Creating Meaningful Experiences for All Students – Tomaz Pereira

Tomaz Pereira is an elementary physical education teacher working at the American International School of Budapest, Hungary (HU). In the following post he briefly reflects on how the Meaningful PE approach has helped him to deliver a Parkour unit to upper elementary students. Tomaz tweets from @tomazfaria1.

How do I create a meaningful experience for all students?

In my opinion, the answer to this question begins with our WHY: our teaching philosophy. What vision do we have for our students that complete our program? What is our aim that justifies all our decisions as teachers?

At this point, my first aim is not to teach skills and dispositions, but to inspire students to be motivated to learn them. It is my view that if they feel motivated, they will be more likely to use their free time to learn and know more about what interests them. This is where I think the Meaningful PE framework fits really well into my program. Are the kids having fun? Is this interesting for them to practice outside school? Is this challenging for them? Do they feel they are getting better and more confident at their skills? Is this something that will become memorable for them?

My teaching partner and I decided to create a Parkour unit for the following reasons: to expose students to an individual pursuit activity that could assure social distancing, to introduce a movement subculture that contains a lot of things that young people tend to value (e.g. music, clothing, cool moves, language, etc), to expose students to Body Control skills, to invite boys to the benefits of gymnastics without calling it gymnastics and, based on informal conversations with students, to try new activities that allowed them to express themselves at their own pace.

The feature of Challenge helped us to design skill instruction. For each skill, we presented students with at least 6 options to engage in. The non-negotiable instruction was to start with less challenging options and leveling up according to their confidence. The concept of Just Right Challenge (JRC) was also unpacked as a self-management skill. How do I find a JRC for me? When do I level up? Obstacles were constantly changed based on students’ suggestions.

The feature of Motor Competence helped us to create a rubric posted in our whiteboard with 4 JEDI levels: Youngling, Padawan, Knight and Master. They would assess their current level of competence in each skill and set 2 goals to start working straight away. In each lesson, 5-7 students were interviewed and set out to work on the skills that were meaningful for them. For example, being able to reach a master level at the Tic Tac (climbing a high obstacle by bouncing off the wall) and reach the knight level in the parkour roll. We noticed that, sometimes, their goals did not coincide with the skills they perceived as needed for improvement.

The feature of Social Interaction helped us to create the warm-ups. As students arrived to the class from the changing rooms, they were asked to choose 1 out of 3 warm-up cards we had available for them and to start warming up with a partner, group of 3, or alone if they preferred. The last 10 min of the lesson was dedicated to obstacle exploration with their friends or partnering up with others with similar goals. Final performances were also allowed to be carried out in groups of 2 or 3. 

This looked really cool to us. However, would this unit be a memorable experience to students? And if so, was it memorable to all of them? In order to capture the feature of Delight, we decided to attach a reflection piece to the final performance: “What I liked the most about my performance was”, “It would be even better if”, “How would you describe your growth in Parkour?” and “I would rate this unit with a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5”. While we felt the unit was quite successful in that many students demonstrated strong engagement, reported having fun, learning some new skills, and having some memorable experiences, we also feel that we didn’t prioritize the students’ perspectives as much as we would have liked at the beginning of the unit. My question now is “How can I intentionally prioritize students’ perspectives in order to design a meaningful experience for all students?”

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