How Intentional Teaching Practices Can Build Student Motivation, Competence & Confidence in H&PE
This article is the second of a four-part series that takes a deep dive into different areas of research shown to be connected to effective curriculum implementation. Each article shares feedback from teachers, students, and education system leaders on what’s working, what’s needed and what’s next.
As an educator, you’ve likely seen it many times: when you embrace and build on students’ strengths and interests, something wonderful happens.
“They flourish,” says Dan Vigliatore, a K-6 Health & Physical Education (H&PE) teacher at Precious Blood Catholic School in Toronto and an Additional Qualifications Instructor at York University. “Intentional teaching involves H&PE teachers being purposeful and deliberate in our planning and actions with students. It’s about providing opportunities for deeper learning, supports for well-being and focusing on skills that affect students as they grow into adulthood,” he says.
Or, put another way, intentional teaching is about planning lessons and activities with specific students in mind. “Where are the learners at? What do they need?” explains Monica Moran, a K-12 Program Consultant with Hamilton Wentworth District School Board. “Intentional teaching is really about asking ourselves ‘why am I teaching what I’m teaching to this group at this time?’”
Engagement makes learning come alive.
According to Moran and Vigliatore, when it comes to intentional teaching, getting to know your learners is the logical first step.
This might be achieved through more formal approaches like student-interest surveys or group discussions but, in true H&PE fashion, whenever possible, Vigliatore likes to keep it active. “We play a game called Everybody’s It,” he says. “Any student can tag another, then a different student has to free them. Before they can be freed, the student has to say their name and their favourite colour or tell us what their favourite sport is.” Vigliatore then uses this information, along with his observations of how the students interact, to guide lessons and units that will engage his learners’ interests.
Meanwhile, Moran, boosts student engagement by providing options that will appeal to students with different temperaments, learning styles and abilities. “A lot of times, sports and activities honour kids who are extroverted,” she explains, by way of an example. To address this, Moran first sets up activities that give introverted learners time and space for individual practice, then helps them to develop social interactions by moving on to having students try similar skills in pairs and small groups. “I think the biggest key is to use an inclusive lens,” she says. “Students need to see themselves in the lesson.”
Introducing new equipment and letting students experiment with it can also be highly effective. “Sometimes we think of phys. ed as just soccer or basketball, but I’d say one of the best moments I ever had [in elementary H&PE] was using those little scooter boards,” recalls Taylor Dallin, a grade 12 student at Cardinal Carter Academy for the Arts in Toronto, and Operations Coordinator for OSTA-AECO, the largest official student stakeholder group in Ontario. “I liked having ways to experiment using different tools,” she says. “We’d always be trying something new to move across the gym.”
Social-emotional learning gets built in.
Aside from being a whole lot of fun, those scooter boards Dallin remembers had a lasting impact. “It taught us how to collaborate and solve a problem,” she says. “I feel like those kinds of activities engrained a solid set of skills in working with other people and understanding myself better as well.”
Vigliatore would agree. In fact, far from being an after-thought, social-emotional learning is built into intentional teaching at every step. And although the inclusion of these skills should always be deliberate, it doesn’t have to be complicated.
For example, he describes a lesson where young students are working on basketball skills. “Even though we’re breaking down a layup, we would also focus on how you wait your turn at the basket. We intentionally put that into the lesson. It’s important, because strong social-emotional skills can lead to positive moods, positive relationships and understanding the emotional state of others.”
Providing challenge & choice builds competence.
Another stand-out moment in H&PE for Dallin came in a grade 10 health unit when a teacher had students pick their own topics for a research project on nutrition. “I chose to look at the difference between hunger and appetite. I dove deep into that and learned a lot of things,” she says. What’s more, during the Q&A sessions that followed the presentations she remembers feeling further engaged as she heard other students’ opinions on her topic and shared her opinions on theirs. “I liked having the opportunity to discuss something I was passionate about,” she recalls.
