To help boost skills and increase opportunities for practice, writing assignments are starting to turn up in all kinds of courses -- but in physical education class? For sure! As kids jump, climb, and get fit, their instructors are using writing to help them focus on the goal of overall fitness. Learn how students can exercise their bodies and their writing skills all year through! Included: Recommendations for practical assignments that enhance physical education and writing goals.
"At Bellair Elementary School, we believe reading and writing in physical education is a great way to reinforce the reading and writing skills being taught in the classroom," Chris Knope told Education World. "Basically, it's about repetition of skills, and practice. Incorporating reading and writing in physical education allows students another opportunity to begin the process of mastering reading and writing skills."
As a coach and physical education instructor for grades 1-6, Knope often tells his Glendale (Arizona) students, "It's time to exercise our brains so we know why we exercise our bodies," when they encounter a writing or reading activity in their PE classes. Some of the assignments he gives are basic, such as word searches that introduce new vocabulary or fill-in-the-blank quizzes. Others -- like reading and summarizing newspaper articles that pertain to health and nutrition -- require more effort.
"I think writing in physical education class should be mandatory, but limited," Knope told Education World. "The role of a physical educator is to get the kids moving, burning calories, increasing heart rate, practicing both skill-related fitness and health-related fitness, and teaching them why that's important."
As instructors get the kids moving, however, Knope knows the kids aren't always focusing on the big picture, and he says writing about it helps. "It's easy to give a lecture, or to use closure at the end of the class period, but we all know that kids tune that stuff out," he said. "When they are given a reading and writing assignment, they can't tune it out. It's concrete, something they can see and touch."
GYM IS MORE THAN GYMNASTICS
"There is somewhat of a misconception that everything to be learned in physical education is performance-based," Dr. Edward H. Behrman explained. "In fact, if you look at the national standards, the overarching goal of physical education is to promote a healthy lifestyle, rather than current fitness. Many writing activities can contribute to the understanding of physical health and the development of lifelong habits."
An associate professor in the school of education at National University in Inglewood, California, and the author of the article "Writing in the Physical Education Class," Behrman argues that writing in any content area can help students learn the material. He believes that a creative or compelling writing assignment can motivate students to become more engaged in a topic, even physical education.
Behrman recommends taking advantage of students' natural interest in exploring and expressing their own thoughts. As an example, he cites the writing prompt, "What did you like best/least about the activity?" A student who appeared listless and not particularly engaged in the day's activity can suddenly become animated when given the opportunity to express his or her feelings and make suggestions about how the activity could be more fun.
"Writing also is an excellent way for both teacher and students to evaluate progress," Behrman adds. "For example, in a dance unit, a writing prompt such as, 'List the steps in the dance we learned today' will indicate immediately whether or not a student remembers the material."
WRITING ASSIGNMENTS: MAKE THEM FIT, MAKE THEM FUN
Behrman points out that the best writing assignment in physical education is one that is seamlessly integrated into the activity, not an additional, unrelated task. Making too much of writing in physical education can turn students off to it, but incorporating writing into authentic activities illustrates its place. Writing often is an integral part of an activity, such as when a runner keeps a training journal or a basketball player diagrams a play.
"In a softball unit, students might be asked to make a list of their strengths and areas that need improvement, with a reason for each," Behrman suggests. "Next, students develop a plan to improve, and then they keep a record of whether they acted upon the plan. It is essential to keep the writing fun."
While writing assignments given as homework can reinforce and extend what is learned in class, Behrman advises instructors to have students begin their written work during class time so they know exactly what is expected. Because some students won't do homework, he also reminds teachers not to create lessons that depend upon all students having completed the homework on their own.
Teachers who spend time on writing in physical education class also can help avoid the scoffs that might come with such a writing assignment. "Teachers can maintain a positive attitude toward writing by presenting themselves as writers," says Behrman. "If a teacher asks students to write a letter to the commissioner of baseball regarding baseball's steroid policy, the teacher should write a letter too."
Behrman's experience proves that there is no limit to the topics that lend themselves to writing, and the key to the success of the assignments is a solid introduction to each new type of written work. "If you are teaching students how to dribble a soccer ball, you first demonstrate the skill for them," he adds. "Likewise, for most writing assignments the teacher should first model how to write in that particular genre. It also is good to have a sample students can use as a guide."
Integrating the Craft of Writing into Physical Education
Read how teachers at Vincent Mauro Elementary School enriched their physical education classes through a six-week unit that incorporated writing.
Article by Cara Bafile
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