Providing Actionable Feedback: What would Coach Wooden do?

Outstanding teachers identify teachable moments in order to convert knowledge or skill gaps into “Aha! Moments” for students.  A key to producing teachable moments is guided practice.  Guided practice is the process of providing students with the opportunity to apply what they learn soon after learning it, and then providing them with feedback on the correctness of their application with suggestions designed to help them improve their technique and reasoning. 

Teachable moments occur when a student requests their teacher’s input, indicating a state of mental and emotional readiness to learn exactly what the learning objective specifies.  Ideally, the lightbulb illuminates when the explanation is clear.  This causes the student to think: “Aha! Eureka! Now I understand. This makes sense to me!”

Legendary basketball coach John Wooden used a performance modeling approach (M+M-M+) which serves as an impactful illustration of “guided practice”.  When coaching a player, Wooden showed what the exemplary model (M+) looked like, then he showed the player’s current performance (M-) to reveal the gap, and finally he showed the exemplary model again (M+).  Recognizing the gap between current performance and the positive model helped players refine their technique.  In a similar manner, teachers can use Wooden’s approachto empower students to correct any errors in reasoning by providing:         

  1. (M+) the correct reasoning (i.e., worked example, video clip, role model)
  2. (M-) the incorrect reasoning (to help the student identify the flaw in their reasoning)
  3. (M+) a repeat of the correct reasoning

For students to be receptive to detailed explanations and feedback, they need to believe that the teacher has their best interests at heart, will not embarrass them, and that revealing their errors will not negatively impact their grades.  During guided practice, help them understand specific errors, and provide actionable feedback and coaching in a safe psychological zone (i.e., avoid embarrassment).  Compassionately demonstrate the correct reasoning and help the student identify any errors or gaps in reasoning.  When a student invites you into their learning space and requests your input, take immediate action to optimize learning.  Pounce on the teachable moment by answering students’ questions immediately and providing clear explanations, analogies, and feedback.  Before you finish the feedback, ensure that the student understands and can apply the correct reasoning. 

About the Author

Michelle’s education includes a Certificate in Industrial Organizational Psychology and an M.S. in Human Resources.  During her years as the Service Quality & Training Director of Greenleaf Hospitality Group, she planned curriculum and delivered face-to-face instruction for entry-level personnel, supervisors and managers.  As an education consultant, she has facilitated focus groups, strategic planning sessions, professional development workshops, and executive coaching for school superintendents and principals.  She has also contributed to the development of assessments to hire teachers and principals.  In her leisure time, she has accumulated significant instructional experience from her time as a coach.  Recently, Michelle co-authored a book for educators called Create Aha! Moments:  Tips for Teachers.  This beautifully written book shares how to help students learn more and remember longer. 

A Safe Psychological Space for Learning

Trust is at the heart of teaching and learning in the classroom.

Trust and credibility form a necessary foundation for strong teacher-student relationships.  To create a safe psychological space for learning, teachers need to ensure that students feel a sense of safety and belonging in the classroom.  Ideally, all students would have their survival, safety, social, and self-esteem needs supported by their family, friends, and school community.  While we may not control what is going on outside the classroom, we can take measures to create a safe psychological space for learning inside the classroom.  Part of our purpose as teachers is to support our students’ overall well-being so that they can focus their energy on learning.    

As a starting point, we need to understand what roles and circumstances comprise students’ lives outside of school.  One way to do this is to ask students about what they like to do on weekends, vacations, or special occasions with family or friends.  The answers to these questions provide snapshots of their lives outside of school.  More opportunities to learn about students as individuals can come about by asking them to create collages, write in journals, or share their likes/dislikes (e.g., favorite foods, hobbies, sports, and more) or hobbies. 

Integrating the demands of school and home life is just as important for students as it is for teachers.  Asking about a student’s life at home can help you understand who forms their support system.  For example:  Where do they live, who they live with, and who are their caregivers?  What responsibilities do they have at home?  Do they have siblings?  Do they eat dinner as a family?  Who are their best friends (and why)?  Do they take care of a family pet?  Answers to these questions describe the fabric of the student’s social network.  When asking these questions, be compassionate and express a genuine interest.  Learn something new about your students’ home lives but take care not to turn the conversation into an interrogation. 

