Mind the Gap – an analysis of where some things stand
Mind the Gap by Pablofalv CC BY NC SA
“Mind the Gap please.” When I lived in England and travelled on the underground train system, this recorded message came at each station – a warning that the train didn’t always meet the platform and to Mind the Gap as you stepped off the train or on to the train and to not fall or drop your bag through the gap created between the train and platform. This ‘Gap’ is a reoccurring theme of the last few months as I am trying to work out how best to analyse What is causing the student learning gaps and to determine How best to deal with them and Why this a Gap at all (is this a gap that is needed and useful or is it a negative gap that needs to be addressed?)
Standards Based Grading – Rubrics/ Checklists / Moderation and Flow
I have recently moved from an MYP IB school to a Standards Based grading school. This has caused a lot of re-thinking about what I do and how I do it. With the MYP the IB has set four PE criteria that the teachers then re-write to be task specific and the curriculum is created by each school around the rules that the IB sets about using the criteria. This ensures that the units are stand alone spaces that have assessment documentations that is all integral to that Unit (my units tended to be about 6 weeks or 10-12 lessons of 80 mins or so) and when that unit was done, we moved to a new Unit usually around a different sport or activity and the criteria were all re-written again to meet the new teaching/learning outcomes.
A Standards-based school looks at specific standards that we have adopted from the Ontario Curriculum. We then use these standards and their sub-set strands to look at student learning and achievement over multiple units. At ISB the MS PE students in G6-7 undertake a breadth of study as they move from one activity or sport to another in 6 lessons (2 weeks) and we tag the strands that are important in each unit so that the Power strands are usually hit up 4-5 times over a year and the not as powerful ones possibly 1-2 times over the year. This requires quite a different grading response then the MYP I have come out of.
The constant re-writing of rubrics has been such a drain on time and energy and at a student learning cost that I have had to stop. This has been a hard thing to admit as I consider myself to be pretty good a rubric writing and so to have to do this differently has been a hard truth. But when I look at it from a student learning perspective, I can see that the rubrics are too cumbersome to read and digest and are not useful documents for their learning in the current way I write them. I need to focus more on the Strand and not on the Unit angle so that the strand can be unpacked clearly across multiple units – this allows multiple times to digest it/ discuss it and to see if you can do it without me re-writing and confusing students and for me to focus on the check-list that goes with the rubric to allow for greater clarity of what is expected.
The Gap I have found in my practice is that rubrics must be user friendly to work between teacher sharing of standards and students understanding what they need to do in practice over a number of different activities and/or sports. This would mean a clearer transfer of where the standard/s applies between PE activities and sports and the opportunity for growth and re-assessing students in the strands. The next Gap I see is that without a clearly defined check list it is not possible for students to feel they understand what is expected of them nor is it possible for our department to moderate with certainty which leaves gaps as students can get different grades based on their teacher not on their ability to meet the standards. A clearer picture of the rubric/ check list and feedback from students (can they use this document, do they understand it? How could we improve it as a learning document?) and clearer department cohesiveness around moderation as well as common understanding that our documents are living and not fixed should all help to decrease this current gap and see greater student learning.
Is your class fun? How do you know? I have been pondering these questions as I have been fortunate to go to the ConnectedPE and APPEC PE conferences in the last few months. I have just finished reading Serious Fun by Mark Collard and with his mindset and my participation in different workshops and me presenting – I wanted to really think about whether my students are enjoying my lessons. I admit I haven’t polled them (yet) but I have been trying to consider how I start my Year/ Unit/ Lesson to engage my students in having more fun in our spaces. I consider Fun to be activities that are engaging; not based on skill or ability; do not knock people out; have a competitive element for fun; involve everyone and get us warmed up or moving about in different random groups. The Gap I see is that I am feeling pressured to cover standards and to ensure that we are physically active and engaged in the latest PE Models (TGfU/ Sport Ed etc) but I don’t want to forget that a lot of these are dependent on specific skill sets and this can be very challenging for some students. Collard also points out that there is often Ice (inhibitor to stretching out of your comfort zone) in your class – even amongst kids that know each other well – and I want to join in the FUN too so students can see me being involved and have a chance to beat me in these games too. My current favourite series of games centres around Rock, Paper, Scissors and then having to do things based on whether you win the battle or not. If you win you go here and do this/ if you lose you find someone else to battle. These games are not skill based but chance and if you do full body Rock/Paper/Scissors then you get full motion involved too. I try and do partner or small group Fun games at least once in each lesson – we shout, smile, laugh and get caught up in being silly – and I love it.
