December 7, 2017

Assessment For Learning In Physical Education

For this episode of The #PhysEd Show Podcast, I invited the one and only Terri Drain onto the show so that we could discuss assessment for learning in physical education.

If you don’t know who Terri is, she’s an amazing physical educator who teaches at Vintage Hills Elementary School in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2007, Terri was named the California Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance Elementary Teacher of the Year and was named the SHAPE America Southwest District Teacher of the Year for the following year. In addition to her physical education-specific accolades, Terri was named the Pleasanton Unified School District Teacher of the Year in 2016. She is a National Board Certified Teacher, a member of the SHAPE America Board of Directors, a fellow Canadian, and probably the most cited person on this blog. Terri is one of the best presenters I have ever had a chance to see in action (you can find most of her session handouts on her blog), I’ve learned so much from her over the past few years, and I’m so excited to have her on The #PhysEd Show to talk about assessment!

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Show Notes

As I’ve done with past episodes of The #PhysEd Show, I decided to put together some pretty thorough show notes that elaborate on some of the ideas we explored in the podcast to help you dive deeper into the topic of assessment for learning (AFL). Sound good? Here we go:

What is assessment?

Let’s start off by defining our terms here. According to the Great School Partnership, assessment “refers to the wide variety of methods or tools that educators use to evaluate, measure, and document the academic readiness, learning progress, skill acquisition, or educational needs of students.” That said, I always liked this definition that Katie White, educational consultant/author of “Softening The Edges“, shared on Twitter:

What’s the different between assessment for learning and assessment of learning?

Whereas assessment of learning usually appears as summative tasks in which students demonstrate their learning and have a grade/result associated to their level of achievement, assessment for learning involves formative tasks which inform both the student and the teacher about where the student is at in their learning, remind them of where they are aiming to go, and help them better understand what they can do in order to get there.

Assessment For Learning Cycle

Still not sure what the difference is between the two (for and of)? Here’s a video in which author/educational consultant Rick Wormeli provides a detailed explanation:

What are the benefits of assessment for learning?

In his book “Classroom Assessment For Student Learning: Doing It Right – Using It Well“, Rick Stiggins highlights for benefits of assessment for learning:

Benefits of Assessment For Learning

Stiggins goes on further to state that “the effect of assessment for learning on student achievement is some four to five times greater than the effect of reduced class size“.

Effect of Assessment For Learning

That being said, it’s pretty clear that assessment for learning is something that we, as physical educators, should be taking seriously. Let’s dig deeper into what AFL can actually look like in physical education:

What does assessment for learning look like in PE?

Stiggins identifies seven strategies of assessment for learning. Here they are along with some examples of what they could look like in physical education:

Strategy One: Provide a Clear and Understandable Vision of the Learning Target

What is it?

Share the learning objectives prior to the start of your lesson or before any classroom activity. You’ll want to make sure that you are using language that the students understand and ensure that you take the time to check for that understanding. You can also provide your students with the grading rubric to help them fully understand what achievement can look like.

What could it look like in physical education?

As Terri mentions in the podcast, this is a perfect time to introduce the “What”, “Why”, and “How” of your lesson.

What Why How Physical Education

I like doing this by sharing the “What” and “How” portions, but then having my students come up with the “Why” either through a class discussion or a Walk & Talk session.

What Why How Post-Walk & Talk

As for the rubrics, I like to create Learning Roadmaps for my units in physical education.

Although I really do believe in the power of these qualitative rubrics, I’m always looking to improve them. Here are two things I’m working on right now:

  1. Using Student-Friendly Language. As Stiggins states, the rubric should be written in language that the students understand and are comfortable with. This is something I want to continue working on as my Learning Roadmaps can sometimes be a little too wordy and contain too much teacher-speak.
  2. Offer Different Paths Towards Mastery. This is an idea that was shared with me by Dr. Justen O’Connor in a blog post he wrote that explored how the Learning Roadmaps could be improved. The idea is to provide different levels of achievement within each level of mastery on the roadmap so that students can follow a path that is unique to their skill/knowledge/understanding level. I’ll be tinkering with this in the new year.
Strategy Two: Use Examples and Models of Strong and Weak Work

What is it?

