Most educators understand the importance of differentiating their instruction and task expectations in order to meet the diverse needs of their learners. As well, most educators understand that voice and choice is an important part of the teaching process. Being explicit and specific about how students can find their own entry point into learning in a unit requires a carefully thought-out plan by teachers.
Teachers must create powerful learning opportunities that match where the students are at and where they need to go next in regards to their learning. Students need to have multiple entry points into learning. Ron Ritchhart from Project Zero at Harvard Graduate School of Education refers to these multiple entry points as low-floor and high ceiling entry points with mid-level entry points embedded in there as well.
Rather than planning lessons that have students only demonstrate content knowledge, it is critical to plan learning opportunities that help them to self-differentiate. This requires a distinct shift away from having all of the students working on developing the exact same skills in the exact same way in a unit. As the students all have different levels of skills and abilities, setting up the teaching and learning environment in a way that encourages students to explore, discover, and self-differentiate gives them much more buy in and ownership of their learning in whatever units are being taught in PE.
It’s worth considering the Meaningful PE framework when designing units in order to maximize engagement and to help all students flourish in regards to their own physical movement journeys. The Meaningful PE framework was developed by researchers in Canada and Ireland and can be accessed here if you wish to read more about it.
The framework itself focuses on 5 specific features:
When designing meaningful movement experiences in a PE unit, these 5 features should be considered during the planning process.
How can we ensure that all students experience joy through movement in PE?
Although some like to refer to this feature as ‘fun’, I think that the word joy better sums it up. Regardless of what the unit is, the students need to be able to find joy in the experience. This requires moving away from a one-size fits all type of experience in PE.
How can we ensure that students are able to develop their motor competence based on where they are at in regards to their level of skill?
All students are at different levels of ability in regards to their skills related to physical activity. It is imperative to meet students where they are at. This means carefully structuring lessons in a way that differentiate learning. Whether it’s a low-floor and high ceiling entry point, the students can all work on developing their motor competence based on where they are at.
How can we ensure that the students feel a sense of belonging and purpose in PE?
All students should feel supported. Lessons should be structured in a way that allow for different types of groupings based on where students are at. It’s not always about being a part of a group as some students might prefer to work alone. However, the common pursuit in the class is one that all students are striving to find flow with their learning and their skill development. There should be multiple opportunities for small and large group discussions to allow students to connect with their peer group to celebrate their successes and next steps needed in their learning journey.
How can we ensure that the students are able to identify the ‘just right’ challenge in regards to their own learning?
This is an important one for us at Gardens Elementary School. We feel that if we get this one right, all the other features fall nicely into place. By helping students to identify their just right entry point into learning, they can focus on the tasks and activities that they need to in order to challenge themselves at the right level. Finding the just right challenge allows them to be more engaged and to find flow with their learning and their skill development. If something is too easy for them or too difficult, they are likely to be disengaged and bored. When we can help kids to find their just right entry point, not only do behavior management problems drastically decrease, students are more focused and on task. Therefore, we like to prioritize the feature of challenge in the units that we teach at Gardens Elementary School.
How can we ensure that the students’ movement experiences are relevant to them based on their needs?
Students should be able to take action in regards to their learning. If learning experiences are relevant to the students and their needs, there is an increased chance that they will find more meaning in regards to physical activity. When students feel that their learning is relevant to them, they will more than likely see the greater purpose behind it and hopefully be inspired to stay physically active when not in school.
We are in the middle of our grade 5 cycling unit at Gardens Elementary School. Our aim is to not only equip students with the skills needed to ride their bicycles safely in our community, but to inspire students to see possibilities beyond just riding their bicycles from point A to point B. We want them to experience different types of riding to help build their motor competence, but to also provide them with a multitude of experiences that they might be able to take action on after school and on weekends.
In the early phase of this unit, we had the student explore different types of riding in a very safe environment. The students rode their bicycles around the basketball court in the playground of the school practicing different types of riding.
We did a review of using proper rode signals as well during this time and had them practice this. Based on teacher reflection, we knew we had to spend extra time on helping the students better develop their ability to use road signals safely and to be able to ride more safely on the roads in our community.
We asked the students to identify what they felt their biggest challenges were in the first part of the unit and created some leveled challenges for them to practice. We were hoping to do more with these challenges before the winter break, but have moved on to different types of challenges out in our community.
As we are well into the unit now, we are taking the students out into the community to practice their riding. Today’s focus was getting the students to experience some off-road riding. The students were able to find their own challenges and to learn how to better ride their bicycles in off road conditions and on hills. Some students chose gentle hills to ride down, others chose steep hills, while some students didn’t feel they were ready for this and chose to ride on concrete paths and roads.
The point is that we are slowly trying to build up their motor competence but in a way that allows them to be the architects of their own learning and to make decisions based on where they feel they are at. It was great to see some risk-takers trying to take on the next greatest challenge, but in saying this, we continually emphasize safety in this unit. See some of the photos below of the students in action.
It has been wonderful to teach this unit with my good friends and colleagues Adam Llevo and Evan Bryceland.
Stay tuned for more blog posts about this unit. Thanks for reading.
KAUST Faculty, Pedagogical Coach. Presenter & Workshop Leader.IB Educator. #RunYourLife podcast host.