Unpacking The National Standards: Backwards Design In #PhysEd
by Joey Feith
As some of you may know, there is a an awesome physical education podcast out there called the Global #PhysEd Voxcast. The show is hosted by Jorge Rodriguez, a physical educator from Texas and member of the PHYSEDagogy team.
I’ve had the privilege to meet Jorge a few times over the past couple of years and I follow all of the awesome work he does online. Because of it being so authentic and teacher-friendly, his podcast is one of my favourites to listen to. That’s why I was so honoured to be asked to return to his show (I had recorded an episode back in 2015) to talk about Standards-Based Instructional Design (which I prefer to call Backwards Design).
As honoured as I was to be asked to go back on the show, I knew that I couldn’t do it alone. I wanted my Standards-Based Instructional Design guru – my friend/fellow #pechat moderator Terri Drain – to be there with me, especially since Terri taught me everything I know on the topic.
Jorge loved the idea and the three of us went ahead and recorded the episode. I’m super pumped with how it turned out and have embedded it below in case you’d like to give it a listen.
Listening back to the episode, I realized that we reference a ton of content/resources during the conversation. I also realize that Standards-Based Instructional Design (SBID) is something that can be very intimidating to physical education teachers. However, I know that more and more teachers are being expected to show how their physical education program is being aligned to their state/provincial/national standards. I figured I should take a few minutes to share a few links to resources (mostly ones that were referenced in this podcast) that might help you get started in your own Backwards Design journey!
Throughout the podcast, you’ll hear the three of us refer to standards-based instructional design as “backwards design”. You might be wondering: “backwards from what?” The answer to that question is physical literacy.
There are a lot of definitions currently floating about out there for physical literacy (such as those created by UNESCO, PHE Canada, and Margaret Whitehead) but we will use the definition that SHAPE America endorses here:
OPHEA also does a fantastic job summing up physical literacy in their “Hands Up for Physical Literacy” video series:
Still not enough!? Click the image below to access a fantastic article on physical literacy by Dr. Dean Dudley:
SHAPE America’ National Standards & Grade Level Outcomes for K-12 Physical Education
SHAPE America provides physical educators with national standards and grade-level outcomes for K-12 physical education. These standards and outcomes “define what a student should know and be able to do as result of a highly effective physical education program“. Seeing that SHAPE America states that “the goal of physical education is to develop physically literate individuals who have the knowledge, skills and confidence to enjoy a lifetime of healthful physical activity“, I like to think of the national standards as indicators of what physical literacy would look like if you broke it down into five big pieces.
Consequently, each national standard’s grade-level outcomes could be viewed as the little pieces that make up that standard.
For whatever reason, I’ve always liked to think of this process like this:
Physical literacy is the set of dishes you need to serve any meal you desire. Each dish in that set is one of the national standards. If you smash one of the dishes on the ground, all of the little pieces could be viewed as the grade-level outcomes for that standard. If you glue all the pieces together, you get the dish. If you collect all the dishes, you have the set.
Don’t ask questions. Maybe I smashed one too many plates as a kid (accidentally, Mom, I swear!)
There are a few different ways you can access SHAPE America’s National Standards & Grade-Level Outcomes for K-12 Physical Education:
- You can buy the physical book which includes all kinds of information that will help you adopt a standards-based approach to your teaching.
- You can download SHAPE America’s free PDF which includes just the national standards and grade-level outcomes.
- If you’re looking for the national standards and grade-level outcomes in a spreadsheet format (which makes it way easier to copy/paste the text into your lesson plans), Team #PhysEd has got you covered!
Standards-Based Curriculum Mapping
I’ve blogged about the process I use to create my standards-based curriculum map before. Basically, the process goes as follows:
- Look through the grade-level outcomes for the youngest grade you teach and pair those that could easily be taught together into unit blocks.
- Look at the outcomes within any given unit block and determine which activity/theme would be best suited to help your students reach those outcomes.
- Estimate the total amount of lessons you will have with that grade throughout the school year and assign a number of lessons to each unit block until all of the lessons have been assigned.
