What is a professional inquiry and how can a professional inquiry help to improve teaching practice in order to positively impact student learning?
These are the questions that I will explore in this blog post using my own professional inquiry as an example. Before getting into the specific details of my own professional inquiry, I feel it is important to share some background information to help provide more context for this blog post and the direction I am hoping to go with my own professional learning related to my teaching practice this school year.
The pandemic has reshaped and upended education as we know it and has led to a dramatic change in the way that schools have structured teaching and learning over the past year. Almost every school around the world has been impacted by COVID and our school here in Saudi Arabia, The KAUST School, has had its own share of obstacles and challenges to overcome in order to keep learning alive and on track.
Although my main role at The KAUST School over the past 5 years has been to work with teachers to help them deliver the best learning possible for their students, due to COVID, I’ve had the opportunity to jump back into teaching for the first time in quite a while. It’s been a rewarding experience to be teaching PE again after so many years which has helped to give me deeper insight into my leadership role as a pedagogical coordinator.
Everyone in our school, regardless of position, must choose a professional inquiry that will guide their own learning and growth throughout the year. It is called the Professional Learning and Performance Framework (The PLP) and the philosophy behind the PLP is to cultivate a culture of collaborative inquiry that encourages staff to be courageously bold in their pursuit of professional excellence. As the school states:
“We believe it is our responsibility to learn with and from others, as well as contribute to the growth of others. Through honest reflection, feedback, and analysis together with colleagues, staff are engaged in an appraisal process that promotes lasting change that positively impacts student learning.”
Staff are accountable to themselves, their students, their colleagues, and the administration to fully engage in this process and leverage opportunities to thrive and support the school in becoming a global leader in education.
As a pedagogical leader, I have a professional inquiry that is focused on how I can make my work with teachers as relevant as possible in order to help them maximize the impact they have on student learning. However, as a teacher this year, I feel it is also important to have my own professional inquiry. From the start of the year, I’ve been very curious about how I might create the conditions for each of my learners to flourish in their own unique ways. This has led to me thinking more deeply about the structures and routines I utilize in my PE classes and how I can free myself up during my lessons to work more closely with students, on a one-to-one basis, in order to provide them with the timely feedback needed to help them make progress with their own learning.
Over the past several years, I’ve had the good fortune to work closely with a team of researchers, including Dr. Tim Fletcher, Dr. Doug Gleddie, and Dr. Deirdre NiCronin, who have been responsible for developing the Meaningful PE framework. This framework for teaching physical education has really resonated with me over the years and has led to me being very curious about how I might deliver my own teaching in a way that allows each of my students to find their own entry points to learning in the units being taught. It is my belief that if I can help my students find their own entry point to learning, they will not only be more engaged, but will develop the intrinsic motivation needed to keep practicing and making progress with their skills, therefore motor competence is a by-product of creating these conditions for student learning.
I've written extensively in the past about the cycling unit that we have run at The KAUST School in Saudi Arabia and my previous blog post shed some light on the unit itself, my hopes for the unit, and how I was trying to align my assessments with the big ideas/concepts being explored in the unit. This is always a special unit to teach as cycling is a big part of our community context here at KAUST. Our goal as a PE team was to inspire our students to find a joy and love of cycling that would continue long after the unit. Our hope is that the students take action to ride their bicycles more in our community in multiple different contexts when not in PE.
In order to create the conditions for kids to find joy and meaning in our cycling unit, it was imperative to think about the 5 features of the Meaningful PE framework. Although all 5 features are equally important, I specifically focused on the features of Challenge and Personal Relevance in this unit. I felt that if I could get these features right, the kids would experience joy, they would interact with their peers in the process, and motor competence would take care of itself as they were accessing 'just right' challenges that were suited to them and their needs/abilities.
Over the course of the 9-week unit, I felt as though the unit stayed on track and that the students not only enjoyed themselves, but also made quite a bit of progress in regards to their cycling skills. Although I observed lots of smiles and could see the students getting better each lesson, I could not base what I thought was the truth about these observations on a hunch. All too often, I've heard PE teachers say things such as, "My students loved that game." or "My students had a blast in our unit, they couldn't get enough of it." I have fallen prey myself to making large scale assumptions about my teaching and about my lessons/units thinking that 'all' kids loved it or that 'all' kids were engaged in their learning.
Our professional inquiry process here at KAUST requires teachers to have different data points about their teaching in order to collect the information needed to truly make informed decisions about the direction of their teaching with the ultimate goal being to positively impact student learning. As mentioned earlier, 'collaboration' is a very important element of the professional inquiry process. There are three times a year that teachers must meet up with someone from senior leadership to have open and honest dialogue about teaching practice with a specific focus on their professional inquiry. There is the 'beginning of the year' chat, a 'mid-year' chat and finally the 'end of year' chat. As teachers move through the inquiry process, with each passing month, they have the autonomy to take their inquiry in whatever direction they feel is best, but again, this is not based on a hunch, but much more so on 'student data' and how the data can be used to inform the next steps in their professional inquiry.
In addition to meeting with senior leadership, they also meet with their pedagogical coordinator, as well colleagues across the school, to discuss their learning journey, to receive and give critical feedback/suggestions, and to help deepen their learning by seeing what others are doing.
In regards to my own professional inquiry, I enlisted the support of my friend and colleague Zack Smith. Zack is an outstanding early years educator who has also focused on applying the Meaningful PE framework in his teaching. Due to COVID restrictions and major changes in teaching and learning in kindergarten, Zack has moved into the role of being in charge of distance learning for students in kindergarten who cannot attend face-to-face classes. Although Zack's role has changed this year, he is still involved in team planning with the early years PE team and still collaborates with us on a regular basis. I thought Zack would be perfect to help me decide on some student voice questions that he could use for quick interviews with students across the classes I teach in elementary PE.
Zack and I came up with three simple questions that he would ask my students. We decided that he would randomly select three boys and three girls from each class to interview. The three questions were:
Professional inquiries are all about the unknown. A genuine inquiry is not about having the answers or knowing exactly where this professional learning journey will take you. It's about being curious about your own practice and knowing what it is you are hoping to find out more about. As stated above, my professional inquiry was about:
'Thinking more deeply about the structures and routines I utilize in my PE classes and how I can free myself up during my lessons to work more closely with students, on a one-to-one basis, in order to provide them with the timely feedback needed to help them make progress with their own learning'
At the heart of this inquiry is creating autonomous learners who feel that they have choice and that I can provide them with the feedback needed to help them make progress with with the skills necessary to become more competent cyclists. Therefore, the three questions that Zack and I designed were a very good starting point to find out more information about student learning in my classes.
As a teacher who cares deeply about students and their learning, I obviously wanted them to know I was here to help them and that they had multiple choices and entry points into their learning, so this is what I was most interested in knowing more about. For the sake of clarity, Zack used a simple number system when collecting student voice. A number 1 meant 'very little', a number 2 meant 'some' and a number 3 meant 'a lot'.
As always, the professional inquiry process can be full of surprises! In my own case, the initial data was a bit surprising. I had to take a step back and stay open and curious to what the data might be telling me. I had to remind myself that collecting student voice is all about looking at the data with non-judgement and to turn off any emotions associated to the data itself. Even after teaching for so long, it can still be difficult to turn off our emotions. I've included some of the student voice below to give you some real examples of what it looked like.
