What Learning Opportunities Are You Creating For Your Students?

Adam Howell is a Physical Education teacher currently teaching in Hood River, Oregon. He is the founder of PHYSEDagogy, an awesome blog that explores modern #PhysEd with teacher spotlights, vodcasts, blogging, and discussion. Adam is also a regular #pechat moderator, leading the PST portion of the chat . After reading some of his very interesting tweets on how to create student learning opportunities during a recent #pechat, I asked him if he would be interested in elaborating on his thoughts in a guest post. As usual, Adam didn’t disappoint.

I am an avid professional reader. Over the last few months, nothing has resonated with me more than Closing the Teaching Gap by Don Bartalo (2012). One aspect of the book that has struck me is a new conception of teaching he advocates for: creating better learning opportunities for students. In other words, it is not about what teachers do, but by learning opportunities created. The essential question behind this concept is, do the learning opportunities you give students match how you believe that students learn best?

So how do you believe students learn best?

Forget teaching methods for a minute, because there are many different teaching methods that are effective (a great read on this would be Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning by John Hattie and a good summarization blog post on some of his work by Grant Wiggins . Bartalo suggests the following exercise. Go through the following list and pick out what you feel are the 3 most important beliefs that should guide learning in every classroom regardless of teaching methods used (I couldn’t pick 3, so I picked 5) and then write them down.

Here is the list he provides:

  • Learner perceptions must be addressed directly. Understand what students are thinking, especially when beginning a new topic or unit.
  • Learners must be given the opportunity to connect current knowledge with new learning. Build on what students know and can do.
  • Factual information must be organized around key concepts and not learned in isolation. This promotes understanding.
  • Young learners need to be immersed in all kinds of texts, fiction and nonfiction.
  • Learners need time and opportunity to practice, use, and apply what they have learned. Mistakes and approximations are a part of learning.
  • Learners must receive feedback from more knowledgeable others. It must be timely and specific.
  • Learners need to be working for a purpose and not ritual compliance such as copying notes. True engagement means students are involved in their work and try hard.
  • To become self-directed learners, students must learn to monitor and adjust their approaches to learning.
  • Other (e.g., learners need to take notes and listen during lectures).

So what did you choose? My list came out like this:

Purpose: Asking the question why? Building commitment to the task, not compliance.
Relevancy: Activating prior knowledge, connecting learning to new understandings.
Modeling: Examples and Exemplars.
Practice: Multiple opportunities to practice. Culture where failing is ok and risk taking is admired. FAIL: Frequent Attempts In Learning
Feedback: Timely and specific. Focusing on the process.

Once I did this, I had to ask the question, am I doing this in my teaching? The answer? Sometimes. That’s the point Bartalo continually makes. The key to providing better learning opportunities for students is by taking what we know through research and putting it into practice. As he states regarding many of our current practices, “Classroom after classroom is dominated by inactive student passengers with an active teacher driver doing most of the thinking. We know, but we do not do” (p. 49).

I feel it is especially important to keep your beliefs about how students learn best at the conscious level. Especially, when we are at a time in the Physical Education community where there are several different philosophies emerging about, “What does quality Physical Education look like?”

For example:

  • Physical Education vs. Physical Activity
  • Physical Education that is skill based, focusing on building competence to increase likelihood of lifelong activity
  • Physical Education that should be based on high levels of MVPA, a support class for learning in other content areas. The “New PE”
  • The TGfU approach that focuses on strategies and tactics
  • Inquiry Learning within the #PhysEd classroom
  • Focusing on the importance of student voice, student choice, and autonomy
  • Sport Ed and Cooperative Learning

Before choosing a teaching method for your students, go back to your beliefs about learning. Create student learning opportunities from how you believe that students learn best. Put a mirror on your own practice. As Bartalo also states, “An in-depth knowledge of teaching surpasses anything that can be achieved by implementing someone else’s ideas” (p. 21).

What are your beliefs about how students learn best? Are you creating learning opportunities that your students deserve?

For more great insight from Adam, be sure to connect with him via Twitter, his PHYSEDagogy blog, and his 2013 #PhysEd Awards nominated YouTube Channel.


Joey Feith is the founder of Having taught elementary physical education for 10 years, Joey is now focused on helping physical educators grow their confidence and competence as teachers.