Like many coaches and teachers across the country, once in a while I come up with what turns out to be a new and effective teaching strategy. New ideas often come to me while at professional conferences, reading online, or simply talking with colleagues. I then take the idea and modify it to best fit my teaching environment. One such idea I’d like to share with you is a take-home activity journal.
When my girls were in school, I can remember them bringing home a classroom journal. They had to spend time writing about a topic that had been introduced on in class. In physical education, I once heard a teacher talk about giving their students small stuffed animals to play with at home, then encouraging them to write about the experience in a journal. In one instance, the kids were even given permission to take the animal on vacation with them and write about it.
My version of physical education journaling comes from this idea. I call it “Fun With Buddy.” “Buddy” is a stuffed animal. It’s one of those monkeys with really long arms and legs that have Velcro on them. I was able to get these donated to my program and have acquired 12 of them. This covers all of our grade 1-3 classrooms. Our principal was able to find book money to get us grade-level appropriate books that support being physically active. I put together a journal with blank pages. Each page has a space for the kids to write about what they did with Buddy over the weekend. The pages also have a place for the kids to either draw a picture of what they did, or to stick a photo of them in action with Buddy. And to keep all the items secure, our Home and School Association (H.S.A.) donated string bags.
That’s right, you read it correctly. I want to become obsolete – over and over and over again! Now let me explain myself. I teach in an elementary building that houses grades K-4. Our middle schools run from 5th to 8th grade and our High School holds grades 9-12. I want to present my material in such a way that when my students “graduate” from my building, they don’t need me anymore. I want them to know everything that they possibly should to be able to do but especially the following two things: First, I want them prepared to go into their summer vacation able to be physically active 10-year-old individuals. Second, I want to empower them to return to school in September armed with everything they need to be able to build on their skills and knowledge in our middle school physical education curriculum.
I’ve realized I need to keep both the short term and long term in mind when I plan and teach my lessons. In the short term, I need to ask if I am teaching them the skills they’ll need to be able to enjoy being active on their own? I don’t want to create basketball players, soccer players or any other kind of “player.” Rather I want to teach my classes to enable my students to feel comfortable and enjoy using a basketball, soccer ball, or any other kind of equipment; either on their own, or with their friends. Have I taught them how to organize and play something that they made up themselves? Do they know how all of those skills I taught them can fit into something fun to do?
If I were to see one of my students at a playground over the summer with a ball, I’d hope to see them enjoying themselves using it. Maybe they are shooting baskets with their dad, or mom? Maybe they are bouncing the ball as high as they can and trying to catch it? Maybe they are seeing how far or how high they can kick it? If they don’t have anything with them, I hope I would see them creating something constructive and fun to do. Maybe climbing on a playground structure, or a nearby tree? Maybe having fun running and chasing each other? How about something like asking their mom if they can ride bikes together? What I hope I don’t see them doing is sitting still, all by themselves.
By now, many of our New Year’s resolutions have come and gone. Good intentions don’t have the best track record when it comes to longevity. Well meaning ideas don’t always last. That being said, what is it that we can do to keep our students and us motivated for the long haul?
Most of us work hard to present physical activity to our kids in ways that connect with them. Ultimately, we want our kids to take ownership of their own fitness and to find the best way that they can use it to be healthy and productive people, no matter their age. But teaching them to how to motivate themselves can sometimes be challenging.
Few teachers don’t have “go-to sayings” that they fall back on in their classes. These expressions speak to the heart of our programs. Goodness knows that if you are looking for these, a quick Google search will overwhelm you with options. However, rather than risk asking you to do something like that, I’ve found a few phrases that have stood the test of time for me no matter what I happen to be teaching at the time. See what you think.
The first is a staple of mine that I introduce to my students on the very first day every September:
Let’s face it. We all have our own way to do things in our classes. For those of us that have been around for a while, we have methods that we are pretty comfortable with. Our kids seem to learn the material we present. They seem to be able to perform the skills we teach them. Why rock the boat? Why bother trying something new if what we already have is successful? My big thing is when something new comes along, does it fit what we are trying to do in the big picture. The last thing I ever want to do is to see something new, perhaps while attending a conference, immediately go back to school and plug it in the next day without first asking if it fits into what we already do. Just because an activity looks fun is never enough for me. If it’s fun and teaches something effectively, then I may have something there.
These are all good questions to be sure. I guess the answers depend on your comfort level, or on how much you are searching for the next great thing. I have to admit that for many years, I was one of those teachers who felt pretty strongly about what I taught and how I taught it. I felt that what I was doing helped my kids to understand and execute the skills that they needed to leave my building and then successfully build on those skills at our middle schools. My assessments showed me this assumption was true. Their skill level was where I thought I wanted it to be. There’s no need to change things up! Then my teaching partner went and threw a monkey wrench into my thinking. Kory McMahon is his name and he is a graduate class fiend! He is constantly taking graduate courses, always learning something new about our profession! If you have any questions about what I am about to describe to you, don’t hesitate to contact him.
He, like me was pretty confident in his methods. Then he came to me saying he was going to try an idea with video with our 3rd and 4th graders. As an elementary district staff, our three buildings had already developed some simple videos that showed our students what the correct form of the different skills we taught looked like. Showing kids these clips helped them see what they should want themselves to look like. They were pretty successful. But Kory wanted to take it one step further.
He did this in two ways. First he started to create tutorials on various skills that broke down each skill into manageable parts for the kids. He would show the video to the class when the skill was introduced. Then, if someone was struggling with a part of a skill, he would send the student back to view that portion of the tutorial again. Take a look here (the password is MottRoad). Today, we all individualize our instruction. The video piece allowed Kory to differentiate how he individualized his instruction. Listening to corrections is one thing; actually seeing it again is another all together!
“Where is your passion?” I recently asked this of a group of physical education undergraduates who were halfway through their student teaching. In putting together my presentation to them, I wanted something that would grab their attention right away and get them thinking about their chosen profession. I think this question did the trick.
When I asked for their answers, I got many of the response I anticipated. Most of them said something along the lines of “physical activity,” or “physical fitness,” or even “teaching kids about sports and fitness.” But then one of these students gave me the answer I was hoping for. His answer was “to teach kids.” When I pressed him to tell me more, low I thought he would say something PE related. I was both surprised and impressed when he answered by saying “anything!” That was the answer I was hoping for and what I wanted to get all of the students to think about.
You see I believe that there is a big difference between our passion and our expertise. Our passion needs to be kids. First and foremost our main focus should be on the kids we are fortunate enough to see daily (even the ones that seem to go the extra mile to make our jobs difficult). We are there to create an environment where our students can thrive. As basic as that sounds I believe this should be our main focus.
Our expertise is in the subject we teach. For us and for those undergraduates it is physical education. Physical educators spend their entire careers honing this expertise. Many of us have taught for years, regularly reviewed our lessons and constantly made necessary adjustments. We’ve attended countless conferences to learn how to expand our expertise. We’ve picked the brains of colleagues always looking for a better way to teach something. But none of this is any good unless it’s aimed at our passion: Helping to improve the lives of the kids we see daily!