Next Steps in My Inquiry
To clarify a few of my own thoughts is important here. For me, it's definitely not that I want my students to be dependent on me for help. I'm all about created autonomous, self-directed learners in my program, however, I do want them to know that I'm always here for them when and if they need help and support with their learning.
The fact that a number of kids felt that they hadn't made '3-a lot of progress' was a bit of a concern to me as my observations throughout the unit led me to believe that they had all made quite a bit of progress with their learning. I thought that it was obvious that they had, but the data showed me that a number of them didn't feel that they made '3-a lot' of progress, but rather '2-some'. What might this mean? How might I better explore this question and their answers in moving forward with my practice? These are some curiosities I now have about the first question. I don't have the answers yet, but will continue to think my way through this and take actionable steps to address it. The one thing I need to consider is how I am challenging the highly competent cyclists in class so that they feel that they can keep getting better.
The next thing was to look at question 2. As stated, my hope was that my students felt that they could come to me for help and that I was always here to support them. This is why I chose to structure my lessons throughout the unit in a specific way to free myself up to be available for more one-to-one/small group support. I felt that I had done this well in my teaching, but the data showed that a number of students felt that I helped them '2-some of the time'. So, what might this mean? As I reflected on the data related to the second question, I thought to myself, why might they feel that I only helped them some of the time or in other cases '1-very little'? I didn't have the answers initially, but through conversation with Zack, we came to a few potential breakthroughs:
A) Perhaps I wasn't explicit enough in the language I used with my students. There is a possibility that I didn't explicitly let them know that I was here to help them and that anytime they needed me, they could come to me for support. Rather, I cycled around checking in, giving quick feedback when needed before moving on to the next student. Had I been more explicit in my language about helping them, this might have changed their perception about me being there to better support them. So, in moving forward, I will be aware of the language I use to ensure I am more explicit and specific about the help that I want to offer them when they need it.
B) The second thing we identified was that it may have been a great sign that they felt I only helped them '2-some of the time' or even '1-very little'. As I want my students to find their own entry points to learning and to self-differentiate in order to find flow and to be intrinsically motivated to work on their skills, having the feeling of autonomy and independence is hugely important. The fact that they feel I didn't help them very much might indicate that they were on the right track with their learning and that they didn't require my help that much.
As seen in my previous blog post, the students self-assessed using red, yellow, and green stickers. There were very few reds ever in this unit (red stickers meant that the task they were working on was 'impossible' for them). Had there been a bunch of reds, the students would've needed my help a lot more. There were mostly yellow stickers (making progress but still challenging) and green stickers (fully competent and confident).
C) The third conclusion was that perhaps question 2 was not the best question to ask. A better question Zack could've asked might have been:
To what extent do you feel that you could've gone to Mr. Andy for help and support when you needed it in the cycling unit?
1-I feel I wasn't able to really go to him for help if I needed it.
2-I feel he might have helped me if I needed it.
3-I knew I could always go to him if I needed help.
Choices, Choices, Choices
The third interview question was all about choices and whether or not the students felt as though they had enough choice in the cycling unit. As the data indicated that most students felt that they had some choice in this unit, it really surprised me, as I thought I had emphasized many times that they could work on what they wanted. Every class we cycled around, as a group, to explore different challenges so that they knew the different activities they could try out in order to self-differentiate.
In the second half of the unit, we explored lots of different possibilities. I specifically asked the students to identify the choices that they most wanted to try out the rest of the unit and made a poster to identify what these challenges were. You can see the poster below, as well the self-assessment stickers that were also used:
As Zack and I analyzed the student voice data around 'choices', I felt that a couple of things could be explored including, once again, the explicit use of language. Although I feel I had been abundantly clear that the kids had lots of different choices available to them, the student voice data shows otherwise. Perhaps they felt limited to only the 7 challenges/choices on the posters put up around their outdoor PE space. I thought I had emphasized to them that these were not the only challenges that they were allowed to explore, but that they could be as creative as they want in making up extension challenges. The next steps in regards to my inquiry related to choices are:
1. Use very explicit language about choices, emphasizing the word 'choices' and being more specific that they do indeed have choices, but are not limited to only these choices. Intentional language use around 'choices' will definitely be my focus next unit.
2. Create a visual that shows the choices that they have but create 4-6 blank boxes below the listed choices with the question, 'What other choice can you come up with here?' It might look something like this:
An additional thought I would like to share about professional inquiries is that it is all about the process of learning over time. It's not about a final product or about having that ONE right answer in the end. The idea is that regardless of where a teacher is at in their professional inquiry journey, it is about remaining open and curious about next steps and exploring these next steps with a definite plan in mind while using student data to support. It's about failing and figuring out what may have not gone right and why. And then making the necessary adjustments to our teaching practice. It's not about judgement or being wrong. With continued curiosity and knowing within our heart that the main purpose of a professional inquiry is about having a positive impact on student learning, the journey can be so worthwhile.
My next steps are to implement the changes described above into my teaching in the next couple of units. Just before the end of the year, I will have Zack come back in to gather more student voice to help me know whether or not the changes I've implemented have had a positive impact on student learning in regards to my professional inquiry.
Even after teaching for 20 years, I love this process as it keeps me motivated to get better and to find out more about what I can do to make a difference to my students. My goal remains the same though, to inspire them to find a love of physical activity and to help create meaningful learning experiences that shows my students what is possible. And as Dr. Scott Kretchmar says, 'It is important to guide our students by the hand to the kingdom's doors to show them that there is some really good stuff in there. Trust me, I know what's inside the kingdom and it's my job is to create the conditions for you to find out for yourself.'
Would love to hear from you and how you are addressing professional growth and learning in your program. Please share your thoughts in the comment box below. Thanks for reading.
Experimenting with a New Assessment Structure in PE
What a year it has been. As I reflect on the last year, I'm drawn to what it means to lead with purpose and intentionality, but also how this journey has been shaped by being back in the trenches of teaching again after a few years away from it. I feel that my role as a pedagogical coordinator has been greatly impacted by this journey. I've struggled to come up with a very clear professional inquiry within my role as a pedagogical coordinator this year, not because I haven't thought deeply about it, but more so due to the complexities related to teaching and learning during the time of COVID. Truly assessing teacher needs during this time and knowing when to step in and positively challenge and when not to has been difficult terrain to navigate. I want to honor each teacher and where they are at in their own journey, but to also find the common ground needed to ensure that the focus remains on teaching and learning, especially during this difficult time.
Much of the work that I do with teachers is to help them talk their way through their teaching and to plan in the most efficient ways possible in order to have a deeper impact on student learning. I'm always thinking about ways that I can positively impact teachers and their pedagogy/practice.
In thinking about these things, I've been drawn full circle back to my own teaching. Over the last 5 years as a pedagogical coordinator, I have had to reflect on how my values and priorities have changed in regards to what I feel sound pedagogical practice to be. My last year of full-time teaching was 2014. When I reflect back to the teacher I was then, although I felt I was doing good things and took my job seriously, my thinking has shifted/evolved in regards to what I now believe good teaching to be. Being immersed in teaching again this year has made me reconsider my own instructional practice and what I need to do to become a better educator. I think my role as a pedagogical leader is deeply impacted by my journey teaching this year.