Share examples of real work and have students reflect on those examples so that they can identify strengths and weaknesses in the work provided. This can help students gain a more thorough understanding of the task at hand and help them build a deeper understanding of what mastery can look like. This process can also help students develop strategies that they can use to master the content they are exploring in class.

What could it look like in physical education?

As I’ve blogged about before, I maintain pretty extensive, digital student portfolios in my physical education classes. This means that, over the years, I’ve collected a lot of videos of students performing different skills (and completing different assessment pieces) at different levels of mastery.

I’m currently working on putting together Anchor Portfolios for the different outcomes that we focus on in class. An Anchor Portfolio is an idea that was introduced to me by my wife (who is a classroom teacher and is, also, very lovely). Basically, it is a portfolio that contains pieces of student work for each level of mastery.

Physical Education Anchor Portfolio

These pieces can serve as examples for my current students who can analyze them to better understand why the work corresponds to a specific level of mastery and compare the work to their own performance.

Another example of an effort I’ve made in regards to this strategy is that I’ve created visuals (graphics and videos) that illustrate what mature patterns look like for various skills.

I’ve done this for fundamental movement skills…

… and different sport skills

The New QR Sport Skills Posters
Video Breakdown Showcase

Although these posters take a ton of time to produce, my goal is to have one for every skill that I teach in my program so that students can always have the clearest idea of what a “strong” performance looks like in regards to these different motor skills.

Strategy Three: Offer Regular Descriptive Feedback

What is it?

Instead of providing students with a grade on a formative assessment piece, provide them with descriptive feedback. Feedback works best when it is specific, focuses on the student’s strengths and weaknesses in regards to the learning objective, let’s the student know what they are doing right and what they need to do in order to keep making progress.

Stiggins recommends a “Stars & Stairs” approach: focus on what the learner accomplished and what are the next steps.

Stars & Stairs Assessment For Learning

Finally, don’t overwhelm students by providing them with too much information. Although some students can digest and act on a lot of feedback at once, not all students can. Get to know your students so that you have a better understanding of the kind of feedback that has the greatest impact on their learning and how much feedback they can take at once.

What could it look like in physical education?

In terms of skill development, skills are pretty easy to break down into critical elements which allows you to get super specific with your feedback.

The bigger issue is finding the time to provide each learner with descriptive feedback in your super short, overly crowded, chaotic-by-nature physical education lessons. This is why it is so important to come up with descriptive feedback systems in your teaching that will allow you to increase the amount of feedback loops for each student. Here are a few examples of these types of systems:

Marked Up Learning Roadmaps

This is another idea that falls under the “still in beta” category, but I’ve been experimenting with marking up my Learning Roadmaps so as to provide my students with potential next steps to help guide them along their learning journey.

Marked Up Learning Roadmap

The idea here is that, by adding comments to the Learning Roadmap, once students have identified what level they are currently at (via teacher feedback, peer-assessment, or self-assessment), a student can look at the comments on the roadmap to better understand what they can be focusing on in order to move their learning forward. I’m still working on these in class, but the early results have been pretty great!

Environmental Feedback Loops

Now this is an idea I’ve been wanting to try but haven’t even tested out yet! A few years back, I got to see Dr. Stevie Chepko speak at the 2013 National PE Institute (you can watch her 2012 National PE Institute keynote). In her presentation on motor learning, Stevie was sharing thoughts on the importance of feedback loops in regards to mastery of the fundamental movement skills. One of the ideas she brought up was an environmental prompt that provided students with feedback based on the result of their performance. Here’s an example of what that means:

Environmental Feedback Loop

So imagine you have a large version of the graphic above printed out and pasted on your gym wall. Using an underhand throw that includes a release between the knee and waist level, students can attempt to throw a ball or beanbag so that it hits the blue “Just Right” area. If it hits the orange area, then they know that they released the ball/beanbag too high which is why they missed their target. They therefore have to release the ball lower in order to hit the blue area (as indicated in the orange area text). If they hit the purple area, then they know that they released the ball/beanbag too low which is why they missed their target. They therefore have to release the ball higher in order to hit the blue area (as indicated in the purple area text).

