Where does the time go!?

I was paid a visit on Friday by Sam Lewis, an undergraduate from Marjohn Uni, Plymouth. Over the next 3 weeks, he will be observing a number of my lessons to collect research for his dissertation about time spent learning in PE lessons.

This is an issue I have recently paid some attention to within my department. Our aim has always been to ‘be physically active within 10 minutes of the lesson starting”. However, this mentions nothing about learning.
As Sam points out, just because pupils are not physically active, it doesn’t mean to say that they are ‘off task’ and therefore not learning e.g they could be involved in discussion or planning / evaluating. Sam has decided to call this ‘active learning’ for the purpose of his research.

It has always been my policy, where possible, to engage pupils in physical activity as soon as they are changed. This allows the quickest changed to start their learning without having to wait several minutes for other pupils to change, then wait for the register, then for learning objectives to be set, then setting of the first task……. But how can active learning be facilitated during this initial phase of the lesson?

  • pupils could be given the learning objectives on entry to the changing rooms and discuss with a friend how they may go about working towards them, 
  • setting themselves personal or social goals for the lesson, 
  • reviewing last weeks lesson, 
  • doing a quiz relating to the lesson e.g if playing basketball, asking pupils to describe how many ways a player can score (slam dunk, free 

The options are endless.

Once the lesson is in full swing, I see the main challenges for maximising learning:

  • Minimizing time spent setting tasks
  • Keeping pupils engaged with tasks by setting the appropriate level of challenge for each pupil (see posts on comfort – stretch – panic curve)
  • Progressing tasks / phase of the lesson at appropriate times
  • When leading Q&A/discussions with the class, engage all pupils through pair or small group work instead of leading one whole class session which can lead to many pupils switching off and answers being given by the same pupils.

If I set a task that pupils are likely to finish at different times, I have started to try to get the pupils to engage in active learning in some way on completion of the task. This could be reviewing activities, considering making tasks more challenging/easy, demonstrating to other groups etc…… In time, I will incorporate this into personal skill target setting, leading to pupils instinctively seeking to learn in some way when they complete a task – accelerated learning!

If you have a non performer (or a peer observer), you could ask them to choose a pupil and draw a timeline of the lesson, tracking what level of activity/learning that pupil engages with. You will be amazed how much time is spent being wasted!

Sam, great to see undergraduates such as yourself, researching factors affecting teaching and learning (especially in PE). I was teaching for several years before engaging in the sort of professional discussions we were having on Friday. Good luck with the study, and I look forward to reading the final paper.

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