Our MS is currently looking at possible changes to our schedule for next year. There are a number of big changes that we are discussing but one of the underlying reasons for this has to do with what Students can choose to do and how we offer student choice.
When you begin discussions about Choice, it is quickly apparent that it is important to define what we mean by Choice (or what Choice is not) as like the word ‘Inquiry’ it is easy to misunderstand the word in this context and for people who use Inquiry routinely, we know that this is a Guided landscape led by the Teacher but for someone new to Inquiry it can feel like a free-for-all approach which is overwhelming.
In our Grade 8 (culminating) PE year, we offer Choices to students. Students can choose the Game or Topic that they wish to learn about or focus on in more depth than our Grade 7 program but as Teachers, we are assessing the same Standards, but offering our students a chance to delve into something that they (hopefully) would like to study. We always have students who are not enamored by the choices, but then they can talk with their friends and at least can choose a social space for growth rather than a unit they don’t connect with and a group that isn’t of their choosing.
Currently, we are in our Individual Pursuits Choice units – students could choose from Gymnastics, Dance, Rock Climbing, Aquatics or Fitness. I am teaching/facilitating/ work with the Aquatics Faculty in the pool for this unit. I am super fortunate to work at a school that values Aquatics and has a 6 x 25m inside pool. We have five full-time Swim Coaches (Yes! 5!) and I am also a trained swim teacher so feel really comfortable in this space.
Students in our class are now faced with making some Choices about what they would like to do in this unit. We spent a lesson looking at ideas, inspiration, looking at Goal setting and Motivation. We talked about what we know, what we need to know and what next! I built a Google site to house the ideas and for us to record our thinking. In our second and third lessons, we took video using a GoPro (top view/ underwater view) as well as on the iPad (Coaches Eye app) so that we could see ourselves. Students who set time or stroke count type goals, also got timed or found their most recent times and used metronomes and recording to collect data on what they do. We then shared these films with students and they were assigned to a particular Coach for a conversation on what they observed.
Our Coaches have a lot of knowledge due in part to their many years of swimming observation experience. They know which drills or activities will improve technique or style but our challenge is to now work with students who are swimming but are not necessarily able to analyse their stroke or dive or turn as they aren’t sure what they are looking for to improve. We are drawing on our Coaches power of observation and ability to converse with our students and the data we have collected to draw a clear picture of where we are at for each student at the moment. This has lead to some very powerful conversations.
The students then took notes from these conversations, they recorded what the coaches observed and many asked questions to clarify or better understand. They then wrote up their conversations and we took photos of the whiteboards (or they wrote on paper) so that they can now learn about what drills or activities they will need to practice to improve their chosen stroke or dive or time work moving forward.
I love working with students as they define what they want to improve and constantly asking them questions about their work and how their thinking. For some students, who swim hours each week, this is the first time they have seen themselves on film underwater, on top of the water, in multiple skills or strokes. Some of them have a very clear ‘aha’ moment when they see themselves – they can suddenly connect the drill or conversation to the visual picture and for some of my athletes this has been a defining moment in their attitude towards their learning – they aren’t as good as they thought or they didn’t quite understand what the Coach was asking or Why the coach was insisting on this specific type of practice.
Some students are not from a swimming background and are here to learn to swim – this is so fabulous to have a place where they can have really careful coaching to improve their confidence as swimmers and I am so grateful that we have the opportunity to potentially make a big impact on them – I also know that we have MS Seasonal after school swimming next Season, so I am hoping that many of my students will come back for more swimming next season with greater confidence in both themselves as swimmers but also in our coaches and the knowledge and observational practice that we can use to improve their stroke work.
Giving students choice to show us how they would like to learn and then also to choose a focus and the Why of that focus has (I hope) empowered some of our students who are sparked by having ownership over their learning. We are guiding students to make decisions and to learn how to set Goals, how to work in small communities to identify challenges and to then find solutions and practice them, analyse the outcomes and use a cycle of data collection/ discussion/ solutions and practice and then collecting more data and reflecting on our cycle. I look forward to seeing how this develops and to find out what we could add as resources to further engage with our students.