October 14, 2017

How I Start My School Year: Lesson Three

This is the last of three posts in my “How I Start My School Year” blog post mini-series. Be sure to check out Lesson One & Lesson Two to see how this lesson builds on the two previous ones!

Lesson Three: Taking Ownership Of Our Learning

Big Idea: You are in charge of your own life.


  1. Review learnings from previous lessons (building/reinforcing class expectations and procedures).
  2. Discuss what it means to be a “successful” learner in PE.
  3. Introduce Mini-Coaching, Assessment Magnet, and Plickers assessment systems.

This lesson is designed to help students understand that they are at the centre of their own learning.

The first half of the class will involve important discussions to help lead students to the truth I mentioned above. In order to make sure that we being active and avoiding long, drawn out conversations (in which students tend to disconnect and “zone out”), we will be using the times in between the builds of Flag Tag for our talks.

Build Two: Everyone’s IT Frozen Tag

After a quick first build that I use just to get the students’ hearts pumping, I’ll break the second build of Flag Tag up into shorter rounds using music (i.e. when the music stops, the students freeze). In between each round, we will have short discussions in which we review some of the things we went over in the previous lessons. For example (I put examples of student answers in parentheses beside each discussion question):

  • How are you being safe? (e.g. “staying inside the white lines”, “moving a speed I can control”, “keeping my eyes up”)
  • How are you being responsible? (e.g. “following the rules of the game”, “looking out for others”, “freezing on cue”)
  • How are you being respectful? (e.g. “listening when the teacher is talking”, “playing in a way that is safe”, “working hard”)
  • How can you show you are grateful? (e.g. “having fun”, “complimenting others”, “respecting the speaker”)

During the conversations, we will refer to the Character Shields as well as the Warning System chart. This is to help reinforce these expectations and guidelines in class. Just to be clear: this is something that I do throughout the year. Students have their good days and their wild days (sometimes, those are the same days!), so it is important to keep these expectations and guidelines fresh in their minds as the year goes on.

Build Three: Flag Tag

Following this build, I will ask my students one of the most important questions they will hear all year:

“Who is in charge of your life?”

The point of this discussion is to help my students understand that, even though outside forces will try to influence your decisions and actions, it is YOU who chooses how to act and respond to the things that happen in your life. No one can crawl into your head and make that decision for you. Even when you are feeling forced or it seems that all of your options have been taken away from you, you still have that power and freedom to see life as you see fit.

You are in charge of you.

Knowing that, it then makes sense that each person is in charge of their own learning, that the amount you get out of each lessons depends on you. Success doesn’t just happen on its own: it involves a lot of self-driven, behind-the-scenes work to experience it.

The Iceberg Illusion
via @sylviaduckworth

Side note: I hesitated on adding this to this post, but I think it is important to do so. As educators, we know that some children are set up for failure. They come from backgrounds or grow up in areas that place all of the odds against them. It is important that we remember this when we are choosing our words and planning our lessons. That said, I also believe that it is important to help the young people we teach to develop a sense of hope and understanding that, despite all of the odds that may be against them, they can achieve great things in life. Anyway, I just wanted to put that out there.

Build Four: Tail Thieves

After build four, I’ll have the students get into pairs and do a quick Walk-&-Talk around the gym. Walk-&-Talks are an idea I got from my friend Andy Vasily. They involve students pairing up and walking/skipping/running around the gymnasium as they discuss a key question. So what’s the key question for this Walk-&-Talk?

What are the habits of successful learners?

Once the students have completed their Walk-&-Talk, I’ll invite them to sit down by our TV screen and have them share what they came up with (which I’ll write down using the iOS Paper app).

Since I had this discussion with my students last year (which was inspired by my friend/SHAPE America Board of Directors member Terri Drain‘s #EPEW2016 workshop), I already had a lot of great, student-sourced examples of the habits of successful learners (I blogged a little about this process in my Student Reflection in Physical Education post).

Using the answers from the previous year, I created a mural in my gym to showcase and celebrate the habits of successful learners.

Having the mural in my gymnasium allows me to refer to it on a regular basis, particularly in times when I see students being challenged by the work we are doing in class. The mural helps to promote a culture of learning and thinking in class, which is an ongoing goal of mine. So far this year, I’ve loved hearing students refer to it as they go about their learning in class. Plus, I love the way it looks in my gym!

You can download the graphics package for this mural in the Shop!

Build Five: Swarm Tag

Our last quick discussion revolves around one of the most important words (/Larry MacDonald “Greatest Hits Hall of Fame” inductee) that you will ever hear in my gym:

Yeti Poster Physical Education
The Yeti Poster is available for purchase in the Shop!

It is not uncommon for students to find themselves having a hard time with new skills/tactics/understandings in class. In those situations, rather than just give up and get down on themselves, I want my students to put their growth mindsets into action by using the power of “YET” (e.g. “I can’t do this… yet”, “I don’t know that… yet”, “I’m not able… yet”).

Although I’ve referred to the Yeti Poster to the point where my students kind of laugh and roll their eyes, I know that it has stuck with them. Between my grade one students chanting “I can’t do this yet” as they dribble around cones to my grade six students showing me their latest goal in jump roping (“I’ve almost got it, just not yet”), I have no doubt that the conversations that have sparked around the word “YET” have had an impact on my students’ mindsets both inside and outside of PE.

Through all of the discussions we have during Flag Tag, my students started to better understand how they are in charge of their own learning and were exposed to strategies they can use to get the most out of every lesson.

