Teacher Reflection

Focus on Challenge

Photo by Anastasia Taioglou on Unsplash

Challenge can be a difficult word or concept to explain and model in a PE classroom. What we find challenging is very personal and could be the same as another in our class but we can also find that we are alone in ways we feel challenged and learning to personalise and better understand ourselves is all wrapped up in how we can help others to learn about ‘challenge’.

This year I have been focused on looking at Challenge with my students. I began this blog post and have been looking at ways to unpack and try and offer learning opportunities over the past few months that have centred on Challenge.

Firstly, I wanted to try and offer some resources and understanding around what ‘challenge’ can look like and feel like. I created some PowerPoint slides (the words/concepts have come from the LAMPE blog site – resources below) and from Tripod (the site we use to do student feedback surveys on teachers).

Part 1: Try to give examples of ‘Challenge’ in a PE environment

Challenge interlocks with the other pillars of Meaningful PE. Challenge could be about the actual skills or tactical play in the game (motor competency); it could be about the people we are working with (Social) or it might relate to language barriers as we learn new concepts or vocabulary in sport-specific environments. It could be challenging to work in a new space (starting to play outside in Spring can be daunting for many) or about overcoming performance anxiety. Challenge can also be different based on the day you are having and the time of day you have PE. This exploration saw us move through a series of different units as we explored what we found challenging and explored ways we might overcome this (on our own, with a friend, with a teacher). I asked specific exit ticket questions around these themes.

Part 2: Teacher Challenge/ Student Reflections

Without warning, in one of our Rock Climbing lessons, I challenged the students to ‘fall’ off the Wall – to push themselves to a point of challenge that they could not hold on anymore and ‘fell’ safely off their Auto belay. I asked them what that might look like – I pushed them to set very lofty goals and then to try and meet them. There was no limit to what that ‘failure’ might look like – and this was what I was hoping for. As students clipped in for their climb, I asked them (and their coach) what their plan was for this climb, and then asked them specifically what was challenging for them about what they had chosen. About half of my students did actually ‘fail’ at some point on the wall. The other half could not find a point to fail – they were unable to push to a point where they ‘fell’ off the wall – and when we talked about this, there was a variety of reasons. Failure is not something that many of my students feel is acceptable and they either didn’t want to be seen to fail or feel that they had failed themselves. Some students blamed their coach for not offering better advice. Some students were overcome with worry about falling and not being in control. Some students surprised themselves, they set hard goals and met all of them. This was a really interesting lesson around Challenge and for me to witness what goals were set, what students felt was appropriate and whether they could actually ‘fail’ by falling off the Wall.

We had a guest coach come to teach some basic tennis lessons, his style was very different to mine – he is a technical skill coach first and foremost, and he had very specific activities and drills for students to do and was very vocal and harsh on students. These lessons were very challenging for those of us who don’t play tennis, those who don’t work on very technical skills and in a very loud and cavernous environment. We had to talk about overcoming performance anxiety, overcoming failure to be able to do that exact skill at the exact time and keep trying and trying again. We looked at how to communicate with a new coach/teacher and how to better work with these expectations. Students reflected that they were excited to learn new skills and felt more equipped to play tennis. They had to build a reserve to overcome their anxiety at being ‘looked at’ by others as they performed their skills (correctly or incorrectly) and enjoyed some of the team competitions offered to them that used skills and games together.

In our Badminton tournament, I asked students who their most challenging opponents were – we shared together at the end of Lesson 1 of our tournament day – and we discussed who we thought really challenged us and WHY. This proved to be a pivotal moment for many, as they hadn’t realised during the game, that their opponent found them hard to play – and gave confidence to many students who were feeling very challenged in gameplay but didn’t know that others were feeling the same as them. We also talked about rituals and rules and how it can be very challenging to not play within the set rules of the game. About having a friend come to spectate and how that can influence games and we looked at ways to grow during a game (what do we observe in others and what can we do to change the game to make things harder for them?). Do we have to win every point? If the game is very one-sided, how might we make the game more even but still competitive? How do we change game rules to make the game more equal and still fun for both sides?

Tripod Survey

Recently, we completed another Tripod Survey – here is what one of my classes shared:

I was super happy to see that students felt I asked them to really explain more about their answers – this goes hand in hand with the exit ticket slips and conversations I have been having with students and making it clear that ‘idk’ isn’t enough – ever. 🙂

I have had Tripod Reports for three years now. Here is how Challenge has looked over time. Interestingly in 2020-21 Spring (358) we were in the midst of Track and Field… I am keen to see how that unit goes for my students as our next focus and what data I can collect on Challenge in that time as well

It has been super interesting for me to focus on Challenge over a number of units. Currently students are in Dance and we have had a lot of Covid and other interruptions which has stalled my lesson reflection time so I have not captured as much data on this as I would have liked. But the conversations that the students are having with me are centred on Challenge and so they have now been trained at least to consider this more carefully and pay more attention to it. In our recent Quarter 3 reports, students were offered several prompts to reflect and many chose the one that explores Challenge as a reflective prompt to share with their parents on their report cards.

We will move into our annual Track and Field unit next week. I am curious to see how students will transition to working/playing outside and into a more cardiovascular centred unit after months of wintertime inside. I would like to focus on safety (!)as well as motor competency and peer coaching and the pressure of competition and what that can look like and ways we might overcome that anxiety. Last year my takeaways from students were to remind them we expect them to be involved – easy is fine, lazy is not and work out how to make those clear boundaries.

I have enjoyed reading and listening to the reflections about Challenge and look forward to more conversations as we move into the last 10 weeks of this year. Any advice or suggestions are always welcome.


LAMPE blog post – The role of Challenge in Meaningful PE – Part 1 August 2016


ImSporticus blog post – Implementing the features of Meaningful PE – Jan 2021

Meaningful Experiences in Physical Education and Youth Sport: A Review of the Literature by Stephanie Beni,Tim Fletcher &Déirdre Ní Chróinín Published online: 17 Oct 2016

One Comment

  • Tim F

    Thank you for sharing this Mel! You’ve opened up a number of different ways to think about challenge that go well beyond the challenge of technical skill, particularly in terms of social interactions with peers/teachers/coaches, our environment/context, and the task that is involved. Most impressive to me is the depth of student feedback and the value placed on that feedback by you. We keep on learning a lot from you and teachers like you — please keep sharing and innovating : )
    Tim and the Meaningful PE team

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