Demonstrating Progress in PE

@ImSporticus – Read his blog here.

Demonstrating Progress in PE

The issue

There seems to be a worrying rise of the need of physical evidence to back up a teachers judgement in the progress of practical PE.

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I have just written a long ranting post about this. It was born out of frustration from what I’m seeing on twitter, conversations with PE teachers in other schools and now finally in my school. I have decided not to publish that post. It is self-indulgent, belittles other teachers practice without knowledge of context and is pretty negative. I didn’t start to blog to tell people what to do or to put down other PE teachers approaches. I started to blog to try and better my own.

So instead of my intended post, I’m going to share with you my practice and open that up for challenge, critique and feedback of a workable model of gaining evidence for practical progress in Core PE.

Recently we have had work scrutiny at school. This time PE was part of the process. Initially I thought this might have been a joke, but it wasn’t. I took along my departments grades, my grade book via my iPad and comments for children over the last 6 years. The conversation went something like this:

SLT: So where is your evidence of students making progress within PE?
Me: Here. (Showing our departmental data tracking).
SLT: How do you make your judgement?
Me: Observing, questioning, teacher feedback, peer feedback, modelling and then either fixed, variable or random practice. Then I repeat the whole process.
SLT: So where is your evidence for that.
Me: Here is my electronic grade-book (shows grade book)
SLT: So you have no evidence?
Me: Silence

Since I started teaching my judgements have been enough evidence of student progress in practical core PE. All of a sudden they seem not to be. I would say in 15 years of teaching, my judgements, which I know are subjective, have probably got more accurate. I have a greater number of students performance, in a wider range of activities, in a number of different educational establishments to recall in my head as a comparison. However all of a sudden my professional judgement isn’t enough. I’m no longer trusted.

So what do I do?

My starting reference

1. Knowledge of prior skill level

For Year 7 I have a baseline assessment grade. For all other year groups I have activity grades and key concept grades from previous year and also a current working level for PE. This I previously had printed out for all my groups before the academic year started, and I used as part of my planning. I now have all that info on my ipad, which makes it far easier to access and to keep updated in a lesson. Since gaining new knowledge and skills is based on prior knowledge and skills, knowing this can help us craft better practical activities that build on strengths and support areas of development.

My evidence

2. Observation

I get students involved in the activity straight away where I can. I’m observing their effort, skill level level and technique and checking this against the data I have about their prior knowledge. I make notes if the data of prior knowledge is incorrect. I’m constantly comparing them to two things. 1. where I want them to try to get to and 2. the next stage for them to get there.

3. Modelling

Getting students to model what they have learnt is a hugely important piece of evidence and helps with the feedback loop. Having them watch each other then also helps build up a bank of images to compare and contrast what they are doing. Being able to identify the components parts of a skill or technique helps them to progress and potentially learn.

4. Feedback (teacher and peer)

I personal feel that the verbalisation of practical activity is hugely important in progress, improving performance and actual learning. If a student can persuade you what they are talking about, especially about their performance, then I think they are expressing their understanding and learning. Evaluating their own or others performance is key evidence of this. Obviously there are many issues with immediate verbal feedback, but I would rather spend time on developing this than trying to gain physical evidence.

5. Questioning

During lessons I try to ask questions to each individual. I usually tend to do this one to one now, removing them from a practice, drill or game and questioning them about success of technique, why they made that decision, or what they would do again. I’m now trying to get into the habit not to accept their first answer, especially if it lacks technical vocabulalry or justification. What I really want them to answer is how they think they can make a minor improvement to the performance.

Then practice. Observe, model, feedback, question, refine and more practice.

I personally think this practice/feedback loop is the best way at introducing, progressing, refining and potentially learning a new skill.  Spending the time watching and talking to students about what they are doing, seeing them model and practice is also where I get my evidence from for progress in practical PE.

My end reference

6. I do not do an end of unit assessment

It took me a few years to work this one out, but as I wasn’t taught how to assess in PE at university, that was to be expected. A formal summative assessment at the end of the unit of work is not a successful model of gaining evidence of progress or learning in PE. Firstly it is a snap shot of a performance. How do you know if they have done that before, that it wasn’t a fluke, that they will do it again the next lesson, a week, a month, 6 months or a year from then? Also trying to assess and gain evidence of a class in one lesson is hugely impractical and has major limitations. Little and often over the the unit of work is better and if you do assess at the end end of unit, take this into account, not just what they do then.

Here is an example of my little an often with my Year 7 Gymnastics (however this is no longer enough evidence)

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Progress in PE is never linear and is completely individual. For some children puberty greatly increases it and for others it reduces it. Some have natural ability and pick things up quickly, for others it may take years to make any progress in certain areas. Therefore effort and continuing to engage and practice is more important than progress. Without regular practice, skills can regress. Hardly any of our students reach the autonomous stage of motor learning and even if they did, they would need huge amounts of regular practice just to maintain it let alone get there. Gaining real hard evidence for practical progress in PE is fraught with difficulties. Stick a HR monitor and GPS Tracker on every kid, put Prozone in every lesson and give me a team of data analysts and we might get somewhere.


Asking why we need to Jump through Hoops

Evidence is important. I don’t make judgements about students lightly, especially when giving feedback to students, reporting to parents or passing on data to SLT. However I think we need to question the need for what type of evidence and how much we really need.

1. What is this evidence going to be used for? If it is beneficial for facilitating students progress and learning or has implications for developing my teaching practice then its probably useful. If it is for jumping through the hoop of accountability it isn’t and shouldn’t be done.

2. What is the cost-benefit analysis of the evidence? You need to compare the time you spend designing the evidence, making the resources for the collection of evidence, pupils completing the evidence, you marking or reviewing the evidence and then analysing and sharing the evidence compared to pupils having more time to practice, observe, receive and give feedback and be questioned within the lesson? If the practice is of more benefit then the collection of evidence, then we should probably not do it.

3. Does the increase in workload have an impact on the provision of opportunities of extra-curricular?  If the increase of workload reduces extra-curricular provision that may have a greater impact on the students progress and learning then you need to question is the evidence worth it?

4. Do you not trust my judgement as a professional? In which case I think Lee’s comment just about sums up my response if they say ‘no’:

Screen Shot 2014-11-26 at 21.39.28I worry that gaining hard evidence of my judgements is a pointless exercise. I worry that this reduces the time of students practicing and being active in my lesson. I worry that this trend will continue and have a major impact on our workload as PE teachers and reduce extra-curricular provision. I’m worried that new teachers to the profession will think this is the norm, do the best job they can, and then burn out.

But what do I know, I lack any evidence.

So there you go. There is my system of evidencing progress in practical Core PE. Feel free to comment and show me the errors of my ways.

Further Links

What is an outstanding PE lesson by @PEScholar

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Written by ImSporticus
On the first day in my current school I sat down next to a colleague and began to introduce myself as the new Teacher of PE. She kindly smiled at me, pointed to the opposite side of the common room, and said sweetly ‘I know. The shallow side is over there.’ I’ve been drowning ever since.
1 Comment
  1. Hi, I found this an interesting read, even though 5 years old still relevant. For your ‘little and often’ evidence (6.) for year 7 gymnastics, have you used an app for recording this data? thanks.

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