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Confessions of a PE Teacher: Breaking the mould

PE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Confessions of a PE Teacher: Breaking the mould

 

There is nothing worse than listening to ultracrepidarian comments about your subject:

 

“It’s alright for you PE Teachers, all you do is organise a game of football.”

“It’s not like you have to plan your lesson.”

“Those who can’t teach, teach PE.”

 

For the most part, the comments are said in jest, but the reality is that these comments reinforce a certain PE Teacher stereotype.  On top of the onslaught of comments suggesting that PE Teachers are less worthy than other teachers, the government constantly places PE at the bottom of the priority pile which can make it very difficult to stay positive.  I won’t be the only PE teacher who has sometimes questioned why I went to university for 4 years of my life to complete a degree in a subject which for some people actually has very little status in education.  The stereotype that PE is somehow for a ‘lesser’ teacher because they weren’t capable of anything else saddens me, as does the low currency that some schools place on the subject and its value to students.  We all know the positive impact that playing a sport can have on our students and in my experience, it is not often the case that I see successful leaders who have not at some point in their lives participate in sporting or other creative activities.

 

It also seems odd to me that despite all of us being aware that we are in the middle of an obesity crisis, there is little recognition of the huge part that PE as a wider subject has to play in raising students’ awareness of the importance of healthy living – particularly those students who come from more disadvantaged backgrounds.  To dismiss it as something which is a luxury if the budget can afford it seems short-sighted to me.

 

PE is not just about kicking a ball about.  It requires acute critical reflection, the tenacity to deliberately practise skills, the resilience to persevere, and the ability to think strategically and quickly under pressure. On top of this, there are huge benefits for students in terms of team work, confidence and, crucially for me, competition.

 

PE teachers consistently teach some of the largest ability spectrums within the school.  It is common to have a group with a county footballer at one end of the spectrum, with a student who can barely make contact with a ball at the other end.  Regardless, PE teachers still ensure that all students make good progress.

 

Being a PE teacher has taught me much and given me the skills to undertake all the leadership positions I have held.  It has helped me build relationships with even the toughest students.  It has allowed me to witness some truly inspirational sporting performances.  But ultimately, it has allowed me to retain my passion for teaching because it is a subject that I truly believe in.

 


#12 Solutions for Embedding Spacing and Interleaving – Creating a More Durable Memory.

Memory fascinates me, I am constantly on the lookout for ideas to helps students retain information.  I want to start with a few questions; how many lessons do you walk into where a starter activity is based on the content from the previous lesson? I would imagine that this is very common.   How often do you walk into a lesson and see a starter based on content that was covered 6, 12 or even 18 weeks ago?  What would students find more difficult, a starter based on something they did in the previous lesson or a starter based on something they covered weeks ago?  The answer is likely to be the starter based on older content and the fact that they find it more difficult is the absolute key to building a more durable memory.

 

There are many posts on the principles of spacing and interleaving that go into far more detail with regards to relevant research and so I promise to keep the preamble brief. It is the practical solutions which are most important to me.  This post is fuelled primarily by a fantastic article by Bjork and Bjork and sections of Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning.   Firstly, I want to address spacing which in essence is increasing the time in between delivering content.  What many people recognise as traditional curriculum design is where content is taught in discrete topics. Students sit and end of unit test and then may not revisit the content until the terminal assessment at the end of year.   A curriculum designed with spacing in mind aims to spread the learning out so that students have to recall information at greater intervals.  For example, in science they may do a lesson on current, followed by a lesson on osmosis etc.  At first, this is a frightening concept because immediately teachers are thinking that students will struggle to keep track of all the information, but this struggle is essential.  To quote  Brown, Roediger and McDaniel, ‘Rapid-fire practice leans on short term memory.  Durable learning, however, requires time for mental rehearsal and the other processes of consolidation.’ When delivering a curriculum structured in the traditional way, students rely too heavily on their short term memory and so may perform well on the end of unit test but when trying to recall the key information in the distant future they will struggle.

 

Interleaving two or more subjects or skills has a significant impact on retention of knowledge.  This is the process of inserting content into lessons to challenge them to recall knowledge out of synchronisation.  The big draw backs are that the progress is slower and students find it confusing which makes it unpopular with teachers.  However, I defy anyone to read pg48-50 of Make it Stick:The Science of Successful learning  and not be fully convinced  by the concepts.  In short, one experiment with interleaved practise showed an increase of 215% in performance on a final test.  ‘The research shows unequivocally that mastery and long term retention are much better if you interleave practice rather than you mass it.’

 

There are some fantastic articles in relation to spacing and interleaving which are referenced below.  They are all well worth a read if you can find time.

 

Here are 12 solutions for embedding the principles of spacing and interleaving:

 

 

12 Solutions

 

  • Plan starter activities based on content from previous units.

 

  • Design schemes of learning which factor in time to reteach/review content.

 

  • Less terminal revision, more reviewing during units.

 

  • Use cumulative exams and quizzes throughout the unit.

 

  • Explain the evidence behind the methodology to get buy in from students and parents.

 

  • Mix up the order of practice problems for greater retention.

 

  • When planning learning, vary practice: -Teacher input –Student recall – Application.

 

  • Pilot spaced learning with a group and compare outcomes with a similar group.