Near the beginning of the school year, introduce yourself to students’ parents or guardians as early as possible—maybe even prior to the first day of school.  Resourceful teachers initiate team-oriented relationships with parents and guardians for the purpose of supporting student success.  Experience offers this wisdom:  It is best to start off on a positive note at the beginning of the school year, before much has happened to produce misconceptions about behavior or learning dips.  Plus, when we seek to build rapport with parents under problem-free circumstances, we can earn trust upfront and establish a common goal of acting in the student’s best interests.  Building a welcome bridge between school and home can improve communication and enhance the student’s learning and growth.  Overall, relationships between parents (or guardians) and teachers can represent a shared purpose of helping students succeed in school and in life.      

During school we can build and maintain a positive rapport with students in numerous ways.  When students enter the classroom, we can ensure it is a welcoming environment.  A simple greeting, acknowledging students as they enter the classroom is a great way to consistently reaffirm social acceptance and express interest in the daily progress of their lives.  While they are in the classroom, we can strive to keep them physically comfortable and mentally active by ensuring that the temperature and air quality in the classroom is acceptable.  Providing comfort includes letting students move around the classroom as they learn, not just sitting in place the whole time.  To be prepared for emergencies, it is a good idea to keep extra snacks, socks, t-shirts, essentials, etc. because these will prove useful if students are hungry or if they have a trouble keeping their clothes clean.  Finally, we need to make ourselves approachable by discreetly taking care of students’ requests for assistance in a timely manner. 

Sometimes the little things we do matter the most.  Let students know you care through your words and your actions.  Students enjoy hearing how much you care about their learning and well-being every day.  Based on age level, encourage students to act responsibly and take care of their health to the best of their ability.  When they are lacking in hygiene, maybe they need access to supplies or a washing machine.  Be prepared to help students to the best of your ability because providing a safety net can prevent a student from going through tough times at school.  At school, it is important to do everything in our power to help students stay on track with their education by ensuring they have enough food/water, friends, guidance, and resources to “be well and learn” in school.    

Building trust with students increases their motivation to come to class and learn from you.  Getting to know students is fun to do because they become more engaged in class.  Do not be surprised if students would like to have an opportunity to get to know you as a “real” person.  Little by little, teachers can choose to share appropriate information with their students about their pets or favorite foods or hobbies outside of school.  When you create opportunities for students to learn about you and each other, they will be able to build positive relationships that can make them feel good about school.

Our positive interactions with students help us affirm our role as caring adults in their lives.  Developing strong relationships with students means that they will know that you have their best interests at heart.  When basic human needs are met, students will be ready to listen and learn during instruction, guided practice, and high-quality feedback.  Knowledge begets credibility, but trust is at the heart of teaching and learning. 

About the Author

Michelle’s education includes a Certificate in Industrial Organizational Psychology and an M.S. in Human Resources.  During her years as the Service Quality & Training Director of Greenleaf Hospitality Group, she planned curriculum and delivered face-to-face instruction for entry-level personnel, supervisors and managers.  As an education consultant, she has facilitated focus groups, strategic planning sessions, professional development workshops, and executive coaching for school superintendents and principals.  She has also contributed to the development of assessments to hire teachers and principals.  In her leisure time, she has accumulated significant instructional experience from her decades as a coach.  Recently, Michelle co-authored a book for educators called Create Aha! Moments:  Tips for Teachers.  This beautifully written book shares how to help students learn more and remember longer. 

“The Teachable Moment”

Observing students during guided practice can reveal a quizzical expression, a sigh, a squeezing of the eyes, a head in hand, an arm extended, glancing at others’ work, a shoulder shrug, staring off into the abyss, a fist or a palm up.  All of these cues have something in common.  These cues signal a teachable moment when a student is ready to learn.  Stated more plainly, these cues signal teachable moments.

In a teachable moment, a student is ready to understand exactly what you want them to learn based on the instruction you have provided.  The student lets you know in some way, either verbally or non-verbally, that she needs some help to understand the correct reasoning or skill.  At this point, your student knows that she is lost although she attempted to apply the steps and now, she needs directions to reach the learning goal.  It is up to you to diagnose “where” the student is, where she needs to go, and how to show her the way.

As her teacher, you know the path.  You’ve seen students ascend the ladder of reasoning and you know where the “trouble spots” (i.e., frequently made errors) are located.  Provide an explanation of the correct reasoning in language she understands, then help her see the gap between incorrect and correct reasoning, and have her demonstrate that she understands the correct path.  Once she has the breadcrumbs to follow, she will be eager to try and experience success.  Provide opportunities for her to practice this again until she consistently demonstrates correct reasoning.  Later, as her confidence and mastery grows, she will be able to show you the way she “solves” the problem. 

For more ideas on how you can create teachable moments with your students, check out “Create Aha! Moments:  Tips for Teachers” on Amazon .com. 