- Create an annual calendar template and map out your unit blocks into that calendar.
- At the end of your school year, reflect on your curriculum map and make changes based off of your experience.
Like I said, you can get the full details (along with visuals) on this process by reading my #PhysEd Curriculum Mapping blog post.
In the podcast, Jorge asked an interesting question in regards to time restrictions certain teachers may be facing at their schools. For some teaching realities, trying to cover all of the grade-level outcomes within a school year may be impossible. In those situations, here is what I would suggest you do:
- If there is a grade-level outcome that you cannot cover within a school year, see if that outcome can be either mastered in an earlier year (e.g. mastered in grade 2 rather than grade 3) or introduced in a later year (e.g. introduced in grade 4 instead of grade 3).
- If you’re really crunched for time (and I know that some of you truly are), take a look at all of the grade-level outcomes for a given standard. Using the 80/20 principle, see if you can identify the main outcomes of the standard that will have the biggest impact in terms of the students developing proficiency towards that standard. Yes, this is a difficult compromise to make. However, at the end of the day, we need to make sure that we are maximizing the impact we can have on our students learning within the constraints we are given.
Standards-Based Instructional Design (Backwards Design)
This is the video that started it all for me. I found Terri’s video randomly one day while scrolling through Twitter (it had actually been tweeted out by Ken Dyar). Watching it helped me make so much sense of the process behind SBID. I had dabbled in backwards design in the past (I was calling it Purposeful #PhysEd), but it wasn’t until this video that I was able to really add structure to my planning process. The video is about 20 minutes long but I still consider those minutes to be among the most important I’ve spent online, so I really recommend you make the time to watch it!
In a nutshell, the entire process can be broken down into five steps:
Step One: Unpack The Grade-Level Outcome.
Do this by circling the action statement (usually a verb) in the outcome and underlining each piece of content. You then pair the action statement with each piece of content to create content blocks. From there, you break those content blocks down into smaller learning pieces.
Here’s a video demonstration of what this looks like in action:
I also go over this process in detail in the second part of the Great Unpacking blog post series.
Step Two: Determine The Evidence Of Learning.
Once you have your content broken down into small learning pieces, take a look at each learning piece and determine what evidence you would need to see in your students performance in order to know that they have mastered that learning objective.
Terri and I talk about this around the 30 minute mark in the podcast.
Step Three: Design/Select Assessment Tools.
Now you have to decide which tools would be best suited to collect the evidence of learning that you have identified. I’ll elaborate on this in the next section of this blog post.
Step Four: Design/Select Instructional Activities.
Reflect on which situations your students would need to find themselves in for them to have to apply the new skills, knowledge or understandings they are developing as they master the selected grade-level outcomes. With those situations in mind, select games/sports/activities that present those types of situations. Reflect on what modifications you could make to those activities in order to promote the likelihood of those ideal learning situations happening often enough to allow your students to engage in deliberate practice as much as possible.
Step Five: Plan The Learning Sequence & Lessons
Now that you know what you are teaching, what evidence you are looking for, which tools you will use to collect that evidence, and which activities your students will engage in so as to master their learning outcomes, you need to determine the order in which you will present the learning to your students and design the lessons that will help your students learn.
If you’d like to see this whole process in action, be sure to check out my Teacher Pack blog posts (I’ve published two so far: the podcast focused on my Chasing & Fleeing Games Unit and I’ve also published one on my International Dance Showcase Unit). In the posts, I share the entire backwards design process that goes into certain units from my curriculum. This includes everything from the unpacking process (see the graphic below), to the assessment tools I use, to the activities my students explored in order to acquire and put into practice new knowledge, skills and understandings.
When it comes to selecting the assessment tools you will be using to help collect evidence of your students learning, it’s important to know that the tool needs to be aligned to the evidence you are seeking (Terri and I talk about this at the 53:51 mark).
