A Models Based Approach to PE: Cooperative Learning

A Models Based Approach to PE: Cooperative Learning

Cooperative Learning within PE is a models based approach that focuses on students working together in small groups to master subject matter content. This essentially gives the students the joint responsibility of both learning the content and also ensuring that their peers learn it as well, moving the role of the teacher towards a more facilitatory role. Dyson and Casey in their recent book Cooperative Learning in Physical Education and Physical Activity put forward five key elements of the model as guidelines for successful implementation within the curriculum. They are:

Positive independence Success is only achieved when students work together in teams and rely on each other to complete the task. One students cannot succeed unless all students do.
Face-to-face promotive interaction There is time within lessons for students to talk to each other, working out common problems, coming up with solutions, identifying their next goal and helping each other to learn.
Individual accountability Students are individually accountable or answerable to some personal improvement, responsibility for completing their part of the task and learning something in the process.
Small group and interpersonal skills To develop student behaviors that allow for comfortable and relaxed communication between group mates. This is an area that may require some direct instruction from the teacher.
Group Processing A reflective, guided discussion that allows students to reflect together on their respective success and failure, and share their ideas to plan for the next lesson.

The Unit

This term in Year 7 and 8 I used Learning Teams and Group Processing as a way of structuring my lessons and found it a positive experience for developing routines and building peer relationships. However in Year 9 I tried to use the model fully, with as much fidelity as possible to the 5 critical elements put forward by Dyson and Casey. I wanted to move away from a traditional command and practice approach to teaching athletics. I decided upon Year 9 Athletics, allowing them to choose in their learning teams one jump (from long jump or high jump), one throw (shot or javelin) and one track (from 100m, 400m or 1500m) that they were tasked to improve their performance in. They had 13 lessons. One for Lesson Zero, 4 for track, 4 for throws and 4 for jumps.

Screen Shot 2016-07-17 at 08.04.50Lesson Zero

A set-up lesson and an important part of implementing the cooperative learning model within PE. It allows the teacher to explain and prepare the students for what is going to happen in the upcoming lessons. The learning teams were created and a learning team contract signed. The roles of responsibility were explained in detail and the the learning teams were able to decided who had each role (however Dr Justen O’Connor in his latest blog challenges this idea and suggests that the students themselves come up with their own roles dependent on their strengths and the task set). I then led them through a ‘model lesson’ with a focus on safety and set-up, technical element, physical element, how to conduct group discussion and then group processing at the end. Students chose which three events (one track, one throw and one jump) they would be looking to work upon and improve their performances in. They also had the responsibility to as a group plan for each of the lessons. I put no restrictions on how they did this, as long as they had a paper copy of the lesson plan for the beginning of the lesson. If they didn’t I would run their session for them. Although this worked well, on reflection this is part of the unit that needs to be better structured and supported.

Positive Independence and Individual Accountability

The aim of the unit of work was to improve performances within the three events chosen. Therefore a successful team would be one that ensured all individuals improved. I had their personal bests from Year 7 and 8 which I shared with their learning teams, giving clear performance targets to work towards. I also made it a learning team competition based on the collective group score. To do this I used the decathlon scoring system. Each individual student could get points for their learning team, by subtracting the points awarded for their pervious personal best with the score awarded for their new personal best. I felt this actually helped individuals to encourage helping their teammates to do their best and to help each other overcome difficulties they faced during the lessons.

Face-to-face promotive interaction and Small group and interpersonal skills

With the students planning and running the lessons, it allowed me to focus on areas of the curriculum that I don’t always have time for. Mainly that of teaching social skills needed for group work. The belief that students will learn social skills just by putting them into groups or teams I think is flawed. Basic skills of listening, taking turns when taking, how to make decisions, seeing things from others perspectives and doing what’s best beyond self interest need to be taught. I did this through what they had planned and what they were doing. At the beginning of each lesson the learning teams would sit in the changing rooms and ensure they all understood the learning objectives, this helped drive the dialogue during the lesson. I would read their lessons plans and observe what they then did. If I spotted errors I would then come in and implement a cooperative learning structure. One that I used often with the technical aspects of the events was Think-Pair-Perform. Think of the learning cues of throwing the shot, discuss the learning cues of throwing a shot, perform the shot whilst your pair observes to see the learning cues. I would then ask the pairs within the learning team to do this for each other. Numbered Heads Together Perform was another learning structure I used regularly during the unit of work. I would see an issue with either the session plan or the performance, an example of this was planning for endurance work whilst they wanted to develop power. I would pose a question to the learning team about that problem e.g. ‘what is the difference between power and endurance?’ Each student thinks of the correct response separately, they then discuss and agree a consensus in the learning team. When ready they sit down and I call a number assigned to one of the members of the team and that student answers on behalf of the team. The response maybe verbal, written, demonstration etc.

