Teacher Reflection

Finding Meaning through Choice PE

We begin school in person (not online) on Monday and our department have been discussing what we might like to do in PE with our students together in our learning spaces. A novel concept.

When polled, our students would like to do many things, so it is hard to prioritize what we should focus on and how to move on without actually seeing our students in person (I haven’t taught in person to students since Jan 2020 – so it will be a very different week for me next week!)

I have blogged and done a lot of reading and thinking about the Meaningful PE framework – I love the way that it allows so much ownership and co-construction. I appreciated the way that ImSporticus unpacked the ways in which we might use the framework in his blog post ‘Implementing the features of Meaningful PE’ as PE teachers as it allows so many different ways for conversation, planning and check-ins. I have also enjoyed having some conversations and thought sharing with Andy Vasily about his cycling unit and how he has used the Meaningful PE framework with his students to develop their intrinsic motivation and be independent and responsible cyclists in the community (read about it here).

As we start back at school I am pondering how we might develop a unit around Net/Wall for students and how to grow them as responsible athletes and coaches but also to undertake this unit in a more meaningful (PE) way.

Traditionally we have offered students choice – we have a few lessons of ‘tasters’ where students cycle through Volleyball/ Badminton and Tennis and have a turn of each with their friends in a very friendly environment. We then ask them to choose the activity they would like to do for the next 8-10 lessons. We allow them to move in the first 3 lessons but after that ask them to make a committment to that activity and the group/teacher/space.

We have found that we end up with 1/4 in Volleyball, 1/4 in Tennis and 1/2 the group in Badminton – super popular here in Beijing! I usually take a Badminton group, and we use a Game Sense approach – looking at the tactics and becoming greater observers of the game in order to better look at our own selves as players and make some decisions about what we might like to grow in the next 8-10 lessons. We have been asked by our MS to create a standard summative assessment – and have previously done an overhand serve or spike as this is comparable and has discussion points across all Net/Wall games. (along with student as a learner and formative assessment on other gameplay and tactical aspects)

Typically the types of students to choose Badminton in this group will be:

  • absolute beginners who have limited hand-eye coordination and some apprehension about how they will fair in the class
  • highly competitive players – who are motivated by being in a competitive game with other highly skilled players
  • social badminton players – they are choosing to come with their friends and love playing just within their social network
  • quieter athletes who aren’t as interested in tennis or volleyball

Based on this, we have also split up the 50 or so students into two smaller sub sections to allow for the different needs in the groups. This has been a teacher and student conversation and we’ve tried lots of different ways for splitting the group!

I find that structuring a framework that allows students to find meaning can be challenging when the students are in the game with limited context – if they aren’t able to connect in any deep way to this game (skills, understanding, confidence) and are looking for lots of cues or are really loathing any teacher interaction as they feel you are drawing attention to them in a way they find stressful. I find offering simple game play with limited rules or expectations can eliminate stress and start to build some confidence.

The super confident and high competitive athletes are usually off and running, they need you to intervene or discuss aspects of game play if they are not being respectful or how to resolve conflict or be more responsible when it comes to sharing space and equipment and working on the power position (dominant A type personalities) in the space. This is a different type of teaching moment!

The students who are focused on friends and on being with friends only in the space are often the students who are very motivated by Social Interaction and so within that it is important to build independance in that the students can design their own game or competition (or not) but that they are articulating what they want to play and how they want to play. In this group there may be more knowledgable or skillful players or those who haven’t played and so the differentiation can be very big – and working out how to use that to create challenge or to try and have them articulate the relevancy of how they are choosing to play (why are you choosing to play this way or with these rules or lines or doubles?) so they can continue to enjoy playing and socialising are important.

I wonder if we had students think and then write down what is motivating them to want to play Badminton and then to articulate/discuss what their success criteria would look like might help them to better understand their time in this unit? How might we write down the content objectives or choose the standards for assessment so that they are more connected to the motivation or the way they relate to the game they have chosen? Would the success criteria be a checklist or a statement that they are working on and need to plan some of the ways in which they might play? Could we reflect on this with the students? Could they develop some of the assessment pieces? (closed skill or skill-in-game? tactical play? devise a tournament? referee? coaching? video and analysis?) within this framework? How might they take more ownership of their language goals and objectives in each lesson (are they dialoguing? listening? reading? writing? multi-lang opportunities?)

I am curious to see how we might offer more choice beyond the choice of activity to students so that they can do a lot of playing (they certainly need the opportunity to move!) but how they want to engage and develop within this unit as movers too. How can we provide a space to have students connect to Badminton in a deeper way but in their own ways – intrinsically – not just be connected to what the teachers think is most important to learn?

