Is there any activity in Physical Education more polarizing than dance? In my experience, it is the one activity that is as likely to be greeted by cheers as it is groans. At the end of a unit, students inevitably ask what unit is coming up next. When I told them that "next week, we will be dancing" the student responses followed an interesting, almost linear trend. In Grade 1 & 2, there was nearly unanimous excitement. In Grade 3, most students were excited while a much smaller portion seemed less enthused. However, in Grade 4 & 5, there was outright objection to dancing, as well as students who were eager to start right away. Certainly there are many factors that may influence one's attitude toward dance, or any activity. However, I was none the less interested in why there was such a major shift in student attitudes towards dance as they aged. While acknowledging that this may be simply a matter of chance, that the unique perceptions and experiences of each student in these classes just happened to result in what I viewed as a somewhat linear polarization of attitudes towards dance over time. Perhaps this pattern of changing perceptions is natural and would be observable in all activities, not just dance (dance just happened to be the first unit I've done at the same time across multiple grade levels).
My initial hypothesis was related to meaningful experience; that students in Grade 1-2 had no yet acquired enough experiences in dance (positive or otherwise), that the prospect still feels novel and exciting. Whereas the older Grade 4-5 students had perhaps accumulated enough experiences in dance, that in the case of the "anti-dancers" had been meaningless or detrimental. In a conversation with @ImSporticus he reminded me that students often become aware of their participation in comparison to others later in childhood. Perhaps the students in Grade 1-2 simply enjoy dancing because they perceive they are just as competent as their peers as long as they are trying hard. Whereas in Grade 4-5, as students begin to understand themselves in relation to others, students begin to realize that perhaps they are not as competent as their peers (despite their effort), and thus may deter a willingness to engage.
. Another theory is related identity formation. I've noticed during informal conversations with students, that students in Grade 4-5 often identify or describe each other based on an activity. For example, students often says " Student X is the parkour kid in the class" or the "gymnast" or the "artist". While very few students in Grade 3, and none in Grade 1 and 2 ever speak in those terms (to me at least). Are there ways that students identify themselves that are anti- or in opposition of an identity associated with dance?
To the point, alongside the curricular outcomes associated with these grade levels, what I aimed to do was:
1. Understand through a lens of meaningful physical education (MPE), why/how students had formed negative attitudes towards dance? If you're unfamiliar with the features of MPE. They h are below, as outlined by Beni et al (2017).
3. Do No Harm. Having followed some of the work of @coachnateb on Twitter, what I did not want to do, was further harm the relationship between students and dance. I did not want to 'force' a student to participate by leveraging their grade or any other form of threat such as calling parents. I wanted them to choose to participate on their own.
In the Beginning
At the beginning of the unit, I used the results of a survey to group students who had negative attitudes towards dance with those who had more positive perceptions for a small group discussion during which students shared what they respectively liked or disliked about dance. A reporter from the group shared out to the larger class. The opportunity to express themselves, the non-competitive environment and its uplifting nature were reasons cited for enjoying dance by the dance lovers. As this post is focused on engaging reluctant dancers, below is the list of responses as to why students did not like dance. In the sub-bullet, is a potential explanation related to the features of MPE in support of these statements.
Based on the information provided by students, I would take the following actions to attempt to address the reasons why students may dislike dance with the intent of creating a connection that would motivate students to dance. In reality, the strategies presented below were far more 'messy' during the unit.
1. Provocation - I still remember watching Andy Vasily's (@andyvasily) keynote during the first APPEC (now PHASE) conference in Hong Kong. Using the powerful story of Team Hoyt as an example, Andy shared an inspiring talk on the importance of emotionally engaging hooks to learning. If MPE is about emotional connection, this seemed like a strategy worth investing in. The video we watched was of the "Dancing Guy" who has appeared on numerous videos
2. Choreographed dance would involve group steps (during the chorus) and free dance during the verse.
Eventually we started building towards our final 'Dance Party' where I wanted to emphasize the following...
5. Personally relevant music would be selected
6. Students would have the opportunity to create their own dances
The Final Dance Party: As mentioned, I wanted the dance environment to represent one they are likely to encounter in their post-COVID future. Even if a student didn't love dance, I wanted them to be excited about attending the event. In addition to the previously mentioned disco ball, Amazon also had cheap glow sticks, with each student receiving one. During this dance party we played the songs we had learned choreographed dance moves to throughout the unit, as well as pre-mixed songs of their choosing.
