Coaching Learners to Bolster Engagement and Action


By Scott Wright


As many of us so often do while reflecting on the people and conditions we interact with, questions often lead us to new learning and motivation. This is one that I have been repeatedly asking myself as my role continues to change.

How might teachers and parents provide feedback that bolsters engagement and action so learners direct, personalize, and “own” their learning?

The sudden shift to at home teaching and learning might open up a powerful opportunity for students to engage in self-discovery while collaborating with their at home teachers (parents) and on-line teachers (us). As educators and family members, our identities are centered on the support and well-being of our children.

  • We see our and our children’s abilities and characteristics as able to change through effort, focus, and practice.
  • We want to help children cultivate a “work-it-out” mindset where mistakes are seen as opportunities to learn, to grow, and to personalize their creations, solutions, their learning, and themselves.

We need to remain focused on supporting our children with a positive shift in their mindset to be more and more proactive and less and less reactive. From, “There’s nothing I can do” to “Let’s look at different options.”

Narrative feedback is formative and non graded. It can either be presented orally or in writing. Most often it is used in conferencing yet has tremendous value during this extended period of at home learning. It is an effective practice that serves to engage teachers and learners in meaningful conversations about learning. Narrative feedback acts to deliver actionable points or considerations that facilitates students’ self-assessment and reflection. Personalization of learning can become the most important result of narrative based feedback.

Narrative Feedback, Coaching Tips

  1. Collect and Analyze the Learning Sample(s): I spend about two minutes researching or checking on how the student is doing. I use these questions to look for two things in the learning sample(s).

“What is the learner doing well?”

“What might be a consideration or a next step?”

  1. Construct New Learning by choosing two things: Then, I decide on something specific to compliment and something specific to coach for.

Compliment: Next, I specifically name what the learner has done well in one or two sentences. This usually includes a strategy or process used and or a habit of mind or an effort displayed. Remember to be specific by giving an example.

Consideration: Afterward I use a meditative question, a question that helps the learner to reflect and think forward, to help coach the learner. Sometimes the question is posed to broaden/expand thinking. Other times it is to focus/clarify thinking. Both types are intended to encourage reflection and personalization. Remember to anchor the question to the learning sample.

Example: “As you compare the reasons of protest of the Boston Tea Party to the reasons for the protests about social distancing because of the COVID virus what similarities are you finding?”

  1. New Learning and Next Steps: A question is often used in this neighborhood as well to support the learner as they set a new goal, a new target, or a new level of performance. You may also decide to pose a question to help the learner envision the steps or resources they may need or use. For example, In what ways can you connect the passage to protest events that are happening today?

Anecdotes and Sample

Here is a recent example of how the process may look and sound. In practice the compliment, consideration, and next step neighborhoods, or steps, are part of the conversation or message students receive as their feedback.

Collect and Analyze the Learning Sample(s):

Topic: American Revolution: The Boston Tea Party

Doing well: Cites specific events with precise names and in historical order.

Next Step: A coaching question that facilitates a habit of mind to help personalize the tension between the patriots (Sons of Liberty) and Parliament.

Construct New Learning by choosing two things:

Compliment: Paul, your sample shows strong understanding of the events that led up to the protest. You have used the strategy of “Re-voicing” to include three specific acts and you have used the names of the acts. They are in sequence too. You must be proud of how your sample shows your effort and how it shows accurate and precise thinking.

Consideration: Imagine you were John Adams, as you listen to others’ points of view, what strategies might you use to see the different points of view about taxation and representation? (listening with understanding and empathy and thinking flexibly).

New Learning and Next Steps:

Paul, as you think about learning more about the people and events of the American Revolution what are some of the ways you might humanize important people and their points of view?


Takeaways and New Goals:

It’s important to note that the language of feedback that bolsters engagement and action for learners should be:

  • Small and specific.
  • Concise, meditative, and centered on positive presuppositions.
  • Squarely focus on supporting a learner’s mindset for growth.

Even small shifts in the environment or in our interactions can shift our children’s mindsets which can lead to having a real impact on their outlook and performance.

Are you ready? As you think of your role in coaching learners during this shift to at home learning, what steps in this feedback practice do you imagine will hold the most benefit for your children? For you?


Scott Wright is a 4th grade teacher and Professional Developer in North Syracuse Central School District, NY. He is a district trainer for Cognitive Coaching and an associate trainer for the Institute for Habits of Mind. Scott can be reached at

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