I’ll use the old idiom “Life is a marathon and not a sprint” to illustrate the point that creating long term sustainable change in any area of our teaching takes time, effort, energy, commitment, and a steadfast determination to do whatever it takes to improve upon student learning in our programs. So, bearing this in mind, as you read my ‘Supercharging Student Reflection” blog post series, please understand that the strategies that I present will take a lot of time and energy to implement. However, in saying this, I do believe that the effort will be well worth it in the long run.
I'm going to describe each phase of this journey, in detail, using examples of my past teaching to hopefully inspire you to try it out for yourself, with your own students, in your own teaching space. If you are interested in implementing these strategies in your PE program, I advise that you proceed with caution, not trying to roll things out all at once across each grade level. My strongest advice would be to experiment and tinker with these strategies with only one grade level in the first term or semester of your school year. Observe and monitor how it goes making the necessary changes and modifications along the way. Only you and you alone know your teaching space and environment as well as the resources that you have at your disposal to effectively implement these changes.
For those of you familiar with my style of teaching, you know just how important a role student reflection plays in my PE program. I have tested out lots of different ways to get my students reflecting on their own learning and performance over the years and have yet to create the 'perfect' way to do so. However, through constant tinkering, I have developed what I believe to be very effective strategies to get students to set authentic goals and to reflect continuously on their progress (or lack of) related to these specific goals.
The journey in making this all happen begins at the start of the school year and works outward from that point. Setting the stage for authentic learning in PE must begin from day one! I believe that it's imperative to get our students to truly understand the value that physical education plays in their lives, but rather than tell them the reasons why, I aim to have them figure it out on their own through the process that I will blog about in this series.
My ultimate goal in this blog post series is to share with you a process by which students set authentic goals in PE and reflect continuously on these goals. More about these goals later, but for now I want to introduce step 1 in the ‘supercharging student reflection’ blog post series. I hope you read on!!!
The big ideas in step 1:
Use of provocation and key questioning
It is necessary to provide a reference point and a bit of back story to help give you more insight into how I start the school year off in PE. Last year I blogged about a strategy that I used to get my students thinking about the following key question: Why should PE be an important part of your school experience? My goal in using this key question was to get students to begin to identify big, overarching ideas about the importance that PE plays in a school’s curriculum. I recorded this key question on a large piece of poster-sized paper.
The provocation that I used to help begin this discussion was to get my students to imagine that PE time was being taken away from them.That instead of having 2 classes a week, their PE time was going to be cut to just one day a week or may even be totally cut from the curriculum. When asked how this would feel, many students felt the injustice of it and how extremely unfair this would be. I told them that if they are to protect PE they must come up with an argument why it should remain a part of the curriculum. I had them imagine that they had to present their case, their smart reasons why PE should remain in the curriculum, to our school’s administrative team.
I also told them that many schools in America and Canada face this actual dilemma, that PE time is being drastically cut from the schedule or in some cases, classes are combined so that the PE teacher can have up to 70-80 students in a class. My students were shocked to hear this and felt compelled to brainstorm reasons why PE was so important in their lives. The use of this type of provocation tapped into the students’ sense of empathy and compassion which propelled them to have a sincere discussion about why PE is such a critical part of their school experience. At this point I provided them with an opportunity to do a ‘walk & talk’ and to share their answers related to the key question.
After a few minutes, I had them gather as a whole class to begin our discussion and it was at this point that a torrent of ideas and thoughts poured out of the students. It’s critical for me to record my students’ thoughts, ideas, and answers in regards to the big ideas and key questions asked in class and to do so without judging them as wrong or right.
I have two simple ways in which I do this (amongst other ways as well). The first way is to record their ideas in my journal. So, as they bombarded me with their answers, I quickly took notes. Students have tendency to repeat what others have said at times, so when this happened, I simply placed a check mark in my journal beside the original idea that was repeated. The second way that I get students to record their answers is using yellow sticky notes. I put yellow sticky notes up on the walls around the gym with a scattering of pencils on the floor as well. As the students did their ‘walk and talk’, when they came up with ideas, they could run over to a yellow sticky note, write their idea down, then continue on with their discussion. The walk and talk lasted a total of about ten minutes. I used both ways (the journal and the sticky notes) to record student ideas during the first week of school.
Step 1 in the process concluded with the sharing and recording of student ideas. They had a chance to really dig deep into why PE is so important in their lives and in a school's curriculum which serves multiple purposes in my opinion. It helps to bring recognition to the importance of our subject area, but to also use student voice to advocate for PE's rightful place in a school's curriculum. I'll have step 2 of the 'supercharging student reflection' blog post series up within a couple of days. If you are interested in learning more about this process, come on back to read!! Before leaving you with some important considerations, I want you to think about the following questions:
To what extent do students have the opportunity to reflect in your PE program? What obstacles prevent you from being able to go deeper with student reflection in your classes?
#1: The key question used in this first class is not concrete. There are multiple ways to ask this question and to come up with much better wording. The important thing is that the key question stimulates the students’ thinking in regards to the importance that PE plays in their lives.
#2: The provocation used in this first class can be anything that will tap into their sense of emotion and compassion. I used the idea of PE time being cut which is an absolute reality. As you will see in step 2 in the blog post series, there are other ways to also provoke their thinking in regards to the key question posed at the start of the first class.
#3: Recording student ideas can be done in a plethora of ways, especially if you have access to iPads and other digital devices. I’m old school journal and pencil myself, but of course you know what’s best for you!