Reframing a quality physical education experience
However, having said this, there is a huge difference between choice that has no constraints and purposeful choice that is rooted within the parameters of the unit being explored in PE. I’m all about voice and choice, but having clear and specific outcomes in place when providing students with opportunities to choose what they want to work on.
The purpose of this blog post is to dive into 2 key features that I believe are critically important in a quality physical education experience. But, before getting into these 2 features, I’d like to emphasize that it is a deep belief of mine that motor competence is an important part of all learning in PE. Students need opportunities to develop important skills related physical activity and sport.
There are some who believe that motor competence is where everything begins and once the students begin to develop their motor competence in different areas, they become more confident. Confident students will be more engaged in PE and be willing to take the risks necessary to try new things in order to fully participate in the program. I understand that some teachers value placing motor competence front and center in their programs, but to me I place personal relevance and challenge at the core of a physical education experience.
If we are to intrinsically motivate students to want to be physically active and engaged in sport, we must make everything we do in physical education personally relevant to them. Every single student needs an entry point into their movement experience. As renowned educational researcher, Ron Ritchhart, says, we must create opportunities for all students to have an entry point into their learning whether it be a low entry point or a high ceiling entry point.
I’ll be working closely with the Meaningful PE researchers over the next several months, sharing the work that our PE team is focused on here at Gardens Elementary School in Saudi Arabia, especially in regards to the features of challenge and personal relevance. The number one goal in our PE program is to make strong connections to community and to offer every opportunity possible for students to connect all learning in PE to what is available to them in our community in regards to being physically active.
In this blog post, I want to share examples of how we are unpacking the features of challenge and personal relevance in our program and provide specific strategies that I have been working on implementing at our school in order to go much deeper into the importance of challenge.
Our Challenge Continuum
In order to help students develop a deeper understanding of the importance of continually challenging themselves in regards to their own learning and growth, I brought an idea forward to the teachers that I coach at my school. The idea was to create a challenge continuum that really unpacks what challenge means and what challenge feels like.
We started with a 10-point scale with 1 on the scale representing ‘super easy’ for them and 10 being impossible for them. We are trying get the students to understanding that the ‘just right’ challenge zone is somewhere between a 6-8 out of 10. As I’m also coaching one of our grade 5 classroom teachers, we are using the challenge continuum in his class. His students are getting double exposure to the challenge continuum as they are using it in their classroom and in PE, therefore the same language is being used in regards to unpacking challenge.
The grade 5 students are more than halfway through their first unit of the year which is a cycling unit. As we first introduced the students to the challenge continuum in their math class, the next step was to use it in PE as well.
As an opener in this unit, we wanted to get the students to discuss what they find challenging about riding their bicycles in and around our community at KAUST. As you can see from the visual below, the students identified several things that they find very challenging to them. Getting students to dig into what challenges them at the start of the unit allowed us to create opportunities to find the right entry point into their learning related to cycling.
I created a visual to be used in the second class of the unit that would begin to address the feature of ‘challenge’ and for the students to use a simple colored dot strategy to self-assess how challenging each area on the visual is for them. This allowed us to determine the best entry point for them.
At the end of this class, another assessment that we used was getting the students to identify how hard the class was for them. This required having three different coloured cards ready to go (green yellow and red). At the end of the class, the students simply chose the card that best represented how difficult the class was for them. They held the card in plain view and using their fingers, showed what number best represented how challenging it was for them. As you can see in the photo below, the students ranked the level of difficulty very differently.
Some were a yellow 5 which means that it was starting to be a challenge for them. As seen in the photo, one student assessed the level of challenge being a yellow 9 which means that he found it almost too challenging. In watching this boy cycle in the desert, he was indeed having difficulty but did not give up. You can also see a few green assessments in the photo. A green 4 means that it was easy for them but was approaching the challenge zone. Taking a group photo allowed us to see where each student was at and to ensure some of them either backed off a bit from making it too challenging or increased the level of challenge the following class.
We have already seen the impact of this unit on some of the grade 5 students. There are quite a few who have told us that they went back to the desert area to cycle around on the sand and to create their own adventure cycling course. They’ll be teaching it to the rest of the class next week.
Personal relevance and challenge are so closely aligned in our program and it is our belief that motor competence is a natural by-product of the process and learning and growth we are hoping to deepen throughout this school year. If kids are intrinsically motivated to be physically active and can find the right entry point to suit their level of ability, great things can be accomplished. Stay tuned for further blog posts that provide more insight into our PE program at Gardens Elementary School. Thanks for reading!!