September 7, 2021

Creating A Culture Of Thinking And Learning In Physical Education

At all times, there are at least two teachers in your classroom: you and your classroom environment.

The classroom environment can play an active role in your students' learning. Depending on the culture you build within your classes, the environment can either support or hinder your students' learning ability.

For too long, physical education has been negatively affected by the ideas people have of it: that it's just a place to move, sweat, and have fun.

Don't get me wrong: those three elements have a place in P.E. and play an essential role in students' enjoyment. However, as an academic subject, physical education is also a place where learning must take place. To maximize the amount of learning in our lessons, we need to be intentional about the type of culture that we build in our programs.

As Ron Ritchhart - author of "Creating Cultures of Thinking" - wrote: "culture is foundational. It will determine how any curriculum comes to life."

Ritchhart identified eight forces that impact culture within your classroom:

✅ Expectations

Spend less time focusing on what you expect of your students and more time on what you expect for them.

Teachers and students work in partnership when it comes to learning. Both groups must contribute to building a culture of thinking together.

To see an example of this type of collaboration, check out my explanation of The Classroom Charter in this blog post.

🗣 Language

Language is the most powerful tool at your disposal if you are intentional with it.

Small changes in language can lead to significant changes in thinking & learning. Tips I've learned:

• Change "but" to "and"

• Switch "you" for "we"

• Remember your "yet"

Want to learn more? Check out why my students refer to themselves as "Yetis". You can also check out my Atomic Essay on the impact of praise on learning.

⏳ Time

Actions express priorities.

The way we use our time says what is important to us: if you assign 95% of your lesson to play and 5% to reflection, discussion, and assessment, you are telling your students that learning doesn't matter in physical education.

That doesn't mean that you cannot maximize activity time in PE. Check out Space Invaders: a great game in which assessment is baked right into it.


👀 Modelling

At all times, whether you like it or not, students are learning from you. They observe how you deal with the same things they do: challenge, frustration, or discomfort.

Being intentional in your approach can help you model learning behaviours.

🧭 Opportunities

The units, lessons, activities that you design serve the same purpose: to provide opportunities to your students.

How are the opportunities you create helping your students identify as thinkers and learners in your physical education lessons?

Here's a blog post with some ideas on how I include opportunities for student reflection in my lessons.

🔁 Routines

Routines help students understand how to do things. They can include anything from lining up to grappling with challenging learning.

How are your classroom routines promoting thinking in your lessons? What frameworks are you helping students internalize?

Ritchhart identifies four types of classroom routines:

• Management routines help lessons run smoothly (check out my "Whole Body Listening" poster)
• Instructional routines involve the procedures teachers use for delivering instruction (see my "How We Learn" poster)
• Interactional routines structure interactions within the class (check out how we use Mini-Coaching in P.E.)
• Thinking routines support students' use of cognitive strategies in their learning (check out the "Habits of Effective Learners" Mural)

🤝 Interactions

The way students interact with fellow students and how teachers and students interact together affects your classroom culture.

Consider teaching norms and procedures for interactions that support thinking (e.g. peer-assessment) in P.E.

To see examples of norms and procedures I teach to my students to help with interactions, check out the "What Great Coaches Do" poster and the "Conflict Corner".

🌎 Environment

The way that you set up the learning environment in your gym can support your students' thinking.

Be intentional with the visuals, tools, & resources that you use in your gym, the volume of the music (can students think/talk over it), & other factors.

Check out my top 10 favourite learning visuals that I've created over the years to help create an ideal learning environment for my students.

Eight areas can be a lot to focus on, so don't try to take it all on at once.

Building a culture of thinking and learning in #physed takes time and deliberate action.

Start small, get some early wins, build momentum, and create a culture that positively impacts lives.

This post originally appeared as an edition of The #PhysEd Newsletter: my weekly newsletter in which I share ideas, best practices, and resources for your physical education program!

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