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.”


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