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Great Job!

Yesterday, I was hanging out with my good friend Mike Cicchillitti and we were shooting the breeze about how much we’ve changed as teachers since our first year in McGill’s Physical Education Teacher Education program.

At one point in our conversation, we started talking about how the quality of the feedback we provide our students with has changed over time. If you’re anything like me, you probably found yourself saying “Great Job!” a lot during your teaching. And if you’re really like me, you probably still say it a lot.

Since there’s been a lot of talk lately within the #physed community about being able to talk about our shortcomings/things we’d like to improve about ourselves as teachers, I’d like to talk about why it bothers me when I catch myself just saying “Great Job!” to a student.

What does “Great Job!” mean? Maybe it means that the student is actively applying new knowledge in their performance. Maybe it means the student is on task. Maybe it means that student is just behaving well that day compared to the rest of the class (I know I’ve used it that way, where “Great Job!” basically means “Thank you for helping me keep my sanity today!”)

See, the problem with “Great Job!” is that it is general feedback. For feedback to be really helpful to the student, it needs to be specific (my overly highlighted copy of Judith Rink‘s “Teaching Physical Education for Learning” from my first year in PETE taught me that one).

According to Rink, “specific feedback has the potential to contribute to student learning a great deal more than general feedback. Specific feedback also serves a major role in maintaining student attention to the task and in developing accountability to the task”.

So how do we make our feedback more specific? Well, make sure you always include the “what” in the feedback you are providing to the student. For example, let’s say you are teaching the overhand throw to your grade 2 students (which I currently am). Instead of saying “great job!” when you see a student stepping with their opposite foot to start their throw, make sure to say “great job getting your opposite foot in front! Now you’ll really be able to use your hips!”.

Chances are you were already thinking that, it’s just that in the organized chaos that is teaching physical education to 20-35 (and sometimes more) students you forgot to communicate it. Remember: our students can’t read our minds. As teachers, we need to be great at communicating exactly what we are thinking.

Ok, so what are some things I am going to do to make sure I keep away from general feedback and move towards specific feedback? I’ve got two strategies in mind:

1. I’m going to train my students to ask “how come?” whenever I say “Great/Good/Awesome/Incredible Job!” to them. They already like counting the amount of times I say “Ummm” so I’m sure they’ll get a kick out of this.

2. I’m going to make sure my rubrics for each class are extremely clear so that I always know what feedback I need to provide students with to help them to continue to progress in their learning. For example, check out the simple rubric below. If I see Jimmy stepping with his opposite foot, not only will I praise him for it (making sure to be specific), I’ll already know the next bit of specific feedback so that I can keep him moving forward (e.g. “ok, so now you need to focus on getting your hand down and back before you throw”).

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Now, you may be thinking “Joey, this is very basic stuff”. You’re right, it is. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make sure that we are doing a great job at it. Next time you’re teaching, try to reflect on the feedback you’re giving. Is it more general or specific? I’d love to hear all about it in the comments below.

Thanks for reading and happy teaching!

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Joey Feith is the founder of ThePhysicalEducator.com. He currently teaches elementary physical education at St. George’s School of Montreal in Quebec, Canada.

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