Explicitly cuing students for success

The last few weeks I have been overdosing on Dr Ash Casey.  I have been revisiting his book on Cooperative learning in Physical Education and Physical Activity (Casey and Dyson) and Casey’s new blog post series about model-based instruction has also had me reflecting heavily on my practice and what I am doing in my classroom.  What models am I using?  And how effectively (how do I know this?)?  What am I doing to be inclusive and to offer responsibility and roles to my students?  I have also been re-reading Don Hellison’s TPSR book for PE and this has also made me think about the way in which I am trying to teach affective and community cues for my students.

I continue to have conversations on twitter with @sporticus about the four domains of learning (read his excellent blog here) as this is an area we come back and forth over.  Recently I researched for a Ted-Talk style lecture I gave at our recent Parent-Evening which made me really work to share my department’s vision with our parent community and this has also been weaving its way around my head.  I would like to share out a few blog posts over the next few months about some of the ways in which I am explicitly trying to teach specific cues to students that make up the unique mix of ISB MS PE that I see every day.  I am hoping to reflect on my practice but also to test out some ideas and see what feedback comes my way.

Firstly, the community that I work with is made up of a changing demographic.  Our student population used to be very mixed in ethnicitiy but with healthy doses of caucasian European, Australian and North American students as well as mixed race students (mostly Chinese + non-Chinese parents) and then our Chinese families that have non-Chinese passports.  You cannot come to our school unless you have a non-Chinese passport.  But these days we are seeing less of the caucasian and more and more Chinese students.  This is not an observation I make with any bias, it is just the trend of more companies taking away overseas families as the economic boom eases in oil, gas and some business.  We are also seeing more MS and HS students move to boarding school in the hope that this will be more successful in getting students into elite US colleges.  The Mission the the school is changing and so instead of pushing to elite college education, we promise the ‘right’ college for your child.  This is seen as not as rigorous for many parents.

So in my classes this year I have on average 22 MS students per class.  I have roughly 5-8 non-Chinese students.  I have roughly 4 students who need support in English but I would guess only 4-7 of each of my total class speak English as a first language.  I have more boys than girls, sometimes double the figures.  And I have some students who need some acute learning support with educational or social/emotional challenges.  This is quite a lot to manage and a lot of people to talk to about how best to meet each child’s needs.  The other change is that instead of coming to PE as a core class group, they only come to PE in this class – no other time in their subject learning will they be in this grouping.

The overwhelming focus for my students as we begin the year is to really think about how to explicitly combine as a community and what they will need to do to be engaged in the success of our class in PE.   I roll my eyes just a bit when teachers tell me that they are struggling with students who are not able to collaborate but then tell me that they are trying to just get through curriculum content and are not looking at teaching explicitly collaboration skills for success.  I realize that that takes time, but if we mapped out the learning journey of how to get-along-with-others over time, and added that to each grade then the work would be done and we could all get on with the other learning on our plates!

I digress.  So, this week we have had three main focus areas.  I have started the class by having us all sit in a circle in the Gym and I have the ideas already written on my mini-white board.  I write them in advance to save time.  I write them so that my EAL students can see them and take time to read them over as many times as they like.  I write them so that I don’t have to read them out – the students can do that.

  1. Respect for the feelings of others
  2. Effort and Cooperation
  3. Self-Directed

I took these straight from Don Hellison’s book but also because they work neatly with Invasion Games and also the Student as a Learner rubric that we use at ISB.  Students had to tell me what Respect does not look like in game play.  What they might hear or see or feel and then we talked about what we might say to someone who was consistently respectful in game (Thank them; acknowledge when that might have been challenging; give them kudos) and then what we might say if they were not respectful (Please stop doing _____ it is inappropriate for this game) and how to offer constructive feedback that isn’t personally negative.  Assertiveness is my next focus as we deal with kids who are not respectful.  I also made it clear that if you can’t work respectfully you won’t play.

We talked about what Effort and Cooperation would look like and how if tasked with something challenging or with someone not in your peer group, what we might do to show Effort or Cooperation.  We also discussed what to do if we found things too easy or too hard (so our effort could be applied constructively) and how to cooperate with new friends.

Lastly we looked at what I meant by Self Directed.  The kids were not sure about this one.  We discussed our roles and responsibilities and how to transition from activity to instruction to activity and how self-directed people behaved and how non-self directed people behaved.  This was a bit of an eye-opener for my very selfish or not-aware students and how their selfish actions can impact others.

this chat lasted about 5 minutes.  I used some of Ash Casey’s strategies for discussion – Numbered  Heads together and Think-Pair-Share etc to involve us and I wrote down some of the main points for my support students.

For my G6 classes we then move on to Lesson Zero where we discussed and set ourselves up for a Cooperative Learning series of lessons.  Lesson one looked like this:

I assigned teams and roles.  Student digested this information.  We then came up with Team Names and 3 Team agreements.  And then I asked them to come up with 3 phrases they were happy for their Team Encourager to use (respecting their feelings and celebrating their effort and cooperation) in game play.  We then played Capture the Flag with the Coaches deciding the rules of the game, the Organising setting up the play area and the Officiating team working with the Coaches to start game play.

The lesson was about playing some simple Invasion lead up games – Capture the Flag and Yoshie – but actually we were about being Respectful, working with others and showing effort and then the big focus for our students was on being Self-directed.  Knowing when to stop coaching or organising and to be ready to play the game.  This took time and I admit the lesson was messy.  I wanted to step in and stop them and remind them, but once they realised that they wanted to play and weren’t (too busy coaching and officiating) they called it on themselves, regrouped and began the game.  By the end of Lesson 1, we were a very directed and organised group.  I commended the students on their self-direction and the way in which they called each other out on it and I know that Lesson 2 will be much better because we have now organised ourselves to be successful.

I know that many reading this will smile and read something that they do every lesson themselves.  The way in which students can take on this role and responsibility and work with self-direction and respect is so valuable and I hope that their next teacher will smile and see the growth they have made and that they will take this learning into their next team-work environment.  I hope to follow up next lesson with another set of roles and learning about respect and assertiveness and grow our cues for community success.  And I also hope that they will learn to move and build their knowledge of Invasion Games in the process.