About the Author

Michelle’s education includes a Certificate in Industrial Organizational Psychology and an M.S. in Human Resources.  During her years as the Service Quality & Training Director of Greenleaf Hospitality Group, she planned curriculum and delivered face-to-face instruction for entry-level personnel, supervisors and managers.  As an education consultant, she has facilitated focus groups, strategic planning sessions, professional development workshops, and executive coaching for school superintendents and principals.  She has also contributed to the development of assessments to hire teachers and principals.  In her leisure time, she has accumulated significant instructional experience from her decades as a coach.  Recently, Michelle co-authored a book for educators called Create Aha! Moments:  Tips for Teachers.  This beautifully written book shares how to help students learn more and remember longer. 

How can you help students “minimize forgetting” and remember what you taught?

We felt that “forgetting” was such a significant pain-point for teachers and students that we wrote a pivotal chapter on this topic in our book, “Create Aha! Moments”.  The main reason we want to minimize forgetting is because students need to remember what they have learned over the course of the school year and perhaps for their lifetimes.  As far as teachers are concerned, it is not easy to go through the process of periodically reteaching previous lessons.  For students and teachers, reteaching adds significant time pressure to an already jam-packed semester and workload.  Helping students recover from gaps in their knowledge can become time consuming and slow everyone down, leading to a lack of enthusiasm about school. 

Like an illness, forgetting interferes with the education process.  What is forgotten is unknown until the information is needed—at which point, it requires diagnosis and treatment.  Rather than having to go through the angst of reteaching a lesson, forgetting could be minimized with methods utilized for prevention.  Teachers can help students minimize forgetting, especially of the important information by providing multiple doses of practice that require information retrieval.  Educators call this “retrieval practice”.

Retrieval practice thoughtfully spaced over time is called distributed practice.  It is even more effective than unplanned retrieval practice because it ensures that information is recollected and applied at regular intervals to minimize forgetting. We advocate in favor of distributed practice because systematic retrieval practice strengthens neural pathways in the brain and ensures your students have the foundational knowledge in place to move on to the next lesson.  In order to make this happen, simply create questions and administer them on a schedule that provides retrieval practice at regular, common sense intervals. 

While planning your lesson, consider what questions or exercises work well for helping your students remember the main points from your lesson.  Provide these sets of questions to help your students maintain their knowledge base.  Distributed practice helps students ensure that they can recall important information that is going to be relevant in upcoming lessons and useful in their lives.  Initiating distributed practice will eliminate a lot of stress for students and for you too.  Consider the time and effort saved from not having to reteach a lesson multiple times, especially when students may have mastered the concepts at one time, but have forgotten important details.     

To learn more about how to minimize forgetting, read about the benefits of distributed practice in Chapter 3 of the “Create Aha! Moments: Tips for Teachers” book.  This information could greatly aid your efforts to help students remember what you taught and secure their confidence as well as their ability to retain information for future use.  Use distributed practice and take advantage of a friendly strategy that will save you time and effort while helping your students make healthy progress.    

About the Author

Michelle’s education includes a Certificate in Industrial Organizational Psychology and an M.S. in Human Resources.  During her years as the Service Quality & Training Director of Greenleaf Hospitality Group, she planned curriculum and delivered face-to-face instruction for entry-level personnel, supervisors and managers.  As an education consultant, she has facilitated focus groups, strategic planning sessions, professional development workshops, and executive coaching for school superintendents and principals.  She has also contributed to the development of assessments to hire teachers and principals.  In her leisure time, she has accumulated significant instructional experience from her decades as a coach.  Recently, Michelle co-authored a book for educators called Create Aha! Moments:  Tips for Teachers.  This beautifully written book shares how to help students learn more and remember longer. 

What is Guided Practice?

Questions & Answers

  • What is guided practice?  When is it used?
  • Why is guided practice essential to learning? 
  • Why it is necessary to prepare for guided practice? 
  • What are some things to consider when formulating a set of learning activities for use during guided practice? 
  • What do I need to do during guided practice?
  • I know my subject matter pretty well, so why do I need to prepare questions and explanations for guided practice? 
  • How can guided practice be used to identify and facilitate teachable moments?

What is guided practice?  When is it used?

During a lesson, guided practice provides students with an opportunity to demonstrate understanding and apply new information immediately after instruction while their teacher is available to help them learn.  Guided practice provides teachers with an opportunity to observe students’ performances and nip errors in the bud before incorrect reasoning or confusion can take root.

Why is guided practice essential to learning?

