In this article, I share the results of an assessment study designed to provide an adapted aquatics and rehabilitation class, feedback on successful areas of instruction and areas that may need improvement. Although several adapted aquatic swimming assessments exist (e.g. Special Olympics, DePaepe Checklist, Sherrill Model) only the Conatser Adapted Aquatics Swimming Screening Test is norm-based and allows statistical analysis.
This assessment has 44 total test items consisting of (a) psychological/physical adjustment skills, (b) entering and exiting the pool skills, (c) acceptance towards passive range of motion, (d) breath control and respiratory skills, (e) balance and flotation skills, and (f) swimming movement skills through the water. Pre- and post-aquatics skills of children with disabilities were assessed by trained university students. These students also conducted the instructional intervention.
A screening test was used to establish a baseline of essential swimming skills to be taught in the adapted aquatics programs. Before testing and instruction, the university students were trained for one week on how to conduct the assessment and learned techniques for teaching swimming to children with disabilities. Children with disabilities received instruction for 3 weeks, Monday through Friday, with each session lasting 1 hour. Pretest assessment guided instruction and the acquisition of new skills. Instructors used a variety of motivating incentives (e.g. equipment, encouragement, musical, games etc.) to improve swimming performance. An emphasis of instruction for children with disabilities was to ensure they learned how to be safe in and around the water environment.
Several years ago, I was in my school hallway on the way to my mailbox, and noticed a young elementary child walk past a new student. This new student had Autism and was engaging in self-stimulatory behavior as he moved along the hallway. The younger child appeared confused, worried and concerned for the student with Autism .
My school had just created a self-contained class for students with disabilities. Because this was early October, it was early enough in the school year that for many of our students, this type of behavior was their first exposure to students with Autism and other disabilities.
My perplexed student watched as the stimming continued. She later approached me and asked, “What’s wrong with the boy who was screaming in the hallway? Is he okay?” Her question was so enlightening to me in many different ways. For starters, the child was genuinely concerned about the student and didn’t seem to have any idea what Autism was.
Many people know Don Hellison a heck of a lot better than me. But over the years our paths did cross a few times. And so, when I recently heard that Don, now aged 79, had suffered a stroke with some serious complications it got me thinking about him and the way he changed how physical education is taught today.
If you’ve been in the profession a while and taken your teaching seriously, the ‘Hellison’ name is already familiar to you. If you’re relatively new and graduated from a decent professional preparation program, while you may not recognize Don’s name you were almost certainly introduced to the idea that physical education can be an effective way to teach kids social skills and personal responsibility.
Don brought this thinking to the physical education world not by way of isolated ivory-towered theorizing, but through some tough real-world personal experience. Early in his career Don sought out the hardest inner-city teaching situations and toughest kids: Places and people that most of us would run from, not to. He dove in and together with his student-majors and graduate students tried to figure out how to improve these kids’ lives.
My grandkids have learned to read. They enjoy trying to solve math problems. But when I ask them what they have learned in physical education their answers are opaque. Mostly they tell me what they are doing in P.E.
In this short piece, I am suggesting that physical education teachers, and programs, should be able to describe at least some of what their students have actually learned in their classes. And the kids they are teaching should be able to show you what they have learned.
Physical education programs have a wide variability in the time allotted for classes, from a few days a year, to daily. Classes are also taught by specialists who have majored in physical education, and also by coaches and fitness specialists and classroom teachers.
Dear Physical Education Student Teacher,
You are about to undertake a challenge that many people undervalue and most misunderstand. Sadly, you may actually be one of them. Despite having spent your last four years in professional preparation where faculty have attempted to instruct you about what it means to be a teacher, you will still enter the profession aspiring to emulate the teachers, coaches and programs that molded you as an adolescent.
At this beginning stage of your career, you still see physical education teaching through immature eyes: the eyes of a successful mover, athlete, leader or team player. You aren’t seeing the challenge ahead of you through the eyes of a teacher: a mature professional focused on helping all students. You mostly see only those students that reflect your image and are blind to the less skilled students who are awkward, shy and hesitant to engage. You see success as the number of athletes that gravitate toward you, rather than the number of physically literate children that grow up to become health conscious adults.