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Giving students choice sounds scary to some teachers, but I have some ideas I think that’ll help you motivate your students by giving them choice.
Welcome to the PE Express podcast. Today’s host is Dr. Aaron Beighle. He is a co-author of Dynamic Physical Education for Elementary School Children and a contributor to DynamicPEASAP.com. He also publishes extensively and presents for physical education professionals.
The motivational literature is full of strategies for physical education teachers to help bridge that gap between the research and practice in the gymnasium, I use the acronym P.R.A.I.S.E. Praise stands for perceived competence, relatedness, autonomy, individuality, social support and enjoyment. And specifically I’m going to discuss autonomy or giving students choice.
Ideas to Give Students Choice
The idea of giving students choice can be very daunting to some and letting students have say in the environment. So how do you give kids control without losing control? Here are some ideas. One strategy is during your fitness activities or fitness component of your lesson, let students choose the workload. Repetitions are typically what we use and we’ll say everybody do tens sit-ups or everybody do 10 mountain climbers. That’s what’s referred to as a blanket prescription and that makes the assumption that every kid needs to do 10 mountain climbers or 10 sit-ups.
Use Time Instead of Reps for Intervals
One way to add choice into your lesson is use time as the interval and allow students to pick the workload. For instance, I might have interval music that for 30 seconds the music plays and I tell students to jog during the 30 seconds and then the 30 seconds of silence, I tell students do as many push up in her upper body challenges as you can during that time. That lets students have the choice, lets them pick the workload and it’s something that they can typically attain and help them feel successful. Another way of adding choice in your physical education lessons is when you’re teaching skills and many times as we see skills we offer progressions where we’ll start with an easy activity and progress up to more difficult. So provide students the choice of going to the next activity you choose or staying with the current one if they’re more comfortable.
For example in gymnastics, if you’re doing a pencil roll and your next activity is an egg roll and you can let students pick. If you feel comfortable going to the egg roll, you can, but if you still want to do a pencil roll, you can. Sometimes students may need push to try something new but that’s a matter of getting to know your students individually. But hopefully the environment you create is such that trying new activities is fostered and encouraged and students aren’t worried as much about making mistakes. Another way of adding choice is during a game you can choose to have three different games, a highly competitive activity or game court, a recreation court, and I’m just learning how to play this. We’ve tried this many times, especially with elementary and middle school kids and we found that they will select what is best for them and it gives them choice and it lets them put themselves in an environment they know they will be comfortable and experienced success.
Giving Choice to Opt Out of PE
An opt out option is another way to give students choice during physical education and basically what an opt out is is students come to physical education and they can sit out that day, no questions asked, no note, no nothing. And this seems somewhat counterintuitive to let kids sit out during physical education, but if we’re honest with ourselves, some days we don’t feel like being active either. Obviously this needs to be monitored and students are allocated a specific number of days. I’ve offered this at an elementary level and rarely had any takers I’ve offered just at the high school level and have lots of takers and offered at the college level and have lots of takers. But students need to learn to use this wisely and some days are going to be rough and they don’t feel like doing it and then they don’t want to use these early on because then they don’t have them for later in the year. So they learn a little about choices and learn a little bit about you giving them control, which I think is extremely important in physical education to let them have a sense of autonomy.
Giving Choice in Activity
The last way I want to talk about giving students choice is really specific to a secondary, probably a high school choice model and in this model you have, for example, you have five teachers and each teacher will be allocated a type of activity to teach. So one teacher might teach team sports, another individual, one might be focusing on fitness activities. One might be focusing on novel things like ultimate or team handball and one could be focused on outdoor education and just throwing out examples. Then before the term starts, students are given a form or an electronic document and they rank these options based on their interest and what they want to participate in and then the teachers take all these options and rankings and they try to put students in their first selection or their second selection. So the students have selected the unit that they’re going to be and chosen that. And then they go throughout the teaching term and they’re in that section. So they might learn four or five different team sports or two different team sports or four different fitness activities, but it’s their choosing and they’re in a unit that they’ve chosen. You may have to provide stipulations if you want students to be placed in a variety of experiences, so students might pick team sports every time and if you want them to have a variety of experiences, then you might have to provide that stipulation. But this let students select and have choices at the program level as well as the unit level of what activities they participate in, especially at high school level where they really start to have some interest in and can really start making those rankings and picking activities that they will enjoy the rest of their life.
As you can see, you can provide choices for students in your lessons with the activities you select during fitness activities, even at the unit level. There’s lots of ways to provide choice and I think this is a real great way to motivate students and give them, say in the physical education environment, let us know what you think of these ideas.