February 7, 2017

Mini Coaching In Physical Education

Each year at St. George's School of Montreal, teachers are expected to set a professional development goal using the Thoughtful Classroom Teacher Effectiveness Framework. If you've never heard of the framework before, it's a pretty great for setting goals, measuring progress and showing growth in terms of professional development.

Thoughtful Classroom Teacher Effectiveness Framework

In a nutshell, the framework is composed of three components (Four Cornerstones of Effective Teaching, Five Episodes of Effective Instruction, & Looking Beyond The Classroom). The components are broken down into 10 dimensions and each dimension contains Instructional Indicators along with Observable Student Behaviours.That's one hell of a nutshell, so just check out this PDF if you want to learn more.Long story short: when we set our goals at the beginning of the year, we are supposed to focus on one dimension at a time. For the 2016-2017 school year, I selected Dimension Four: A Culture of Thinking and Learning.I chose that dimension because it was aligned with my mission to change the way people think about physical education within (and outside) the school's community. I wanted to build a culture of physical literacy at St. G's and to help students/teachers/parents understand that the mindsets towards physical activity that our students will develop early on in life will play a major role in their lifelong journeys of health and physical activity.Basically, I believe that if I can help my students develop habits of learning in terms of physical activity (i.e. giving them the tools to know how to learn a new skill/activity on their own), then I am setting them up for success.One of the ways I have attempted to do this is by increasing the amount of opportunities for assessment and reflection that happen within my lessons. I'm not going to lie: a lot of this flopped pretty hard early on and was difficult to build up. That said, I eventually developed a system that works, even with my youngest students (I teach grades 1, 2, 3 and 6).

Why Peer-Assessment In Physical Education?

Ok, so this isn't really anything new. Peer-assessment has been around for a long, long time and is used by physical educators around the world. However, I still wanted to share how I make it work in my classes.First of all, this all stemmed from a few problems I was having with my younger grades:I teach the younger grades full group (25-28 kids) in a very small gym. Although those numbers don't mean much to some of you who achieve incredible things with massive groups (50+), they were causing headaches for me: lots of accidents when working in general space, lots of student demands (e.g. bathroom, shoelaces, conflicts) which took up a lot of my time, and just challenging classroom management issues due to the space. All of this was having a negative impact on the amount (and quality) of assessment I was able to get done in my lessons, the overall amount of learning happening in class, and the amount of growth taking place in terms of successful learning mindsets in physical education.Although I was able to solve some of the management issues by creating/adopting helpful resources/procedures in class (e.g. my bathroom key system and my modification of the Conflict Corner that I remixed from Ben Lander's work), I still felt like each student wasn't getting enough feedback or opportunity for reflection in my lessons. So, I created a peer-assessment system to fix that problem, which I dubbed my Mini Coach system.

The Mini-Coach System

Here's how Mini Coaching works with my younger students:First off, I divide my class into three Mini Coach Squads

Mini Coach Squads

The chart for the Mini Coach Squads is projected from my iPad onto the big screen via Apple TV so that students can a) know what colour pinnie they should wear, and b) see which other students are in their row (I'll get to that in a second).Next, students are introduced to the learning activity we'll be using that lesson to help us reach our goals. Once everyone understands the activity (which I'll usually layer up for the full class), I'll then set the class up for Mini Coaching.Mini Coaching in my lessons happens in a rotation system. For example, the Red Team plays the Blue Team while the Orange Team is out of the game. The Orange Team, when rotated out, is assigned a colour to Mini Coach. This chart gives you an idea of what the rotation looks like (by the way, we usually only go through 1-2 rotations, each with three rounds, in class).

Mini Coach Squad Rotation

When assigned a team to Mini Coach, each player on the Mini Coaching team knows who they are to assess based on their row location in the Mini Coach Squads chart. Students assess and are assessed by students in the same row as them. For example, if the Orange Team is assessing the Blue Team while Blue plays the Red Team, then every player on Orange knows who to assess.

Mini-Coach Row Assignments

Mini Coaches assess their "Athletes" during game play until the round is over (approximately 5 minutes, depending on the activity). Once the round is done, Athletes go find their Mini Coach to get feedback on their performance prior to the next round. Once the Athletes have received their feedback, I set up the next round.

