Making inquiry meaningful can accomplish many important things within our teaching practice. As educators, I believe that the minute we sit down to plan and map out the learning experiences of our students, we are engaging in our own journey of inquiry as our minds are deeply engrossed in opening the doors of learning. Our own journey of inquiry can have such a profound impact on the learning journeys that we help promote within our students.
I would like to share one such journey that my students and I embarked on last week at the opening of our grade 5 striking and fielding unit at Nanjing International School in China. As good inquiry practices often transcend subject specific boundary lines, I hope that any teacher reading this blog post can take something away to apply in their own pedagogical environment. The process that I blog about here took place over 2 classes, 60 minutes in length each. The importance of making learning outcomes very explicit at the start of a unit can never be underestimated and the pre-assessment strategy that I used was broken down into 4 parts.
I searched for a number of You Tube videos that highlighted great plays in baseball, cricket, and rounders. In total we watched about 6 or 7 minutes of video as an important introduction to the unit. Once the different video clips concluded and before moving on to the more physically active part B of the lesson, I asked them to think about the different skills they saw in the video and to begin to explore these skills using the equipment that was available to them that I had prepared for them to use.
This part of the lesson was very hands on and allowed them to explore the different skills that they had seen in the video clips. As safety is always important, we discussed parameters in which they could explore and I set them off. They were free to work on their own, in pairs, or in small groups. To differentiate in regards to striking I had ready to go soft baseball bats, cricket bats, rounders bats, tennis rackets, and ping pong paddles. Why tennis rackets and ping pong paddles you might be wondering?
It was more important to me, considering it was the beginning of the unit, to allow students the opportunity to explore any form of hitting with an object. In this initial phase it didn’t matter to me whether or not it was actually cricket, rounders, or baseball type striking. Using tennis rackets to hit soft balls and ping pong paddles to hit around table tennis balls still helps in narrowing their hand and eye coordination focus.
In part three of the lesson, the students and I gathered together to have a discussion. I asked them to identify skills and big ideas that they felt were important to develop and learn more about in Striking & Fielding. I am very aware of the actual student learning outcomes that are focused on in our PE department’s scope and sequence, but I felt that through questioning I could get them tuned into what these may be and record their thoughts on a visual posted on the gym wall.
I was sure to create the visual using kid friendly language to ensure that the students could really understand what was being presented to them. What’s great is that they ideas that they came up with aligned very closely to the student learning outcomes in our PE Department’s scope and sequence which I thought was going to be the case. I strongly believe that allowing the students to be involved in the process of identifying learning outcomes that they will have to meet is even more explicit in nature and helps to pave the way for a much better direction from the very start of the unit.
As a pre-assessment task the students had to show me what they learned from the class and to identify which learning outcome that they felt was going to give them most difficulty in the unit. This will provide me with important information to push their learning forward as we progress through the striking and fielding unit. All in all, a very good start! Have a look at their assessment sheets below.
Focus: Playing With a Purpose
In phase 2 we revisited the learning outcomes that the students managed to figure out on their own through the inquiry process. As an extended activity, we discussed the concept of ‘playing with a purpose‘. I had the students take part in a Creative Skills Challenge that was very much throwing and catching in nature. We emphasized the importance of connecting this creative skills challenge to specific student learning outcomes which served to give purpose to the play yet not restrict, in any way, the opportunity for powerful inquiry to take place.
In the creative skills challenge my students took turns challenging each other to throw and catch in different ways. By linking these challenges to student learning outcomes, their throwing and catching became more baseball and cricket oriented in nature which obviously helped in giving great support to the striking and fielding unit in general.
Near the end of the class, we met together to discuss how they played with a purpose describing what they worked on in regards to the student learning outcomes. The purpose here was to record their thoughts on a new visual that I created. On this new visual I actually printed off a picture of the original ‘making student learning outcomes explicit’ visual that you can see at the top of this blog. I pasted this picture on the new visual which was titled ‘How did you play with a purpose today?’ I then recorded all of the students thoughts and we had a great discussion about progress they had made so far in the unit.
As always I strive to get student feedback every step along the way of my teaching journey. As a simple means to assess whether or not my students felt that their learning was enjoyable and effective in nature, I explained that as PE teachers, we are often taught to set up stations that work on different sport related skills with the students rotating through each station working on the focused upon skills. I told them that I could set up the striking and fielding unit in this way if they wanted. 100% of the kids agreed that they do not like this way of learning and much prefer activities such as the Creative Skills Challenge.
I believe that conversations such as this provides me with further evidence that meaningful inquiry greatly promotes student ownership over learning. Regardless of subject area, we can and should provide our students with every conceivable opportunity to authentically take the reigns of their own learning.