Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Six Signposts towards Excellence in Coaching Adolescents...

I love learning.  I love learning about getting better at the things I love to focus my energy on.  I've recently picked up a book - Richard Hattie's Visible Learning for Teachers (2012, Routledge, NY).  Its amazing really, when you find some reading that speaks to you on many levels.  This book speaks to me about what is really important when teaching kids how to learn a motor skill.  Hattie did a meta-analysis of meta-analysis studies examining teaching and learning influences on student achievement in schools. His research aims to answer the question -what effect does a type of learning influence (such as giving feedback) have on the level of student achievement. His writing has been described as 'the holy grail' of education research books by some reviewers.  He points out early and often, that simply having a positive impact on learning isnt good enough because there is very little that a teacher or coach can do that will not result in some learning.

For me, Hattie's work speaks to the important pieces of structuring learning - which is of course completely relevant to effective coaching in a sport context.  The fact is that coaches can choose to focus on so many different things while helping kids to learn.  What Hattie's research does is measure teaching and learning influences using effect size (e.g. d=.40); in doing so, it makes it possible to compare some types of teaching and learning influences compared to others.  Not all things that that teachers or coaches do have an equal effect. Some are more potent than others in helping learners achieve more.

In his writing, Hattie points to six signposts that identify excellence in teaching and learning.  Here they are:

1. Teachers (Coaches) are the most powerful influences in learning.

2. Teachers (Coaches) need to be directive, influential, caring, actively and passionately engaged in the process of teaching and learning.

3. Teachers (Coaches) need to be aware of what each student (athlete) is thinking and have sufficient knowledge of content so they can provide meaningful and appropriate feedback.

4. Teachers (Coaches) and students (athletes) need to know the learning intentions and criteria for success.  They need to know where they are at, and where they need to go next

5. Teachers (Coaches) need to move from a single idea to multiple ideas - to extend these ideas so learners can construct meaning.

6.  School Leaders (Head Coaches) need to create a culture where 'error' is welcomed as an important step in developing more complex understandings and abilities.

As teachers and coaches we need to recognize that everything we do and say is important.  How we present ourselves matters.  Being passionate about what we teach is one of the most powerful influences we might have.  Instilling a love for something is a big piece of the work we do. We need to have enough knowledge about the subject/sport so that we can give meaningful feedback.  As teachers and coaches we need to help kids see where they are at and where they need to go next. Learning intentions need to be clear to the learners - if not - no wonder they dont learn very quickly.  Developing conceptual understandings of how physical skill builds and why we learn to perform a skill a certain way is key in helping to develop mastery.  Finally, error needs to be embraced as healthy and an important step towards achievement.  Error is how we learn - not something we should feel badly about.  How many times I have provided that explanation when coaching volleyball I couldn't tell you.  Volleyball is a game of errors - a team gains a point only when the other team makes an error.

As coaches of adolescents, we need to remember that much of what we are doing is teaching - teaching motor skills, habits of mind, attitudes, and developing a love of skiing.  Not all teachers are created equal - some teachers have a little something extra - something that engages the kids they work with in a meaningful way.  I encourage you to find out more about what those coaches are doing - cause its worth replicating.

Roy Strum
Canmore, AB


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