BLOG: Connect + Choice = Voice

By: Bo Phillips – P.E. Teacher at Salt Creek Elementary, VP of Children for IAHPERD

I’m sure we’ve all had students enter our gym saying“ can we play…?”.
They wish they could choose the activity or game for the day. And
sometimes they do get that whether it’s through a reward/incentive day
or occasionally teachers planning choice days throughout units or
trimesters. Students need to be given the opportunity to choose more
often in P.E. so they stay motivated and interested in the lesson. I have
found this to be very important but also a way for me to connect with
my students and make myself even more invested in my lesson and my
I love to give my students options to choose between different fitness
stations or exercises so they feel invested in their learning and physical
growth. Allowing students to choose things such as team names or
creating new rules to an existing game are ways I keep my students
engaged in class. This helps increase their intrinsic motivation and
grabs their attention. When students are all doing the same thing in
class, often students create a competition within their groups and this
can make others lose interest. This can also force students to perform
tasks incorrectly or in a way that is not beneficial to their health. By
giving them a choice from varying levels of difficulty of exercises and
skills, you’ll see students gravitate toward their strengths and stay
engaged but also I see students collaborate together to complete other
more difficult tasks together. In this age of technology there are so many
great resources in the form of videos, posters and slide shows where
students can choose their exercises and skill performances rather than
be told to do this and only this. Students seeing Superman/Wonder
Woman/Ironman or another Superhero doing an exercise they may be
more likely to perform and be engaged than if I just told them to do it.

One way I provide choices to my students is I will often have stations
set up around the gym with a number of exercises to choose from. Some
kids are better at upper body exercises and others at lower body. Some
kids dread push-ups and some it is all they want to do. So within
different games and activities students will go to these stations and have
the choice of what exercise to perform rather me telling them to only do
push-ups. There may be superhero workouts or just a list of exercises. I
will often play slide shows where there are anywhere from 2-8
exercises to choose from. When students are given a choice in their
learning they are also given a voice and more autonomy. Students who
have a voice can then engage in more socialization and group dynamics
in class. Students learn how to collaborate and communicate ideas and
strategies with one another and in small groups. Many teachers add
levels or builds to certain games changing the rules or dynamic of a
game. This usually increases the difficulty or forces students to use
higher level thinking. I have found this to be great but adding a level or
build where students get to make changes is also beneficial. One
example of this is Ben Landers’ game Fire and Ice. In this he has multiple levels of this game that progress from simple to more difficult. I have my students get into small groups and change or add a new level to this game. Students creativity really comes out and each group has to share their ideas and how they got to them. Giving students that voice is so important and beneficial to all involved.

Student engagement is a challenge for all teachers and finding a way to
connect with your students will always be a battle. Tapping into a
students’ passions or interests will lead to a more joyful and invested
learner. This will also help overcome any apathy that is occurring in
your classroom. Students will not respond to your daily objective or
lesson plans with sighs or moans. Today we will be doing a 5-minute
H.I.I.T is greeted with sighs and moans but when you say were doing a
Black Panther Workout today they tend to be more excited and it raises
their engagement.
Finding topics and interests your students share and enjoy and tying
them into your daily lessons will engage students in deeper and richer
learning, increase social skills, keep kids on task and make your
teaching more fun. By creating games and exercises with connections to
topics like Star Wars, Fortnite, Harry Potter, Marvel, Super Heroes and
more, kids show enthusiasm that may not have been there if those titles
weren’t associated with the game or activity.
We should always be trying to get to know our students better and see
what their interests and passions are. This is who they are and how we
can connect and collaborate with them to maximize their learning.

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