A STEP away from the lesson plan.

For the first part of my career I spent most of my time honing my knowledge and skills to become more competent in my job as a Teacher of PE. The focus of that competency was efficiency; routines, rules, instruction, subject knowledge and lesson plans. The PE classroom is a dynamic and chaotic place, impacted on by the forever changing environment of resources, weather, facilities and the children themselves. The search for efficiency in my teaching was to help make that environment less chaotic and ensure a sense of order and predictability emerged. I hoped that through the improvement of the efficiency of my teaching, better learning would occur. In many ways it did. A safe environment, a quick start to the lesson, fast transitions and a reputation that helped my behaviour management. However the search for too much efficiency made my teaching very mechanical and automatic. One of the downsides was that I would follow lesson plans to the letter, no matter what was happening with the class and the environment. As I have got more experienced I can see that it isn’t just efficiency, but also adaptability that is important for the PE Teacher. The ability to recognise when to step away from what has been planned.

The ability to think on one’s feet and modify what your pupils are doing, based on what you observe, is a key skill to being an effective PE Teacher. No matter how thoughtful your planning and preparation, the PE classroom in a complex and dynamic environment. The game, drill, task, practice or activity that you have spent ages expertly crafting and designing can be undone within a matter of seconds. It could be for many reasons but mainly I have found through my own experience or through observation that the challenge of the task is pitched too high or too low for pupils.

David Court suggests Throwing away the plan if perhaps if that is what is needed. He shares an observation of a cricket coaching session, where the coach after asking his players how they were feeling, realised they were flat and the session planned was no longer appropriate. The session plan went out the window, plan B was implemented, and it was successful. It takes experience, confidence and adaptability for that to happen. From a PE perspective the ability to do this is important. Persisting with a traditional skills based lesson whilst the heavens open and the temperature is sub zero does no one any favours. However a word of caution, the plan B should linked where possible, to the overall learning aims of the curriculum.

Sometimes though throwing out the plan isn’t the best option, but a modification to the lesson plan is. The more experience you have, the more you are able to see this and do something about it in real time. Modifying what you have planned and set-out to do in a lesson is not a failure, but a key strength of a PE teacher. Being adaptable ensures that we are always challenging our pupils at an appropriate level, make them feel like they can achieve success and to help keep them learning.

I have found an easy way to change a task or activity within a PE lesson is to use the STEP framework:

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Space For example change the space by increasing or decreasing the area in which a task is being performed or even changing the shape of of the activity area.
Time For example changing the constraints of the task by altering the demands, changing the rules, the amount of times a pupil is to repeat it or how long they have to complete it.
Equipment For example by changing the size of the target, size of the equipment, number of pieces of equipment, height of the equipment or the arrangement of the equipment.
People For example by adding or taking away the number of pupils involved or overloading the defence or attack in a game situation.

By going through each one individually you can increase or decrease the difficulty or challenge of the task without causing too much disruption to your lesson. It could be used for an individual, pair or group that might need stretching or even for the whole class if you have misjudged prior learning or the environment changes.

STEP is an easy framework to use when in the moment of teaching to modify the task to ensure it is at the right level for your pupils. Simply by asking yourself the question, ‘how can I make this easier or harder’, then using the framework you can then begin to ensure the task is suitable for the level of your pupils ability. It can also have wider uses than for just modifying a task. You can teach it to your pupils and give them some autonomy in changing the difficulty of the activity or allowing them to be creative. It also works well when teaching Sports Leaders how to plan for sessions they are going to lead, for the coaching role in Sports Education or during units of student designed games. If you need to modify or change something in your lesson, then using the STEP framework is simple and effective way to do that.

Whilst efficiency in our teaching is important, it can’t be used to fully replace intuition and adaptability. Not all our actions can be the product of thorough planning, as that would assume our classrooms are as regular as clockwork. Anyone who has spent even a little time teaching PE knows that is not the case. If we observe or feel something is not right a decision has to be made. Do we push on with the plan, STEP away from it or like the cricket coach in David’s story throw it out completely? Whether you stick to the path, take a short cut or go completely off piste, knowing where the ultimate goal is, will help you make the best decision you can. The answer to that must be what is best for the long term learning of the individuals and that comes from your professional judgement.

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6 thoughts on “A STEP away from the lesson plan.

  1. […] For the first part of my career I spent most of my time honing my knowledge and skills to become more competent in my job as a Teacher of PE. The focus of that competency was efficiency; routines, rules, instruction, subject knowledge and lesson plans. The PE classroom is a dynamic and chaotic place, impacted on by the…  […]

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  2. Love this post. I think many of us followed a similar path throughout our careers. As we become more seasoned we are better able to adapt lessons depending on group size, demeanor, motivation, etc. Always have a plan “B” ready and plan “C” in your back pocket. This also relates to a shift in location. How many times have you panned a lesson for the gym, and suddenly realize at the last minute, your unable to use it? Or you plan to be outside, an it begins to rain?

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    1. Thanks Justin. I think it comes from being able to move beyond the assumption that as a teacher of PE or coach of youth sport we can predict and fully control the learning within our environment. Long term planning and goals of where we hope the child in front of us ends up, combined with the humility and the ability to adapt our teaching in the short term, based on what information we can process. i fell I’m moving from a novice teacher to a competent teacher and part of that process is less reliance on preplanned lessons and more contingency planning built on my previous experiences. So I can react to ‘if this happens then this is a good response’.

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  3. […] For the first part of my career I spent most of my time honing my knowledge and skills to become more competent in my job as a Teacher of PE. The focus of that competency was efficiency; routines, rules, instruction, subject knowledge and lesson plans. The PE classroom is a dynamic and chaotic place, impacted on by the…  […]

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