 

  • Multiple exposures –students need 3-4 exposures to information over time.(Hattie)

 

  • Use programmes like Quizlet for frequent low stakes quizzes.

 

  • Use PLCs to identify common weaknesses and interleave questions related to the weaknesses.

 

  • Collapse lessons periodically to provide spaced practice on common areas of weakness.

 

Spacing and interleaving 1-6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spacing and interleaving 7-12

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

 

Make it stick:The Science of Successful Learning – Peter C Brown, Henry L Roediger III, Mark A McDaniel.

 

Learning: Chaprter 3: Making Things Hard on Yourself, But in a Good Way: Creating Desirable Difficulties to Enhance Learning. Elizabeth L Bjork and Robert Bjork

Cepeda, N. J., Pashler, H., Vul, E., Wixted, J. T., & Rohrer, D. (2006). Distributed practice in verbal recall tasks: A review and quantitative synthesis. Psychological Bulletin, 132, 354-380. DOI: 10.1037/0033-2909.132.3.354.

Cepeda, N. J., Vul, E., Rohrer, D., Wixted, J. T., & Pashler, H. (2008). Spacing effects in learning: A temporal ridgeline of optimal retention. Psychological Science, 19, 1095-1102. DOI : 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02209.x.

http://public.psych.iastate.edu/shacarp/carpenter_2014_science_of_learning.pdf

Spacing and Interleaving of Study and Practice: Shana K. Carpenter Iowa State University. 

Bahrick, H. P., Bahrick, L. E., Bahrick, A. S., & Bahrick, P. E. (1993). Maintenance of foreign language vocabulary and the spacing effect. Psychological Science, 4, 316-321. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467- 9280.1993.tb00571.x.


Part 2 – How do we prevent data being the catalyst for change?

Just to clarify, I am no data heathen.  I merely want to stress that we should not rely on data to set our learning and teaching priorities.  The most important data to me is the data which tells us exactly what the students within our care can and can’t do.  A school with a good grasp on this will find no surprises when it comes to analysing whole school data.

I don’t particularly like the term data as it removes the personal element from the information about the students we teach, turning individual skills and talents into numbers and graphs.

As made abundantly clear in my previous post, my biggest gripe relates to the use of summative data to inform learning and teaching actions.  That being said, how then do we ensure that there are no surprises at the data entry points throughout the year?  For me, the key is for teachers to focus on establishing a much clearer on-going picture of what exactly the students in their classes can and can’t do.

A reapportioning of time to formative assessment methods is one way to ensure that lessons are adapted regularly in order to respond to the ever-changing needs of the students.  One way of tackling this, which many schools are now utilising, is by using Personalised Learning Checklists which help to provide an overview of the strengths and weaknesses of each student.  I have included a couple of examples below, but I am keen to stress that the focus is not on what they look like or indeed how they are filled in.  The one key focus is that the information is used to inform teaching on a daily basis.

PLC example 2

 

PLC Example 1

PLCs in essence, are a breakdown of whole specification or individual topics into key areas or statements which are then used to assess pupil progress.  They can focus on key skills or the whole subject content but when used effectively, they give a comprehensive overview of the individual strengths and areas for development for each student.  Although the statements can be progressive and can be used to attribute a grade, the key point is to give a personalised overview of progress for each student.

So how can PLCs prevent surprises at each data point?

Using formative assessment methods to fill out the PLCs, identifies gaps at the beginning, during and towards the end of a unit allowing teachers to adapt their lessons in response to the needs of their groups.  This methodology should systematically prevent gaps from opening meaning that there should be no surprises when analysing the data at the end of a unit of learning.  Any gaps that are apparent from summative data, will already have been identified by subject teachers and work will already have begun on strategically using PLCs to modify teaching to close any such gaps.  Actions off the back of PLCs could include:

  • Interleaving weak topic as starter tasks.
  • Personalised homework tasks.
  • Lessons focused on common problem areas.
  • Communication with parents about exactly what their child can and can’t do as opposed to identifying units that they underperformed in.

 

 

PLCs can help ensure that lessons are personalised, teaching time is efficiently used and that any developing gaps are systematically closed.


Data should never be the catalyst for change…

Why?

 Too many actions in schools are driven by what the data says.  The fundamental flaw with this lies in the mindset which underpins it.  Labouring over data to pick holes in performance in order to identify actions, is completely the wrong way to go about affecting change.  A staggering amount of time is spent filtering spreadsheets and processing marksheets in order to trigger actions.  Instead, the data should merely be used to check that everything you are doing is having the desired impact.

When the data is recorded, we already know that it is likely show to gaps between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students.  We know that it will highlight differences in performance between gender groups or between individual classes.  This data should never be the catalyst for changing practice.  If we are relying on data to highlight these things, then we are never going to make the necessary changes to positively impact on pupil outcomes.

As teachers, we know what is effective in the classroom and there is a wealth of pedagogy to support this.  But it seems to me that there needs to be a significant shift in the way schools use data in order to bring about the necessary change in mindset which will really close the gap in terms of achievement.  What is important is that the children within our care experience high quality teaching on a daily basis.  We don’t need data to drive the development of this.  If we get our learning and teaching priorities right in the first place, then data should simply be used to check our progress towards providing high quality education for all.

Highest red PS