Make Your Layups: Why some feedback just isn’t effective

Do you ever, when you’re not at school, catch yourself still in school mode?  Maybe you’ve told a kid who was running in Target to slow down or you’ve used your teacher look with complete strangers at a restaurant.  It happens, we have a hard time shutting it off. This weekend I caught myself slipping into school mode and thinking about the level of feedback I was witnessing.

When I was in high school I started working as a basketball referee to make money.  I’ve always enjoyed basketball as a player and coach. Now that I’m too out of shape and too busy for those parts of the game, I stay connected by periodically reffing a few games.  This past weekend I worked four games of sixth grade girls basketball and found myself doing mini observations of the coaches, mostly about their feedback styles.  

At this level of basketball there is still a wide range of skill levels on the court at the same time, some players have clearly been playing and practicing for a long time and others have obviously just begun playing this year.  Being around basketball for so long I often feel like I’ve seen everything, but observing the coaches of these sixth grade teams through the lens of an educator proved very interesting.

Coaches who focus on their team and giving them feedback about their goals (versus yelling at me, the referee, the whole game) often see their teams improve tremendously over the course of a season and find success in the win column.  There are other coaches, however, who seem to be giving great feedback but not winning many games or seeing much improvement. This weekend I realized where the disconnect was most likely happening for one of these coaches.

I started to listen more carefully to one particular coach’s feedback for his team, it was full of the typical basketball jargon but when I really paid attention to his feedback I realized that it was focused on the wrong things.  Saying to someone “make your layups” or “stop dribbling the ball off your foot” doesn’t help them improve. In fact, this level of feedback probably hurts their growth by increasing their frustration level. They know the desired result, they are supposed to make the baskets and dribbling the ball off their foot is bad (duh!), telling them to do those things doesn’t help them improve at all. By focusing on the process instead of the result, the player can actually use the feedback to improve their skill set.  The quality of feedback provided is the true differentiator between successful feedback and wasted feedback.

As I drove home, I started thinking about how my coaching observations connected to the work we do every day with our kids.  The way that we give feedback and the quality of that feedback matter, a lot. Focusing on growth and helping students figure out what comes next in their learning process is a very important piece of helping them find success.  In the short term, not every student is at the same level, so they shouldn’t all have the same end goal. Each student is different and many will achieve their long term goals by following different paths. Providing students with quality feedback allows them to see their next steps clearly as you guide them through their learning.   Improving the ways that we give feedback as teachers is crucial to the growth and success of our students.  

Guiding our students in the learning process requires constant feedback and since we’re giving it so often we should always be thinking about how we can make it as effective as possible.  Solution Tree has a great “White Paper” about this subject that is a quick, easy read and can even serve as a sort of checklist for anyone thinking about giving effective feedback to their students.  Have a look here, it does a much better job than I’ll ever be able to do of explaining feedback, it’s importance, and how to ensure your feedback is effective.  


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s