Now it is time for them to put some of these strategies and understandings into practice!

Physical Education Juggling Skills

I love teaching students how to juggle. Juggling is one of those activities that really allows students to practice persistence and develop a growth mindset in class.

To wrap up this third lesson of the school year, I will use juggling to help introduce some of the assessment tools we use in class and allow students to put some of the strategies from the Habits of Successful Learners Mural into practice. That said, I let them know that I am purposefully setting them up for failure by giving them a challenge that (I consider to be) too great to overcome in only a third of a lesson. I let them know that this is done on purpose because we are learning about learning, and learning is a journey.

From there, I’ll go over our Learning Roadmaps and the language for each category (I’ve blogged about the Learning Roadmaps before, so be sure to check that post out for all of the information you need!)

Juggling Learning Roadmap

I’ll then provide the descriptors for each level in the juggling challenge before sharing the following images on the TV screen:

My grade three and grade six students will be practicing juggling with beanbags. The image above is just a presentation slide in which I included animated gifs that I got from the Library of Juggling website.

Physical Education Scarf Juggling Levels

My grade one and two students will be practicing juggling with scarves. Just like the previous image, the image above is a presentation slide in which I included animated gifs that I bought from Ben Pirillo’s awesome Animate Gif Store. Ben’s work is awesome and saved me a bunch of time, so make sure to go support him! (side note: I only left the animation running on one of the gifs in the above slide in order to protect Ben’s work. When I had it playing in my gym, they were all animated at the same time)

In both cases, I broke the skills down into smaller “levels” in order to make the challenge more manageable for them. This strategy is also part of the Habits of Successful Learners Mural (“break big challenges down into smaller tasks”).

While my students explore juggling, I will walk around the gym providing them with specific feedback. I’ll ask them about their current goal, how they are challenging themselves and what they need help with. Using Coach’s Eye, I’ll also record one or two students’ juggling. I’ll then invite the class to come sit by the TV so that we can analyze the juggling videos together.

The purpose of this discussion is to help students understand the power of feedback and to help students visualize the critical elements of the juggling cascade pattern. From there, I’ll invite the students to take notice that there is only one of me and many of them! That said, as hard as I can try to do so, it can be difficult for me to get around to every student and give them all of the attention and feedback that they need in order to make good progress towards their goals. This is when I introduce the Mini-Coaching system to my students (my take on peer assessment):

I’ll display the Mini-Coach squad pairings up on the TV and invite students to go work with their partner (side note: my older students aren’t paired by me for this lesson, they just pick a partner). Once in their pairs, students take turns being mini-coaches: one student juggles while the other student “coaches” them. I’ll teach the mini-coaches to do the following things in order to make sure that they are helping their “athlete” as much as possible:

  1. Ask your athlete what their goal is.
  2. Ask your athlete what they would like help with.
  3. Pay close attention while your athlete juggles.
  4. Let your athlete know one thing that they are doing well.
  5. Give your athlete 1-2 tips to help them improve their juggling.

As the Mini-Coach pairs continue to work, I’ll call a few groups over at a time to show them how to use our Plickers Assessment Magnets.

You can learn all about these Plickers Assessment Magnets and access the free download in this blog post.

Although most of my students remember these from last year, I still go through the process quickly to help them use their magnets properly:

  1. Find your Plickers number using the Plickers number poster.
  2. Find your magnet by looking at the numbers on each side of the magnet.
  3. Reflect on where you are currently at in your learning journey.
  4. Place your magnet under the proper level, making sure that your magnet is positioned so that the text on the top part of the magnet matches the text on the learning level.

Once they have placed their magnets, the Mini-Coach pairs go back and continue working on their juggling.

After the last students have been introduced to the Plickers Assessment Magnets, reflected on their learning, and placed their assessment magnets on the whiteboard, I’ll then ask all of the students to place the equipment away properly (“responsibility means everyone doing their part”) and have them come sit by the whiteboard.

We will have a quick discussion on why it is important to be honest about where we are at in our learning (“if we are unrealistic about where we are, we can’t realistically know where we can go!”) and reflect on the fact that learning is about the journey, not the destination. What is important isn’t that you made it all the way to “Wow!”, what’s important is that you challenged yourself, worked hard, buckled down when/if things got tough, and kept moving forward. Even if you started class at barely “Getting There” and ended the class at definitely “Getting There”, that is still something that should be celebrated! Basically, this discussion is used to tie in all of those Habits of Successful Learners into the learning experience that just took place in class.

As a final activity, I’ll show my students how to get their Plickers cards from the wall (see below).

I’ll then go over how to use the Plickers cards themselves (we use both the Plickers Assessment Magnets and Plickers Cards in class throughout the year).

I prepared a few dummy questions just to make sure that the students know how to use the cards properly. The purpose of this is to make sure that all of my students know how to properly use the Plickers cards. Since the app lets me know if anyone got the answer wrong, I can tell right away who is having difficulty using the cards.

Plickers Practice Questions

Once I’ve scanned the class’ answers and have made sure that the students know how to properly use their cards, I’ll have the students place their cards back on the wall (by squad colour for the younger grades or by Plickers number for the older grades).

Finally, I’ll have the students share a few things that they are grateful for that day, I’ll let them know how grateful I am that I get to be their teacher this year, and I’ll send them on their way!

So that’s how I start my school year! I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog post mini-series! If you haven’t done so yet, be sure to check out Part One and Part Two of this series to see how the whole thing comes together.

As always, thank you 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 ThePhysicalEducator.com.
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