To develop correct reasoning, there needs to be a coordinated effort between teacher and student.  As an illustration, consider how novice swimmers benefit from practicing under the guidance of an instructor when learning how to swim the front crawl stroke.  Similarly, classroom students benefit from receiving immediate feedback and making corrections based on what their teacher observes them doing.  Like swimmers, learners are adapting to many factors as they practice, i.e., direction and distance to the goal, depth, complexity, actions, cause & effect, and risk of failure.  Therefore, before investing too much effort learners naturally consider: “If I flail, is someone here to help me?”  Ideally that person is a “more knowledgeable other” who can serve as a guide—like a teacher, parent, or tutor—to help the student straighten things out. 

During guided practice, the message from the teacher to the learner is:  I am willing to help you, but for you to reap the greatest benefit, you need to do the work yourself.  The student needs to invest learning time.  Like a swimmer taking swim lessons, the student has to intentionally put forth effort.  This effort is an investment of energy that demonstrates the learner’s commitment to learn and that she values the information.  The student’s performance allows the teacher to see a demonstration of what the learner can do as well as where she is struggling.  Through observation of the student at work the teacher can see what the student knows and understands before providing an explanation or feedback to help her close the performance gap.  

Why it is necessary to prepare for guided practice? 

You know the adage: “to be forewarned is to be forearmed.”  Advance preparation allows you a cognitive cushion of preparedness.  When students spring questions on you, you can remain calm and smile to yourself as you share well-prepared, clear explanations and activities out of your “tool bag” to deepen understanding and create “Aha! Moments”. 

To make the best use of guided practice time with students, it is extremely helpful to prepare in advance.  It makes sense to do this during lesson planning.  The primary reason for advanced preparation is to have time to craft questions and activities that will make learning errors “visible” during guided practice time. 

As you develop questions and activities for guided practice, consider common errors and prepare clear explanations designed to help students identify any errors and understand correct reasoning.  To ensure deep thinking, design questions that connect new knowledge and the student’s relevant prior knowledge to the maximum extent possible as this will strengthen neural pathways for correct reasoning and make the lesson more memorable. 

What are some things to consider when formulating a set of learning activities for use during guided practice? 

  • The lesson objectives from your curriculum document
  • The main learning points your will cover with this lesson
  • Useful terminology to post as “new vocabulary”
  • Connections you want to make with the learners’ relevant prior knowledge, interests, age and life context
  • Carefully designed questions which can produce visible evidence of correct or incorrect reasoning
  • Clear answers, analogies, metaphors and demonstrations which illustrate evidence of correct reasoning and/or skill
  • Common errors and how to spot them; how you will monitor student’s work.  
  • What to include in your teaching tool bag for this guided practice session:  Thoughtful explanations, correct reasoning, concrete examples, and live and pre-recorded performance demos that you could use to illustrate perfect performance
  • Feedback to help learners recognize gaps and actions students can follow to close any knowledge gaps

What do I need to do during guided practice?

During guided practice utilize thoughtfully chosen activities that reveal errors.  Be observant.  When you see that a student needs guidance, compassionately help the student identify the knowledge gap and understand correct reasoning versus incorrect reasoning.  Then, ensure the student can demonstrate the correct reasoning or skill—effectively closing the gap.  Your main goal during guided practice is to ensure students can consistently demonstrate correct reasoning to meet their target learning outcomes while developing students’ competence and confidence. 

I know my subject matter pretty well, so why do I need to prepare questions and explanations for guided practice? 

Preparing for guided practice is essential because then you can focus on observing students to see small changes in their expressions and body language that indicate when one of them needs your help.  Your state of readiness means that during guided practice, your tool bag is stocked with further examples, explanations, and learning activities that make sense for learners to use for relevant, meaningful practice.  A huge benefit of this is that your students’ trust in you will grow as they observe you welcoming their errors and helping them correct their reasoning!  Simultaneously, their confidence in their own ability to learn and apply new knowledge will also grow.  The production of teachable moments comes from utilizing thoughtfully designed learning activities and your preparedness to create “Aha! Moments” at the precise moment when you students are ready.    

How can guided practice be used to identify and facilitate teachable moments?

Guided practice immediately following instruction allows students the chance to practice applying new knowledge, experience successes and make visible errors.  When a student is struggling with a particular concept, a teacher can notice small changes in expression or body language signaling that he needs help.  At that point, the observant teacher uses these cues to recognize a teachable moment.  When a teachable moment occurs, the teacher is able to promptly facilitate learning.  During guided practice, the teacher has time to work with students, take advantage of teachable moments, and help students understand correct reasoning. 