Examples of Mini Coach Assessments

Ok, so keep in mind that the goal of this system is to increase the instances in which each student receives feedback in class and to provide students with additional opportunity for reflection. Knowing that, I'll design my Mini Coach sheets accordingly. Here are some examples:

Thumb System
Thumbs Mini Coach System

With my youngest students, I'll often use a simple "Thumbs Up/Sideways/Down" system for super quick feedback. Students are given something very specific to look for (e.g. "Did you see your athlete step with their opposite foot when overhand throwing during the Matball game?"). At the end of the round, the Athlete will go see their coach who will give them a thumbs up if they always saw them meet the criteria, a thumbs sideways if they sometimes saw them do so, or a thumbs down if they never saw them do so. This system is great for fast peer feedback, getting students to reflect and look for success criteria, and quick goal setting (which is usually reinforced using our class Assessment Magnet system).Quick note: I test my students before sending them out to Mini Coach. I'll do a demonstration and they have to show me which thumb they would show (i.e. up, sideways, down). I need to know that they are capable of providing accurate feedback before putting them in a position that will have an impact on their classmates' learning. Also, we have discussions about what makes a good Mini Coach and why it is a role that should be taken seriously. I'll point out if I see them jokingly giving the wrong feedback on purpose or challenge them to explain why they gave a specific piece of feedback. Setting this up involved a lot of failure and setbacks, but my students have a very good grasp of it now (besides, no one ever said this would be easy).

My Skill Sheets
My Skill Sheet Mini Coach

Another example of a Mini Coach assessment are our "My Skill" sheets. I designed these sheets to help my students see and reflect on their growth over time. Here's how they work:Students are given their "My Skill" sheet at the beginning of the unit. The sheet has each skill we will work on throughout that unit along with its critical elements. Underneath each critical element is a row composed of several square cells.

My Skill Sheet Rows

Throughout the unit, each student will be assessed by different Mini Coaches. Mini Coaches will observe their Athlete's performance, focusing on 1-2 critical elements at a time. At the end of the round, the Mini Coach will write in the leftmost empty cell a score from one to four: 1 for "Always", 2 for "Usually", 3 for "Sometimes" and 4 for "Never" (we discuss these levels prior to Mini Coaching). The Athlete and the Mini Coach will discuss why the decision to assign a certain level was made (feedback +reflection) and what can be done to make sure that the level goes up next time (goal-setting + deliberate practice).The Athlete's goal is to set goals, engage in deliberate practice, monitor their growth see their levels increase for each critical element over time.

My Skill Sheet Rows Change
Checks And X's
Mini Coach Sheet Checks Xs

With my oldest students, the Mini Coach sheets will be a little more mature. I'll have my students reflect on where they are at in terms of their learning (using our class Learning Roadmaps) and then set a goal for themselves. When they are assessed, the Mini Coach will keep their Athlete's goal in mind as they observe their performance. In the case of a skill development assessment like the one above, the Mini Coach will mark a check every time the critical element was demonstrated in their Athlete's form or an X every time it was not. As X's become checks through deliberate practice over time, the Mini Coach and Athlete will work on setting a new goal/focus for the Athlete.

Mini Coach Sheet Tactics Sheet

In the case of assessment of tactics, the Mini Coach will use the same "Checks & X's" system to measure the amount of times they see their athlete meet the tactical criteria. Using the information and reflecting on trends over time, Athletes will set tactical goals in order to elevate their game.

Final Notes

Ok, so last thing I want to say here: all of this makes for a lot of data. How does it fit into my grading? Well, sometimes I'll use the data to help me determine where a student is at in their learning or to see if it is aligned with my own observations. However, most of the time I just use this system to support student reflection, increase in-lesson feedback and help my students develop a better understanding of what mastery looks like. All of that is aligned with my goals of a) helping my students develop the mindset they'll need in order to continue to develop their physical literacy throughout their lifetime and b) develop a culture of thinking and learning in my physical education lessons.Next week, I'll be getting into how all of this fits into my student portfolios, overall assessment and grades. For now, I'd love to hear more about how you use peer assessment in your teaching and what systems have worked best for you. Please feel free to share your experience in the comments below!Thanks so much 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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