This blog post is devoted to my role as a teacher and what I have learned through the process of teaching again. As a PE teacher, I obviously want my students to find inspiration through physical activity and sport. How I create the conditions for students to feel as though they belong and matter is critical to me, but sprinkled into this journey is the need to be precise with my planning and assessment in order to give timely feedback that matters. When I began teaching again this year, I felt rusty, out of sync, and slightly overwhelmed. It's one thing to drop in to a teacher’s class and co-teach or model a lesson or part of a lesson, it is an entirely different thing to plan and teach an entire unit and to try and assess the students in meaningful ways that are authentic in nature.
In thinking my way through my own teaching, I really did need to experiment, explore, and think about how to maximize engagement given the current restrictions, but to also activate student voice in multiple different ways in order to find out more about how they felt about their learning experiences with me. I had to be clear on the structure of my lessons, progressions within the lesson, but to also try to differentiate as much as possible to allow students to find their own entry point into learning. I realized quickly that the structures I first started with at the beginning of the year were not working. Way too many inconsistencies and a major lack of routine led me to thinking very clearly about how I can better create clear structures within my lessons.
The biggest weakness within my lessons were my assessments. How I structured my assessments, the language I used, and the way I gathered evidence needed to get better. I needed to be much more concise/efficient in my approach, but give myself the freedom to explore and tinker with different ideas knowing that I really did have the students’ best interests at heart.
Teaching in the single subjects can be a daunting task when there are so many students to assess. My curiosity led me to developing an assessment structure that I hope provides timely feedback and that students know what their next steps are throughout this process. I want to share where I am at in this process and the assessment structure that I have been exploring with in our cycling unit. To be clear, I do not know to what extent this assessment structure is actually working or the impact it has. I feel it is having a positive impact, but I will not base this feeling on a hunch. I need to have someone come into my classes to do student interviews. My colleague and buddy, Zack Smith, has volunteered to do this for me at some point, so I will access him as a support through this process.
As road safety was a critical component to this unit, we wanted to emphasize this in our teaching from the start of the cycling unit. Not only were the students required to know their ABC check (Air, Brake, Chain/Clothing), they needed to demonstrate a number of different skills related to riding safely on the roads of KAUST, but this journey began within the school ground. Using the newly painted yellow lines and crosswalks, the students needed to practice their hand signals and focus on spatial awareness and riding with control and balance. Rather than overly skill and drill them, I wanted to open it up for exploration of road safety skills and allow the students to choose what it was they felt they wanted to work on. However, the non-negotiable was that they needed to work on road safety skills. In order to give them timely feedback, I created a colored dot self-assessment strategy that I was hoping would work well to not only give them timely feedback but to also use this dot strategy as a tool for communication with parents.
As the kids explored different road safety skills, they would decide whether they were a red dot (impossible for them), a yellow dot (getting there but needs more work) or a green dot (confident and competent in their ability). I had the dots printed off with text on each dot indicating what it was the task was focused on. Once the students selected which color they felt was most appropriate, the hope was that when they went home, the parents would see what it was they were working on and help the kids further develop these skills, so that reds turned to yellow and yellows turned to green. The idea is that this would visibly show a progression of their own learning which was unique to them and their level of skill. For the students who reached competency and who were confident in their road safety skills, I could open up other challenges in the unit sooner rather than keep them in the basic road safety phase of the unit. To me, this was an important part of differentiating learning.
The plus side of using this assessment strategy was that when the students brought their bikes home at the end of each lesson, their parents could see the exact challenges the students were working on and how the student had self-assessed themselves. A perfect launch point for parents then helping to support their child's learning and growth related to cycling after school and on weekends. The main idea behind this assessment is that the students can show progression in their learning turning red stickers to yellow and yellow stickers to green.
This unit was further unpacked to include various challenges on a bike from simple to complex in nature. Through further exploration, the students had autonomy over choosing which challenges that they wanted to try out and to self-assess along the way. This is now the stage we are at in this unit as we move toward wrapping things up. The students were actively involved in co-constructing what these challenges were, so these challenges are based on their voice and their experiences.
The questions that I have about my own practice and this unit in particular are:
I’ve asked Zack Smith to collect student voice for me. I will refine the questions I ask with his support and analyze the student voice data to inform next steps in my own teaching that I can apply in our next unit. As much as I want to say that kids are loving this unit, that they are learning and making genuine progress, I cannot base this on a hunch, but must inform myself with student voice data in moving forward. I look forward to teaming up with Zack to help me through this process.
It's been ages since I've blogged, but I'm happy to be back at it. In particular, I'm thrilled to be teaching PE again. It's been over 5 years since I last taught PE regularly. Over the past 5 years, I have been a pedagogical coordinator and a coach for teachers. Although I still have this role, due to COVID, our teachers are very spread out across the school. There was a need for another PE teacher, so I gladly jumped on board to take a few classes this year. It is a great way for me to stay connected to teaching and gain a deeper insight into the day-to-day challenges that teachers face.
I wanted to share a strategy that I'm putting into action with my grade 5 students to start off the year. For the past few weeks, we've been in distance learning, but we are now slowly moving back to face-to-face teaching. Although I've already had the grade 5 students for a month now and have gotten to know them reasonably well, I feel that going back to face-to-face is presenting some great opportunities to get to know them even better.
It is my intention to seek much more student voice and to involve the students, on a deeper level, in the building of units throughout this school year. The only way that I can do this is to get their genuine feedback about their past experiences, their likes, dislikes, and the ways they enjoy being physically active when not in school. I feel that this will provide me with some valuable data to start off the school year.
I want my students to feel valued, listened to, and a part of the decision-making process in their physical education experience. I told them that there are certain units that I have to teach this year. However, in saying this, I let them know that I intend on using their feedback to hopefully improve on their learning experiences and to build more engaging units in PE this year.
I introduced the questionnaire that I was going to have them fill out, quickly explained each section and then I had them partner up and do a walk and talk. During this power walk, they shared their thoughts based on the questionnaire. After the walk, we had a few minutes to play some simple playground games using no equipment(due to social distancing and COVID restrictions). As an exit ticket, the students filled out the questionnaire and gave it back to me. By involving them right away and getting them to share their honest thoughts, I feel we have started the year off on the right track. I'm sincerely hoping to build on this momentum and give them more opportunities such as this throughout the school year to share their feedback. What's most important to me is that I provide them with an autonomy supportive environment and build trust with them. I genuinely want them to know that they matter and that we're in on this wonderful journey together.
Check out a couple of the completed questionnaires below. How might you do something similar in your program? What are ways you've collected student voice in the past? Would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for reading.
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.
The single subjects are a great vehicle for teachers to deliver learning experiences in the arts, maker space/design, world language and in PE that are meaningful and purposeful. Drama, music, visual arts, world languages and PE are often viewed as being secondary in nature and on the fringes of a school’s curriculum, but these disciplines provide essential learning for students that can have a profound impact on their life both inside and outside the walls of their school.
There is so much inspiration that can be found in these disciplines that help to ignite passions that can stay with a young person for the rest of their lives. Whether it be tinkering away in the garage or basement on weekends (Maker Space), finding a joy and love of different movement pursuits (PE), being absorbed in creating art or music, or studying a new language, the single subjects provide a multitude of opportunities for students to find greater purpose and meaning that is specific to them and their needs, as well as their interests.
