Engagement Through Feedback and Choice

Join Kelli Merrill-Topliff, an elementary PE teacher, as she unveils a powerful method for boosting student engagement. By focusing on perceived competence through specific feedback and choice-based learning, this approach fosters intrinsic motivation and enthusiasm across all grade levels and subjects. Don't miss the chance to revolutionize your teaching methods.

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Kelli Merrill-Topliff an elementary physical education teacher at Silvergate Elementary in the San Diego Unified School District, California.


 Hello, my name is Kelli Merrill-Topliff, and I’m an elementary physical education teacher at Silvergate Elementary in the San Diego Unified School District. I’m also the co-site Director for the Long Beach Physical Education Health Project. Today, we will be discussing how we can support student engagement by tending to perceived competence through the use of feedback and choice. This can be used in any content area and at any grade level.

Research suggests that when our students have perceived competence, they are more likely to be engaged in learning. Perceived competence is how students perceive themselves and their ability, not how we see them. Students with a higher level of perceived competence are also more likely to be intrinsically or self motivated, continue to give effort towards mastery, and engage in challenge seeking behaviors.

One thing teachers can do to support a student’s perceived competence is provide specific feedback. As you know, feedback is centered in the information we provide students with. When feedback is specific to the task, students can use this information to develop their skills. For example, not just saying, “Good job”, but instead, “I like how you step towards your target,” or “remember to follow through to get the ball to your target.”

Feedback is something that we as teachers need to plan for when we are planning the lesson. We are able to clearly develop potential feedback that is specific to the skill, and will support students when they are engaged. in the planning process. When we forget to plan for feedback, our default becomes more general and not as helpful to students development of the skill or their perceived competence.

Feedback can include praising effort over outcome. When we praise effort and form, students will focus on demonstrating the task with proper form and in turn progress towards mastery of the skill. This is important because the process is what is standards based instruction, not the outcome. With practice and continued effort on proper form, the outcome will be improved.

Choice can also be used to support student engagement and develop a student’s perceived confidence. When thinking about providing choice, there is so much to consider. Choice doesn’t mean that students are simply engaged in different activities or using different equipment. It’s imperative that activity choices, or even equipment choices, help the students move towards the learning objective. For example, if the skill we wanted the students to work on were catching, we could select equipment choices that support that goal. We may choose objects that move slower and aid in the student’s tracking it, like a scarf or balloon which would provide a student more time to react and successfully catch the object. Another choice would be beanbags. These are nice because they move a little quicker and they don’t roll away when dropped. Additionally, a foam ball could be offered that can be safely caught without the students being afraid of catching it.

With the use of choice, students are encouraged to use the equipment in which they can be successful. Students can trade equipment throughout the activity, either to make it easier for them to find success or to challenge themselves. Allowing students the opportunity for choice leads to higher levels of perceived competence, which positively affects student engagement and performance.

When given the opportunity, students will challenge themselves and each other. This not only keeps them engaged, it leads to students being self motivated. Additionally, students can be presented with different progressions of a skill and have clear guidelines as to when they can progress to the next level. Students can progress or return to a previous level if they determined they were not ready for the more challenging task. This could look like presenting a skill, allowing students to practice prior to presenting the next progression.

After many students are beginning to show proficiency of the initial skill, the next level can be made available for them when they’re ready. Students know that they can stay at a given level until they’re ready to progress. And students are really good at self assessing and practicing at an appropriate level for them. If there is a group where the task appears too easy or too hard, we may prompt them or provide feedback to help them select the correct level for their ability.

In conclusion, student engagement can be developed by tending to a student’s perceived competence through the use of specific feedback and appropriate choices. Both feedback and choice are best developed when we take time to consider them during the planning process before the students arrive. Feedback needs to be specific, consistent, and help students move toward proficiency. Choice needs to be aligned with the objective and support students’ progress toward the given skill.

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