Teaching With Intention

Teaching With Intention

These are the show notes for my latest episode of The #PhysEd Show Podcast. That’s right: another episode! The great podcast drought is over and the floodgates are open in 2020! Not one, but TWO podcast episodes this year and we’re still in January! 🔥

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Show Notes

Let’s start these notes off with some real talk to get things going here:

There’s a lot of talk about how we get physical education to be perceived as being on an equal footing with other subjects that are deemed as being “more academic” than PE. Here’s a wild idea: how about we just focus on being great teachers. Not brain boosters, not movement masters, not emotional experts… just great freaking teachers.

Good teaching is good teaching. The evidence-based principles that serve as the foundation of effective instruction are just as true in a gymnasium as they are in a classroom. By focusing on how to adopt those proven practices in our own teaching, we develop pedagogical skills that put us at the same table as every other teacher in the building.

This whole “my subject is more important than yours” is hot garbage. Unless we adopt a common language, stop working in silos, and recognize that we’re all just working on different facets of the same gems (our students) then we’ll never be able to say that our schools are truly serving kids.

Anywho, all that to say that as physical educators we need to start thinking and acting as teachers first. Until we establish ourselves as educators at the table, our greatest achievements will forever be seen as the best acts at the sideshow. That’s just truth talk. Don’t believe me? Tell me why there aren’t any math teachers being replaced by Fitbits.

So, that was a rant and a half. How about I stop whining about problems and start focusing on solutions. I agree, onwards!

Let’s get into one of those universal best practices in teaching: how to present new learning.

Every teacher has long-term, medium-term, and short-term goals for their students. As a PE teacher, my long-term goal is to help my students continue to develop into good people who have the skills, knowledge, and understandings they’ll need to competently and confidently engage in physical activity that brings joy and meaning to their lives.

I have to work towards that goal despite knowing that I may never see it fully realized. As the Greek proverb goes “a society grows great when old citizens plant seeds of trees whose shade they know they’ll never sit in”. Even though I know I’ll never sit under those trees, I still have to spend today planting those seeds. That’s where the medium and short-term goals come into play.

My medium-term goal is to help my students develop competency in areas that have been identified as essential to physical literacy. In my case, I’ve adopted SHAPE America’s National Standards and Grade-Level Outcomes and have built my program around those. Each term, what I’m doing is trying to help my students develop proficiency in each of SHAPE’s five standards by designing learning experiences that are built around a collection of grade-level outcomes from each one of those standards.

In the short-term – that means at the lesson level – my goal is to help my students learn and make progress towards those essential skills, knowledge, and understandings that are packed into each outcome. My goal is to teach for learning.

To be a teacher is to support another human being as they go from a place where they can’t do, don’t know, or don’t get something to a place where they can do, do know, and definitely understand that same thing. That whole process – from the teacher side to the learner side – requires intentional, purposeful effort. And that effort starts with establishing clear targets for the day’s learning.

I spend an unhealthy amount of time on Twitter and I see a lot of things being shared there. One of my biggest pet peeves is instances where it’s pretty obvious that – at best – learning is happening collaterally. You ask a teacher “what are your students learning in this game” and they’ll respond with “they’re learning about X”.

Ok… how do you know that? And what specific thing about X are they learning? How has that intention been presented to the students? How do you all – both you as the teacher and them as the learners – know if that learning is actually taking place?

The answer to all of those questions can easily be shared if learning targets were made clear in the lesson.

Learning targets are at the heart of intentional, effective learning experiences. Without them, students can’t know where they are going. If they don’t know where they are going, they for sure can’t evaluate where they are at. And if they don’t know where they stand in their journey as learners, how can they figure out how to close the gap?

I’ve spent the better part of two years exploring learning targets as part of the in-house professional development at my school. I’m still learning a LOT about them, but I’m pretty confident that I’m on the right track.

So what I would like to do now is break down how I make learning targets a central part of every lesson I plan and teach.

What, Why, & How

All of this started when I stumbled upon an amazing video from the even more amazing Terri Drain. A few years back, Terri shared a video in which she broke down how to plan a standards-based lesson.

In her video, she shows us how she starts her lesson off with WWH: the What, Why, and How? In other words,

  • 💡 What are we learning?
  • 🎯 Why are we learning it?
  • 🔍 How will I know I have learned it?

I adopted this system in my teaching and made some graphics for each component of it. You may have seen those graphics bouncing around on social media in posts from fellow teachers.

Download The What, Why, How Graphics

Listen, I’m super pumped that the graphics helped popularize the system Terri shared. That said, I see a lot of examples showing varying degrees of understanding in regards to how to use WWH in your teaching and my own use of the system has evolved as I’ve continued to learn and grow as a teacher, so I thought I could go over it again here to share where I’m at.

The What

Ok, let’s start with the WHAT.