Single subject teachers teach to the masses. Countless students walk through their doors each week. Having a clearly articulated vision for the units taught in the single subjects is a priority that requires an in-depth look beyond just the ‘activities’ done in each class. During pre-unit planning, rather than a center of attention being on activities, the focus must instead turn to the mapping out of the big ideas that will drive all teaching and learning throughout the course of a unit.
Once the conceptual framework is mapped out, single subject teachers how have a clearly defined vision for where they want to take their students, making it much easier to then focus on the lesson to lesson activities that will drive and support student learning.
I work closely with single subject teachers to help them create a clearly defined vision for their units that is deeply rooted in conceptual understandings and how these concepts connect within the learning of the unit itself. Creating a roadmap or timeline as we call it, gives the teachers the structure that they need to better plan out all teaching and learning over the duration of their units.
I’ll be sharing some of our planning in the single subjects over the next few months on my blog in order to help educators who visit my website see what’s possible in regards to unit planning and to see some of the great work being done at The KAUST School in Saudi Arabia. I’d like to share our current grade 5 music unit being taught by my colleague Peter Diglin. You can connect with Peter on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/PDiglin
Grade 5 Personal Inquiry Unit
When beginning the pre-unit planning process, the first question that needs to be asked and answered is:
What is it that the teacher is hoping students will walk away from the unit being able to understand/do?
This should be answered in no more than one sentence in order to ensure a clearly articulated vision for the unit. In Peter’s case, he is hoping that his grade 5 students walk away from the unit having made a personal connection to an instrument and that they develop a sense of self-belief in themselves as musicians.
Once the clear vision for the unit is established, we then begin to identify what concepts need to be focused on in order to support the vision of the unit and the learning that will take place. We do this in a very loose manner, just brainstorming possible big ideas and how these big ideas might fit into the learning in the unit.
In the grade 5 Personal Inquiry unit, some of the big ideas identified were:
Inspiration, Skill Acquisition, Instrumentation, Rhythm, Tempo, Melody, Personal Connection, Performance, Organization, Social Support, and Personal Responsibility
Once the big ideas were identified, we then began to look at how they fit together in a logical way. Peter was able to begin thinking his way through the unit, identifying what he felt was the best way to unpack the big understandings of the unit from the first week to the last week.
When doing pre-unit planning, each teacher might look at their units differently, which is fine. However, the most important thing is that each teacher who timelines out their units, is able to clearly articulate the roadmap that they have in mind for teaching the unit. That requires some deep thinking and takes time, but this process helps to set the teacher and their students up for success in this unit.
The timeline for Peter’s grade 5 Personal Inquiry unit can be seen below.
As you can see from the timeline, the concepts are spread out over the 6 weeks of the unit. Once the big ideas have been unpacked, they continue to be an underlying focus for the rest of the unit. For example, the concept of skill acquisition was unpacked in weeks 1 and 2 of the unit, but students needed to demonstrate an understanding of the importance of skill acquisition for the rest of the unit. This is the same with all of the concepts chosen to be unpacked in the unit.
We decided that the concept of ‘inspiration’ would be a major focus or overarching theme of the unit. We wanted students to understand that music can inspire us to create our own work. In order to emphasize this, it was decided to use the Zach Sobiech story to help create a strong emotional connection in this unit. We wanted the students to understand the different ways that music can inspire people. If you haven’t heard about Zach’s story, you should check it out, it’s well worth your time.
In the first class of the unit, Peter showed a moving video that was a tribute to Zach and his work as a musician. Unfortunately, Zach passed away from cancer, but he left a powerful legacy behind that has inspired countless musicians around the world including well-known artists such as Jason Mraz.
Here is the video that Peter used in the first lesson.
The question that was immediately unpacked after the students watched the video was:
Why does music inspire us to create?
The students had discussions with each other and came up with responses such as: it makes us want to create our own music, it makes us want learn an instrument, and music makes us feel good. The Zach Sobiech video helped to kickstart the unit off in a great way that then led into an exploration of different instruments for the first couple of weeks. The students were really moved by Zach's video. It was the emotional hook that we were hoping to create to make the students more receptive to learning in this unit.
This led into a specific focus on rhythm, tempo, and melody in the middle of the unit which then led to the concept of personal connection. Through the initial exploration of instruments, the hope was that the students would be able to develop a personal connection with one instrument that they would like to focus on the rest of the unit.
From there they began the journey of creating their own performance. In order to do this, they needed to understand that musicians support one another by providing ideas and feedback. They also needed to understand that each student is responsible for their own learning and needs to stay on track with developing their own work. As well, creating their own music requires organization and time management skills. These skills definitely support the bigger concepts in the unit.
Once the timeline was mapped out and Peter could clearly talk his way through the unit, we then set out to create specific steps for learning that would be unpacked in order to support the conceptual understandings.
The ‘steps for learning’ breakdown the timeline further, giving a clear direction for all students. The wording on each step for learning is very important as it must allow for a ‘low entry point’ but also a 'high ceiling', meaning that all learners have an entry point into the learning in the unit. The steps for learning are made explicit and visual in Peter’s teaching space in order to keep students on track and to give them opportunities to identify where they are at in the unit. Students progress through these steps at a pace that suits them and their learning and whatever they are focusing on at the time.
If a high flying students gets through all the steps for learning, they just swing back to the start and find a more difficult challenge to focus on based on their own ability and understanding. The steps for learning definitely keep students on track and are a perfect way for the teacher to identify where each student is at in regards to their own learning. As well, the students can do mini-reflections after each step before moving on to the next step for learning in the unit. A great assessment opportunity for teachers.
Steps for Learning
See Peter’s steps for learning above. As part of the exploration at the beginning of the unit, Peter felt it was necessary to introduce horn instruments to his students, but this needed direct teacher instruction. Peter placed students into smaller groups for this direct instruction in order to teach them specific techniques related to horns. As he worked with smaller groups, the other students continued on with their personal inquiries. The direct instruction with horns was done in a pull out, small group manner which was executed very well on Peter's part.
We are now in the second half of this unit. Peter and I have been constantly reflecting on how the unit is progressing, what has been working well, and what he needs to refine in order to improve the overall learning experiences of the students.
I’ll be writing another blog post at the end of the unit to share Peter’ successes and his final teacher reflections in this unit. If you are a PYP Coordinator or music teacher, please connect with Peter, he's got lots of great ideas to share.
How do you map out your units in the single subjects?
How do you ensure that your planning helps to differentiate learning experiences to meet the needs of all of your students?
How do you make learning intentions and expectations explicit and visual in order to keep students on track with their learning?
Would love to hear your ideas. Thanks for reading. And thanks to Peter Diglin for his permission to share the details of his unit and his teaching!
Setting the Scene
If you are reading this blog post, chances are you are either deeply immersed in the start of another school year or about to be. Just this week, our new school director, reminded us that the beginning of the school year is truly a fresh start. A new beginning that allows us to reframe, reorganize, and recalibrate. It’s not about reinventing the wheel, but more so a time to reflect and refine what we do in order to impact student learning on a deeper level. When we find ourselves thinking about these things, we tap into new levels of inspiration, purpose and hope. How can this not help to make us better educators?
I want to share some of the things that I’ve been working on that I hope will allow me to be more impactful and influential in my own leadership role and my ways of working with the teachers that I am so fortunate enough to be able to coach on a daily basis.
