Checklists, Rubrics and more…. How might this look for a PE teacher?

It has been a very unsettling year for me so far.  I have come from a place of feeling very secure in my own understanding of Physical Education and the Middle Year’s Program (MYP) with a evolution from teacher to presenter in this field.  I enjoy knowing that I have worked hard and tried a lot of new pedagogical model ideas out in my quest to really hone in on how students learn tactically in game play as well as delve more deeply into the social and emotional learning that we must be mindful of in our performance environment.   The focus should and always is about student learning in my setting (this can change based on the school, curriculum, culture, facilities and climate – just to name a few).  But transitioning away from the MYP and into Standards Based Grading has been challenging.  I feel a little bit like I am adrift at sea without the correct equipment and I keep coming up with new plans for success to get me to land safely but each one isn’t quite the right thing and I remain adrift.  But I take solace in feeling like each attempt puts me closer to land or to knowing how to find land and this little by little is keeping me optimistic that I am at least moving in the right direction.

Last month I read this book ‘The Checklist Manifesto‘ by Atul Gawande.  It was one of the resources listed in another reading and I was really interested to read more about Checklists and consider how they could be useful in my every day setting.  This post will be divided up into two areas of my current thinking – one about how to look at the humble Checklist in my life as a PE teacher and the other looking at using it in combination with other tools to give feedback on student learning.

Part One – The Checklist

I make a lot of lists.  There are lists for what to buy at the shop; what we need to do when we leave China (things that you can’t buy here that you just know you will want on return); lists of what the children are doing and when they do them and annual type lists like insurance, banking etc.  I have lists of the things my children got for their various birthdays, the first 100 words they said as well as catalogues of their art work and written language development (as I write this I feel a bit OCD) .  Then I have the work lists of things that Must be done/ Should be done/ Could be done and the list of things that I am thinking about or reflecting on as well as Burning questions I have – I have a template that I made after I got list envy from a colleague of mine and after some thinking and experimenting I have a template that I use and refer to constantly.  I write down these things – I find the writing makes me more likely to remember them!

Gawande is a surgeon and he was tasked by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to design a simple surgical checklist that could be used in any hospital anywhere in the world.  Gawande used data to study different hospitals and collect and analyse data around surgical patients.  The data was varied and looked at what problems or challenges patients and surgical teams faced during and after procedures.  The data he and his team collected allowed them to find patterns across hospitals and surgical wings and to design and tweak a checklist that might overcome some of these issues.

All over the World, and so in Education as well, we are living in an age of complexity.  There are so many levels that we are asked to deal with on an everyday basis that we can lose sight of the focus – our students and their learning – and get caught up in the other things that buy up our time.  Our workplaces ask us to deal with a myriad of things – curriculum writing, collaborative meetings, learning support, language support, mentoring, equipment ordering and facility booking just to start us off.  We meet with different teams of people on a rotating basis and our conversations are important in our school institutions – I wonder though how much of all of our time boils down to the learners we are working with or if we substitute the question of effective learning for others such as  What do I need to do now as a teacher to be ready for tomorrow? What unit am I starting do I have enough of the equipment? instead.

Gawande suggests that “under conditions of complexity, not only are checklists a help, they are required for success.” (p79).  I can really see that having a Checklist for my learners in my spaces would be very useful, I would hope that under all the complexity of unit writing and equipment sorting and space booking, that I could have a list of the important aspects of learning that I am looking to see my students become proficient in and be able to give them adequate feedback based on these proficiencies.  I would also like to have a Checklist for myself in my workplace so that I don’t forget major procedure that is important at my current school.  I would like to think that this checklist would have a ‘before unit/ during the unit and after the unit list with about 3-5 things under each heading to allow me to do what needs to be done and the move on to the next job.  I tend to dwell on things that are not always important and are not critical to learning – rather they are administrational, and important but I would like to ensure that the data I collect and enter is what is important as I analyse the learning and not there just for data entry sake.

Checklists in major fields such as Building sites and Boeing set a tone about how Teamwork operates.  “Under conditions of extreme complexity, we inevitable rely on a division of tasks and expertise… But the evidence suggests we need [experts] to see their job not just as performing their isolated set of tasks well but also as helping the group get the best possible results.  This requires finding as way to ensure that the group lets nothing fall between the cracks and also adapts as a team to whatever problems might arise.” (p103) Gawande found that surgical teams that worked on rotations shifts didn’t always know each other’s names or take the time to say an introduction before a procedure.  This small addition to his checklist for pre-surgery was a major change in the way the team worked together.  How often have you been to a meeting and not known everyone’s name?  I know that one of Mark Collard’s big pushes was to know names and to work with games or tasks that got people to learn names.  As a new member of a school, I don’t know a lot of names.  I am at an embarrassing place now where I have been here for 6 months and most people know my name when we meet (my husband has a teacher-coaching role so they all know him so I end up by default, being known) and this is really hard as I don’t feel I could say – sorry I am not sure of your name.  But if we had a checklist that included that at each meeting we at least had to introduce ourselves or had a ice-breaker (for just the table group if it is a major group) this is sure to enhance the team work we need to utilise for the task that we are sure to be set.  This would also allow new staff or visiting staff to get to know names and roles in the school over the course of time – not making assumptions that everyone knows each other.

