In 2001, Phil Wylie (Twitter- @inspir_EDPhil ) completed his PGCE in Secondary PE on the same course as me at Bath University. Since then, Phil has worked in both a Secondary and Primary setting.
Here is a fantastic piece written by Phil that describes how his philosophy has transformed his teaching from delivering the traditional physical skill focused schemes of work to using learning journeys that focus on a holistic approach to child development.
Enjoy the read.
“Investment in the learner as a person accelerates all their learning. As they become more confident, resilient, resourceful, socially developed with a growth mindset they also enhance their ability at sports, music and anything else” (Carol Dweck)
During the past 3 years since my redundancy at my secondary PE teaching job, I have been in the fortunate position to work as a School sports coordinator. This has allowed me the opportunity to work at both primary and secondary level observing best practice around the country and given me time to reflect on my own teaching practice and philosophy. This time has seen an improvement in my own teaching as a result of some changes in my teaching philosophy.
5 years ago I genuinely believed it was an important skill for a child to learn how to hold a hockey stick correctly, dribble a small ball around several cones accurately using the “correct” side of the stick. It use to frustrate me when a child got this wrong or couldn’t remember which side of the stick was the legal side to touch the ball ‘according to the rules’. However, a thought occurred to me one day; if the same children who I tried (and failed) to teach this skill to asked me “when was the last time you used this skill sir?” I would have to own up and say……….”I can’t remember”. Clearly it is not an essential skill as the likelihood of me using it on a daily basis is limited to whether or not I am an amateur or professional hockey player. I considered the point further asking; does the same philosophy apply to other PE skills such as a forward roll, a lay up, a cruyff turn?
I began to consider ‘what is important about PE and sport’? A sports specific skill isn’t necessarily an essential skill, but the process of the skill is. The ability to see a challenge in front of me or something I have not tried before, the courage to have a go, the resilience and determination to keep trying when at first I fail at the task and embrace the challenge, the confidence to ask for help when needed and the then act on advice and finally the confidence to demonstrate my learning and progress to others. And what about the creativity to find new and different ways to use the skill?
David Milliband (2003) stated the sole purpose of a 21stcentury education was “learning to learn for a lifetime of change”. If this is the case, then we need to do more than attempt to perfect sports skills within PE and prepare our young people for the jobs, careers, technologies of the future and a life outside of school. Observations of PE in secondary schools over the last few years highlighted the huge emphasis we place on developing sports skills rather than personalising our approach for the learner.
Departments often based their curriculum on availability of facilities or timetable issues or to ensure rugby was taught in line with local school leagues/competitions so that the school can “put out a strong team as nobody comes to training if we aren’t doing it in lessons”. Unfortunately, extra curricular teams represent less than 10% of our student,s so in such instances we are designing our curriculum around a small cohort rather than personalising opportunities for every child. As an SSCO running regular festivals and competitions for children, I noticed that often the same children represented their school in several sports i.e. if they were good footballers they were good games players and therefore could play basketball or rugby as well. Schools were not providing opportunities for as many students as they thought. Many school team players already played for local teams and therefore already had opportunities outside of school regardless of whether the school provide the same opportunity.
Recently there has been a noticeable change in thinking and focus within other PE departments.
My attention was then drawn towards the way we celebrate progress and success with our youngsters. Traditionally I praised students who successfully completed a task/skill or who played well during a game, ignoring effort, determination and students who overcome challenges – essentially all the behaviours I really wanted to see from my students. Carol Dweck showed that by praising positive behaviours we develop children with “growth mindsets” where they believe they can improve and develop through effort and that talent and ability is not innate.
My response to this period of reflection was to change the way I taught and align my philosophy with my teaching. Whether I am working in a primary or secondary environment, with able or less able students my approach is to develop every child as a person and prepare them as happy, successful life long learners with a growth mindset.
How do I choose the focus of my lessons? I get to know my students, learn their strengths and areas for development and then personalise learning by focusing on the skills that will achieve the above. No longer do I follow rigid sports skills schemes of work and instead use learning journeys focusing on wider essential life skills meaning assessment for learning is much more clear to students. In my PE lessons there are physical and non physical outcomes and in the attempt to include and value all children from the beginning of the lesson. There is choice and trust as I shift as much responsibility for learning toward the learner themselves not only through activities but through peer feedback and assessment for learning. When a child is successful we celebrate their success as a class as children are actively encouraged to observe and acknowledge their peers.
Impact on learning
There have been several improvements I have seen as a result of the change in my teaching.
Recently a secondary Head of PE said to me “I have Year 13 students who cant analyse and evaluate strengths and weaknesses of performance for their A level work”. I was very proud to inform him that I had 30 year 4 students who were all capable of observing and analysing performance and giving some helpful feedback to their peers. I added that as a result of having 30 young teachers in my class all students have made accelerated progress in their physical skills. My point was that if start to develop these essential skills in the early years students will be able to demonstrate and apply the skills appropriately in later years as well as well as having improved sports skills.
Regardless of physical ability students display more desire to engage and make progress in PE lessons. Individuals are much clearer about where they are in their learning and what the next step is in their journey. By focussing on wider skills more children if not all feel valued and included in lessons from the beginning of lessons and are motivated on self improvement and personal best as opposed to comparing themselves with the “gifted and talented” peers. In fact students whose physical skills are below that of their peers actually can make accelerated physical progress in lessons as a result of having higher level personal and social skills.
Overall, I feel that by focusing on developing the wider skills, students are actually better prepared to be successful learners across all their subjects.
“As they become more confident, resilient, resourceful, socially developed with a growth mindset they also enhance their ability at sports, music and anything else” (Carol Dweck)