Align Lessons with National Physical Education Standards

There’s a trend in recent years within the physical education community that flips traditional P.E. teaching on its head…it’s called “Standards Based Instruction.”  You may also hear it referred to as “Standards Based Learning” or “Standards Based Instructional Design.”  Whether you’re familiar with this teaching approach or not, it is my hope that this blog post will help shed some light on how I approach aligning my lessons with the national physical education standards, along with some resources to reference if you’re interested in learning more.  Before we jump in, let me go on record and say that I am, in no way, an “expert” on this topic, but what I have learned from others has helped me deepen my own understanding and I’d like to pass that on to you.

The Standard Based Instruction Continuum

I’ve found that much like anything else, there is a continuum upon which teachers find themselves when it comes to Standards Based Instruction.  At one end of the continuum, believe it or not, are teachers who don’t even know that our profession HAS national standards, let alone the instructional process by which one would align their lessons with them.  And that, in and of itself, is a real problem.  There are dozens of reasons why this reality exists, and while I’d love to address this deficiency within our profession directly, this blog would quickly stray from its intended purpose.  So, let’s stay focused and say that at the other end of the continuum are the teachers who are implementing the full standards based instructional process on a regular basis within their teaching.

Now for everyone else (myself included) we find ourselves somewhere in the middle – we know that SHAPE America has national physical education standards; many of us know that those standards are broken down into what are referred to as “grade level outcomes” or GLOs; and some even are aware that assessments should be created/implemented that align to the standard/GLO; and that finally, learning experiences (i.e. lessons, activities, games, etc.) should all help lead the learner back to the intended purpose of the standard/GLO.

Effectively Align Lessons with National Standards

Okay, let me stop right here and go back on the record and state that this process that I just described is NOT easy to implement the first time you try.  In fact, it is HARD WORK…a LOT of hard work.  It takes time and you’re going to make mistakes along the way because learning is messy.  So, if you’re reading this blog in hopes of finding a shortcut, simple hack or magic method…Spoiler Alert…there isn’t one.  The silver lining here is that I’m going to describe the way I approach SBI in my teaching and also include some great resources I’ve gathered that will help guide you in the process of being able to effectively align your lessons with the National Standards, so let’s get started.

SHAPE America’s Grade Level Outcomes for K-12 Physical Education

When I’m planning out my year with my curriculum map, scope & sequence, unit planner, or whatever you want to call it, I start off with a copy of this document on my desk SHAPE America’s Grade Level Outcomes for K-12 Physical Education.  I use this as a guide so that I have a full understanding of which skills and concepts should be taught at which grade levels.  Just reading through the different outcomes within each grade level helps give me the “big picture” of what I need to cover.  That being said, there is NO WAY I can realistically fit every GLO into my teaching calendar, so don’t feel like you have to cover every single thing either.  It will be a “living” document that you’ll tweak multiple times throughout the year.

Again, use the GLOs to “guide” your teaching and focus your time on teaching the most significant skills/concepts you feel are important to help students maintain an active, healthy lifestyle and lead them toward the path of physical literacy.  Many educators refer to these as the “Power Standards” – the ones which get the most attention and cover multiple skills/concepts within your program.  While I can’t tell you what “your” particular power standards are (I believe that many things that are taught are specific to the geographical region in which you teach), I know that most states also have standards that may be of use in determining what you should be teaching.

Assess Student Learning

Once I am familiar with what I want my students to know and do, I determine ways to assess student learning (formatively—throughout the learning process and summative—at the end of the instructional unit).  These assessment pieces are necessary to provide students with feedback along the way and serve as a means for me to determine the pace at which I can continue to teach or perhaps go back and re-teach.  Now, I don’t have multiple assessments for everything I teach and to be honest, many of my assessments are based solely on my observation of student performance during activity.  So don’t beat yourself up if you don’t have a deep repertoire of assessments to choose from when designing your units of instruction just yet.  Start small and focus on one or two data points to collect that assess what the grade level outcome describes.