There can be a gap created by students who feel that Cannot do that game/activity and are put off by having to perform skills they are not confident they have. I want to try and work on the Affective domain where students can have success in Fun activities that build confidence and work with their peers in all sorts of ways as part of our learning – they can opt in or out (I am yet to have an opting out person) and I hope through this and through creative grouping of teams (by using these Fun games) that students will grow more confident to work with their peers and stretch out of the comfort zones in other activities/sports. I am continuing to analyse this Gap further at the moment.
Professional Development opportunities
The last Gap I want to share is about Professional Development in the PE and Health sector at the moment. PE people are an amazing bunch of talented professionals. And this is the current day and age of ‘instant gratification’ and entrepreneurialism. The Gap I want to address is the quality of this work and how best to find the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) that fits your Gap or growth area/s. I am finding that we as ‘experts’ have a growing field of knowledge in front of us and that we are sharing (me included!) but I worry that there is a growing Gap between what we are being offered (courses/ conferences/ online platforms/ social media) and what is Quality work for us to engage with. I would like to see a continuing discourse between academics and practitioners about what we are doing when it comes to student learning and the impact of our work and continue to share and look for Gaps to ensure that the quality of our work remains consistently high. If you are going to write a course or put out a presentation – I challenge you to find some others who are well versed in the field and put your work in front of them for feedback – in academia this happens routinely, and to avoid a quality gap, we need to share/ reflect and ask for guidance. The other Gap is that we must source and ask for permission to use papers/ images/ videos/ presentations etc from their creators. If you are creating you must put your name on every slide/page/ image so that your work is being used properly and others can come back to find you and fill in any gaps they have. I had a long chat with Vicky Goodyear recently about this concern about quality checking in our profession – again this is still an area of gap analysis for investigation – particularly on social media where we can and do share whatever we like instantly without possibly considering the audience or the need for the share before it gets out there.
Thank you Mel for this post. As you know, I’m not a PE teacher, nor do I even work at a school, but I see your pain in almost every school I go to and every teacher I speak to. System drain us of fun and play, and yet these are two of the very things we need toi see in our curriculum to not only engage kids in their learning and build their interpersonal skills, but to make the lessons fun for us too. Keep up the good work, I appreciate you sharing your thoughts 🙂
Mel, I really connected to this post. Here are my initial thoughts…
SBG: My teaching practice combines parts of your MYP experience with SBG. My units last 5-8 days. They are stand-alone units. I am unable to track student learning and achievement over multiple units (or long-term) because my class rosters change every quarter, which is about every 9 weeks. If I do unpack an outcome (you referred to them as strands), then I cannot truly readdress it or reassess it later. I feel like instead of teaching and reviewing, I’m constantly teaching, reteaching, and reminding. All of this causes my students to have gaps in their experiences, whether it be due to changing teachers, varying grading practices, or different/same concepts, units, and activities.
FUN: I have been thinking a lot about this, too. To be very honest, my overall effectiveness as a teacher has decreased this school year. It has been very difficult for me to determine why this has happened, but I recently came to the realization (with the help of a friend) that I’m in a teaching rut. I think that one of the contributing factors is that my classroom management needs to improve and I need to start beginning every class with a FUN and ENGAGING activity that requires little instruction. This is my goal for winter break…to determine a way to begin class in a more effective and fun way.