Coaching Students Through Feedback


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:


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:


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.


6 thoughts on “Coaching Students Through Feedback”

  1. I love the reflections in this blog post. Your description of how to use feedback for coaching is fantastic- the inclusion of the student examples is very helpful. I look forward to reading more!


  2. I teach 1st Grade,so I don’t give a lot of written feedback. My feedback tends to be mostly oral. On their papers, its more of stars, stamps and stickers, however, with the oral feedback that I always try to not just give them a “good job” but explain what they did and why it was right! ie: “That’s right, we always start a sentence with an upper case letter!” I like how you mentioned we need to be focused on providing feedback about the learning process not just the end result! Well written article, kudos!


  3. I really appreciated the detail within your post- this is such an important topic! I’ve never thought about “destination” grading, it made so much sense! Part of what I have been focusing on so much the past year or so is developing feedback systems that encourage growth not stifle it. Sounds like you are putting so much thought into your grading, I am fortunate to be able to learn some new strategies from you. Thank you!


    1. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts! I’ve been focusing on it too! It makes sense for me thinking of it in terms of coaching & not an end point. My feedback has become more meaningful I think, thinking of it this way.


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