Can Assessment Be Used as a Motivator?

By: Mark Banasiak @MoreThanGym

In my last post (How Do You Plan Your Units of Instruction?), I discussed how I plan my units of instruction using the Student Progression Model of Physical Education Instruction (SPMI). I also shared the importance of defining the critical elements and common mistakes of a skill as part of the planning process.  Let’s now talk about the actual instruction phase of the SPMI.

When students are engaged in skills practice, you have two methods to choose from when progressing the students to the next step. (Note: I will refer to the two-hand, underhand striking progression that I shared in the previous post during the following explanation.)

The first method is what I will refer to as teaching the skill.

A teacher will explain the skill and describe how the students are to practice. You may hear them make a statement like, “Practice striking the drop, hit, bounce, catch (DHBC) with your partner 10 times and then sit down. We will then go on to the drop, hit, hit, hit, catch (DHHHC).”

  • During this practice, the teacher monitors to make sure everyone is on-task and may provide some corrective feedback.
  • There are typically one or two groups who rush through just to be the first group finished and then complain that they have to wait. Those kids then begin to talk and disrupt others.
  • Some groups will actually practice the skill correctly while others are off-task for each attempt.
  • Finally, a couple of groups will be slow while all the others are sitting down waiting on them to finish.
  • Once everyone has sat down, the teacher will demonstrate and move everyone to the next step in the progression (the DHHHC) and then repeat the process.

This example utilizes a mass progression of students. I do not believe this creates a healthy learning environment or true skill development.

The second method is what I will refer to as teaching the child (student progression).

In this situation, a teacher explains the skill (the DHBC) as well as the next step (DHHHC) and then describes how the students will practice. You may hear this type of teacher say, “Practice striking the drop, hit, bounce, catch with your partner. If I see you and your partner under control and correctly executing the skill, I will progress you to the drop, hit, hit, hit, catch.”

During this practice, the teacher monitors to make sure everyone is on-task; however, here is the difference: In order to progress each child to the next level (DHHHC), the teacher must observe and assess each pair to ensure they have the skill under control and are correctly executing it.

It is not a mass progression like the previous example. It is not a one size fits all (do it tens times and sit down) type of practice. It is personal.   The teacher has to move throughout the students and observe everyone while providing specific feedback. This allows the teacher to communicate specific strengths and weaknesses.

More importantly, the specific feedback helps to individualize the instruction. If a student has it, you tell them they do and progress them to the next step. If they do not have it, you provide encouraging and corrective feedback coupled with additional practice time. This individual attention allows you to differentiate the instruction by allowing those who are ready to move on and be challenged by the next step to do so while providing remediation to those who need it.

The difference between the two situations is clear. The first situation is a mass progression and has the teacher simply teaching a skill and allowing practice time. The second situation, however, has the teacher performing a student progression and actually checking each pair to ensure they are on-task and performing the skill properly before moving them to the next step.

Do you spend more time teaching the skill or teaching the child?

With this model of instruction, the assessment becomes the motivator. Wait…what did I just say? The assessment becomes the motivator?!

We often think that true and meaningful assessment takes too long, requires pen and paper, or is simply too hard to implement. However, authentic assessment can really motivate students. When you take the time to teach each child and use this model, I have found that students are more on-task which results in less time spent disciplining and more time focused on the students.

When implementing this model, the communication of the critical elements and common mistakes allows the students to know exactly what you are looking for when you assess them. Additionally, I have found it essential to teach two or three steps of a progression simultaneously.

I typically bring the students close by to explain and demonstrate step #1 (DHBC) to include the common mistakes and critical elements. In order to prevent information overload, I let them find their partner and get started. After 2-3 minutes of practice, I stop them and quickly review the critical elements and common mistakes. I then state, “If I see you under control and properly executing the DHBC, I will progress you to the DHHHC.” I briefly demonstrate the DHHHC just enough so they know what to do and then let them continue their practice as I start assessing everyone. It is almost as if you are challenging them, “If you want to earn the next step, you must show me you can do this one.” More likely than not, they will accept that challenge and work very hard to earn that next step.

Would this type of assessment motivate you?

As you start to differentiate the instruction by progressing some pairs to the DHHHC, it can become confusing to try to quickly look back at a pair and tell whether they are practicing the DHBC or the DHHHC. In order to help keep me on track, I will tell the students that if they are doing step #1 successfully, I will give them a thumbs-up and simply place a half cone next to them. It amazes me how kindergarteners and fifth graders alike react with excitement to receiving a simple thumbs-up to move to the next step.

After I have made my way through the class, I can turn around and see who has progressed to the next step (DHHHC) and who is still practicing the first step (DHBC) by either the presence or the absence of a cone. I then know to focus on those pairs who do not have a cone to provide additional feedback to help them move to the next step.

