What does it mean to Challenge yourself as a student in your PE classes? What are we asking of our students? How are we offering a safe place for them to be challenged? How are we arming students with grit and resilience and the ability to push beyond a comfort zone to test themselves in a relevant way in our classes?
Twitter regularly has threads of people who really did not enjoy their PE (or are not enjoying PE) and as I scroll down and read I am constantly disheartened by what I read. How truly awful to have had a teacher who could create lifelong aversion to movement. Or to have such crippling self-confidence crisis based on What was offered or expected in classes and to have other students and teachers pile on and reinforce these ideas and concepts and realities to you.
Whenever I ask parents what their end-game is – why did they choose our school? Or enrol their child in this sports club or activity? Or what they hope for their children when they are adults, I am struck that firstly parents want their children to be Happy in life – to enjoy their experiences. I do wonder how many parents ask their children if they are Happy and if they are not then why that may be the case.
My students are not always Happy – often they are uncomfortable because I really want to challenge them in a variety of ways. I want them to be motivated to work hard and so I have to work hard to get to know my students so that I can try and weave threads of games and activities that will hopefully ignite passion in my students and ask them to work harder. There are a few things that I have been working on this past few months to try and Challenge my students – these are listed in no particular order:
- Try to be very explicit about what is acceptable and what is not to create a supportive community in my classroom
- Be kind but firm and be consistent. Everyday.
- Smile, use open body language, engage with every student across the course of the lesson if possible!
- Choose 3-5 students and try to offer them encouragement, support, feedback or personal comment in the lesson, change the students for the next class
- Create teams that are different for lessons that require very strong collaboration – offer some choice and flexibility sometimes, but not all the time. Working with different peers can force you to step up your game, working with your best mates can lead to less challenging work
- Set up situations/ lessons or units/ that have student choice and voice and leadership opportunities
- Offer problem solving challenges with creative multi-answer solutions to the task
- Talk less. Expect them to listen and offer time to clarify if required.
- Praise students – either openly as part of a Shout-out system or quietly to them as they achieve
- 2 for 10 – this was a great piece of advice from one of our counselors – take a student who you would like to build a relationship with – try and interact for 2 minutes with them every day for 10 days.
- Share assessment information clearly and in a timely way
- Offer opportunities for re-assessment but only if they have applied themselves to the first time (you may not get a second turn if you didn’t treat this turn with respect and you demonstrated behavioural challenges)
- Continue to share that PE is more than just Movement – it has a number of base elements (soft-skills, transferable game concepts, motor competency, fitness etc) and we can always be working to improve all of these in our lives
- Growth mindset- use myself in examples with students – so if we are going over a particular pass in basketball I might say something like – If I am passing Fred the ball and he drops it (initially this makes Fred look bad) – Why might this have happened? (demonstrate, and now I pass too forcefully for Fred, so he drops it) and so now I look bad, and Fred looks great – and we have a moment where we need to address the pass and not the receive.
- Use the word ‘Yet’ as much as I can. We are finding playing this game challenging. We aren’t able to score. Yet. What do you notice when…?
- Write Thank you cards to students who go above and beyond – either as learners, risk takers, those who are always helping others, kind and compassionate to others, able athletes, growing athletes – but all about their actions rather than talents. I have worked hard to try and reach my students through words – verbalised or written.
- Engage students in asking them if they might like to try and join a school team – I was watching you in PE today and I noticed (x,y,z) and wondered if you have thought about…. and then email their parents too.
- Demonstrate my own grit – that I cannot do things as well as they can, that I too have to work hard and will fail and need to decide how to move forward with that.
- Talk to other teachers and counselors about students, identify concerns early and try and work out how to reach students that need more love or who are more difficult because we are such different personalities.
- Shout-out for Effort, for Persistence for Practice (even if it isn’t exciting) and for staying the course.
- Ask students if they felt Challenged, did they push themselves? How did they continue to move forward when it got hard? Who did they turn to for help? Support? guidance?
The most eye opening lesson I had was a G6 Volleyball lesson. I set up the lesson with a series of stations – students had to begin with Level 1 and then usually I would progress on students if I saw them be ready for Level 2 and so on. But on this day, I just asked students to self select. If you want to stay in Level 1 please do, but if you are ready here is Level 2. Not many students could do Level 1 but they wanted to try Level 2 and then about 2 minutes later I levelled them up to Level 3 and so on. At level 6, it was clear to me that no-one could do what I had expected. As the levels relied on having Mastery to have the motor competency to move on, it was very hard to get to Level 6 and usually I do these levels over a whole unit.
At the end of my lesson, I asked students for Feedback. Thumbs up if you felt this lesson was easy, not much challenge for you. thumbs to the side, a little challenge, but still some easy. Thumbs down, was too challenging for me. Most thumbs were down. I couldn’t believe it. No-one had been able to complete the final levels and yet many felt the lesson was too easy for them. This made me really think about self-perception but also my assessment and feedback loop to students. I tend to add elements to games and activities to make things harder/more challenging (must make 2 or more hits before the ball can go over the net, must serve from base line, must have at least two people touch the ball, etc) but maybe I need to be more explicit with what I am looking for not just tweak games to make them more challenging and force the use of other skills, communication and game sense.
I wonder how others are teaching students about Challenge and unpacking what this is and helping students to step up to something that is harder rather than back away or give up too soon.