The Equalizer 

Teaching Physical Education can be pretty complex at times. We can look to try and reduce that complexity through a number of ways; having a clear purpose, building subject knowledge, increasing our range of teaching styles, having a solid lesson plan and knowing our pupils. However in any one class we are teaching we are still making multiple judgements and decisions about what the best way is to support the learning of the children in front of us. Most of them are trivial as they aren’t going to have a major impact, but some will.

The Big Picture

I have written about frameworks that support PE Teacher’s In-the-Moment Decision Making before either through STEPS or CHANGE IT. However both are focused on the details of the lesson, not the bigger picture. It is important for PE Teachers when making these In-the-Moment Judgements and Decisions to be able to scan for these details but also notice whether they link to the big picture. That means being clear about what your Big Picture looks like in the first place. I’ve been trying very hard over the last couple of years to do this with my department and we have got to a place of essential agreement (see The Big Picture). To ensure we achieve our Big Picture we need to make as many experiences of PE are meaningful as possible. How do we do that? Thankfully the work by Dr. Tim Fletcher, Dr. Déirdre Ní Chróinín and Professor Mary O’Sullivan provide PE Teachers with an evidenced based model for Meaningful PE. For an excellent overview of the evidence Doug Gleddie has written Teaching for Meaning in Physical Education. Based on Dr Scott Kretcmar’s criteria that represent the qualities of meaningful experiences in physical education and youth sport we have a framework to consider of social interaction, fun, challenge, increased motor competence and relevancy (hopefully leading towards the deep end of delight).

So how does this help us make In-the-Moment Decision Making for the Big Picture? The team from LAMPE suggested we think about the features of meaningful PE experiences as a watch or clock mechanism, where each of the features is represented by the different wheels that work together inside the casing. That doesn’t quite work for me. I prefer to think of them as the controls on a equalizer which we can move up and down. When teaching we need to tune into what is happening and consider the pitch of the lesson. This requires stepping back and observing from a distance allowing us to see the balance of the lesson. Most times we are so focused on the techniques and the details we forget what it looks like as a whole. Many times our lessons are balanced but sometimes they aren’t and they require us to strengthen or dampen one or a number of the features to make it more meaningful.

Since the beginning of this academic year I have been using the Meaningful PE criteria as an equalizer to shape my In-the-Moment Decision Making with regards to our Big Picture. My standard was to ensure at least 3 of the 5 of the criteria where at least 6 out of 10 or over to ensure the experience was meaningful. If, through my observation, I judged they were not I had to identify the criteria to focus on and make changes within the lesson.  Some examples where I felt this framework had a meaningful impact:

  1. Year 9 Gymnastics – Vaulting
    • Social Interaction 3/10 – spotting the performer was the only real social interaction
    • Fun 5/10
    • Challenge 1/10 – pupils had to perform the vault that I said we were working on
    • Motor Competence 3/10 – lots of lines and waiting
    • Relevancy 1/10
    • Changes made – Animal walks back from the vault (↑Motor Competence and Fun), Essential Movement Challenge to complete with partner whilst waiting to vault (↑Motor Competence and Social Interaction), vault criteria develop in class and judge to give score and feedback after each vault (↑Social Interaction)
  2. Year 7 Rugby – Principles of Play Go Forward
    • Social Interaction 10/10 – not sure all of it was positive
    • Fun 10/10 – lots of fun being had but at the sake of other criteria
    • Challenge 2/10 – too easy for some
    • Motor Competence 2/10 – wasn’t really working on the principles of play
    • Relevancy 5/10
    • Changes made – Losing teams could implement a condition on the winning team from a list of conditions that were linked to principle of play (↑Challenge and Motor Competence and ↓ Fun)
  3. U18 Lacrosse Training – Transition
    • Social Interaction 5/10
    • Fun 3/10 – Not many smiles during the game
    • Challenge 10/10 – The drill was way too hard for the group and their ability and knowledge level
    • Motor Competence 5/10 – not enough repetition for meaningful development
    • Relevancy 5/10
    • Changes made – Conditioned the defence to allow more opportunities for the attack to succeed (↑Challenge and Fun), Reduce the distance for transition to allow more attempts (↑Motor Competence), Organised Learning Teams to discuss ideas on how to solve the problem rather than lead whole squad talks (↑Social Interaction)

There are still many things to get right with this Meaningful In-the-Moment Decision Making Framework. It is highly subjective and relies on my previous experience and knowledge. Do I need to clarify what the criteria look like in my context to inform my judgements and decisions? Do three criteria at 6 or above really make for a meaningful experience or can I do better than that? How important is relevancy for meaningful experiences in PE and how do I go about improving that in the flow of teaching? However with most things the more I use and the more I reflect on its use the better it will hopefully come. I do see the Equalizer as potentially a powerful framework to ensure we provide meaningful experiences of movement for children. If all significant adults in a child’s life ensure as many movement experiences are as meaningful as possible then we can begin to connect the dots at home, at school and in youth sport and provide the best chance at producing people who use habitual daily movement as a way to flourish.

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8 thoughts on “The Equalizer 

  1. Thanks for this post! No matter how we conceptualize our approaches to meaningful PE (watches, equalizers, etc.) – the important part is the process we go through to ensure meaningful experiences. However, I do have a couple comments/ questions to keep the conversation going… 😉
    It looks like you are using the equalizer AFTER your lesson – almost as a reflection tool. That makes we wonder:
    I am currently teaching a PETE course and reflecting on meaning after each session (part of a larger project with the team at LAMPE). One of my wonders is how much do we try and structure meaning in our planning, how much is reflexive within our teaching

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  2. Crappy – sorry – I wasn’t finished that thought! Pushed the wrong button trying to indent…
    So, from ‘That makes makes me wonder:”
    1) Do you think about the equalizer in your planning process? In other words – do you plan to set the levels prior to teaching or only reflect on the perceived levels afterwards?
    2) Do you reflect on the levels WITHIN your lesson and make on the fly adjustments (much like a sound board operator at a concert – to keep the metaphor going) to the various levels?
    3) After reflection – do you wait until the next time you teach THAT particular lesson to apply your learning or do you apply it in the next lesson you teach?