A checklist for my lessons would also save me time and mental effort or anguish in the lesson (when I have forgotten something).  Often I have a set list of things I should have or do but in the energy of the moment I might forget one of them and this can have an affect on my learners or on the administration of the class.  This checklist might include a pre-lesson list (print off necessary resources/ check equipment is ready/ do I need digital apps or devices (if yes, are they charged?  will the wifi work? are the apps I need on them?)/ fill up water bottle/ hat/ sunglasses/ whistle/ clothing (is it raining/ cold/ sunny etc).  A lesson check list (take attendance/ complete set warm up (set by my department)/ count in and out equipment as required/ student rubrics or work books/ record formative feedback on # students for that lesson/ feedback loops etc and Post lesson checklist – look at formative feedback/ follow up on concerns or issues/ put away equipment/ make edits to lesson resources and unit planner/ grading or marking.  I know that this isn’t ready yet but I find this familiar checklist of small things is easier to manage if I have it ready to check off instead of trying to remember it all the time.  In some units there are focus areas and these could also be incorporated into my in-lesson list – for example – in my invasion games tasks I try to include a celebration of learning that is created by the students that they use after significant events (scoring/ assisting score/ stopping a point etc) but sometimes I forget this step as I get caught up in the game and in the management of students.

Part 2 – using a checklist with a combination of other documents to give student feedback

Last week, Stacy Stephen, our Director of Learning, ran a session on Holistic rubrics.  This informative session along with the dialogue from participants, gave me some new ideas about how to be more effective at offering feedback to students in a timely way.  I use two types of rubrics – one is an analytical rubric.  This type of rubric means that for each teaching target or standard there are levels of achievement.  An example is below:

Each of the major learning points are listed down the first column and then each of the achievement levels are listed across the top.  This is a typical type of rubrics that I write in PE.  The students are working on set skills or strategy and the achievement levels are then written across with the target to get students to Meet (in this example – Accomplished) the standard set.  There are advantages and disadvantages to this type of rubric.  Firstly the rubrics can be pages and pages long and challenging for students to read and for teachers to share easily.  The detail can allow teachers to see the details they are after in each standard and can give very specific feedback to students on their work.  Stephens then discussed a Holistic rubric.  Holistic rubrics have only one row and combine the standards together and are used for summative work only.  They allow students to see what their final work offered and you use your professional judgement to best fit the student assessment and level.   An example of a holistic rubric is below:

In this rubric each description has been combined from the analytical rubric above.  This would be used if this was the last Breakfast in Bed for sometime and you would need to use your professional judgement on where to best fit your meal.  This would also mean that your eating partners or group would need to decide what the most important aspect of the meal was so that your bias and discussion would be centred there allowing for moderation of work based on a common understanding.

I would like to try and use all three of these styles of feedback.  What I see is the writing up of a general analytical rubric for a strand or type of game – this could be Net/Wall or Invasion as an example.  We could use it every time we have one of these types of games so that we can limit the number of rubrics we are using and use them looking for those powerful and important focus points within the strands.  Next I would like to create a checklist that I could use with students that is more specific to the actual game we are playing.  This checklist could be on skills/ strategy and on team work or personal skills as we learn and use these in our classes.  These would correlate directly with student learning outcomes from the analytical rubric.  Lastly in the final game or assessment (dance performance etc) I would use a holistic rubric that incorporates the standards I have used into one Description outcome.  This makes sense to me as I want students to understand why we are playing or focussed on the unit; what we are being assessed on and how this looks in practice.  I want to peer assess these using a simple checklist for students to talk about and observe their peers in play and for me to use to give quick checklist feedback that directly relates to the standards we are assessing and working on.  But the final game I want to see a mixture of these standards – in our Badminton unit can you hit a variety of shots (skill) and move consistently around the court (skill) and demonstrate strategy and decision making (hit away from opponent into space).  Also can you play with integrity (personal skill) and collaborate with others for success (social).  Finally can you keep score (know the rules of scoring and service rotation) and know where is in/out.  If you can successfully do this the you have Met the standards set for this unit.  I don’t need an analytic rubric for students in their final assessment.

Using a combination of rubrics and checklists I hope to make my student learning more transparent and easier to understand What we are doing and Where they are up to in the work being assessed.  I also want students to become acute observers of the game and of their peers and be able to give honest feedback that is constructive and links directly to the outcomes we are working towards.  I am hopeful that this will be another step in the right direction as I navigate from MYP to standards based grading.