This type of environmental tool can help students get important, descriptive feedback without needing the teacher to intervene. By having several of these kinds of setups in your gym, you can increase the amount of feedback loops that each student experiences in any given lesson.

Purposeful Stations

I teach my younger grades (i.e. grades 1-2) as a full group (about 26 students). Although that is small compared to some of the groups that my fellow physical educators teach, I still find it hard to provide descriptive feedback to each student. A solution I have used to counteract this is by using purposeful stations in my lessons from time to time.

What I call purposeful stations are stations that all have a common theme and that have students using a simple “Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down” mini-coaching system at each one. For example, I will set up six stations in my gym with each station’s focus being one of the critical elements of overhand throwing (I use my Critical Element Key Focus Cards that are part of my premium FMS Manipulative Posters downloads to help with this.) The sixth station is where I am at, working with one group at a time throughout the lesson to ensure that each student has received individualized descriptive feedback by the end of the lesson (I usually watch their performance once or twice and then provide them with their “Stars” and “Stairs”).

Strategy Four: Teach Students To Self-Assess and Set Goals

What is it?

According to Stiggins, self-assessment is an essential part of learning as it helps students better understand where they are at in their learning which, in turn, helps them set goals for their learning.

Effective self-assessment should include the following:

  1. Identify strengths and areas for improvement.
  2. Complete exit cards in which they record what they have learned and what questions they may still have.
  3. Select work samples that prove their level of mastery of the content (and explain why the piece does so).
  4. Offer descriptive feedback to classmates.
  5. Use feedback in order to set goals for the future.

What could it look like in physical education?

Reflection and self-assessment play a large role in my teaching. Here are a some of the different ways that my students go about self-assessment in my lessons:

Assessment Magnets

I have been using magnets as assessment tools in my teaching for a couple years now. Magnets provide my students with a simple tool that allows them to reflect on where they are at in their learning, mark that location/level of mastery, set a goal, and then physically move their magnet forward as their learning progresses.

Last year, I upgraded my magnet system to Plickers Assessment Magnets. Based off of Mike Ginicola‘s awesome idea, I create my own template that would allow me to quickly collect the self-assessment data from the magnets in class.

Plickers Assessment Magnets Design


Mini-Coaching is what I call the peer-assessment system I use in my teaching, which I’ve blogged about before. In a nutshell mini-coaching is a peer assessment system in which one student plays the role of the coach (i.e. the one doing the assessment) and the other student plays the role of the athlete (i.e. the one being assessed). In classroom activities in which I am using mini-coaching, I’ll divide my class into three teams. As two teams participate in the activity, the third team is on the sideline playing the role of coaches to athletes they are assigned.

Mini-Coach Row Assignments

In older grades (e.g. grades 3-6), coaches will fill out their athlete’s mini-coaching sheets by writing down their observations. These sheets are living documents, meaning that they get filled out several times throughout the unit so that the athlete can view the progress of their learning:

My Skill Sheet Mini Coach

With my younger grades (e.g. K-2), mini-coaching involves a coach looking for a single success criteria (i.e. “moves arms opposite to legs when running) and provides their athlete with a simple “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” at the end of the round to indicate whether or not they saw that success criteria being demonstrated.

Thumbs Mini Coach System

Either way, at the end of each round the coaches and athletes come together to discuss the performance. Something I really want to develop as a procedure within mini-coaching is having the athlete ask their coach what their “stars” and “stairs” are in regards to their performance. I want my student to seek out feedback so that they understand the value of it and, therefore, take their mini-coaching roles as seriously as they can.