The “What” represents the main theme of the lesson’s learning. It answers the student question “what are we doing today” (which in an ideal world would be “what are the learning today?”)

The focus of the “What” should be on the learning, not the doing. For example, instead of answering the question “What are we learning today” with “We’re learning how to play Prairie Dog Pickoff”, a properly formulated “What” should answer with “We’re learning how to reduce space on defence in invasion games”.

The “What” doesn’t need to be super specific, but it should be clear enough that it sets a tone and intention for the learning that will take place in the lesson.

The Why

The “Why” helps students find meaning in the learning that they are about to undertake.

I was recently in a learning targets workshop with Megan Webster (who really needs to get on Twitter) in which she presented the idea of “every lesson having a reason for living“. The “Why” should be what your students perceive as the lesson’s reason for living.

Essentially, the “Why” connects today’s short-term work to your program’s long-term goals. In my teaching, my students know that physical education exists to help them live a life full of adventure. I try to have each lesson’s “Why” connect back to that.

Here are some tips that I’ve learned from experience on how to write “Why” statements that matter:

Make It About Them

First off, your lesson’s “Why” should always be written from the students’ perspective. How is today’s learning going to benefit THEIR lives, not make YOUR job easier. The lesson, just like every lesson, has to be about them.

Not sure how to write that way? Ask the kids! Have them do walks & talks or think-pair-shares. Let them reflect on how the lesson’s learning can help them live a healthy, fun, exciting life. Have them come back and share their thoughts as you capture it all on your whiteboard.

Make It Meaningful

Another thing I’ve been testing out when it comes to writing my lesson’s “Why” statements is to keep in mind the features of meaningful experiences in physical education.

I was introduced to these features by Doug Gleddie a few years back while we were hosting a #pechat on meaningful physical education (check out the summary of that chat in the resources section below). If you don’t know much about the features, I’d really recommend meaningful.wordpress.com which is the home base of the Learning About Meaningful Physical Education research project.

In a nutshell, the framework breaks meaningful PE experiences down into five key features:

  • Personally-relevant learning
  • Fun
  • Social Interaction
  • Motor Competence
  • Challenge

As I write my “Why” statements, I try to think about how I can include elements of this framework into the text. Not just for today’s lesson, but for in the long-term. For example, in a target games unit I may say something like “golf is the most played sport in Canada. It’s something that can continue to challenge you throughout your lifetime and the game provides you with all kinds of opportunities to spend time with friends”.

I’m still learning about how to use the framework to intentionally design meaningful experiences for my students, but I have found that it has already provided me with both language and guidance when it comes to writing my “Why” statements.

The How

Alright, moving along here, let’s talk about the last piece of this system: the “How”.

The “How” establishes the lessons learning targets. These targets not only set the learning intention for the lesson, but they also determine what progress will be measured against throughout the lesson. In other words, the learning targets will help determine whether or not a lesson was effective.

Now I did a whole vlog on student learning targets in physical education so I’m not going to go super deep on them here. Watch the video above and check out that episode’s show notes for more detailed information on effective learning targets. That said, learning targets have four key features that you’ll want to keep in mind as you write them.

First of all, they need to be anchored in the standards and outcomes. As you go through the process of unpacking standards and outcomes, you’ll discover the skills, knowledge and understandings that make them up. It’s based on that content that you will then be able to write learning targets that are aligned to the standards.

Second, learning targets are written in student-friendly language. Remember that when you are looking at curriculum documents, what your seeing is language that was written for you: the teacher.

Your job is to read through that language, digest it, and then rewrite it in language that will be accessible to your students. To use an expression that you are sure to never forget for the rest of your life: you have to feed them like a bird. You’re very welcome. 🐦

The third feature of effective learning targets is that they are focused on learning, not doing. For example, you don’t want to write something like “I can complete a self-assessment sheet that focuses on my dribbling”. That’s not a learning target: that’s a to-do item. Instead, the target should be written along the lines of “I can reflect on my dribbling and identify one thing I can do to improve my skill level”. By focusing on the learning side of things you’re helping set the tone for learning in your lesson all while keeping students focused on the intention of your lesson.

The fourth and final feature of effective learning targets is that they should be lesson-sized. In other words, the target should be designed to be able to take a student from 0-100% within the timeframe of your lesson.

When we had our faculty PD on this the other day, a lot of teachers were getting hung up on the idea of planning for that 0% side. The reality is that you probably won’t get a lot of kids starting at 0% because every kid is coming into your lesson with some degree of experience. However, planning to go from 0-100% within your lesson will encourage you do go so much deeper in your understanding of the content you are about to present. Doing so will give you such a boost in confidence when it comes to delivering your lesson and will prepare you for – almost – anything your students throw at you in terms of their learning. I had a kid accidentally bite another kid in the face the other day, so you never really know what’s around the corner in your lesson, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be trying your best to be ready for it!

