Teacher Reflection on the Unit
This was an interesting unit to teach for me as I was definitely trying out a new approach to teaching health related fitness to grade 5 students at the KAUST School. In an earlier blog post that I wrote about this unit, I shared how pre-unit interviews with students helped to provide me with some very relevant information in regards to how they felt about their experiences related to past Health-Related Fitness units.
I felt that doing these interviews would provide me with valuable insight that I could then use to structure and design my delivery in this unit. My simple goal in this unit was to better engage students in Health Related Fitness and to make the unit as relevant as I could for them. Using the information gathered I began to make some choices in regards to how I would deliver this unit. The photos below show students' thoughts and feelings regarding their previous experience with the Health-Related Fitness unit.
As you can see from the photos above, a number of students ranked their experience in the previous Health-Related Fitness unit on the lower end of the scale. The person who had taught this unit before is not only a good person, but an excellent teacher. He had delivered the unit in the way that used fitness testing to set goals and also provided choice to the students in regards to how they worked to achieve their goals.
My point here is that regardless of how good a teacher might be, it is imperative to constantly re-think our deliver of units in order to create the conditions for students to be more engaged in their physical education experiences. It also brings to the table the importance of having important discussions with them before the unit begins. I've heard all too often from teachers that students must learn certain things whether they like it or not.
As teachers, it is easy to fall back on 'well that's the curriculum, too bad if you don't like it", but my firm belief is that there is a lot of room for flexibility in planning and the designing of units. When we genuinely strive to bring student voice into the process of designing units, they feel valued and listened to.
Bearing this in mind, my intention was to listen to them and structure the unit in a way that not only addresses important learning outcomes in Health-Related Fitness, but allows students more autonomy in deciding which particular areas of fitness that they wanted to focus on. In order to do this, we explored 4 different areas of fitness (Burst & Recover Through Active Games, Burst & Recover Through Training, Longer Time at a Steady Pace, and Flexibility & Strength). and had them sign off on each area after they had done it.
This was done through mini 8-10 minute challenges. I wanted to have the students experience what it feels like to be active in a variety of ways. After they had experienced each area of fitness, they simply signed off on it. See photo below
After exploring these areas and experiencing some specific activities directly related to each area, I asked the students to select a minimum of two different areas to further explore for the rest of the unit. They used yellow sticky notes to write their names to indicate which areas they wanted to focus on.
Differentiated Entry Points
This allowed me to find each student's entry point to activity. As you can see for example, some students wanted to do more high intensity type interval training. Some wanted to do activities that allowed them to stay moving for a longer period of time at a steady pace. This provided me with an opportunity to specifically teach them this type of training.
Once the students had selected their areas of interest (minimum 2), each class after this was devoted to them being as active as possible during the remaining lessons in this unit. My goal was to observe and offer direct support whenever needed. I allowed them to build in necessary breaks as well.
Although most students took well to this type of delivery, there were still a few students who did not put as much time into being active through 'burst and recover' type activities or 'burst and recover through training' or 'longer periods of time at a steady pace'. I found myself stepping in and reminding them about that this unit was about being as active as possible in their chosen areas of fitness. For example, if they had chosen 'burst and recover' through games, the goal was to be as active as possible AND committed to putting in effort. The games that a few of these students played were definitely not very active. However, I was trying to avoid stepping in and forcing them to play more active games just to meet an outcome in this unit.
Instead, I chose to have conversations with these students and try to encourage them to be more active by designing fun games that they could do to stay moving.
Over the last two classes, the students did 20-minute challenges. Their goal was to stay as active as possible in at least 2 different areas of fitness. For some, it was playing small-sided soccer games at a higher intensity of play. For others, it was doing yoga for 20 straight minutes and then riding a bike for 20 minutes afterwards. Some students decided to jog around the field for 20 minutes. Whatever they decided to do, the goal was for them to experience longer periods of time doing their chosen activity.
The students completed simple reflection sheets at the end of the last class of this unit. It took about 10 minutes for this activity. It provided good insight into what they feel they learned and what they liked. As well, I asked them to identify just one thing that I can do better next time I teach this unit.
In looking back at this unit, I did not reach each student as I had hoped to. The reality is that some students will respond and some students won't. Could I have forced students to do fitness testing and other forms of rigorous physical activity because that's what they are suppose to do in a unit such as this? For sure, I could have done this. Control and compliance does force kids to participate in the things we feel are best for them. However, in playing the long game of getting students to take action on being more physically active when not in PE, a control and compliance type approach does not work.
This was far from a perfect or ideal unit, but I'm trying to refine my understanding of how to better engage students in their physical education experiences. Sometimes I feel I don't know where I'm going with this, but I need to remind myself that this is a journey of the unknown at times and I need to be comfortable with that. I need to tinker and refine this approach and seek advice from others (thanks Dr. Justin O' Conner & Dr. Aaron Beighle for your valuable insight!!).
KAUST Faculty, Pedagogical Coach. Presenter & Workshop Leader.IB Educator. #RunYourLife podcast host.