Once I have determined the evidence of learning that I will be looking for, I need to break that evidence down in a way that makes sense to my students. In other words, I need to help my students understand what mastery of the outcomes will look like.
To do this, I create Learning Roadmaps for my students, which are colourful, qualitative rubrics written in language that the students can understand.
Throughout my units, I will also use a variety of types of assessment that will help me collect the greatest amount of evidence possible. Doing so allows me to have the clearest picture as to where each of my students are at in their learning and what needs to be done to help them take their learning to the next level.
Peer-assessment is also present amongst the assessment tools in class. Although it has taken some time, I’ve been able to develop a good (I don’t want to call it strong just yet) class culture of peer-assessment using my Mini-Coaching system. Jorge brings up (at the 50:30 mark) one of the issues many P.E. teachers face when using peer-assessment in class: students not taking it seriously and the assessment being less effective than originally desired. Building a culture of thinking and learning in class takes time and involves having your student tie meaning to the process (which is not always an easy feat). That said, establishing an effective peer-assessment system in class allows you to ensure that each student is getting as much feedback as possible within your lesson which will help maximize learning.
One last thing: don’t ignore the important role that student reflection plays in learning, especially when using a standards-based approach. Getting students to reflect on a lessons outcomes by thinking about how those outcomes tie into the “bigger picture” of lifelong physical literacy development helps students tie meaning into what they are learning in class. Starting lessons off with a “What/Why/How” discussion can be a fantastic way to achieve this.
Standards-Based Activity Resources
Ok, so where can you find activities that can be tailored so that they are aligned to the standards?
Well, for one, I’ve been updating my games database in order to do a better job at sharing how I’ve used the different games you will find there to help my students master different grade-level outcomes (and I have a lot of new games on the way!)
If you’re not sure what OPEN is, be sure to read this blog post.
OPEN provides a TON of resources to help you include standards-based units in your physical education curriculum. All of the learning activities in OPEN’s modules clearly state which grade-level outcomes they are designed to help your students reach.
Aside from that, there are countless teachers on Twitter who are going out of their way to share amazing content that you can adapt or use as inspiration when it comes to selecting/designing standards-based instructional activities. A few you might want to check out are:
There are way too many people who are out there sharing incredible resources for me to be able to mention them all here. The best way for you to discover them all yourself is to learn how to use Twitter as a tool for ongoing professional development and start using it today!
Podcast Question List
“Could you talk a little about your teacher pack blog post series and why you decided to do that?” (5:45)
“Could you talk about how you set up your standards-based curriculum map?” (9:00)
“Could you talk a little about backwards design and what are some of the first steps involved in creating a backwards-designed unit?” (12:55)
“Could you talk about the standards you picked for this unit and why you picked those outcomes?” (14:50)
“What would be the next step in the unpacking process?” (17:03)
“Would you say that the learning pieces would be different from teacher to teacher (or environment to environment)? Do you purposefully increase in complexity with the learning pieces?” (22:03)
“Could you talk about what ‘determining the evidence of learning’ means and how to go about that?” (30:15)
“Would you suggest going back and adjusting the way you unpacked outcomes?” (37:48)
“Can you talk about the process of designing an assessment tool?” (40:42)
“Would you recommend multiple assessments going on within one class?” (44:33)
“How do you train your students to be able to do peer assessment?” (50:30)
“How do you decide what type of assessment tool you will use to assess any given learning piece?” (53:51)
“Can you talk about designing the learning activity?” (58:04)
“When designing the activities, are there any resources you could suggest to help guide listeners through the process?” (1:04:35)
“Would you consider student reflection as part of the learning loop?” (1:07:09)
Continuing The Conversation
If you’d like to learn more about standards-based instructional design (a.k.a. backwards design) in physical education, be sure to connect with Terri or myself on Twitter. Also, feel free to leave any questions in the comments below. I’ll get back to you as soon as possible!
Before I go, I just want to, again, say thank you to Jorge for having invited Terri and I onto the Global #PhysEd Voxcast for this episode. It was a ton of fun!
Thanks for reading and happy teaching!
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