In order for me to have the impact that I desire, I can never lose sight of what it is like to be in the trenches of teaching and to remember what it was like to have to be on my game every single day when I was teaching full-time. The day-to-day demands on teachers can be overwhelming and very hard to navigate. It takes a very special focus and a relentless level of effort to remain on the top of our teaching games. As a leader, I never want to lose sight of this, so I consider it my responsibility to ensure that I provide the very best support possible for the teachers that I coach.
My job is to ensure that they are in the position to do their best work possible. To me this means that I need to be thoughtful about the ways in which I support them in their own planning and their own professional development.
A Framework for the Planning Process
Bearing this in mind, the planning process needs to be streamlined and made much more efficient for teachers in order to allow them to find greater purpose and meaning in the work that they do day in and day out with their students.
What I want to share with you in this blog post is a pre-unit planning framework that I have developed over the past few years that is continually being refined each year. It’s essentially a roadmap to unit planning that helps to break down not only the ‘why’ of our teaching, but to think our way through the how and the what of our teaching as well.
As a Primary Years Programme (PYP) school, we have a certain framework that we adhere to in our planning process. As a reminder of the essential elements of the PYP, I have created a planning prompts document, kind of like a cheat sheet in a way, of the big ideas that we need to think our way through when planning our units. This cheat sheet outlines the key concepts, the Learner Profile, the Approaches to Learning Skills, and both discipline specific concepts and related concepts that transcend subject specific boundary lines.
Using this cheat sheet, we can sit down to not only plan new units, but also revisit units taught from the year before in order to promote a deeper discussion about how these units might be refined. Again, this is not about reinventing the wheel, but instead about promoting more meaningful discussions related to teaching and learning. It’s about being more intentional and focused on the ‘why’ behind our teaching. See the planning prompts sheet below:
Pre-Unit Planning Outline Document
Whether we are planning a completely new unit or working to refine a unit taught from the year before, we use an additional planning document that allows us to define what we want the enduring understanding to be in the unit. It’s this enduring understanding that will be crafted into a ‘central idea’. Once we determine what the enduring understanding of the unit is, we identify what the essential student learning outcomes are that we want to focus on. Once we determine what these outcomes are, we are then in a great position to decide on a conceptual lens. An overarching concept that will support the enduring understanding of the unit. We then look at the key concepts, related concepts, the Learner Profile attributes, and Approaches to Learning Skills that will best support the conceptual lens and the enduring understanding of the unit. As you can see from the document below, everything must fit on one page. This whole process is deeply rooted in refining the number of outcomes, concepts, attributes and skills to be taught. LESS is MORE!!!
Once the teachers identify what the big ideas of the unit are, we then create a mini-timeline on the same planning sheet. We think deeply about how the unit will be laid out in a way that reflects in what order we feel is best to teach the unit itself. Creating this timeline essentially provides the teachers with a roadmap to the unit from the first week to the last week of the unit. This allows for more meaningful discussions about formative assessment and how timely feedback can be provided to our learners with regularity.
Once the planning sheet is complete, it’s my job to then take it away and create a large poster-sized timeline for each teacher I that coach. This poster-sized timeline is a constant go to throughout our unit in order to have authentic conversations and reflections around how the unit is going. We look specifically at how each of these big ideas will be unpacked within the unit itself and the guiding questions that will promote deeper inquiry into the big ideas and understandings.
As part of this planning process, I decided to number code each of the ATL skills in the five areas of (see example below):
Thinking Skills, Research Skills, Communication Skills, Social Skills, and Self-Management Skills
The reason for doing this is to be able to better navigate our way through the newly enhanced ATLs provided by the IB PYP. In number coding the indicators within each of the five skill areas, teachers can dive more deeply into the skills themselves and and hopefully be able to think their way through which of these skills authentically and meaningfully support the enduring understanding of the the unit.
You can see on the planning prompts cheat sheet that there is a section on the far right that is devoted to the ATLs and has a breakdown of the sub skills in each of the five areas. Included in each of these areas are the number codes that correspond with each sub-skill. Teachers can then refer directly to our ATL handbook to look specifically at which indicators they would like to target as part of the their teaching in the unit. I’ve attached a PDF of the coded ATLs at the bottom of this post. Feel free to print off and use.
Have a look at some of the example poster-sized timelines below that I create for each of the teachers that I coach. These posters serve as a great guide post to the unit. I’ll write a separate blog post devoted to how we use these timelines to reflect on the unit and to document the guiding questions that drive all teaching and learning in the unit. But for now, just a quick glimpse into what the poster-sized timeline looks like.
I’ve attached the planning prompts cheat sheet that I created for visual arts and PE below. As well, I’ve also attached the pre-unit planning outline documents for visual arts and PE. I’ll be creating one specifically for music next week that I will also share.
Single Subject Inspiration
It is my firm belief that the single subjects provide wonderful opportunities for all students to flourish through the arts and through movement. Single subject teachers can have such an impact on a student’s life by helping them discover what’s possible within themselves. If we can hook our students into the amazing possibilities that exist through the arts and through movement, we can change their lives by inspiring them to discover unknown possibilities and potential that exists within them.
Being more purposeful and intentional in our planning helps to create wonderful learning opportunities and engagements with our students. This, without question, is the most important step in the teaching and learning process.
Thanks for reading. Hope this post has sparked some ideas for you in regards to your teaching process.
Over the past few years, I have tried to understand, on a much deeper level, the Meaningful PE framework in order to make more sense of each of the 5 features that this framework is structured on.
Truth be told, I’ve developed a strong interest in unpacking this framework on a deeper level in order to better understand how it can be applied in the teaching and learning taking place in PE. It has led me down multiple paths and has sparked some great discussions with Dr. Tim Fletcher, Dr. Doug Gleddie, and other educators that I know who strongly believe in this framework and the positive impact it can have on inspiring young people to embrace physical activity and sport in their lives.
As I dig more deeply into the Meaningful PE framework, I can’t help but to reflect on my own experiences with physical activity and sport while growing up and how I found meaning in movement at a young age. Having grown up in a dysfunctional family environment, physical activity and sport provided me with an escape from the darkness that often defined my surroundings. As the youngest of 5 children, I had to make my own way through this darkness and, without question, I found purpose and hope through physical activity and sport.
It’s physical activity and sport that got me out the door each day with friends, but also many days on my own. From about the age of 9, I had fallen in love with football (American football) and would work endlessly at developing motor competence in the areas of throwing, punting, and catching a football. Growing up in Canada, we had very harsh winters, but the cold and the snow did not hold me back. I always found a way to get out and work on developing my skills and to enjoy the game that meant so much to me.
There were times I would drag a snow shovel outside to clear and 2 meter by 2 meter patch in the snow, so that I could have a flat surface that was wide enough to take 2-3 steps in order to be able to punt or throw the football. Often times I had a friend on the receiving end of these punts and passes, but even when alone, I was inspired to throw and punt the football for hours and loved every second of it. I had truly found states of flow in many of those moments while growing up.
Little did I know, but I would go on to play 13 years of competitive American football as a quarterback and a punter that concluded with 5 seasons as a quarterback and punter for my university team in Windsor, Ontario. Many lifelong friendships were formed through football and I appreciate everything the sport gave back to me.
Although football was my main sport while growing up, I had also embraced many other forms of movement such as cycling, climbing, golfing, and running.