“My philosophy is that one small change can change everything,” says Moran. To provide appropriate challenges, she often uses differentiated instruction to allow for student choice. For example, the gym gets divided using a grid method. One section of the grid could have students competing in a game three against two, while another might have a bounce rule to allow students more time to catch the ball, and so on.
“Kids will usually choose something that challenges but doesn’t frustrate them,” she says. “Then, to further advance the learning, I have them ask themselves “WH” questions. Things like, ‘Why are we doing this activity?’ ‘Where can you move to support your teammate?’ What can we do to make this game harder? Easier?’
As students become more comfortable and confident with one skill, they’ll be much more likely to succeed in the next—and to enjoy the process as they learn. “Start with simple forms of a skill to build self-efficacy,” advises Vigliatore. “Then move it along to set up activities that promote success.”
Teaching models can be powerful tools.
There are many teaching models (both H&PE-specific and more general) that can provide great jumping-off points for intentional teaching. These include Inquiry-based Learning, Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU) and Sport Education.
“In my career I’ve used a variety of models or parts of models, based on the kids in front of me,” says Moran. In TGfU, children work through tactical gameplay problems associated with a category of games (e.g., target games or net-wall games.) They think through options and skills and learn how to apply this learning to broader gameplay situations.1
In practice, it might look something like this: “When learning the skills involved in net-wall games like badminton, first we tried playing on a long narrow court. Then we played on a wide court,” says Moran. “After the students had experienced both, I asked them some questions and tailored my teaching to what they needed.”
Meanwhile, a model like Inquiry-based Learning might involve providing new equipment for students and letting them explore its possibilities. “For example, hula hoops,” says Vigliatore. “Who says you have to put it around your waist? You can do so many things. One kid might roll it. One will spin it. Another will jump in and out. They learn from watching one another, and then we talk about it.”
From there, Vigliatore can incorporate students’ discoveries into future lessons and even use them to foster leadership and communication skills. “I might say, Johnny did something really cool with the hoop the other day, and Julia did this. Then I can get them to show the class and teach part of a lesson.”
Whatever your level of experience, don’t be afraid to try something new!
However you choose to begin, aim to follow the same approach we set out for our students: start with the skills you’ve already got, build on your successes and don’t be afraid to make mistakes along the way. “We ask kids every day to try something new and not to be afraid to take risks,” Moran points out. “As educators, we have to be willing to do the same thing.”
Trying a new approach to intentional teaching can be as easy as sampling an aspect of a new-to-you teaching model or foregoing the typical format of a lecture or demonstration followed by game play and instead finding ways to let students work at their own pace and/or explore their own interests.
There are also plenty of resources available to help. “PHE Canada has an e-learning training on the different teaching models,” says Moran, “and Ophea’s H&PE Curriculum Resources provide questions to consider asking and ways to make activities safe and inclusive.”
“They’re very in-depth lesson plans that can help anyone,” agrees Vigliatore. “And PlaySport is another gem,” he adds. This online activity-based resource, developed by Ophea in partnership with Brock University, helps children and youth develop an understanding of and competency with skills and strategies associated with physical activities and a wide range of sports, using the TGfU approach.
“Make your learning needs-based and self-directed,” says Moran, “and don’t underestimate the value of teachers supporting teachers!” Just as we encourage our students to work together, sharing our successes and challenges with our peers can go a long way.
Today’s students are tomorrow’s healthy, active adults!
And if you need any extra motivation, keep in mind that the intentional teaching strategies you use today can have a lasting impact. Take it from a student about to graduate high school:
“My H&PE experiences in elementary school definitely helped me a lot. I still stay active and that teamwork side of me is still flowing,” says Dallin, who not only applies the social-emotional and physical & health literacy skills she learned in dance classes, but through drama activities and in her leadership role with OSTA-AECO. “It instilled in me that commitment to healthy active living, in and out of class. Even after the courses I took at school were over.”