This particular example had two levels that were very similar (the DHBC and DHHHC) which does not require too much additional instruction. In contrast, when teaching a difficult series of steps (e.g., juggling scarves), I may insert a challenge to prevent the groups from getting too differentiated.

For example, when I observe a student who can successfully use two scarves and complete the toss, toss, catch, catch, I will then pair them with another student who is ready to move on. I will let them attempt the same skill with a partner rather than moving them on to three scarves which requires additional instruction on how to hold and when to toss the scarves.

Students crave these challenges because those who are more skilled can move ahead and those who need more help with the current level will get it! The skilled students want to be recognized for good performance while those lacking skill development want more practice and attention from the teacher.

In a similar example, the 1st graders are working on the basic jump with an individual jump rope (IJR). If I see them successfully execute 3 jumps, I will then place a half cone by them and progress them to a challenge like jumping backwards or on one foot. After assessing each student in the class, I can turn around and see the presence or absence of a cone and know exactly where I need to focus my attention. If it is only 1-2 students, I will then leave them in place and go to them. If it is more, I may then bring them into a small group to focus my attention on the group while the rest continue to try the challenge.

I try to plan so that we all finish at a good stopping point at the end of class (e.g., not too differentiated). However, if I have a small group that has moved ahead or a small group that still needs more attention, I quickly jot their names down on my SPS. I now know where everyone is on the progression when they come back to PE.

Each unit I teach has an SPS (a list of activities to help teach the skill). Not every item on an SPS is assessed. Each SPS has a mix of activities that are assessed and challenges that are simply designed to extend the learning and application of the skill. For instance, some SPS’s have 6 steps in a row that are assessed whereas others will have an activity that is assessed followed by several challenges.

As mentioned in my last post, most physical educators are/were trained to develop units and pre-plan what will happen during each day of the unit. For example, those unit plans are written to cover X on Day #1 and Y on Day #2. This flawed planning then creates frustration when the class is moving slower or faster than expected and the plans are way off by the time Day #5 of the unit rolls around.

To counter this frustration, the SPMI uses SPS’s. The skill level of the students (that is frequently assessed) dictates the pace of the unit and how far the students will go through the progression. This enables the teacher to teach the progression to each class in a personalized manner.

Each day, we begin teaching and go through as many steps as time and the skill level of the class will allow. Each class is different, and our recognition of that fact allows us to differentiate between two different 3rd grade PE classes. If the students are progressing quickly, you will cover more than if the class is progressing slower. If students begin to practice a step in the progression and a majority of the class is making many of the previously identified common mistakes, you need to stop and re-teach the items.   No two PE classes are the same, and each unit is set up to go as far as we can. Some units have an end point or culminating activity whereas others do not. If I try to get to the culminating activity such as 4-square too fast with the 3rd graders, I then create a bigger headache. We must take the time to develop the skill and let the ability of the students dictate how far we go!

Since we do not see our PE classes everyday, it can be difficult to remember where each class is on the progression sheet. Therefore, I print an SPS for each class I teach and will make notations to indicate when we have covered each item. I keep them all organized on a clipboard. The next time that class come to PE, I pick up that clipboard with my SPS’s and know exactly where the instruction for that class ended previously.

Do you think this type of instruction (using the SPMI) could improve student achievement of the PE standards?

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Reference – This post is reworked from an article I wrote for the TN AHPERD 2009 Fall Newsletter entitled “Designing a Skill Progression That Uses Assessment to Motivate Physical Education Students.”


How Do You Plan Your Units of Instruction?

By: Mark Banasiak @MoreThanGym

When I was in college, I was required to write a unit plan as part of a class assignment. I was taught to select a skill theme, decide on the number of days the unit would last, and plan what would happen on each day of the unit. This was a hard assignment at the time. How was I supposed to know what would happen on Day 5 of the unit if the unit hadn’t even started? After several years of teaching, I have become convinced that this traditional way of pre-planning a unit is an antiquated practice.

As a result, I have worked with my colleagues to develop and modify what we affectionately call Skill Progression Sheets (SPS’s) for each unit we teach. These SPS’s are our unit plans. They are simply lists (like a recipe card) that break down each skill into tiny, manageable steps that are designed to help a student succeed.  The buzzword for this in the education world is “deconstructing the standards.”

Once I start teaching, I go as far as the student skill level will allow and then pick up where we left off the next class. I tell the students that skill development is like climbing a flight of steps, as you cannot jump to the top (culminating activity). You must go step by step. If they are ready, we will move on; however, if they are not then we will practice some more. The coupling of actual instruction and assessment will determine what is taught on each day of the unit (we will talk about that in my next post).

When planning each unit of instruction, it is important to ask the following questions:

  • What skills are needed to be a successful, age-appropriate participant in this activity (e.g., basketball, volleyball, tennis, etc.)?
  • How can these skills be broken down?
  • What activities and drills can be utilized to practice these skills in non-complex, game-like situations?