The reason that I’m sharing this part of my life with you is to emphasize the point that I was inspired to move at a young age and that I had found purpose and hope through movement given the circumstances of my life at that time.
Looking back on my life of movement, I cannot help but be drawn to the Meaningful PE framework as it makes so much sense to me when I reflect back on my own experiences with physical activity and sport while growing up. It is so very easy to see how the 5 features of the Meaningful PE framework (Fun, Personal Relevance, Motor Competence, Social Interaction, and Challenge) were all interwoven within my movement experiences, helping me to find so much meaning and purpose in the physical pursuits that I was engaged in at the time.
It is through this lens that I look when trying to provide students with purposeful physical education experiences. I want them to be inspired, to be curious, to be filled with joy and wonder, and to ultimately know that they can find a capacity within themselves to move and to fall in love with physical activity and sport. I want them to know that it can change their lives forever, just as it did for me.
Fast forward to my current role as a pedagogical coordinator and teacher coach, my job provides me with daily opportunities to work closely with teachers during the planning and reflection process in order to provide the most meaningful learning experiences possible in physical education, music, and visual arts.
Although I strongly feel that the 5 features apply just as well in music and visual arts, in this blog post, I want to share my current understanding of the Meaningful PE framework, not only based on my work with PE teachers helping them to plan their units, but also in the work that I do co-teaching alongside them.
The 5 features of the Meaningful PE framework are meant to be guideposts that help teachers to think more deeply about how they are going to design teaching and learning in a way that ensures that students have as many opportunities as possible for meaningful movement experiences in PE.
In order to bring the 5 features of Meaningful PE alive in our program here at Gardens Elementary School in Saudi Arabia, we have experimented with different ways to create an environment that gets our students emotionally invested in their own learning at the start of the unit. We believe it is necessary to create these emotional hooks at the outset of the unit in order to tap into their curiosity, wonder, and to provide them with opportunities to co-construct what success might look like for them in the specific unit they are about to dive into.
Once we can co-construct what success might look like in differentiated ways, the students can embark on their own learning journeys that honor where they are at and what it is that they would like to work on.
For us, this is usually done by unpacking what students find most challenging about a chosen area of physical activity that we will focus on in a unit. For example, if we are about to embark on a cycling unit, we will have the students identify what their biggest challenges are. This is primarily done through an exploration of the physical activity (in this case cycling) for the first couple of classes in the unit.
By prioritizing the feature of challenge, our aim is to help our students understand that each of us have specific things that are challenging and that finding the right challenge to work on is a great entry point to their learning. Here is an example of what the class list of challenges might look like in a cycling unit:
What challenges you the most in cycling?
Riding my bike in narrow places
Riding my bike on different surfaces (grass, gravel, paved surfaces, etc.)
Switching speeds from slow, to medium speed, to fast
Doing rode signals when I am riding
Riding closely to others
Once the students have identified, through the exploration, what their challenges are, the process of co-constructing success criteria begins. To keep learning on track, we use a simple self-assessment strategy that involves students using red, green, and yellow sticky dots to assess where they are at with different challenges. They write their names on these sticky dots, placing the dots on the challenge that they are working on. Red=impossible at this point, Yellow=can sometimes do, Green=fully capable of doing. The students do regular check ins to self-assess their progress in the unit.
By prioritizing the feature of challenge, we feel that the other 4 features fall into place quite nicely. As the students have lots of autonomy during this process, we feel the choices they make are personally relevant to them. We have seen an increased level of engagement and most students making lots of progress in regards to their skills in the unit. Therefore, motor competence is also taking care of itself, but the teachers still check in on the students to offer support when need be and to provide timely feedback to them based on their needs in the moment.
We also feel that the feature of social interaction is also taking care of itself as the lessons are set up in a way that allow students opportunities to work individually, in small groups or in larger groups. As well, we constantly observe that the students seem to be deeply engaged and having fun as part of this process.
As we think about our PE program for next year, we are thinking about how we can embed, more deeply, the 5 features of the Meaningful PE framework and how we can better unpack these features to provide more authentic movement experiences for our students. The questions we are currently reflecting on are:
What do we need to get rid of?
What do we need to explore further?
What are we unaware of?
How do we know that what we are doing is having the impact that we want?
Although we have seen lots of success and genuinely feel that what we are doing is working well, we must remain open to new ideas and different ways of applying the Meaningful PE framework in our program. We have interpreted the framework in a way that makes sense to us, but there are so many pieces to the teaching and learning puzzle. At this point, we have a few of the pieces in our hand and these pieces fit together nicely for us. They make sense to us.
We have been able to draw meaning from the pieces that we have put together. However, there is a long way to go in continuing to build this puzzle in order to create a more comprehensive understanding and a more complete picture of what we can do to plant the seeds for young people to be inspired to find greater purpose and joy in physical activity and sport. We definitely on the right track, but there is so much more that we need to learn in order to better apply this framework. Thanks for reading.
As I reflect back on a recent podcast that I recorded with Dr. Scott Kretchmar, I’m constantly drawn back to the reference he made in the episode to ‘keeping our playgrounds alive as long as possible’. Scott spoke in-depth about his aging body and how he has to continually reframe and rewrite his own ongoing story of physical activity and movement. His own narrative has shifted, but his commitment to helping physical educators understand what meaningful movement experiences are in PE still burns brightly for Scott.
When working with PE teachers and students, I’m inspired, on a daily basis, to try and figure out what is most important in regards to planting the seeds necessary for intrinsic motivation to flourish in our PE programs. I’m a long, long way from figuring out the answers, but the greatest joy lies directly in the challenge of testing out and modifying ideas and really involving students in helping to figure out whether or not the approaches we are using in our PE program are actually working.
Although Kretchmar is an aging kinesiologist who strives to be as active as possible despite the constraints that his body has placed on him, the wider and more meaningful message he hopes to help physical education and health teachers understand is that keeping our playgrounds alive means that we must do everything possible to engage students in physical activity and movement from an early age.
I want to share the recent work we have done in our grade 3 Individual Pursuits unit that has been focused on skateboarding and how we are genuinely hoping to inspire our students to find joy in movement.
To give you more insight into the unit, I must provide a bit more detail so that you can have a clearer understanding of the constraints that we are up against in this unit. Our school year is divided up into 3 cycles. The students have PE lessons twice a week in cycles 1 and 2, but in cycle 3 they have swimming which means that one PE lesson a week is devoted to swimming whereas the other lesson is for skateboarding. This means that the students have only 6 PE lessons, 40 minutes in length, devoted to skateboarding.
Considering the fact that the students had a skateboarding unit in grade 2, many of the students have already been introduced to it. However, there are still some new students that have had no experience at all with skateboarding.
So, when planning this unit, we were very aware that we would have only 6 lessons that are 40 minutes each. Not very much time to dive deeply into skateboarding technique in this unit. So, what was the best way forward?
As we are heavily invested in the Meaningful PE framework, we definitely try to consider all 5 features of this framework when trying to map our units out. Although all 5 features hold a lot of importance to us (Fun, Relevance, Motor Competence, Social Integration and Challenge), we feel that our work this year has heavily focused on the feature of ‘Challenge’.
