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First steps

An example of a starting point for MBP – The first unit of work

The adage suggests that the first step is the hardest. Perhaps it is. The problem, from the perspective of this blogger, is defining when you’re taking that first step. To make thing easier for all of us I’m going to state – categorically – that you’re already taken that first step. In fact, to make things a little easier still, I’m going to say that you’ve already taken a few of these first steps. You’re here. You’ve made the decision to try something new. You’ve acknowledged a gap in your teaching or an aspiration to do ‘something’ better or differently or just a little scary. Choose your own words but the fact is – as far as I’m concerned - you’re not at step one or two and maybe not even three.

But you are towards the start of your journey. Like the child in the picture you’re peering around the corner and wondering what you’re going to see. Great. Enjoy the view for a while. The options – as they say – are endless (well, at least plentiful). In fact, perhaps you’re spoilt for choice.

So, the real question is “where do you go next?”

To answer that I’m going to return to last week’s Venn diagram (https://www.slideshare.net/secret/24sfPrgzalwdGq), with its three circles (i.e. learners and learning, teachers and teaching, and knowledge and context (Armour, 2011)) and the idea that pedagogy is ‘living’ at its heart.

In considering a fuller notion of pedagogy I am able to make decisions about MBP implementation based on one of three things:

1) do you change the way learners in your care develop?

2) do you change the way you teach? And/or

3) do you change what is valued as knowledge worth knowing in the context in which you work?

That’s not to say that these questions (and the answers you provide) are truly independent from each other. Inevitably, a decision in one will impact on the others. That said, not all decisions are equal. If you step forwards with the intention of tweaking your teaching then you may well minimise the impact you have on learning and will probably avoid impacting on knowledge all together. In contrast, shifting the balance of power when it comes to knowledge could well have much wider implications. But, as they say, the decision is yours. 

In what remains of this blog I’ll consider some of the implications of making different pedagogical decisions and suggest ways that each decision might prompt you to take further steps on your journey towards a MBP approach to #physed.

If we place the learners and learning at the forefront of decision making process then we are asking ourselves to consider the needs of the learner. What is in their best interests to learn? Such learning might occur in the physical domain or the cognitive or the social or the affective. Equally, if we put either teachers and teaching or knowledge and context front and centre then we are faced with a different set of decision or choices respectively. But what might MBP look like if approached in these different ways? and What model might you select to help you achieve your objective?

I’m assuming – going forwards - that we’ve agreed that it’s best to start small and increase the complexity of what you’re doing as you begin to develop your pedagogical fluency [see footnote]. Like the analogy of the juggler in the last blog, I’m assuming that we’re only adding one ball/model at a time to our juggling/pedagogical routine.

The next step: Take the time to look at the learners in your next class. Don’t think of them as able or less able, engaged or non-engaged, sporty or non-sporty. Just look at them. What are they doing? Don’t think about what they’ve done in the past, or if they are doing what you ask them to do. Try and notice them as if for the first time. How are they physically in terms of their motor skills? How are they cognitively in terms of their decision making and understanding? How are they social in terms of their interactions? How are they affectively in terms of their emotions and feelings toward PE, the activity, each other? Now repeat this exercise a few times with the same class, the same age group, and then different classes.

What do you see? Actually see, as opposed to expect to see. Let’s imagine that you see clusters of kids who are ‘busy, happy and good’ (Placek, 1983). Many are doing what you asked, they appear happy and are well behaved but when you look closely not all of them are really engaged in the activity. Maybe the majority are engaged and enthused. Maybe they all are. Maybe they’re doing but not understanding what they’re doing. They can perform a skill in isolation but it never makes it into a game or routine. Maybe, when they go home, they can’t explain what they learnt to a parent or sibling. Maybe they are getting through but never have any intention of using anything they’ve done in PE in their lives outside of school. What can you do about it?

Focusing on learners and learning: In looking in this way – really looking – you might see some commonalities. Perhaps you’ve got physical nailed. Maybe you’ve also got cognitive covered but social and affective are at sixes and sevens (i.e. confused, badly organized, or difficult to see). You make the decision to change the learning in one class for a period. Somewhat randomly (it seems to me) research seems to opt for about six lessons. That said, research on that research would also say that six is too few. For some models, like Sport Education, there is an inbuilt recommendation for at least 18 but the choice is yours. My advice would be give yourself enough time to fall over a few times, stand up, pick the kids up, reset and press on. It won’t be until the latter stages (in my experience) that things will begin to make at least to some sense everyone.

