Mastery and Failure
Last year I worked with Simon Mills to design a Badminton unit and after much debate and discussion, we decided to go with a very different approach to our unit. We had both worked in Japan and we had watched Japanese students working in PE using so much skill repetition to master skills rather than practice them. And so we decided to see how our students would cope with skill mastery as the focus of our learning.
We used a basic “How to learn Badminton” type book that started off with warm up skills and we used these series of skills as the backbone of our unit. We didn’t know how long it would take the students to complete the skills/levels so we banked on 20-30 over 7 weeks and started with basic skills that everyone would be able to do fairly quickly and worked our way up to quite difficult skills knowing that this would really differentiate our students quickly.
- Levels 1-3 were about correct grip
- Levels 4-10 were about Footwork on the court (forehand/backhand and using grip as they moved)
- Levels 11-15 were bouncing the birds on rackets
- Levels 16-18 were scooping birds off the gymnastics mats (working on wrist action) forhand/backhand
- Levels 19-23 Serving and return serve (progressively more difficult)
- Levels 24-28 were shot work with a level of precision and accuracy
We set up each level with an A4 description on the wall and an excel spreadsheet book for students to mark off their partner’s progress (or individual progress later on). Students had to complete up to 20 correct actions in a row to show they had mastered the skill. At certain level points (chosen in advance by the teacher) students had to come and have a teacher assessment to show their proficiency at that culminating level before they moved onto the next set. This was also a great way to see the kids form and to do some formative assessment as they went along each level.
We discovered some things along the journey:
- Mastery is very hard and time consuming and our students found this very challenging
- We had to deal with failure and how this felt as a student/athlete and how to re-motivate but also how powerful failure is/was mentally to students. How often to your kids fail something in your class? How can we teach about the importance of failure and then moving forward and the way it feels to see success after that moment, you have to experience that low and high to know what that can feel like.
- Positive rewards were a necessity – so we introduced certificates and made a deal out of earning them for tough levels or sectional breaks in the levels.
Students games were tagged every week to see how their game play progressed/changed over time. We looked predominantly at whether students moved with their dominant leg lead and shuffled on the court and their service game (for higher level students). We noticed incredible change in their game play over 7 weeks.
We asked students to set small lesson goals – eg. to have more success moving with my dominant leg – and to have a peer tag or watch this over a certain game time to see or monitor work in this one area. Students then wrote some small feedback about this and set a new goal for next time. We looked at these goals during the lesson time so that feedback from us was in real time and made some notes for our own formative work on how this was going for kids. I wonder if this year we should not call this ‘goal setting’ but skill monitoring or such, we seem to have got mixed up about what goals are and have mis-led kids into thinking that we set goals that we should always meet which is wrong in sport – if you can always achieve your goal then you set a too easy goal! (we also discussed this).
We videoed kids games and put them up on our blog and asked kids to watch games and comment on the technique they saw. We made instructional videos and put them on Youtube for students to see the levels more clearly and this helped us to keep student traffic down a bit and allow more teacher time with students not explaining levels all the time. We really noticed that with the levels, spreadsheets, goals and blogs that the language and observations were so much stronger. We watched World junior championship games and tagged their movements and discussed their work on the blog – it was great for the kids to be able to see that the skills we were mastering were all being used in these high level games – it gave them confidence in what we were doing.
The reviews of the unit were good, the unit was very challenging but it was so beneficial for the students to be challenged in such a different way. We have Badminton coming up again next month and I can’t wait to go around again – we are thinking of calling the unit ‘Angry Birds’ and allowing students a star-based system rather than a finite number to pass – and seeing if they would be happy with 14/20 and 1 star or work harder to the 20/20 3-star award. What would you allow to be your goal in this case I wonder?