The PE Teacher has four clear ‘verbal’ ways to shape the learning of their pupils within lessons; instruction, feedback, question and silence. A skilled PE teacher will use all four, all of the time. Making judgements on which one to use depending on needs of the pupil in that context and at moment. Expertly interweaving each way to ensure the best verbal information is given to help improve the practice, the performance and ultimately the learning of the pupils. The quality of verbal information to pupils in PE is of paramount importance since it has such an impact on the learner’s understanding.
The first two weeks back into term have been a bit of a blur. However I noticed that my questioning is rusty after the summer break, be it in a PE lesson or out coaching school rugby. To use a sporting cliche my questioning is lacking match fitness and is simply ineffective. Here are a few examples of ineffective questioning I have found myself using in the first week of term and some solutions I used to to rectify them in the second week:
A series of closed questions that weren’t helping improve my insight of pupils prior knowledge:
This happened in my first lesson of the year. I wanted to gain a better understanding of what pupils had learnt in PE at primary school, but ended up asking questions where all I got was a yes or no answer. I continued this line of questioning, getting more and more frustrated, with their binary responses. It took me a while to realise that it was my fault that I was gaining no real insight to what they already knew. Solution: Give them numerous movement problems where they would demonstrate their own solutions, which would give me some better understanding of what prior knowledge and ability they had. Just get them moving.
Questions that were outside the experience and understanding of my pupils:
This year I have been asked to coach a more junior and therefore inexperienced school rugby team. However my questioning has maintained at the level I would use for our 1st XV players, using terminology that would not be appropriate or accessible for younger players. I have also questioned their understanding about certain systems of attack and defence for quite a while during the first few after school sessions. I was getting hardly any correct responses and could see their eyes glazing over and yet I continued. Solution: Asked a simple question with a show of hands that helped me gauge the experience of the squad and then got them to play a number of games designed around on attack and defence problems so I could see what they knew and what they could do.
Asking pupils questions with multiple different answers, but rejected those answers I didn’t want, giving no time to explore their potential:
In PE and sport there are usually multiple solutions to the problems faced. In gymnastics with my Year 7s last week I asked a question about jumping. I had already decided on the answer I wanted and therefore refused any alternative that was given. However these alternatives were not wrong, just not what I wanted the class to work on. If this is the case why did I ask the question in the first place? Instruction would have been a far more effective approach. By shutting down alternatives do I help to create an environment where pupils will attempt to take a risk on a new way of moving? Solution: Pupils were given time to explore their solutions to open ended movement questions and their answers were not rejected, but time spent looking to critique them them in a positive manner.
No time given to pupils to think of the possible answers:
I asked a question. Hands immediately shot up. I asked to hear the answer from the first hand up and got a poor response not even linked to the question. This happened with the second response. And the third. This scenario happened many times in the first week. The first answers tend to lack understanding and took up valuable lesson time. Solution: Wait time. Pupils were asked to be silent and think for a given time before they gave their answer, so they could better formulate a richer response.
Answers were only take from pupils with their hands up:
Linked to the example above, I was only asking pupils who put their hands up. This meant I found myself asking the same pupils over and over again. I could see other pupils mentally switch off as they knew they weren’t going to be asked. Solution: Hands Down and Cold Call. Either individually or in their learning teams I gave them time to think of a response, then I choose the pupils at random to answer. No hands up meant that more pupils were engaged in thinking about the answer as they could possibly be called upon to share their thoughts.
Answers didn’t have any follow ups questions to probe depth:
Due to my questioning being ineffective and time consuming, I was unable to support and provide any exploration of the answers given. Pupils weren’t given the chance to further develop their response or others to build upon or challenge them. My questioning meant I got a lot of superficial answers (which I praised, why would I do that) which didn’t help pupils move forward in their understanding, practice or performance. Solution: ABC Feedback. Other pupils were asked to either Agree with; build upon; or challenge the initial answer.
Verbal information is essential in guiding pupil’s learning in PE and sport. The type of question and the way we ask them can have a powerful impact in setting the boundaries of that verbal information, which can then shape our pupils understanding, exploration, practice, performance and learning. Effective questioning can also have a huge motivational impact in our subject by improving inclusivity and trying to positively support pupils own perceptions of competence, autonomy and relatedness, whilst ineffective questions can have the opposite effect. Be aware of the questions you ask in PE and sport and try to ensure they ultimately create further awareness of the self, task and the environment.