alignment, or crafting rigorous and authentic assessments? These and other fundamentals must be practiced and protected. Without them, we’re fielding a team that can get a few first downs, but lacks the consistency needed to develop and grow as the year goes on.

Identify Leaders That Emerge

One thing that always happens on a team is that at some point, those natural leaders begin to emerge. The team seems to gravitate toward them. They are respected, trusted, and listened to. They can raise morale and motivation. They can have a huge impact on the team collectively. We are wise to effectively engage them; put them into positions of leadership and let them spearhead programs that are important to our program. Good leaders area always on the lookout for ways to grow other leaders.

Motivation and Inspiration

Just as Denzel Washington portrays a coach with an uncanny ability to motivate those around him, we must also be skilled in the art of inspiration. What drives your team? Where you can find, and build, motivation? Sometimes, as we see in the movie, out of struggle comes greatness because the coaches took the opportunity to turn a negative into a positive. They used a struggle to build motivation. How do you find ways to motivate- not just the playmakers, but the team as a whole? How do you find ways to unite your team around a common goal and break down resistance to change? These skills should be developed, polished, and ever present as you learn and grow with your teams. Do not underestimate the power and far-reaching effect of a motivated (or unmotivated) teacher.

It’s important to remember that it’s the journey that matters more than the scoreboard. I encourage you to consider how your role in education relates to football, and what steps you can take as a team to achieve a great season. If we practice, train, reflect, and keep working to get better the winning will take care of itself.

I’ll leave you with some thoughts from Tony Dungee on being a mentor leader:

Image Credits: Image of sport/pr/photos; topnews.com; lehighvalleylive.com; andthevalleyshook.com

Lessons That Last

“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as who you become by achieving them.”-  Zig Zigler

Earlier this year, I shared the above quote with my students after a goal setting activity. I asked them to think about what it meant, and a great life-changing lesson was born. Many shared some pretty profound thoughts and ideas, and those goals about “learn my multiplication facts” or “read 25 books” soon transformed into things like, ‘learn strategies to help me remember things’ or ‘decide what type of writing captures my attention and why’. I asked them to keep those ideas in their mind as they work toward their own goals this year. I wasn’t sure how much of an impact that day would have on them but I wanted to take goal setting to a more personal and meaningful place— a life-impacting place. I wanted them to learn about themselves as individuals and as learners. I wanted them to develop into people who understand what drives them, what challenges them, and how to tap into their own intrinsic drive. I wanted to give them purpose.

Fast forward a few months and here we are approaching the holidays. Yes, that wonderful time of year when students are getting tired and restless and teachers are feeling the vacation bug. So where are we now in terms of our drive and our motivation? Apparently, in a pretty doggone good place.

I have a student who left Thursday for an extended absence. I sent him along with a few assignments and promised to catch him up upon his return. That was Wednesday. On Thursday night he emailed me this:

Ms. Logue, just wondering if there is anything else I need to do while I’m gone besides what you gave me.

That one sentence email from my 4th grade student speaks volumes. He has been given assignments, and told that I’d catch him up later. He’s off the hook so to speak until he returns. But yet, here he is, not even a day into it, emailing me at 9pm asking if there’s anything else. I think what he meant was:

I am learning to be self-directed. I am fully engaged in learning for the sake of learning, and even though I don’t HAVE to do more, I want to. Can you please reply with something you need me to complete that perhaps you forgot.

So I did.

I also including a picture I had taken that day of our new desks (he missed the delivery!) and told him to head on over to Netschool and complete his work each day that he can. He is going to have “virtual class” this next week thanks to our tech integration. Who am I to stand in the way of this by saying, “oh you go ahead, we will catch you up later”. No. Our kids today don’t want that. Not if we are empowering them to drive themselves toward achievement. And so I learn another lesson from a 9 year old.

Oh, by the way, this extended absence? He was selected to appear on a television show and he’s off shooting it. image

In between building digital graphs and creating a timeline of Cabeza De Vaca’s trip through Texas.

Am I actually competing with a once in a lifetime experience, and WINNING? Where does our influence end?

Imagine this: It doesn’t.

 

Growth Mindset

“A river cuts through rock, not because of it’s power, but it’s persistence” – Jim Watkins.

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How important is a growth mindset? Do you believe in the power of that mindset?

Often we have students who really challenge us. They may have gaps in learning, retention issues, behavior issues, lack of experiences to build upon. We have to ask ourselves a fundamental question: “Do I believe achievement ability is fixed”? Until you answer this for yourself, you’re just treading water. Counting off days and averaging scores until the year ends and your work with them is finished.

If you believe that with effort, opportunity, motivation and instruction, ability can be influenced, how are you conveying that to your students? Do they have a growth mindset?

I believe as educators, developing this in our students is our first job. It matters not how much you subscribe to the philosophy. What matters is how much they do. What steps do you take to create, support, and build this?

I put a lot of emphasis on effort. I recognize and reward even tiny steps forward. I announce to my students -daily- that today will be a great day for their mind (they love that). I don’t always just accept what they produce. I ask for more. I tell them, “I will help you, I’ll walk down this long bumpy road with you, but I won’t stand idly by with you. You’re going to have to walk along side me”. I give them choices but having a fixed mindset isn’t one of them. My room is sometimes loud. We have been known to stop and play Celebration by Kool & The Gang for a random kid accomplishing a random feat. I tweet quality work, and each student knows what quality means for them. They also have goals in place so what was quality today will look different next time. It must. Because we have a growth mindset. We expect to succeed. The journey is what looks different for each kid. Not the destination. The destination is achievement. For all.

I actually said out loud today, during a benchmark, “What matters today isn’t your score. What matters is your thinking and how you describe it to me on that test”. I actually stopped and thought to myself, did I just say that a benchmark score doesn’t matter? Even more amazing, not a single kid looked at me funny or responded at all. They know that what I value is their thinking and their growth.

For those who are now nervous about “scores” and tests…. I’m pleased to report that despite my declaration that a score was meaningless, every student in my class improved from their last assessment. One student who scored a 25 on his previous STAAR test earned a 50% today. It’s only December and he has doubled his score.

I don’t always accomplish all the things on my plate on any given day. I’m not always on track with where the papers say I should be. But I never skimp on this. It happens daily, no matter what. It’s a decision I must make every day and what I don’t get done, it will be there tomorrow. It’s just how I’ve evolved. It’s the only way I know how to teach. We protect some things at the expense of others. We protect what we value. What do you protect?

I am convinced this is perhaps the most important influence you can ever have on a life. I challenge you to start building that growth mindset today. Turn your attention to that one most important job of all. Watch the vision develop into a reality.

Our students need it. For many, their success will depend on it. For some, the only way they will receive it is through you.

Now I think I’ll go tackle some emails and paperwork….