So, you’ve opted for ten weeks and decided you want to improve your students’ social skills. To achieve this, you might choose Cooperative Learning or Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility (TPSR) or Peer Teaching or Sport Education. For the sake of this blog, let’s say you choose TPSR and choose to focus on Hellison’s (2003) four main themes in turn, i.e. Integration, Transfer, Empowerment, and the Teacher-Student relationship.

You explain to the class(es) that you’re going to start by focusing on Integration (i.e. by not separating physical activity from the learning of personal and social responsibility). You stress that you’re putting the emphasis on PSR rather than the activity. You choose to use Hellison’s levels of responsibly (Google it) and focus on describing and understanding each student’s present level. You don’t rush into things and stay with Integration for ten weeks.

The focus has shifted from direct instruction to personal and social responsibility. The learning outcomes have also shifted and the young people in your care are learning what it takes to be responsible. Your role as a teacher has changed and so has what is seen as valuable knowledge but these are not the drivers of change but some of the consequences.

Focusing on teacher and teaching: The easiest route, in all likelihood, to adopting a MBP approach is to change as a teacher. In this way, with the lens turned inwards, you can choose what it is you want to do. You might have always wanted to try Sport Education or Tactical Games or have used Cooperative Learning in another school or on your teacher education programme. Either way you make the choice to change.

Because the focus is on you it’s OK to concentrate on what Metzler (2011) calls the teacher benchmarks. For example, in Personalised System for Instruction (PSI) this includes ensuring: (1) that the PSI materials are clear for students, (2) you use very little management time (less than 2 percent), (3) you have very high rates of individualised instruction interactions, (4) performance tasks for students are set at the appropriate level of difficulty, (5) you make few if any task presentations, and (6) don’t use up time witnessing and verifying mastery attempts.

The key here is to focus on what you’re doing. Learning changes because you’re not validating everything or stopping the class to give whole class instructions. What is valued as knowledge changes because the student can validate his or her own attempts. Yes, you’re engaging in lots of individualised instruction interactions but ultimately, it’s their decision that counts.

Focusing on knowledge and context: Changing what counts as knowledge in the context of your school and our subject is, perhaps, the most difficult of tasks. Many of you have tackled this when you’ve brought new activities into #physed but sometimes you have kept too tight a grip on what counts and doesn’t count as knowledge. Playing Korfball or doing Yoga is great but when these activities are taught through the same old approach is it really new knowledge or just a new sport/activity? 

When you did your observations, and watched your classes afresh, you realised that the students could repeat patterns but couldn’t find innovative solutions. Their set plays and routines were just that – set and routine – and they only valued your knowledge and had distain for anyone else’s ideas.  

So, instead, you try Inquiry Teaching. The major theme of IT is LEARNER AS PROBLEM SOLVER. Now there isn’t a right answer. You frame a problem by asking a question and let the students – over time – create and explore one or more possible solutions. This involves (1) identifying the problem (2) exploring of the problem (3) identifying and defining possible solutions to the problem and (4) analysis, evaluation and discussion of the completed task. You are not there to provide the answer but to facilitate the process. Yes, your teaching changes and yes, the learning changes (probably every lesson and with every group) but that’s not the focus. The focus is on new knowledge.

Throughout this process – and you’ve only committed to ten weeks with one class remember – you are challenging the pedagogical spaces in which you work. You’re not throwing the baby out with the bath water or trying to juggle five balls at once. You are learning to teach in a new way, you are helping your students to learn to learn in a new way and you are challenging what counts for knowledge in one class.

It’s the next set of steps. It’s not monumental. Earth shattering or game changing. It’s a couple of new steps. What’s so scaring about that? Indeed, what are you waiting for?

 

References

Hellison, D. (2003). Teaching responsibility through physical activity (2nd Edition). Champaign, IL. Human Kinestics. 

Metzler, M. (2005). Instructional Models for Physical Education. (2nd edition). Scottsdale, Arizona; Holcomb Hathaway.

Placek, J. (1983). Conceptions of success in teaching: Busy, happy, and good? In T. Templin & J. Olson (Eds.). Teaching in physical education, 46-55. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

[footnote] In my PhD I suggested that pedagogical fluency “only occurs when participants think in a language or pedagogy that puts the pupil at the heart of the lesson. Yet beyond this switch of location between teacher and student comes an understanding of the nuances of each model that makes it a viable and successful approach to learning. Notwithstanding the need for teachers to become fluent in the model that they elect to utilise in their teaching, it is necessary for the pupils also to understand their position within it. 

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