This GIF was a big win. The student in the light pants who you see dancing/spinning around was one of my most reluctant dancers at the beginning of the unit. When creating his own dance to a clip of Eminem's - Lose Yourself, he said to me in private "I used to hate dance, but now I love it" ...you can't make this stuff up!
However, I can't claim that the strategies or approach I took were 100% successful. We did frame success as being personal for each individual. Success could be taking a risk, being brave or continuing to further their love and passion for dance. For the reluctant dancers, many took a risk and chose to dance, often with encouragement from a friend. While others would do so periodically depending on the song. Anecdotally, our Admin Assistant popped in to look through the gym doors and noted that she was impressed that so many students were dancing, citing the previous reluctance of some specific students. However, there was also one boy in Grade 5 that I couldn't get to engage, I couldn't negotiate with him, couldn't get him to dance to his favorite song and his reflection revealed little as to why he was so opposed to dancing. He helped record and give feedback, but wasn't interested in dancing himself. I chose not to pressure him into trying, and am comfortable in saying that at the very least - no further harm to his perception of dance was done.
At the end of the unit, students completed a "2 Stars, and 1 Wish" reflection, in which they identified two things they liked, and one thing they wished would have been different / included next time. Below is a summary of responses. There was likely some recency bias here, as the glow-stick/dance party was still fresh in their mind.
Overall, for my first time teaching dance to ES students, I was happy with the unit, and proud of the students who now have a more positive attitude towards dance. However, it was messy as lessons were adjusted each day pending my observations and conversations with students. Next time around would look to make it more coherent and as per the student request, incorporate more diverse genres of music. I guess in reality, not every student is going to have a positive connection to an activity (while no student should have a detrimental one) but I am left wondering about how I could have engaged the aforementioned reluctant student.
Finally, as a reluctant dancer myself, I would be remiss if I didn't thank my partner @missalberts11 who choreographed all the dances for me. Often dealing with my "this is too hard, teach me something easier" requests.
Stephanie Beni, Tim Fletcher & Déirdre Ní Chróinín (2017) Meaningful Experiences in Physical Education and Youth Sport: A Review of the Literature, Quest, 69:3, 291-312, DOI: 10.1080/00336297.2016.1224192
As kids around the world have sport opportunities taken away from them due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What I felt my ES students were struggling with most was not the loss of being physically active but rather the loss of belonging and/or identity that the activity has provided them.
In planning for an upcoming Floor Hockey unit, I wondered if it was possible to recreate this sense of belonging and team atmosphere in our physical education class. A decade ago, I recall spending time during my undergrad learning about Seidentop's Sport Education (SE) model. If you're unfamiliar with the SE model, essentially this model aims to give a complete representation of the sporting experience and the various roles that make it possible. Teams are formed, who have their own unique cheers, logos etc. and students perform roles such as coach, manager, trainer, scorekeeper, referee etc. in addition to their participant roles. While the SE model has not been one I've utilized frequently, over the past few years as I dug deeper into the features of meaningful phys-ed, the SE model was repeatedly referenced as having positive correlations with social interaction/belonging as well as fun/enjoyment. If you're interested in reading more about it, the Complete Guide to Sport Education is a great resource. It is worth noting that in this unit I had not remained entirely faithful to SE model but rather modified elements in consideration of my context.
In addition, as part of the Alberta Teaching Quality Standard (TQS), teachers must apply foundational knowledge of First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities to promote greater intercultural understanding and to acknowledge the strength and diversity of FNMI communities. Having taught the previous 8 years abroad, I had little understanding of how this is to be achieved (my perception is that it is commonly taught through a unit on FNMI Cultural Games or Dance).
Taking all of this into consideration, my goals were to utilize the Sport Education model to engage students in a 8 Week (18 x 35minute lessons) Floor Hockey unit in which students would consider how they could contribute to the sense of belonging of others as well as develop a greater understanding of First Nations communities.
To frame the unit, students would be competing for the Lacquette Cup, named after Brigette Lacquette - the first First Nations woman to compete for Canada's Women's Olympic Hockey Team. Bridgette grew up as a member of Cote First Nation, and as a young child participating in hockey was not always made to feel like she belonged as competitors would often make racially insensitive insults targeted towards her First Nation status. Through the encouragement of her father and her own persistence, Brigette continued to participate and went on to represent Canada at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. In addition, while I did not engage students in discussion related to the gender inequality that exists in hockey, between the PWHL, NWHL and NHL etc. some of my students have already begun to see hockey as an activity for boys. With this in mind, I hoped using Brigette's story as a focus for the unit would also provide students with an example of a strong female athlete and draw more attention to the women's game.