Throughout the year, our teaching and our reflections have constantly led us back to the feature of ‘Challenge’ as being prioritized in units. However, in saying this, we have found that the 4 other features are not neglected, but connect deeply to the feature of ‘Challenge’. We have found that when students can find the ‘just right’ challenge, everything else falls into place. By finding the ‘just right’ challenge, it is very relevant to them as it is an entry point to their learning that they have autonomy over.
Motor competence then becomes the focus as they are engaged in developing their skills related to skateboarding. Social integration falls nicely into place as they are generally inclined to take on different challenges with their peers and to show their progress and learning with each other. The feature of ‘fun’ is obvious as the students are genuinely engaged and experiencing joy because they are able to find some element of success in the activities. As every student is engaged, we find very little behavior management problems at all in class.
We have spoken about and unpacked the feature of challenge with our students in grades 1-5. They understand the language of challenge and the importance of finding the ‘just right’ challenge in helping them to not only experience more joy but to also develop their skills (motor competence).
Considering we had limited time, to kickstart this unit the teacher, I was co-teaching with (Bill Kelly) and I got the kids right into things by letting them explore movement on a skateboard and to identify what they felt their biggest challenges were. Using sticky notes, the students wrote down what they felt their biggest challenges were in the initial exploration of skateboarding.
As you can see from the visual above, they had shared a number of different challenges that they had experienced. Using this as a launch point, I created a visual of leveled ‘challenges’ that the PE department had created for the skateboarding unit.
Level 1 challenges are quite basic but fundamentally important for the students to develop competence in. Level 2 challenges are more in-depth and definitely require more technical skills and motor competence.
Red, Yellow, Green Dot Self-Assessment Strategy
At the beginning of the second class of skateboarding, the students put on their gear and headed to the outdoor basketball court. I was able to explain the colored dot self-assessment strategy to the students and quickly describe each of the Level 1 challenges. When using this strategy, Red= Impossible at this point, Yellow= Can sometimes do it, Green= Can consistently do it.
The main idea behind this assessment is that it provides students with the opportunity to self-assess where they are at in regards to the different challenges. The bigger goal here is for the students to show their progress and the way that they do this is by layering the colored dot stickers.
For example, if a challenge is impossible to the student, they simply take a red sticky dot and write their name on it and place it on the chart paper assessment. This often leads to the student practicing this particular skill either independently or with the help of a peer or teacher. Once the student has made progress and perform the skill some of the time, they go back to assessment chart and use a yellow dot to self-assess themselves at this point. They write their name on the dot and place it on top of the previous red dot they had put down. They repeat the process until they are confident and competent in the skill and then self-assess themselves with a green dot which then goes on top of the previous yellow dot. What we now have is a progression of learning that is visible through the layering of the dots. You can see the layering of dots below.
This is a fantastic assessment strategy because it provides so much insight for the teacher. When the teacher sees reds and yellow dots, they know who they need to provide immediate feedback to, in order to help these students move forward with their learning.
Level 2 Challenges
In order to move on to the level 2 challenges, the students need to haver self-assessed themselves in most or all of the challenges identified in the Level 1 challenge chart. There is a lot of different challenges in both 1 and 2, therefore the students have multiple opportunities to find the ‘just right’ entry point into their own learning.
All students are able to start where they feel is best and to progress forward from there which means that each student experiences success. We are able to also celebrate the success of each student regardless of where they are at in relation to their level of skill.
As researchers of our own practice, we can think that this approach is working with our students, but our biggest question is, “How do we know whether or not it is working?”. In an effort to find this out, our greatest resource is the students themselves. I set out to do quick interviews with a number of the students and they could all share that the dot check in helped them by showing their progress. As well, the students were able to share some of their big successes. In the video below, you can see one of our students going down a hill on her skateboard. This was something she was afraid of, but was able to overcome the fear and become competent in this task.
In moving forward, we will keep exploring ways that help to intrinsically motivate our students to be more engaged in their physical education experience by helping them to find their 'just right' entry point to learning, regardless of the unit in PE. We have had some major success in units such as racket sports, cycling, and skateboarding this year and look forward to refining our approach the rest of this school year and into next school year. Thanks for reading and hope you found some value in this post.
Using stories as a provocation to better engage young learners in PE
Creating meaningful and relevant movement opportunities for our young students is directly dependent on our ability to spark curiosity, wonder, imagination, and joy in their learning on a daily basis.
Inspiring movement and physical activity can be purposefully planned for through the use of specific provocations that help to capture our young learner’s imaginations as early as possible in the units that we teach.
I’m lucky to work very closely with Zack Smith, who is a fantastic early year’s physical education teacher in the kindergarten section of The KAUST School here in Saudi Arabia. Zack and I have closely collaborated over the past three years in regards to developing the most meaningful PE experiences possible for our young learners. Zack has many great ideas and deep insight into the developmental needs of kindergarten students which helps to springboard some really good discussions around unit design in PE. The work that Zack and I are doing is an attempt to better understand how the Meaningful PE framework can be applied to 3-year olds. The big questions that we have are:
How can we create meaningful movement experiences for our youngest learners?
How can we make their learning in PE relevant to who they are?
How can we help them connect with their classmates in order to develop the social skills of working together?
How can we ensure they are challenged in order to build their motor competence?
How can we infuse joy and delight every step of the way in their learning journey in physical education?
Over the past few months, Zack and I have been planning more specifically in relation to how he might engage his students on a much deeper level in order to not only develop their motor competence, but to also ensure that all learning is relevant and accessible to them in a way that brings delight and joy.
At the beginning of the school year, Zack created his own professional inquiry that explored how he could better use verbal and symbolic language with his students in order to better engage them in their learning and to create more agency. Through close observation and data collection in Zack’s PE classes, I was able to share some important data with him that led to us discussing his use of voice and visuals in his teaching.
Although Zack has always used his voice and visuals in ways to capture his students’ attention, we created a plan that would take this to what we felt was the next level.
Story-Telling as a Provocation
Zack has always told stories to his young learners in the past, but what we decided to do differently was to specifically create stories that were more purposefully structured in ways that inspire an imaginative journey that embeds movement and physical activity as part of the storyline.
Planning these stories from scratch takes an open-mind, some deeply creative thinking, and carefully planning the types of visuals to be used in the story. Each lesson is essentially a short chapter with each chapter building in complexity in order to set up different challenges that the students will need to explore and take part in.
As Zack’s pedagogical/instructional coach, one of my roles is to help him to create teaching resources based on our planning discussions. Our goal has always been to deepen levels of engagement which can often be measured through further observations. As Zack uses the resources as part of his teaching, my job is to then observe the students to see whether or not they are more engaged in the lesson. This can easily be done by literally counting the number of times Zack has to re-direct his students to get them back on track. I can also observe his students as Zack tells the stories to see how closely they are paying attention.
Through the use of voice and specific visuals in his story-telling, we have found that the students have definitely been paying more attention. We have also found that the number of re-directs on Zack’s part has gone down considerably as the students are really engaged in his lessons. This provides us with valuable data to show that the use of story-telling with visuals has helped to not only keep students on track with their learning, but to better engage them in the lessons.
I’d like to share the story we created so far in Zack’s current unit and what we are hoping to accomplish through this story.
STRIKE FORCE HEROES
Zack is currently doing a unit that focuses the students on developing striking skills using their hand and other striking implements such as soft paddles, rackets, bats and also their feet. These manipulative skills help children to strengthen the muscles in their hands, develop eye-everything coordination, increase physical control, and explore cognitive concepts like cause and effect.