After answering these questions, you can begin to plan your unit of instruction.

For example, when teaching 4-square, you cannot go straight to the activity without proper skill development. The following is an example of a two-hand, underhand striking progression that our third grade students use.

*Note: Each student is working with a partner, and each pair has their own space and playground ball.

  1. Drop, hit, bounce, catch – this is the serve in 4-square – (the focus is on the initial hit that is dropped and then hit to a partner who is straight across)
  2. Drop, hit, hit, hit, catch – (the focus is now on the second and third hits that come from a partner who is straight across – so they are tracking the ball and then striking it back to their partner)
  3. Drop, hit, hit… – this a continuous hit – (the focus is on the second, third, and additional hits that come from a partner who is straight across)
  4. Multiple Partners – the students are placed in groups of 4 on a 4-square court (the focus is on receiving and striking a ball to and from different angles) – There is no mention of rules or boundaries – simply, how many hits/strikes in a row can your group get before it bounces twice?
  5. Modified Four Square – [the focus is now on the rules, boundaries, and strategical errors of the activity (Was it hit correctly? Did it hit a line? Did it bounce twice?, etc. ) as well as the basic rotation]. I usually introduce one to two rules at a time so as to not bombard them.
  6. Traditional Four-Square – (focus is now on strategy)

Note: The initial steps (#1 DHBC & #2 DHHHC) may be introduced to our second graders simply as a challenge with the latter steps being further developed when they reach fourth and fifth grade. Items #5 & #6 in the list are skill dependent – that is, we may or may not progress to them with the 3rd graders – it all depends on their skill level.

We previously determined that we wanted the students to participate in 4-square. We then designed lessons/activities to help get each student to that point.

Another key detail in planning a unit of instruction is to define the critical elements and the common mistakes of each step in the progression. This must be done in order to be able to give specific feedback. When teaching, general feedback does not help to improve performance. When teaching the two-hand, underhand strike, one must define the critical elements in order to know when to progress a pair to the next level.

Critical Elements of the Two-Hand, Underhand Strike:

  • TSW drop the ball straight down from waist level.
  • TSW step forward with one foot as striking.
  • TSW strike with two hands (fingers pointing to the floor).
  • TSW make contact with their finger pads [similar hand contact as basketball dribble (striking the ball upward versus pushing it down)].
  • The ball should move to their partner with a medium level arch.
  • The ball should bounce one time and then the partner should catch it.

I have also found it helpful to define the common mistakes.

Common Mistakes of the Two-Hand, Underhand Strike:

  • TSW carry the ball rather than striking it.
  • TSW not take a step.
  • TSW hit the ball with too much or too little force.
  • TSW hit the ball with their hands in the overhand position.
  • TSW strike the ball with only one hand.

When you take the time to define the critical elements and common mistakes, you are creating a rubric.   This rubric will play a key role during the actual instruction and skill assessment (more about that in my next post).

The final part of planning a unit comes at the conclusion. Within a month or so of completing each unit, my colleague and I sit down to review and revise the unit. During this conversation, we discuss what needs to be added, deleted, or which parts of the SPS need to be rearranged. Each SPS is a separate document on my computer. After completing the review, the changes are made on the computer so that the SPS is ready to be used next year.   As a result, you are essentially planning a year in advance. Yeah, you read that statement correctly. I write my unit plans a year in advance. The next time I prepare to teach that unit, I simply print the revised SPS, get the equipment ready, and let the student’s skill level dictate the rest.

I also make an effort to participate in various professional development activities (e.g., attend a local in-service or a state/regional conference), review online resources, and collaborate with other physical educators in order to learn new ideas and activities. Those ideas and activities may be added to the SPS’s throughout the year.

I have found this type of unit planning to be more student-focused and student-friendly. After all, the ultimate goal is to plan a list of activities that should be taught to help each child be successful. This method allows you to be more efficient in your planning. That is, planning a road map to get to the culmination is a much easier task than trying to predict which parts of that road map will be taught on each day of the unit. Additionally, revising the SPS when the unit has just been taught is more efficient because it is still fresh in your mind. If you make notes but wait to review the unit until you are preparing to teach it again, then it has been almost 11 months since you actually taught the unit.

 How do you plan your units of instruction?

Could you benefit from this type of planning?

This method of unit planning and revision are key to the system of instruction that I call the Student Progression Model of Physical Education Instruction. During the next post, I will discuss how assessment drives instruction and acts as a motivator.

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Reference – This post is reworked from an article I wrote for the TN AHPERD 2009 Fall Newsletter entitled “Designing a Skill Progression That Uses Assessment to Motivate Physical Education Students.”

**UPDATE** – Here is a sample SPS (K-2 Tossing & Catching)

K-2 Sango Toss_Catch – Blog