These lessons were devoted to 'fun' floor hockey related activities designed to give students as much skill practice as possible. This included variations of common games such as British Bulldog, Sharks & Minnows, King Pin etc. This also allowed me time to complete a baseline assessment of each students skill level so I could ensure teams were evenly matched later on. During this time, 'inclusion' and 'belonging' were introduced and defined with each class. At the end of this introductory phase, students shared how they felt they might be able to contribute to the belonging of others.
During these lessons, students participated in small sided games with an emphasis placed on contributing positively to the belonging of others as stated above. We used a variety of tactical challenges/constraints such as defenseman and forwards being restricted to their half of the court and talked about reliance upon teammates. This time was also devoted to introducing the class to Brigette Lacquette and the challenges she faced from competitors who tried to make her feel like hockey was not a sport for her.
The people of Cote First Nation were originally a group of Saulteaux people who settled in Saskatchewan near the Manitoba border. The Saulteaux are part of the Anishinnaabe culture who have 7 Sacred Teachings (love, humility, respect, courage, honesty, wisdom and truth) sometimes referred to as the 7 Grandfathers, which are to be applied in our daily lives. These 7 Teachings are also represented by animals, four of which, would serve as our teams for the Lacquette Cup. In their newly formed teams, students wrote on a handout how they could uphold the values of their animal during Floor Hockey (i.e. Buffaloes, how will you demonstrate respect throughout the tournament?)
During the next lesson, students determined the roles for their team, which were listed below.
These lessons were devoted to team skill-based practices 'Team Practices', where the stick-handling and passing coaches created drills for their teams (it was a lot of slow moving around pylons) and teams participated in exhibition games.
During this time we also discussed what is often referred to in many First Nations cultures as the 'Medicine Wheel', and the importance of the circle in promoting equality. During tribal councils it is tradition to sit in a circle formation to represent the equality of power. Often, an 'object of power' or 'talking stick' is used, so that only the person holding the object is permitted to speak while others are active listeners. This was the purpose of our logo designers. The puck they designed would serve as the object of power for the teams sharing circle. At the end of each game, students would gather in their sharing circle and either discuss the prompts shared on the board or share something else they were feeling at the time. In comparison to small group strategies I would normally use, I hoped the addition of the talking object would create a greater sense of belonging amongst the team, with participants feeling their voice was heard, as opposed to vocal / experienced students dominating the conversation.
Lessons 13 - 15 (Round Robin)
Students participated in a 4 Team Round Robin, playing one team each day. Prior to beginning the tournament, students created a team cheer that they would perform before the start of each game.
At the conclusion of each game as part of the sharing circle, students would complete an assessment relating to sportsmanship and inclusion.
Lesson 16-17 (Playoffs)
As we drew closer to the championship, students were becoming increasingly excited, eager but also nervous at the same time. Outside at recess one day, I found a student (right) who had brought his dad's coaching board to school and was laying out the 'winning' strategy for his teammates. However, a couple of their classroom teachers mentioned that a few students had a difficult time coping with losing. With this in mind, before the single-elimination playoff began we watched a clip from the gold medal game at the Pyeongchang Olympics (a game I was fortunate to be at). After winning gold for 4 consecutive Olympics, Canada goes to sudden-victory shootout against Team USA. I set the scene with a few slides and then clipped to together the video of the final shooters for both teams. Spoiler Alert - Canada loses. I found the Olympic footage from the game and clipped together the reactions of the Canadian players (upset, but respectful) and we had class discussion about how to lose gracefully and maintain composure in difficult situations. It was a timely lesson, as a couple of the semi-final match ups went to overtime, there were tears, but the students did maintain their composure and congratulated their opponents on the victory.
Eventually, the champions were crowned, and the students were excited about being able to keep a physical 'Lacquette' Cup (made of a tin cup from Dollarama with a base of 2 hockey pucks) in their classes.
The day after the championships concluded, students gathered in their last sharing circle and shared what they were proud of (as an individual or a team), memorable moments etc. We conclude with an 'All-Star' game, which was just random teams. We spoke about the spirit of the All-Star game as being non-competitive and a celebration of achievements. At the conclusion of the game, we reviewed what we had learned about inclusion and belonging and why we should never treat people the way Brigette was treated as a kid.