    In the PETE class I am teaching right now, I am reflecting on those same questions. To me, it is valuable to think about the 5 features FIRST as I plan the day’s PE experience. Although I don’t think all the levels need to present everyday (there may be a particular focus), there should be some minimum level throughout (so that we can hear all of the music…). Then, as I teach, I reflect-in-action and make adjustments as needed for the goals I am seeking in that class. Finally, the reflection afterwards helps me to both plan for the next time I teach that lesson as well as informs my planning for the very next lesson.

    Finally, meaning – by it’s very nature, is subjective. Therefore these processes have value when we embrace those subjectivities. My final wonder is, how do we ‘check in’ with our students to see if we are correctly interpreting their words and actions so as to make the proper ‘equalizer’ adjustments for increased meaning?

    Oh. And does your equalizer have settings of ’11’ like the immortal Spinal Tap’s amp? 🙂

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    1. Hi Doug,

      Thank you for both your recent post on Meaningful PE and your comment.

      Let me start by saying the overall purpose of our PE curriculum and my own planning has been greatly influenced by the criteria of Meaningful PE. I have been working hard over the last year to not just get my head around it, but get my department to buy into its message and try to embed it into our curriculum. However this blog post is very much a description of ‘in-the-moment’ reflection. Take my gymnastics lesson as an example:

      Year 9 Gymnastics – Vaulting
      Social Interaction 3/10 – spotting the performer was the only real social interaction
      Fun 5/10
      Challenge 1/10 – pupils had to perform the vault that I said we were working on
      Motor Competence 3/10 – lots of lines and waiting
      Relevancy 1/10
      Changes made – Animal walks back from the vault (↑Motor Competence and Fun), Essential Movement Challenge to complete with partner whilst waiting to vault (↑Motor Competence and Social Interaction), vault criteria develop in class and judge to give score and feedback after each vault (↑Social Interaction)

      My judgement (the scores out of 10) and the changes made were all done within the lesson, not during the lesson or after the lesson. My actual after the lesson reflection was perhaps adding the Essential Movement Challenge was over kill and I could have done something that was more related to the task at hand such as simple jumps hepthlon (which focused on take off and landing mechanics). I’ve found it a very different way to think about my teaching and its impact on learning whilst in the moment of teaching. It has challenged me to step back and observe a lot more than I’m use to and I’m looking at things much more holistically. I’m hoping the more I use it the easier it will become.

      Your point about checking in with pupils is a very good one. Perhaps I could use their feedback (grade these 5 criteria from 1-10) to moderate my own in teaching reflections. This will then allow me to make better decisions for when planning, when teaching and when reflecting on what needs to happen in future lessons. I think I will have to try and implement that into my lessons over the course of the next half term.

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  3. I really enjoyed reading this post and it mirrors some of the work we are doing in the LAMPE project at the moment. E.g., Much like you I tend to use the features of ME to guide my decisions in the moment but Déirdre has tended to rely on them more to guide her reflection on-action. We don’t think one is better than the other but acknowledge that some people have different preferences or find some things work better for them than others.
    The equalizer is an interesting metaphor and if it works for you, then I think it might help you better understand how things work (or don’t). My metaphor of the watch works for me and I appreciate it doesn’t for others.
    I agree with a point Doug made in his reply that not all features need to be accounted for in order for an experience to be meaningful. One of the most meaningful PA experiences for me recently was playing golf with my best friend whom I hadn’t seen for several years. It was challenging (and frustrating), fun, but I didn’t really keep score. What golf did give me (and what made the experience meaningful in my view) was the chance to have 5 hrs 1-1 with my best mate that I probably wouldn’t have had otherwise. Social interaction was at 10/10 while the other features were not really even on my radar during the experience. Would I go back and do it again? Absolutely. And I think as a result of that some of the other features might become more prominent the more and more you go back — after all, getting people to keep going back to PA is one of the things we are ultimately after (I think). For other people, the challenge and score-keeping might be the driving factor for going back, and as a result of that they meet people who encourage/challenge/befriend them, etc. For me then, social interaction might be the volume dial on the stereo while the other features are the knobs to tinker with… Just thinking out loud here a bit…
    So… I wonder if one or more of the features can be used as a hook to try to encourage engagement with all of the features at some point in time through more exposure. And again to go back to Doug’s point, I agree that it is may be worth talking to students about their respective driving factors for engagement and trying to identify common or disparate reasons or the presence or absence of certain features.
    Two things I am most encouraged by in your post: (1) the use of meaningful experiences as a framework or “vision” for PE practice. Again, this is something we are working on in the LAMPE project. (2) the examples of how you used the features in different content areas. It is really pleasing to see people taking the ideas on and making them their own. We can learn a lot from your experiences and I really thank you for sharing your work. Absolutely fantastic!
    Tim (and Déirdre and the rest of the LAMPE team)

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    1. Hi Tim, thank you for taking the time to comment. It is much appreciated. I really like your idea about the volume dial. The question I have is do we need to ask the students what is their volume dial….or do we as a PE Department need to be clear about our volume dial. In reading Kretchmar he states we need to make a clear priority of what we are going to deliver. If we value everything, in fact we value nothing. Therefore we need to be clear what it is our programme is going to deliver. Would the volume control in essence be what the key purpose of the PE department is (I’m obviously drawn by motor competence) or will this undermine meaningful PE experiences?

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