Feedback: Lessons from the Ball Field

Some of the greatest lessons I learned were on a softball field as a young adult.  Oftentimes, I find myself making connections between that context of learning and the context of learning about instruction.  Let’s make a comparison between a coach on a softball field and a teacher in a classroom and tie it all into feedback, which is one of the most powerful strategies in improving student achievement.

1. During any given practice, a softball player does not receive a score on their performance, but rather specific feedback, such as “hit the middle of the ball” or “keep your head tucked in when swinging.”  This feedback is specific and directed towards one particular player.

What this means for feedback in the classroom: Do not mistake scores for feedback.  Scores are oftentimes an end result and sends the message that learning is done.  Instead, give feedback in relation to the learning target and success criteria in the form of a verbal conversation or written explanation, not a number.  In addition, focus feedback on individuals as opposed to whole-class feedback.

2. When a coach enthusiastically yells “Way to go!” to a player, there’s a sense of pride and accomplishment. It makes them feel good. This is important; however, it also does not give feedback on improvement.

What this means for feedback in the classroom: There is a place for praise in the classroom. But, research shows that praise affect’s a student’s ego, not their achievement.  And, when given in tandem with feedback, praise dissipates the power of the feedback.  The lesson: give praise in the classroom, just separate it from feedback.

3. A coach does not wait until the end of practice and definitely not until the end of the season to give instruction to their players. Feedback is constantly given in the act of learning.

What this means for feedback in the classroom:  The most powerful form of feedback is in the form of formative assessment, done daily and in the act of learning.  A teacher’s “aha’s” about student learning should come daily or weekly as opposed to that happening as a summative assessment is graded.

What other analogies can you think of connecting coaching and instruction through the lens of feedback?  I would love to hear your ideas!

5 thoughts on “Feedback: Lessons from the Ball Field

  1. I found this post to be extremely interesting. I completely agree with your first point; it is extremely important to focus on giving verbal/written feedback rather than just giving numerical scores. I also agree that it is crucial to focus on giving feedback individually rather than just as a class. I have never really put much thought into the second point that you made, but I definitely see what you are saying. I have always found it very important to give praise so that students will not become discouraged; however, I can now see that it should be kept separate from feedback. I still think it is good to be kind with your words while giving feedback, but I definitely agree that students can lose sight of the task at hand when the two are mixed together. If given too much praise while receiving feedback, they may think that they do not need to improve since their work is so praiseworthy.

    Your words in this post were both informative and reiterating, and I know that this post will help me tremendously in my future classroom.

  2. Ellen Dunn

    I, too, played softball growing up, I also cheered. I definitely agree with feedback needing to be directed toward one particular person. The best feedback I received was immediate and specific. My coaches would critique one aspect at a time and describe what I was doing wrong and how to fix it. In addition to telling me what was wrong, they would explain the logic or reason behind the correct posture or position. For example, when I would stunt in cheerleading, I had a problem with dropping my hip while hitting my lib. When the flyer drops her hip in this particular stunt, it throws off her weight and instead of being one straight line that is easy to hold, she becomes crooked and difficult to keep in the air. Knowing the logistics behind the stunt helped me position my body correctly. This specific, directed feedback was much more helpful than if the coach had just rated my stunt on a scale of one to five. I can see where this would carry over into the classroom. You mention verbal conversation and written explanation and these are two very important factors in good feedback.

  3. This is such an interesting way to think about feedback in the classroom! I cheered when I was in school, and it was cool to connect this post to my personal experience. In EDM 310, one of my education classes, we don’t get grades, but we do get feedback. I had never had a class like this before, but I think it’s something teachers should consider doing more often. Like you said, grades send the message that you’re done learning about something, and students should always be learning more. I also thought it was interesting that praise doesn’t affect student’s achievement. That’s very surprising to me! I loved reading your post. Thanks for sharing!

  4. I found this post very interesting. I as well played softball all year round for over half my life. It caught my attention that someone has compared teaching to coaching. I think feedback should be directed towards one student for his or her accomplishment than as a class. Once you see someone struggling or needing a fix it is best to assess the moment when you see it as to waiting until it is to late. I do agree that grades give the illusion that we are done learning on that and it is not the case we are always learning. Great post. It has opened my eyes to the one thing I love and the one thing I want to become.

    EDM310 Student at the University of South Alabama.
    Paula Holt

  5. Justin Thomas

    Good blog post Mrs. Palmer. We should always seek to provide meaningful feedback to our students. This is the best way to ensure they learn the material. Feedback should be instructive, specific, and encouraging. Good feedback will help students become better lifelong learners. It will teach students to evaluate themselves and push them to work harder in the classroom to achieve good grades.

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