Monday, 25 May 2015

Feedback Done Well - an answer as to why some clubs outperform others...

I enjoy learning about ways I can be a better coach, teacher, parent, and friend.  This year, I've picked up John Hattie's Visible Learning for Teachers @visiblelearning .  Hattie is a researcher from New Zealand who pulled together a meta analysis of meta analysis studies of teaching and learning influences and their effect on achievement.  Its ground breaking work, and creates an evidence based picture of the best bang for you buck in terms of things we do as coaches/educators.  His research resulted in an effect size for over 150 influences on achievement, things like, class size, student-teacher relationship, peer feedback, self assessment and teacher feedback.  What his research tells us is that some things are more important than others when it comes to things we do as coaches/teachers and their effect on how effectively students learn.

Feedback from a coach/teacher is in the top ten of the ranking of the most significant influences on student/athlete learning.  Here is a short video of some things to consider when giving feedback to learners:

For feedback to be effective coaches/teachers must have a good understanding of where the learners are and where they are meant to be.  You will find lots of technically brilliant coaches in communities all over, but perhaps the ability to give effective feedback is one of the key determinants of what we recognize as 'development hotbeds'.  Maybe hotbeds exist partly because the coaches there know how to give effective feedback.  Its one of the most important things we can do as coaches/teachers.

It starts with learners having a clear picture of the intended learning outcome and what the success criteria are.  For example, 'today we are working on double poling - success looks like this...' , 'give it a try...'.  Setting up learning for success is only one of the variables that help kids learn.  When they have a clear picture of what they are supposed to learn, they are much more likely to achieve it.  Creating clear learning intentions is key.  Without that, any feedback you give learners is done so in a vacuum - there is no context for feedback if it is all reactive.

Hattie identifies four types of feedback:
- task feedback -  this is feedback on a technical skill - 'here is our arm position at the initiation of a pole plant in a double pole; your arms are there, I want them here"
- process feedback - this is feedback on a strategy to help learn - 'when you learn to one skate, try to count to three while you balance on one foot'
- self regulation feedback - this is feedback to get a learner to reflect on how they've learned - 'how do you know if you are there...'
- self feedback - this is feedback about ability or effort - 'you are working really hard, keep it up, you'll get it...'

As coaches/teachers we need to understand clearly where we want our learners to go, and we need to be able to scaffold the learning so that they see the steps to get there.  This is done through - setting clear learning intentions and success criteria - then providing feedback to learners to help them master the skill.  For feedback to be effective, the learning task also needs to be challenging.  In the context of sport skill acquisition, this is pretty easy to facilitate - being a skilled skier is a challenging task.  Where is the learning going?...

As coaches/teachers we should aim for giving some progress feedback relative to the starting a finishing points - this feedback is the most crucial to learning and is offered in relation to a standard of performance, to prior performance or to success or failure in performing the task. It might look like, 'hey, your hand height looks at the right place at the initation of your pole plant, now i want to see them closer together...'.  According to Hattie, feedback needs to be rapid and constant and should address things like:
- clarifying and sharing the learning intentions and success criteria - e.g. 'hey kids, i'm looking for lots of ankle bend at the initation of your pole plant'
- engineering effective discussions, questions and learning tasks
- being the type of feedback that moves learning forward
- encouring learners to see themselves as the owners of their learning - e.g. ' you can figure this out, think about it, try it and let me know what you think...'
- activating learners as instructional resources for one another - e.g. 'hey, Karly does this really well, have her explain it to you...'

As coaches/teachers we need to   create a picture of what the next step looks like - and for each learner this will be somewhat different depending on their rate of skill acquisition.  We can also foster deeper understanding of skills by providing opportunities to look at a skill in a different way, or explaining it using different language e.g. talk 'propulsive force' and 'drag force' when talking about technique.

Feedback is an important part of motor learning.  Education research can help us to be better at thinking about what we say, how we say it, and how we reinforce it.  Some coaches/teachers are extremely skilled in doing this work.  This is something we can all learn to get better at.

Happy May!

Roy Strum

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Really, are we still talking about Early Specialization in Youth Sport?

Its a constant issue, how much, how early, what type, why?  Not sure what its like in your part of the world, but here in Alberta, its a topic of conversation.  Here is a sample of some of the current interest in this topic:



Newspaper articles:

What is abundantly clear is this is an issue that has not gone away.  At the recent Alberta Sport Leadership conference I attended at session led by Joe Baker from York University.  He is a researcher who has done lots of work in this area.   Web: Twitter @bakerjyorku  At Joe's session, he provided some research based evidence that although the power law of practice states that there is a positive relationship between practice and performance, the best athletes competing as seniors are almost always the ones who had a diversified sport experience until after the adolescent growth spurt.

The four parameters you can look to to see if you're creating an early specialization environment as a coach are the following:

1. early start age in sport
2. early involvement in one sport exclusively
3. early involvement in high intensity training
4. early involvement in competitive sport

When you read the article from the Edmonton Journal about a 9 year old dropping out of spring league in ice hockey, you begin to see that in some sports this really does happen, and to the negative effect of young athletes.  Its easy to pick on a big sport like ice hockey in Canada.  More kids play organized ice hockey in Calgary than live in three of the five biggest cities in Alberta.  Hockey Canada is trying to get the message out that early specialization is not a good thing, but it is a struggle to chart a new course in a sport where early specialization has become mainstream.

Is it an issue in cross country skiing? Sure, in some places, and some communities, I am certain that parents are told, more is better.  And really it works.  13 year olds who ski 500+ hours a year are going to be pretty fit.  The question is: is it the right thing to do to have a 13 year old doing more hours in a year than some 16 year olds.  No matter how keen a young athlete is, or what their early capacity is for training, you've got to ask yourself as a coach - is it the right thing to do? is it in the best interest of the long term development of young athletes.

Winning is fun.  Losing isnt.  Doing too much too early can produce winning results.  But statistics are not on the side of early specialization athletes.

It is refreshing attending a professional conference.  In Alberta our sport leadership conference brings together coaches from all sports once a year to learn from and interact with leading researchers and experts.

Have a great May!

Roy Strum
Canmore, AB