Although I write about a number of different topics, what I do, how I earn my living, is teaching. Elementary physical education, in fact, from Pre-K up to 5th grade. For the most part, my students love PE. They are excited to be in the gym, to play the games we play, to be active and loud and even silly with each other. I have a lot working in my favor before I even start class.
I’ve been at this for a while and feel reasonably confident in my teaching abilities, although I keep learning new things and rediscovering ideas I had set aside. Recently I’ve been aiming for more repetition in my lessons. That doesn’t sound very progressive but here’s what I’ve learned:
- Because I teach PE all day every day, I tend to forget that this is not true for my students. They see me mostly 3 times per week for 30-40 minutes. That means that they may get to practice a group of skills 1-2 times, while I have gone through the instruction of those skills 4-6 times in the same week.
- Students who repeat the same lesson are not bored! Rather, they are able to concentrate on the actual tasks instead of the format details (stations, practice sequence, etc.).
- Students who repeat the same lesson derive confidence from knowing what to expect. The exclamations: “We did this!” “I know this one!” often indicate a positive familiarity.
- Performance improves, often dramatically. From one lesson to the next, my colleague and I often brag to each other about how much better our students performed in a lesson the second or third time around. Over time, these add up to produce movement learning.
- Repetition invites challenge. As students recognize patterns and feel increasingly confident they will, often without additional prompting, find ways to make the task more challenging.
In elementary PE, my colleagues and I aim to cover a lot of ground. We want to expose kids to wide variety of movement options and possibilities, and we do. At the same time, we must remain sensitive to their needs for competency, control, enjoyment and challenge in the PE setting. Repeating lessons, circling back to previously covered skills, playing a familiar game – these all help students establish their own sense of progress and growth over time.
I used to think that my students needed lots of novelty to stay motivated and excited. Sure they like some novelty, but not all the time. Like so many other aspects of teaching and learning, what is healthy and beneficial for students will have elements of routine and novelty, will offer repetition and introduce new tasks, embrace big challenges and celebrate the easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy.
The longer I teach, the more I learn. The better I learn, the greater the chances that my students will be able to do the same.
Shout out to my PE colleague, @imSporticus, whose posts on movement performance vs. movement learning and the Flaw of Linearity Within PE have helped me reach a much better understanding of the why’s behind lots of my practice.