Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Improving Instruction in Coaching Adolescent Cross Country Skiers

As coaches of adolescent cross country skiers, we've got busy lives.  Who really has time to identify and review best practice literature about instructional design and assessment in sport.  I recently came across some material from a UK based educational researcher, Dylan Wiliams, whose video ties together some nice ideas to reflect on about how we can be more effective in how we deliver feedback to the young athletes that we work with.

Dylan Wiliams on Formative Assessment

Wiliams has five big ideas about formative assessment that are relevant in every way the work we do advancing skill acquisition of our athletes.

Clarifying, Sharing, and Understanding Learning Intentions and Success Criteria

To improve learning for athletes we work with, we need to make sure that the learning intention is explicit. 'Today we are working on our flexing at our hips to 45 degrees when we one skate'.  Learning is enhanced as well when we make the success criteria clear.  'Start in a tall position, with our hands in front of our face...'

Pretty simple thing to do, but very important if we want to help learning take place more quickly.

Engineering effective discussions, activities, and learning 

Asking questions is a good way to gauge how much your athletes are understanding what it is you are teaching.  Coaches often listen for the correct answer, rather than listening to what it is that athletes do understand.  By listening, we can get an idea of what understandings are still missing and focusing our instruction on those things rather than moving on to new understandings.

Providing Feedback that moves Learning Forward

Wiliams writes that feedback needs to create thinking to be effective.  'Good job' or 'way to go' do not stimulate thinking that moves learning forward. As coaches, we can be reviewing the success criteria, showing the athlete the video clip of them performing the skill and asking them to identify which part of the skill they still need work on.

Activating Learners as Owners of their Learning

This idea is about creating a shared responsibility for learning.  Wiliams shares an example of giving students a red card and a green card where red means 'I don't understand' and green means ' I do understand'.  in a ski coaching environment this might look like putting some green tape around one pole and red tape around another pole, then when checking for understanding asking athletes to hold up the appropriately coloured ski pole as to their own level of understanding.

Having athletes do a self assessment is another method of creating ownership.  If success criteria are clear, students can self assess or peer assess their level of skill acquisition and understanding.

Activate learners as Instructional Resources for One Another

When learning intentions and success criteria are clear, and athletes have a clear picture of the intended learning, they are very capable of giving each other feedback as to their performance relative to the success criteria.  This is particularly possible when an exemplar of performance is provided for students via a video clip.

Improving our abilities as coaches is important.  We can learn much from the educational world, where researchers do extensive investigation in improving instructional design and assessment.

I am thrilled to announce I will be coaching this year with @xcbraggcreek ski club.  I have taken a year off of coaching to reflect on where I have come from and where I want  to go next.  I am glad to land in Bragg Creek where I will work with former national team and Univ of New Mexico athlete, Flora Giesbrecht.

Happy September!