Diving, marginal gains (and verbal feedback)

Responding to feedback 

Last night, half way through our swim session, our coach said to me:

“What’s going on with your dive, Niki?”

Verbal feedback.

He could have written this down for me to read later. If he did, I might have wondered exactly what it was that I’d done wrong. How come my dive had fallen apart so dramatically? I was actually feeling quite good!

Luckily, it wasn’t written down. So I said:

“Is it okay?”

“Yes! It’s much better.”

“That’s good. I was feeling like it was okay.”

“Are your arms hurting? Your legs? Have you been smacking the water? No? It’s much better!”

Meaningful, manageable, motivating

Josh always gives us verbal feedback during swimming sessions. It’s meaningful (and timely), it’s managable (for him) and it’s motivating (see ASCL guidance). I know instantly what I need to do to improve. And if I don’t, I can clarify it with him.


This time last year, I still couldn’t really dive. Diving, when you can’t dive, is a humiliating experience. There’s no hiding! And you’re always next to sleek people that look beautiful as they enter the water. But, with Josh’s help, I’ve practised and improved. One simple comment last night meant more than half a page of written comments (or a big gold star).

Less marking, more feedback

I’ve been looking for opportunities to talk to students as much as possible about their work. Seems obvious, doesn’t it? But we don’t always have the time or opportunity to give detailed, individual feedback to the 100s of students we might teach in a particular week. You can read about how one teacher manages it here. But, as David Didau says:

… if teachers spent less time marking (by which I mean writing comments on students’ work) then they might have a lot more time for giving meaningful feedback which actually helps develop more flexible, durable learning. This is a message that tends to play well with harried, over burdened teachers but often fills school leaders with horror….

I’d agree, and argue (as here) that it takes courage from teachers, as well as leaders, to have enough confidence to concentrate on teaching, rather than proving/ tracking/ evidencing…. And actually, it’s not always straightforward to simply change the way you teach and give feedback to students.

Marginal gains

We’ve been talking a lot this week at school about “marginal gains”. The idea that you don’t try and change everything at once. You tweak something here, try something there. You start with one class and trial, monitor, evaluate, tweak again… Then see if it works with another class…

This week, I’ve had two really good opportunities to give detailed verbal feedback to pupils. Firstly, with my “bottom set” year 11s. I set the group a structured task at the end of a lesson, and spoke to each student individually while the others were working. I went through a recent test with them, and picked out the bits that were good, the points to think about, and areas to work on. I’m pretty sure they gained more from this than they would have done from several pages of written comments. And I had a (two-way) conversation with each pupil. This wasn’t triple marking, but they did respond to my feedback.

I did a similar thing with my Y13s. My feedback wasn’t so detailed this time, but I chatted to them about their homework as I handed it back to them. We talked about what they needed to work on, and I made suggestions for practice questions. It’s such a simple,  obvious thing to do. But I would have written all of this down before. It would have take me at least 3 times as long. And now, I’m really not sure why I did that.

Then there’s butterfly

So my diving was a bit better last night. I’ve still got a long way to go, but I’ll keep practising. Next step: crack butterfly! I’m getting there slowly…


Thanks for all the feedback, Josh!








3 thoughts on “Diving, marginal gains (and verbal feedback)

  1. It’s always a pleasure niki, And your dives are what we can now call dives not flops ,

    And you have been far too modest regarding the butterfly, you weren’t able to swim it at all, now you have completed the first goal easily, just the next two too hit 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: New year’s resolutions that last (and really help!) | NDHS Blog Spot

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