Saturday, November 1, 2014

No More Scores, Only Feedback

No more scores, only feedback

Last week, I attended the informational meeting that our cheerleading coach held for the girls who would be trying out in the spring for next year’s squad and their parents. Our cheerleading program is making some changing to the tryout process and in an effort to be transparent, our coach and athletic director set up a meeting to inform parents of these changes well in advance of them taking effect so that all questions and concerns could be answered prior to tryouts. 

In our area, schools bring in outside judges for cheerleading tryouts. I’m not sure when the practice of using outside judges started, but I hear cheer coaches from many different schools who wish that they could choose their own squad, just as our other athletic coaches choose their own teams.  Next year, our cheerleading squad will be chosen by our coaches, and no outside judges will be used. 

At the meeting, the cheer coach told the parents and athletes that at the end of tryouts, the coaches would meet with each athlete and let her know if she made it or not. She also told them that they would share feedback with the athletes at the meeting. 

What she said next was brilliant. 

She told them that the judges wouldn’t be scoring any of the athletes who would be trying out. The coaches will use a rubric and make notes on the rubric, but they won’t have any scores. 

Why is this important? The parents and athletes won’t have a ranking system. They won’t gather as many scores as they can from each other to figure out the ranking system of everyone who tried out. They will simply learn what they coach saw in terms of their strengths and/or weaknesses and if they made the team or not. 

I believe one of the keys to success with this new system will be in the delivery of the news and the feedback that is given, because

Not all feedback is helpful

My youngest daughter is a high school sophomore this year. What I’m about to share happened in April of her seventh grade year. 

Volleyball tryouts were going on at her school for the 8th grade team. She had played on the school’s 7th grade team the previous fall, and she had just finished up a season of club volleyball where she had played a lot and gotten some really good experience with a tough coach.

My husband picked her up from tryouts, and when they walked in the door, she was crying. The coach told her that she didn’t make the team. 

The coach told her that the practices would be really hard…
My daughter had just finished a club season and gone through practices that were more demanding than her 7th grade team practices or the 8th grade team practices that my oldest daughter had gone through the previous fall.

And that she wouldn’t get much playing time…
What? The coach knew in April who would be getting playing time in the fall? Did she have a growth mindset about all of the athletes? 

My husband and I told our daughter that everything happens for a reason, and there was a reason why this didn’t happen for her. We told her that we had seen her play in club and knew that she was working hard on her volleyball skills. She told us that she still wanted to play in the next club season, and that she was going to try out for the 9th grade team the next spring. 

I was proud of my daughter's determination, especially when the feedback that she got from the coach could have led her giving up. (She went on to make the 9th grade team and started and played in every game. Same for this past fall on the junior varsity team.)

Giving feedback

There are some important characteristics to giving feedback that make it more effective. One of the most important characteristic is the manner in which it is given. We all respond more positively to feedback when it is given in a positive way. The person giving the feedback should give it with the intent to be helpful and improve performance. It’s important to recognize and praise what was done right, then offer specific feedback that is actionable. 

InformED gives 20 tips to giving feedback to students. Here are a few from the website:
Feedback should be educative in nature. 
Providing feedback means giving students an explanation of what they are doing correctly AND incorrectly.  However, the focus of the feedback should be based essentially on what the students is doing right.  It is most productive to a student’s learning when they are provided with an explanation and example as to what is accurate and inaccurate about their work. 
Use the concept of a “feedback sandwich” to guide your feedback: Compliment, Correct, Compliment. 
Be sensitive to the individual needs of the student. 
It is vital that we take into consideration each student individually when giving feedback.  Our classrooms are full of diverse learners. Some students need to be nudged to achieve at a higher level and other needs to be handled very gently so as not to discourage learning and damage self-esteem. A balance between not wanting to hurt a student’s feelings and providing proper encouragement is essential.
Have the student take notes.  
During a conference over a test, paper or a general ‘check in’, have the student do the writing while you do the talking. The student can use a notebook to jot down notes as you provide the verbal feedback.
You can read all 20 tips here: 

I would love to hear your thoughts about feedback. Please leave a comment or connect with me on twitter, @jennifer_hogan.


  1. Great article, Jen. I really enjoy the specific examples you shared. Feedback is an essential part of learning and we have to be providing more of it to students all the time.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Starr! Providing more feedback to students is always something we can do more of. I appreciate educators who value feedback more than grades. To me, it indicates more of a growth mindset.

  2. I spent an hour with a student on Friday discussing all the ways that teachers over the years have made negative comments towards the student and how those comments have shaped this student's self identity. Feedback is powerful. As you note, too often adult coaches and teachers have fixed mindsets and focus on what isn't there, rather than coaching and teaching towards improvement.
    Imagine the power of moving away from grades and comparison in all education, just helpful feedback for growth.

    1. What an exciting proposition, Barry - moving away from grades and comparison to individual learning and growth based on feedback! Feedback is very powerful, especially to a child. We must be careful with our words and make sure our students are surrounded by adults who will help to boost self identity, not destroy it.

  3. Great post! So much of this could be applied to giving feedback to teachers as well.

    1. I agree, Jonathan! I think it's important no matter the audience. Definitely something to strive for!

  4. Love this piece Jen... gives a narrative to important concepts we struggle with in schools. Grades = learning is over. Genuine feedback is where it's at! Thanks for this inspiration!

    1. Thanks for your feedback, Don. Feedback is a way to help us grow, which should be our ultimate goal. There shouldn't be an "endpoint" to our learning.

  5. John Hattie would disagree with your sandwich concept of Feedback.

    1. The method is controversial, because of the concern that the critique would be "lost" within the positive feedback. Based on personal experience, I tend to agree with the sandwich technique.

  6. In our Kindergarten & 1st grade classrooms, we use the SeeSaw app. This app allows students to track their learning and gives both students and parents the opportunity for immediate feedback. We also have an "I Can" wall with all of students' I Can statements for math, reading, and phonics. As students master a skill, they cross their name off the list and then upload the learning card into their SeeSaw app. We do this as we go over their formatives/summatives with them! Feedback is immediate and the kids love it!