Create the Lessons

After I have a few assessments I want to implement, I finish by creating the actual lessons that I want to use with my students.  I search for activities, games, discussion topics, and multimedia/visual content, and then I decide where to insert the assessments I want to use.  If you’ve been teaching for any length of time, you know the planning doesn’t stop there.  You have to make sure you think through your “transitional times” to make sure they’re smooth, decide which equipment you’re going to use and how it is going to be utilized within your space, and take into account the switching between grade levels with little or no time in between classes (the joy of teaching K-5, right?)


At the end of the day, I reflect on what worked well, what I need to tweak, and what I want to scrap completely.  The important thing is that we are each moving in the direction of improving our teaching and ultimately benefitting students.  Remember, learning is messy and within that beautiful chaos comes some meaningful ah-ha moments, a few good laughs, a little trying of your patience, and a lifetime of beautiful memories.

Standard Based Instruction Resources

Now, that’s how I tackle Standards Based Instruction within my program, but it is not the only way to do it.  In fact, I reached out to several people within my #PhysEd #PLN (Professional Learning Network) via Twitter who helped contribute to this blog by providing resources and taking time to discuss this topic with me.  I’d like to thank Terri Drain, Wendy Jones, Rich Wiles, Becky Foellmer, Joey Feith, the folks behind Support Real Teachers Kevin Shephard & Dr. Cathrine Himberg, and all my friends in the SBI chat group on Voxer.  So, let’s take a look at what these well-respected educators within the #PhysEd community have to say about Aligning Lessons with National Standards…

  • Terri Drain (California), regarded by many as the innovator of Standards Based Instruction in #PhysEd, has created several resources to better explain the Standards Based Learning sequence. In this video, SBI Sequence on a Striking Skill, Terri shows the SBI process in action as she dissects a lesson from her own teaching.  In her video, How to Plan a Standards Based Lesson, Terri gives a 5-step process starting with how to unpack a standard all the way down to designing an actual lesson.  If you want access to the handout that accompanies this video, Terri has provided it here:  Handout on How to Plan a Standards Based Lesson.To help with selecting or creating appropriate assessments that align with the standard/GLO, it is imperative to look at the “verb(s)”.   Terri states, “Since alignment is all about the verb, I often look at the definition of the verb to make sure I’m on the right track. To help with this I made a list of verbs commonly used in the standards and their definitions…”  You can access that list here:  The Nature of the Evidence – Verbs  Finally, Terri suggests teachers check out the California PE Framework which contains lots of examples of how to use Standards Based Instruction in Phys. Ed.
  • Wendy Jones (California) provided a great PowerPoint slide show on Unpacking Grade Level Outcomes & Standards with specific examples for elementary, middle school, and high school levels. She also shared a session she did for the #ESPECHAT on Twitter on Standards Based Grading and how the Standards Based Instructional Design provides a clearer picture of what our students know, do, and think.
  • Rich Wiles (Maryland) teamed up with Judy Schmid (Florida) to create the PE Digital Library or PEDL. PEDL is a complete K-5 Physical Education resource with ready to use lessons, activities and assessments aligned with the National PE Standards and GLOs.  The content found in the PEDL is searchable by standard, grade, topic, or skill, making finding what you’re looking for easy.  All the content has been curated and linked to sources from Human Kinetics Publishing & SHAPE America.
  • Becky Foellmer (Illinois) shares a ton of fantastic content in a document she created called SHAPE National Standards Lesson Planning Resources. It is a collection of links and descriptions to a variety of resources she has come across that will assist teachers in finding the material they need to locate, plan and implement Standards Based Lessons.
  • Finally, Support Real Teachers has a great website where you can find lots of great information on just about anything Health/PE related. Some of the links you will want to check out  include Standards Based Units and also the Standards Based Grading piece upon which the standards based instructional process is assessed and reported to students & parents.


So, there you have it, a glimpse into how I approach aligning my own lessons with the national standards and a treasure trove of resource links to help deepen your understanding on the topic.  But don’t let your learning stop here.  I challenge you to take it a step further and take action by beginning (or expanding) your own personal journey with Standards Based Instruction!  The work you put into the process will not only help you become a better teacher, it will ultimately benefit your students.  Do it for them, they deserve it.  Don’t perpetuate the “traditional” PE programs of the past.  Give your students an experience that leaves them feeling confident in their abilities because they have the competence (in a variety of movement skills/contexts) required to participate in active pursuits for a lifetime.  The power is in your hands.

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