Group Processing

At the end of every lesson the analyst would lead a learning team debrief. They would have been collecting data through the lesson and this data would be used to answer the following questions What did we do? What do we now know? What do we need to know next? This session was brief, no more than five minutes and was a verbal reflection that allowed the learning team to express their thoughts, feelings and ideas. It allowed me to understand their thinking that I might not been able to pick up on during the lesson by just observing them and this then allowed me to guide their planning for next lesson. Some groups wanted to write down their reflections, which I gave them a template for, but on reflection felt it might be too time consuming.

Final Thoughts

A very different approach to teaching athletics than I have ever used before. I don’t feel they made as much improvement on the physical and technical aspects as they would have done If I had used direct instruction (although all students achieved PB’s in all three events). I was worried about safety throughout and this meant I perhaps wasn’t teaching as well as I could have been. However they were incredibly motivated both as individuals and as a class, much more than my previous Year 9 classes. All enjoyed the sense of autonomy they had within lessons, apart from one pupil who would prefer to be taught command and practice style, mainly because they would get to do all events. However it allowed me to focus on individual learning needs far more and not just on what I had planned to do that lesson. A new way to teach that has lots of potential especially for developing the social aspect of learning, but one that requires further refinement in the future.

IMG_5289 IMG_5290










17 thoughts on “A Models Based Approach to PE: Cooperative Learning

  1. Thanks for your experiences. I’ve used this pedagogy too, however with year 2’s and 3’s to develop basic throwing and catching skills. My experience was that the pupils liked it more because it was a change of style, not necessarily because of this specific type of style. Do you think that running a Sports Education model or any other style for athletics may have produced similar results for your class or was it elements of this specific style that got the results you were looking for?


    1. Hi Adam, that is a very good question and not one I’m sure I could answer confidently. I could have taken a much more traditional approach and ‘drilled’ my students and could have produced the same improvements in performance (or potentially greater improvements), but increases in performance don’t always equate to learning. Drilling would have robbed them potentially of some autonomy which is linked to motivation and also of potential learning in the other domains especially the social one. I have never run a Sports Education model for Athletics, but could see it working well. Not necessarily focusing on improvement of performances but for them experiencing what sport is like through celebration, teams and affiliation. Have you ever tried that approach? If so, how did it go?


      1. Thanks for your reply. I hope you had a great summer. I totally agree about the motivational benefits that this style promotes through developing cooperation and then, conversly, independence to perform and self-reflect. I have only used this wit younger pupils as I am still not 100% confident with how to use it in a very tightly packed school year. We only have 1hour of PE per week so efficiency is vital. I hope to develop my understanding of this approach to then invest some time in it with a group… I hope that the practical time ‘lost’ due to the pupils exploring and developing their social skills initially can be claimed back in later units.
        I haven’t run Sports Ed for athletics either, however we run it for football and basketball currently. To add to the Sports Day Debate, I am thinking that running this model in our Athletics unit might encourage a better ‘buy-in’ from pupils with points scored within lessons creating a pre-Sports Day score. So even if their involvement on the day was limited, their efforts in class would be recognised as well as contribute towards their House’s overall Sports Day Score. Imagine a close competition where a House wins by 1 or 2 points… that could be the pupil winning the 100m sprint on the day, or it could be the pupil who achieved a certain performance standard within their discus lesson 4 weeks earlier?!?


  2. Enjoyed reading this in depth example of cooperative learning in PE. Big fan of this model for developing social skills. Your post has Really helped refine a few ideas I have for couple of our middle school units. Hats off to you for choosing this approach in year 9 athletics. Though I can see it being rather motivating, I could also see it being really challenging for students at my school. As always, love your work.


    1. Hi Renee. I think your comments about Models Based Approaches are insightful. You have to have a clear purpose and they have to be tailored to your students needs and the context of your school. I felt comfortable with the group that I used the model with and perhaps wouldn’t have approached it the way I had if I had a group of their peers. Good luck in your further exploration of the model. I would be very keen to hear how it goes, hopefully via a post on your excellent blog.


  3. Thanks for your reply. I haven’t added it to the SoW’s for athletics this year, but am hoping to get an after-school club going where pupils can participate and get points for their House team. Watch this space!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.