I wonder if we could use exit tickets to have students identify their motivation to this unit/class (ex. I am here because… connecting to friends/ looking for challenge/ want to improve my skills and tactics/ would like to learn more about refereeing or coaching/ want to use technology for feedback/ want to set up a successful tournament etc.) to guide them to be more aware of why they are in this class and that each person’s motivation and reasons are very different – this is a wonderful conversation in itself as the very competitive student teamed up with the social student will have a very different sort of game and experience together.

I wonder if we might set up different lessons that expose students to very specific things – tactical game play; rote skill practice; foot work drills; small court play; doubles; video feedback; score board etc so that they can see what these feel like – and note how they feel (challenged? overwhelmed? too mch risk? fun? social? pressure etc) so they can decide the sorts of ways they might set up their court/s and lessons and write down what they feel ‘success’ could look like in that series of lessons.

Could we include language objectives – I can discuss/ I can write/ I can engage in two languages about the game play about the set success goals we have?

Could the students choose between the Motor Competency and Student as a Learner and Active Living standards offered so that their success criteria is linked to the ones that they feel best fit at this time (they still end up with a strand grade so it doesn’t really matter which one/s they select)? What might that look like and would this take away from playing time? (how much? to make a more meaningful experience for students).

This will be messy. But rarely working with students is straight forward! Now is the time to keep being brave about trying new things as we try and get students comfortable about moving with others again – I am excited to try it all out.


  • mhamada

    Joey, thank you for taking the time to read this blog post and also to share a thoughtful comment that pushes me to think further and maybe to consider how to move through the ‘messy’ part of the pondering and into actionable plans to use in class. I am not consistent, but I do use standards and unpack them using a similar system to your Road Map – trying to explain the What, Why, How or Content objectives and am learning about how better to use Language objectives and cultural objectives too. I get myself unstuck as we move into my middle school classes and I realise that the assessment of the day is not the same for each student – and I now wonder if this is my own fault for having the objectives be so finite and if what I need to do is write something that isn’t so specific – that allows for students to see that there is a continuum involved – and often there are multiple things we look for – a skill thing/ a social thing/ a management thing/ an active participator thing – so how do you share that? Is it that we have overarching content objective statements and then lesson specific ones – so if Students say ‘I can do that (and show you)’ that you can then say – well done, now let’s look at this… or how does this sort of work fit into the SOLO taxonomy model? maybe it is all too much.

    If the students can’t tell you the content objective and how they are able to demonstrate it – then what is the point of it really?

    I guess I want students to be able to share what has motivated them to be involved in our class today. (meaningful PE pillars and options to add their own)
    The language objectives could be that students – I am talking and writing about how I have (or have not) been motivated today.
    And the cultural connection (trying to make this personal and bring awareness that we all have different motivations, and later on that this can change each day for us personally too!)
    Culture: I can make connections between motivations both in our PE activities and outside PE.
    Culture: I can make compare and contrast between my motivations and that of others in our class.

    I imagine that I could get some reflection as you suggest – lesson 2,4,6,8 or so to bring awareness and to see if we can add a little depth and tap into our own motivation – and be aware of others and their motivations too. This may lead to some interesting dialogue about how are have different motivations and that this is okay, but it can lead to beautiful discourse or conflict if we don’t pause and give each other space (ex. I am super competitive, that is motivating me to want to win my game against you – you are happy to play socially – you don’t care about the rules or score so you aren’t playing by them, which is upsetting me!)
    Thanks again Joey, your questions and sharing are good for my own reflection process.

  • Joey

    Hi Mel!

    First off, thank you for sharing this. I love how your post shares how aware you are of all of the not-so-visible things that are happening in your class. It’s a testament to the level of care that you show to your students!

    I think our approaches to assessment/instruction are very different (which isn’t a bad thing). I take a very standards-based approach but do my best to present those standards/outcomes a) in language that is accessible to the students and b) through goals that allow students to feel that the learning is within their reach. I do this mostly by building student-friendly qualitative rubrics (Learning Roadmaps) that will help each student understand what we are working towards and choose goals that are personal to them.

    All of this is done in a way that is meant to keep the student at the center of the learning experience, but I feel that I oftentimes failed to provide students with enough choice in PE. Options, yes… but not real choice. I guess – for a variety of reasons (e.g. time, assessment, etc) – I always felt under pressure to keep things moving forward.

    I wonder if there would be value in using the Meaningful PE framework as a tool for students to assess their own experiences in PE. Rough draft idea: students rate each component of the framework on a three-point scale at the start, middle, and end of the unit. It would be interesting to see where the students find value/opportunities for growth in regard to how meaningful their experiences in the unit are so as to guide our future planning.

    I think we can do our best to try to plan for everything but, ultimately, we can’t know what works until we try something. So here’s to messy teaching/learning (and blogging/commenting lol).

    Thanks for sharing! Happy teaching!

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