The last thing I’ll say about the “How” is that my learning targets usually get pulled from my Learning Roadmap.

If you check out my blog post on Meaningful Grades in #PhysEd, you’ll see that I create my Learning Roadmaps – the qualitative rubrics at the heart of my assessment efforts – by identifying three student look-fors (i.e. evidence of learning) per unit-level learning goal. I strive to select one look-for that focuses on skill or performance, one that focuses on knowledge, and one that focuses on understanding.

I do this to ensure that my assessment goes beyond the observable skill level and rewards students who may not be able to perform a skill proficiently yet… but who are definitely deepening their understanding of how or when to perform that skill.

I typically write those look-fors in “I can” statements as I find that:

  • It makes the roadmap really accessible to the students
  • It makes it so much easier for me to come up with learning targets that are perfectly aligned to my assessment rubrics.

I’m thinking of doing a whole video on how I design my new Learning Roadmaps, but I figured it was worth mentioning how all of this – the standards, the rubrics, the learning targets – are designed to be aligned with one another.

What, Why, & How In Action

So that’s how I prep the What/Why/How of my lessons. In terms of management and delivery, I’ve developed a few tricks over the years.

Just like I do with the games I use in my lessons, I’ll normally layer the WWH introduction to go along with the first couple of activities or builds in my lesson plan. I’ll usually drop the What as I pick the kids up in class before we get into our instant activity in the gym. After that, we’ll go over and discuss the Why of the lesson. Depending how long that takes, I’ll either introduce the How then or have the students experience the first build of the game. If I go that route, I’ll frame the why as a solution to challenges students faced while playing. For example, if in the first build students are playing a game where they have to throw a ball to knock over a target, then I might follow that build up with the question “what makes it hard to hit a target when throwing a ball?” From there, I’ll introduce the learning targets that are along the lines of “I can follow through as I perform the overhand throw” or “I can turn my body sideways to my target before I throw” which will be presented as solutions for throwing with more accuracy and power.

Now one of the biggest obstacles I had when it came to consistently starting lessons off with a WWH discussion was that I always found myself having to erase one class’ WWH and rewrite the next class’ which may have a completely different focus. I use my whiteboard a lot for visuals and stuff as I teach, so I didn’t have to fill the whole thing up with seven grades’ worth of WWH statements.

The solution I eventually landed on was to get three pocket sleeves and hang one up under each of my WWH graphics.

On my computer, I made a simple letter-sized sheet template for each of the WWH components. Then, I created a Keynote document in which I would keep all of my WWH sheets. I organized the document by grouping slides together. Here’s what it looks like:

When I open the document, all I see is four slides: one for each grade I teach. Each slide is designed to be letter-sized and slide acts as a folder by having other slides grouped under it. When I expand a grades’ parent slide, I’m presented with a whole lot of other slides underneath it. Each of those slides is titled with a unit name, so there’s one slide per unit I teach in that grade. The unit slides also have slides grouped within them. By expanding a unit slide, I’ll find all of the WWH sheets for each lesson within that unit.

This organization system makes it really easy for me to find my WWH sheets, to edit them if need be, and to leave note (via speaker notes) for next year. Having the slides be designed to be letter-sized also makes it super easy to just print them out and have them look great once printed.

Ok, so back to the pocket sleeves. Once I have my WWH sheets printed for the lessons I’ll be teaching that day/week, I just slide them all into the appropriate pocket sleeve. That way, all I have to do between lessons is pull out the sheets from each pocket sleeve find the right WWH for that lesson and then put them back into the pocket sleeves with the appropriate sheets on top. This saves me SO much time by not having to handwrite my WWH only to have to erase them and restart for the next lesson.


So that’s how I use the WWH system to bring purpose, meaning, and focus to my lessons. The whole process just brings a sense of clarity to everything we do in class and helps ensure that there is alignment between what we are doing today – in the short-term – and what our long-term goals are.

Making learning targets a core aspect of your teaching may seem simple, but it takes time to get the process right. That being said, there’s no better way to learn that to just get doing, so I really hope this episode has given you the boost you need to confidently get going with learning targets in your teaching. I promise you: it will change the way you teach.

As I said before: everybody’s always talking about how we raise the public’s perception of PE. How about we just try to be excellent teachers. Our content is important, our work is essential: let’s not grab onto fads or play other people’s games: let’s focus on teaching, helping students learn, and be so good that they can’t ignore us.

So that’s it for the show notes! I hope you enjoyed this episode of The #PhysEd Show Podcast. If you did, I’d so appreciate you taking the time to go rate the show in Apple Podcast or wherever you get your podcasts from. Recommending the show to a colleague also goes a long way in terms of helping this thing grow.

Happy Teaching!


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