Monday, 13 March 2017

Making Learning Inviting and Engaging

I've been reading lots lately about how to make learning engaging for children and youth.  Over the years that I have been a coach, a summer camp director, a teacher, and a school administrator, I often thought of the key to engagement being enthusiasm.  But as I've read more and reflected more on the topic, I've realized there is more at play to creating inviting and engaging learning for youth.  I've recently been reading John Hattie's Visible Learning in Mathematics (2017).  Hattie is an educational researcher from New Zealand who has conducted meta-analysis research of meta-analysis studies aiming to discern what influences on learning result in the largest gains in achievement.   For me, because of my background as a coach and athlete in cross country skiing, I often find myself building relational knowledge with the reading I do - so instead of Hattie's book simply being a 'how can I improve math achievement, for me, the learning is also about 'how do these ideas relate to creating inviting and engaging ski instructional experiences for children and youth.

Referenced in Hattie's writing is a researcher, William Purkey, wrote an article in 1992 called 'An Introductional to Invitational Theory' published in the Journal of Invitational Theory and Practice.  Purkey states that there are four patterns with which learners perceive the lessons:  intentionally disinviting, intentionally disinviting, unintentionally inviting, and intentionally inviting.  He writes that Teachers (Coaches) who were intentionally disinviting were easily recognizable because of their dismissive and harsh tone.  Coaches who were unintentially disinviting were negative and pessimistic about their students/athletes capabilities - the low expectations were evident to the children they were teaching.  They might sound like 'today we are going to learn one skate, this is really hard, and many of you will struggle with this, so you will have to pay close attention'.  Unintentionally disinviting coaches (teachers) are in essence telling their kids that they will not be successful in the lesson.

Another group of coaches (teachers) are those that are enthusiastic and energetic, but lack a clear plan for the journey of learning.  Children/youth like being with these coaches, but don't benefit as fully as they could because instruction is inconsistent and naive.  This type of coach might sound like 'Good morning future ski champions, today we are going to learn more about offset, and I can not wait to get started'. The instruction is unintentionally inviting because although the focus is on getting the kids excited, what the coach (teacher) says doesnt talk about the kids will learn or why it is important.

The last group of coaches (teachers) consists of those were consistently positive and are sensitive to the needs of the children/youth they are working with.  They take action and promote a growth mindset. Mostly they have an ability to create a sense of instructional urgency.  They share out learning intentions and success criteria and set a tone of achievement with their kids.  These 'intentionally inviting' coaches (teachers) might sound like 'Good morning athletes, you may recall that week we worked on having an upright posture as we offset.  Today we are going to add to that by responding to the terrain by either becoming more upright or less upright depending on the steepness of the hill we are climbing'.  Hattie says that learning intentions are more than just statements to convey what is important about what is to be learned, they also a means for building relationship with each athlete.

A great deal can be learned from educators about how to optimize learning, especially with children and youth.  Its great to reflect on your own coaching and on the type of messaging you give your athletes and to what degree your comments or framing make learning inviting and engaging.  We only get the kids we work with for a short while, lets make the most of it by thinking about how we go about the work

Roy Strum
Canmore, AB

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Educational Research and Coaching - any connections worth noting?

My world has changed alot over the last year and a half.  One of the biggest shifts has been moving into an administration position at an elementary school.  It has been a full on transformation in time and focus.  I'm loving it, and yet I miss the day to day immersion in the world of ski coaching.  Nonetheless, I reflect often as I learn and grow in my new role as an Assistant Principal on how so much of what drives good teaching and learning also relates deeply to what is effective in working with children in cross country ski youth development.

My Director is a brilliant woman who thinks about, talks about, reads about, writes about improvement in student achievement.  She has introduced us to a researcher out of New Zealand, Helen Timperley, who has researched and written extensively on improving student achievement.  Her book, Realizing the Power of Professional Learning has become the major piece of professional literature driving improvement in learning and academic success.  She has created a model she calls the Knowledge Building Inquiry Cycle that describes both what teachers ( and I think it applies equally to coaches) need to do bring about the largest impact on learning possible.

Timperley says that as coaches (teachers) we need to start with having a clear idea of what the intended learning outcomes are.  The next part of her model is identifying the gap between what children know and what we want them to know.  Next, Timperley's model asks what do we need to know as coaches (teachers) to close the gap.  This is followed by designing some instruction that addresses that gap and doing some assessment to measure the impact of the instruction.

Not rocket science - and yet one thing I have come to know over time is that the more you know about something, the more realize that you don't know.

The reality is that most coaches and teachers enter into coaching or teaching using the methodology that is most familiar to them.  This often means coaching or teaching that replicates a coach's own experience as a child or youth.  The problem with this is that I don't think it is really possible to fully replicate another adult's methodology; we bring too much of ourselves to the creative work of designing instruction and assessing the impact.  So when we replicate someone else's way of doing things, we end of often missing  some of the key parts that made it so effective.  In addition, if all we do is replicate what has been done before, we miss out on the possibility of taking advantage of what has been learned by others through best practice research or experience.

As a coach, I was lucky to have attended lots of workshops and conferences where I had the chance to listen to someone speak and have conversations with others.  My experience was often that the learning was often shallow and not very impactful on my own coaching practice.  So we end up in a loop of doing things that is mostly informed by our own experience as children or youth.

This is why a model like Timperley's Knowledge Building Inquiry Cycle is so valuable.  It gives us an important starting point and recognizes that we don't always have the answer or the expertise to close the gap that is present in the learning of one or a group of children that we are working with.

- start with what you want kids to learn
- identify the gap that exists between where you want kids to be and where they currently are
- learn what you need to do to close this gap
- design some instruction aimed at closing the gap
- assess the impact of your instruction
- move on to the next learning objective

The key piece for me is taking the time to learn what is most impactful to bring about a change.

Where do we access that kind of expert knowledge in our sport?

I'm interested to hear where you access expert knowledge...  Please respond here so we can share out the learning.


Roy Strum
Canmore, AB