Have a look below to see the visuals that we are using in Zack’s Strike Force Heroes story and a summary of each part of the story so far. The goal is to get the kids engaged in movement through the themes of the story. Each student can be a part of the Strike Force team in order to defeat the evil villain. Exciting stuff!
Reflections after the first two lessons?
Both Zack and I have noticed full engagement, less need for re-directing students, and some really happy and excited kids. We have noticed that they were actually making efforts to touch the targets with the paddle as they navigated their way through the obstacle course. We also noticed less behavior problems as the students had options. They didn't have to go through the course exactly as laid out in the story visual (#15). They could drop in and out of different areas of the obstacle course journey in order to tap into their curiosity more.
Zack and I met (today) at the end of the day to pre-plan next week's chapter. There are some adjustments that we will make to re-emphasize certain parts of the story in order to draw out the learning intentions that we have for this unit. Planning for meaningful experiences in physical education with young children takes careful planning that goes well beyond just letting them run around for 30 minutes with no specific purpose. It is easy to think that 3 -year olds just need to play and explore with no purpose. Although this is true at times, Zack and I are carefully planning how they play and explore in order to create meaningful movement experiences that connect them with their classmates, challenge them to learn new ways to move their bodies, and to use their imagination in ways that bring them joy and delight.
Looking forward to sharing another blog post showing the progression of learning. In the meantime, check out the photos of the students working hard in their role as Strike Force Heroes. Thanks for reading.
Creating meaningful learning experiences in physical education must begin with engaging our students as quickly as possible in the unit. Regardless of the unit being taught, beginning with a rich and powerful provocation can help to create the emotional hooks necessary to inspire movement at a level that is just right for each of our students.
This is something we take very seriously in our physical education program at Gardens Elementary School. Taking the necessary time and energy to pre-plan is an essential part of the design process when it comes to the units that we teach. See the photo below of our poster-sized timeline for our unit.
Our ultimate aim is to help our young learners make powerful connections not only between the important concepts and skills in the unit itself, but also to understand that each person has their own entry point to learning that must be accessed as soon as possible in the unit.
We have been working very hard to unpack the 5 features of meaningful PE experiences with our students this year in order to help them know and understand how these features authentically apply in their own life and learning related to physical activity and movement.
To quickly summarize, the Learning About Meaningful Physical Education research team has done a tremendous amount of work related to better understanding how educators can inspire young people to find joy and delight through movement and to engage in physical activity as part of their every day life both in school and out of school.
The PE teachers at Gardens Elementary School and myself are making sense of the Meaningful PE framework in our own way, tweaking and adjusting our approaches, testing out different pedagogical strategies, and most importantly, reflecting on our teaching and student learning every step of the way in order to refine the way we deliver our program.
Today’s blog post will be the first in a series of blog posts dedicated to how we are unpacking the 5 features of the Meaningful PE framework (Fun, Motor Competence, Relevance, Challenge, and Social Integration) in our current Individual Pursuits unit that is focused on inspiring kids to be active through racket sports.
So, let’s get right into how we specifically kickstarted this unit in a way that zeroed in on the big ideas that we were hoping the students would grasp on to in the very first class of their individual pursuits unit.
The Power of Provocation
All learning must begin with a powerful provocation that creates the emotional hooks necessary to draw out the big ideas of the unit. Bearing this in mind, we started the unit off straight away by using an inspirational video of a world champion javelin thrower from Kenya. Our hope was simple — to get the kids to identify the important concepts of perseverance, social connection, challenge, and self-improvement.
You might ask yourself ‘Why would they use a video about a javelin thrower in a racket sports unit?’. The short answer to this question is that conceptual understanding is not subject or unit specific but transcends discipline/unit specific boundary lines. When drawing out the importance of the 4 concepts mentioned above, we wanted a powerful hook in order to do this, therefore we felt it wasn’t necessary to specifically use a racket sports video to do this, but instead to find the most powerful video we could to draw these ideas out.
All learning not only begins with a powerful provocation but also a driving question or questions to begin the unpacking process. The driving questions we introduced in the first 5 minutes of this unit related to the video that they were going to watch can be seen below.
Why was Julius Yego successful?
What challenges did Julius Yego face?
What did you like most about the Julius Yego story?
As the students watched the video, we asked them to think about the above three questions and to be ready to share some of their thoughts with their classmates and also be ready to write down their ideas on yellow sticky notes.
Investing of Time!
Many PE teachers say that they don’t have time to do things like this in PE because their job is to get students as physically active as possible during their PE lessons. I couldn’t agree more, however, getting the students to do some heavy cognitive lifting early in the unit helps to unpack the big ideas and identify what the overarching learning outcomes are in the unit. Being clear and explicit about these outcomes is the key to great teaching and, without question, reinforces and deepens their learning, therefore is hugely worth the investment of time.
A teacher directed approach that involves the teacher standing up in front of the class delivering a long monologue about what the unit is about, what they will learn, what they will need to do, and how they will be assessed not only disengages them, but also does not involve them in the co-constructing of learning.
Involving students in the co-construction of learning and involving them in the unpacking of the big ideas/outcomes gives them ownership and autonomy over the learning process which creates an environment that places them front and center in the units being taught.
As you can see from the photos below, the students not only shared their ideas about the Julius Yego video, they also recorded their thinking straight away in the unit.
The above process took less than 15 minutes and was time well invested. After they finished recording their ideas on yellow sticky notes, they immediately dove into an exploration of racket sports for the next 20-25 minutes of the lesson.
Simply sending them off to explore was not enough though. We had a 4th question that we wanted them to think about as they explored lots of different skills related to racket sports.
What challenges did you face today when exploring racket sports?
As you can see, our intention is to unpack the key feature of ‘Challenge’ in the Meaningful PE framework. To us, it is not enough to just think about the feature of ‘Challenge’ when planning PE experiences in the different units we teach. We our setting out to intentionally unpack what this means to students in order to allow them to ultimately find their own entry point to learning in each unit.
If we can get our students to understand that self-improvement in rackets sports is about finding ‘just right’ challenges that suit their level of skill, we are definitely starting the unit off on a winning foot.
At the end of the exploration, as an exit ticket, the students wrote down a few challenges that they had experienced while they were practicing different skills in this first class. We used their ideas about the challenges they faced to design further learning in this unit that is very much differentiated to suit each of our student's individual needs.
Prep Time Poster Creation
Evan Bryceland (the PE teacher I’m co-teaching this unit with) and I, used these yellow sticky notes to analyze and categorize the big ideas that the students came up with.
I then created a very large sized display that included many of their ideas while drawing out and emphasizing the 4 big ideas that we are focusing on in this unit (perseverance, social connection, challenge, and self-improvement).
We used this display at the beginning of the second class to get our students focused in on these big ideas in order to spark their learning further in this unit. We feel that the Julius Yego video was a perfect provocation to start the unit off and getting the students to do the heavy cognitive lifting early on was a great way to involve them in the unpacking process very early in this unit. I’ve included the inspiring video below for you to watch.
I’ll be doing another blog post soon to take you deeper into this unit and how we are working very hard to help every single one of our students find success at their own level. Thanks for reading folks.
KAUST Faculty, Pedagogical Coach. Presenter & Workshop Leader.IB Educator. #RunYourLife podcast host.