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This content is taken from the University of Birmingham's online course, Outstanding Physical Education Lessons. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 12 seconds MARK GRIFFITHS: In this section of the course, we’re going to consider the needs of your pupils, and the different sources of information you might use to understand their diverse and learning needs. But first, a point of consensus. If we agree that the common and shared purpose of physical education is to provide learning experiences to promote physical activity across the life course, then it seems sensible to consider how these programs might engage pupils and achieve those learning outcomes. While an indicator of an effective physical education program is one that engages students fully, unfortunately a number of students decide to opt out.

Skip to 0 minutes and 48 seconds In order to enhance the learning experience of our students, many would agree that we have to understand why pupils disengage, and at the same time why they engage. Engaging with our students’ learning needs lies at the heart of every educational activity. Certainly the United Nations identify it in the Convention on the Rights of Children, and in the US, Every Child Matters, and the UK, the Children’s Plans acknowledges the student voice. Indeed, listening to young people’s voices has been suggested as one of the ways that PE programs might create more engaging, positive learning experiences. But there are other sources of evidence. And that might also indicate student engagement.

Skip to 1 minute and 29 seconds In the following video we consider a parent’s perspective, and their description of their son’s PE experiences. Throughout the video, we want you to think about different types of evidence that you might use to identify your students’ learning needs, and if and how this must be effective.

Skip to 1 minute and 45 seconds SPEAKER 1: I think for me the main problem with PE in school is that it case– it’s one size fits all. It’s not ability streamed. They should have the kids that struggle with gross motor skills in one stream, in one set, your average Joes in another. And then the children who are excelling– those with talents– they should be nurtured in another group, so that you know they can go and achieve things in the future– potential football stars or athletes for the country. You know, that talent doesn’t seem to be picked upon. They’re all grouped together like battery hens, and they’re sort of just running around. There’s no sort of real direction for them.

Skip to 2 minutes and 25 seconds And I really think that the children with the poor gross motor skills should be taught the fundamental basics– how to walk in a straight line without falling over, how to catch a ball, how to throw a ball; and then move on to kicking footballs. Then move on to net ball and baseball and all the rest of it. Learn the basics first.

Skip to 2 minutes and 43 seconds SPEAKER 2: Yeah. Yeah I know. Every time I watch my son at football, or if I go in, look at PE or after-school programs, it’s only the good kids. Yeah. They’re the only ones who ever get to touch the ball. All the other kids are just standing around watching other kids touch the ball. And it never seems like the coaches or the PE instructors actually get involved to make sure that the ball is going to them.

Skip to 3 minutes and 2 seconds SPEAKER 1: Definitely. They look bored, don’t they? They just stand around texting.

Skip to 3 minutes and 5 seconds SPEAKER 2: Yeah. The teachers are bored, and the kids who aren’t touching the ball look bored.

Skip to 3 minutes and 11 seconds SPEAKER 1: But the children that aren’t good at physical activity, they stand around and they feel demoralized. And they see all the other kids doing it. And they think, oh, why bother? They start messing about, goofing off. They’re getting told off by the teacher. It’s just a waste of their time, really. It’s not taken seriously in British schools. I think it should be more like some European schools, where that’s the first thing they concentrate on– playing, teaching gross motor skills.

Skip to 3 minutes and 40 seconds MARK GRIFFITHS: In the example that we’ve just heard, two questions crop up. To what extent does assessment needs identify all the important needs of the child? And secondly, what are the relative effects and efficacies of identifying group and individual learning needs within the PE lesson? Individual and group learning needs are different. Group learning needs may produce an average picture that fails to address important needs of individual members within the group. So a balance is required. Each approach has its uses and effects, but each must be used for the right purpose. Two key messages come out of this. First, learning needs assessment is a crucial stage in the educational process that leads to changes in practice.

Skip to 4 minutes and 22 seconds And second, learning needs assessment can be undertaken for many reasons. So its purpose should be defined, and should determine the method used, and how those findings will be used. After this video, there are a number of tasks which encourage you to think about how you might identify the learning needs of your pupils.

Engaging with students' learning needs

Outstanding teachers are able to use a range of methods, that extend beyond observations and discussion, to interpret their students’ diverse and individual learning needs. We cannot interpret our students’ learning needs using observation alone.

The next step is to communicate with students and others in ways that offer a more detailed understanding of their learning needs. If we simply ask students, we will probably get rather bland and predictable responses; for example, students don’t like particular activities in the curriculum, or they want more choice and more freedom. To gain a deeper understanding of students and their complex learning needs, it is more effective to use a range of methods.

This video will outline the importance of using a range of methods to engage with students’ learning needs and offer a parent’s perspective on primary/elementary students’ experiences of physical education. During the video we want you to think about the type of methods you currently use and could use to engage with your students’ learning needs.

As you watch the video, consider: what type of methods do you currently use to engage with your students’ learning needs? What could you use?

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This video is from the free online course:

Outstanding Physical Education Lessons

University of Birmingham