Psst: I’ve also combined my Mini-Coach system along with my Assessment Magnets in a few different lessons. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

Strategy Five: Design Lessons to Focus on One Aspect of Quality at a Time

What is it?

Basically, what this means is that you want to break larger tasks down into smaller ones and then teach each smaller task one at a time making sure that students understand how all of the parts come together. This creates smaller chunks in learning which allows more students to experience success, build their confidence, and restore/maintain their desire to learn.

What could it look like in physical education?

The idea of breaking skills down into smaller pieces isn’t necessarily a new one for physical educators, but we teach a lot more than just skills. This is where the unpacking step of the standards-based instructional design (SBID) method becomes so important as it allows you to look at content and reflect on what would be the absolute smallest learning pieces that students would need to learn in order to continue to make progress.

Need a visual example of what the unpacking process looks like? Here the Unpacking Tree from my International Dance Showcase Teacher Pack:

International Dance Showcase Unit Unpacking Content Tree
Strategy Six: Teach Students Focused Revision

What is it?

By teaching students how to revise samples of work, we can help them develop a critical eye in terms of the content being taught. You’ll want to scaffold this exercise by having students start with a very simple revision (e.g. only one aspect of the work needs revision) and then provide them with more and more complex revisions as their skill level grows.

What could it look like in physical education?

There are a few different ways that I go about this in my teaching:


Using my Plickers Question Template, I’ll create questions in which students get to observe a skill being performed with a non-mature pattern and then select the missing critical element from the multiple choice questions provided.

Sample Plickers Revision Question
Strategy Seven: Engage Students in Self-Reflection, and Let Them Keep Track of and Share Their Learning

What is it?

According to Stiggins, “any activity that requires students to reflect on what they are learning and to share their progress both reinforces the learnings and helps them develop insights into themselves as learners”. This reflection really helps reinforce the learning and deepen their understanding of the content that was taught.

What could it look like in physical education?

Again, this is where student portfolios are so powerful. Being able to pull up samples of a student’s work (or even samples of their work in prior years) really helps students recognize just how far they have come in their learning.

Another tactic that I use in my teaching is to create assessment pieces that act as living documents throughout the unit and/or year. What this means is that, instead of using multiple sheets/forms as assessment tools, I create one assessment piece that can be filled out multiple times so that students see their prior work as they self-assess and can see in a very visual way just how far they have come in their learning. Here are some examples of these “living” assessment pieces I’ve used in my teaching:

Tactic Definition Developer Preview

The Tactics Definition Developer from my Chasing & Fleeing Games Teacher Pack.

Forehand Stroke Mini-Coach assessment tool from my grade six Net/Wall Games unit.

Learn More About Assessment For Learning

Want to keep learning more about assessment for learning? Here are some awesome, people, books, blog posts, and videos to help keep you digging deeper into this topic!


Amanda Stanec: Twitter

Dylan Wiliam: Twitter

Justen O’Connor: Twitter

Katie White: Twitter

Rick Stiggins: Twitter

Rick Wormeli: Twitter

Shirley Clarke: Twitter


Classroom Assessment FOR Student Learning: Doing It Right – Using It Well” by Rick Stiggins, Judith Arter, Jan Chappuis, and Stephen Chappuis

Embedding Formative Assessment: Practical Techniques for K-12 Classrooms” by Dylan Wiliam

How to Grade for Learning” by Ken O’Connor

Softening The Edges” by Katie White

Unlocking Formative Assessment” by Shirley Clarke

Blog Posts

Dylan Wiliam & The 5 Formative Assessment Strategies to Improve Student Learning

Thinking Inside the Box for Assessment Roadmaps in #Physed

Why Is Assessment Important


A New Vision of Excellence in Assessment

Unpacking Formative Assessment

Thanks for reading and happy teaching!

Joey Feith
Joey Feith is a physical education teacher based out of Nova Scotia and the founder of
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