Of course, when there are notable events in professional sports, they often appear on Sportscenter. Using a green screen and some clips from the games, I put together a short Sportscenter video which was shared on the school-wide morning announcements.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, to ensure class cohorts do not mix during recess, our school divided our outdoor spaces into 4 recess zones. During supervision, I noticed that students seemed to lack activity ideas in the zones which had less play structures (Zone 3 & Zone 4 have playgrounds) and thus I decided to conduct a recess unit hoping to expand students movement opportunities during recess time. An additional COVID-related challenge was that students did not have access to the same amount of equipment they might have traditionally had at recess.
Taking all this into consideration, I planned to introduce skipping / jump rope as the first activity with the intention of aiding students in exploring 'just-right' challenge. Our school has dozens of skipping ropes, so we could afford for classes to have their own set to avoid sharing between cohorts, and every recess zone had a place to skip.
Over the first few lessons I used skipping challenges found on an the AppStore which were already categorized by level 1,2,3... etc. I started all students off at the green challenges as we discussed the importance of 'just-right' challenge and what it felt like using the goldi-locks metaphor. At the end of the class students made a selection from a hand sanitizer bottle which was labelled 3-2-1 to represent how difficult they found the challenge that day.
As students became more comfortable with skipping, I began differentiate the challenges and allowed students to choose each day.
Of course, Recess is a time that allows for considerable student autonomy and I wanted to honor that as we continued through the unit, while continuing to expose students to other recess options. Much to my surprise, students were not very familiar with 4-Square. Like Skipping, there was opportunities to play 4-Square in a variety of recess zones. For the next 4 lessons, students progressed through various four-square challenges at their own rate. We started with 2-square variations, and encouraged students to catch the ball if needed. We discussed how to play four-square competitively but provided students the option to play socially as well.
For the following few lessons, students now had a choice, similar to the choices they had at recess, four-square or skipping? Students were not confined to their choice, and often switched between skipping and 4-square challenges in the same class period. Regardless of the activities they chose, we continued to discuss optimal / just-right challenge as we went. Each student had a pre-assigned magnet with a number on it, and each class had their own colour. At the end of class students were asked to reflect on the question written on the bored and place their magnet.
The third (and final) recess activity that was introduced was 'wall-ball'. Some students were familiar with wall-ball but it was primarily a focus of students in Zone 2, where the wall was. In observing students at recess, I noticed that often students played 'whole class' or very large group games (12-15 students) and when a student was eliminated, they sat out for a long time. In the gym, the walls were divided into 7 different wall ball courts where we practiced some wall-ball lead up activities (small group, cooperative, modifications allowed). A few lessons later when it came time to choose (now) between skipping, four square or wall ball, I asked students playing wall-ball how it felt to be eliminated early from the game at recess? Not surprisingly students had a lot of negative feelings towards the experience. It was a simple transition into asking students to think of their own 'special' rule that allowed players to re-enter the game. Interestingly, each class came up with something slightly different, some added a tossing the ball into a basketball net as a 'revival' of all players, while others added a fitness component (i.e. 5 push ups and re-enter the game). At this time, we began to discuss how challenge was related to fun. As shown in the photo below (right) we placed fun on the vertical axis, with challenge on the horizontal axis. It appears that a number of students found less challenging activities more fun, which is perhaps not surprising as based on their responses they are associating the degree of challenge with their confidence in their own abilities.
At this point it seemed we had been using the magnets for a while and I wanted more qualitative information from the students. Towards the end of the unit, students wrote on a piece of paper which recess activity they found the most challenging and why. There was really no consistency in responses and students found each of the activities challenging for different reasons. However, I selected a few of the responses (anonymous to their peers), which described a challenge related to social interaction (i.e. a lack of inclusion or clarity on the rules). As a class we discussed the implications of those feelings for recess time and how we could mitigate them. Students described the importance of extending play invitations to their peers and many took on leadership roles to ensure joiners to the group were briefed on the rules (often times, I had no idea what modifications or rules students were playing by).
At the conclusion of the unit, students completed a video reflection (at a set up iPad station). Where they responded to questions of their choosing
Despite the allure of the snow, I was pleased to see that a number of students continued to skip (or at least attempt it) in the snow.