About the Author

Michelle’s education includes a Certificate in Industrial Organizational Psychology and an M.S. in Human Resources.  During her years as the Service Quality & Training Director of Greenleaf Hospitality Group, she planned curriculum and delivered face-to-face instruction for entry-level personnel, supervisors and managers.  As an education consultant, she has facilitated focus groups, strategic planning sessions, professional development workshops, and executive coaching for school superintendents and principals.  She has also contributed to the development of assessments to hire teachers and principals.  In her leisure time, she has accumulated significant instructional experience from her decades as a coach.  Recently, Michelle co-authored a book for educators called Create Aha! Moments:  Tips for Teachers.  This beautifully written book shares how to help students learn more and remember longer. 

So, You Love Teaching? Create Aha! Moments

You believe education is a calling. You want to help students learn and grow. You feel certain that, as a teacher, you can make a difference. Turning “A” students into “A+” students is probably not how you would define the purpose of your role. More than likely, you teach because you enjoy helping all students learn and grow. You believe in the importance of developing young people into productive members of society.

An ongoing, life-fulfilling reason to pursue a profession is the intrinsic satisfaction gained from performing that role. Other factors for choosing a particular job include salary, benefits, location, and vacation. While you may enjoy having summer vacation each year, how do you stay inspired during the school year to spring out of bed each morning excited to teach?

Many teachers say that the joy of teaching comes from seeing the lightbulb “go on” over a student’s head. As a teacher, you have the opportunity every day to help students learn, and develop their reasoning skills to become creative, expansive thinkers who will venture farther and faster into the world and contribute more than preceding generations. You envision a future when your students can build, pioneer, create, explore, expand, lead, collaborate, help, fix, run, save, and perform excellent work that justifies their commitment and exceeds the demands of their education.

Teachers matter! Teachers guide learners’ growth and empower them to become critical thinkers. Teachers who create more “Aha! Moments” in the classroom positively impact students’ motivation, efforts and educational outcomes.

Perhaps today, students have only to learn the distributive property in your pre-algebra class. However, when you help a student learn and grow you are helping a member of a future generation build a bright future—20 years from now—that you might get a glimpse of…when you see one of your former students thriving as an entrepreneur or another who became a teacher because of you. At the end of the day, you feel pleased that your students are doing well. Each night, after the homework is checked and the lesson plan is reviewed, you can rest with a satisfied smile at the notion of creating more “Aha! Moments” tomorrow.

For technical information and tips, a book titled Create Aha! Moments is available for purchase on Amazon.com. The subject matter applies to all content areas and grade levels as it addresses how to meet learners’ needs for relevance, importance, and meaning. Happily, the creation of “Aha! Moments” can bring more joy of learning and teaching to classrooms everywhere—and make a positive impact on your well-being and life satisfaction.

About the Author
Michelle’s education includes a Certificate in Industrial Organizational Psychology and an M.S. in Human Resources. During her years as the Service Quality & Training Director of Greenleaf Hospitality Group, she planned curriculum and delivered face-to-face instruction for entry-level personnel, supervisors and managers. As an education consultant, she has facilitated focus groups, strategic planning sessions, professional development workshops, and executive coaching for school superintendents and principals. She has also contributed to the development of assessments to hire teachers and principals. In her leisure time, she has accumulated significant instructional experience from her decades as a coach. Recently, Michelle co-authored a book for education called Create Aha! Moments: Tips for Teachers. This beautifully written book shares how to help students learn more and remember longer.

What is this book about?

This book, “Create Aha! Moments,” shines the spotlight on a vital link in the learning process that has not been highlighted with sufficient clarity and emphasis before. “Create Aha! Moments” discusses how to convert “teachable moments” into “Aha! Now, I understand” moments, using clear language and metaphors that make the process easy to conceptualize and apply.

The soccer analogy of teachable moments as scoring opportunities, and “Aha! Moments” as scored goals is graphic and appropriate. The bottom line is that when teachable moments are not converted into “Aha! Moments” valuable opportunities (to facilitate learning) are lost. In education, the game is always ‘on’, and goals need to be scored so that the lessons are retrievable from long term storage when students need them.

To be able to consistently create “Aha! Moments,” teachers need to be aware of when teachable moments are likely to arise, expectantly await them, and be able to recognize them as soon as they present themselves. Then, with the conditions set for learning, teachers can employ high-quality feedback to ensure that learning happens, i.e., to ensure the learning “light bulbs” are illuminated!