How to Maximize Student Confidence in PE

I have some strategies for helping students feel more competent and motivated in Physical Education.

Motivation is a topic that we often neglect in physical education, but I think it’s important.

There are several theories associated with motivation and physical activity and I think it gets kind of confusing. So in an attempt to take this theory of motivation into practice, I’ve created an acronym that I call P.R.A.I.S.E and praise stands for perceived competence, relatedness, autonomy, individuality, social support and enjoyment. In this podcast I’m going to focus on the P, which is perceived competence. As the term suggests, our goal in physical education is to foster perceived competence. That means the students believe they are competent. They don’t have to be good at the skill, but they have to believe they are good. This isn’t an everyone gets a trophy type of philosophy, but it is an everyone gets a chance to feel successful and competent and here’s how we can do that. If you take the idea of perceived competence, an underlying theme or necessary component is that the students feel successful.

So in physical education, I think we have to focus on success and one way to focus on success is the process and the process of the skill. The best example of this is really emphasizing the cues that we use in physical education and that’s what we focus our students’ success on. Most students will be able to do those cues, piecing them together into a mature pattern. It takes more time than more typically allotted in physical education. But if I focus on the cues, most kids for example, if I do throwing and my cues are T, elbow, step and throw. Most students can make a T, most students can bend their elbow. Most students can step and most students can follow through piecing in that altogether, maybe not, but they can experience success performing at least some of the cues.

Another component of helping students foster perceived competence is starting with an easiest task. This sounds pretty basic, but often we start with a bit more advanced and that helps the skilled kids. But the unskilled kids may struggle and remember we’re talking about perceived competence, so we have to have those kids that aren’t as skilled starting to feel successful and when you move into more advanced skills, what I typically say, or some of have argued as a good strategy is to say if you’re pretty comfortable with that part of the skill, let’s try this but if you’re not comfortable with that, keep trying that and keep that, that lets kids know that it’s okay to move on or it’s okay to stay right where you are. Another aspect of maximizing perceived competence is making sure students get lots of repetitions and refinement, the two R’s in physical education.

This has a lot to do with management and routines and protocol because if it takes you five minutes to get from one activity to the next, that’s time that students don’t get to repeat the skills and learn the skills. So your transitions are important, the amount of time you talk, designing activities that allow for more throwing or more engagement in the activity, more opportunities to compliment others. For example, throwing with kindergarten and first grade maybe throwing to the wall is better because when they throw to a partner it ends up being a lot of chasing, if students are at what we want students to communicate with partners, lots of activities and reiterating that so they get a chance to communicate nonstop with their partner and develop those skills. So it’s not just physical skills that we’re trying to get their perceived competence, it’s skills, communication and things like that.

Consider the physical characteristics, just an example – kindergarten, first grade, they typically have pretty big heads. So pushups and things and sit ups are a challenge. Changing bodies in secondary students when they start to hit puberty in 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th grade, their bodies are changing. So just considering those and how that relates to a student’s feelings of perceived competence.

Another strategy is modifying activities and games. We do this all the time and we’re really good at it. I think we need to keep watching and keep seeing are they experiencing success and if not, what is challenging? And maybe it’s the idea of them experiencing a challenge and overcoming that challenge. So success is an important part of this, but the success is overcoming a challenge, not necessarily performing a skill. So how we define success is also important.

Incorporating appropriate activities – obviously this probably goes not needed to be said, but developing developmentally appropriate activities, equipment, always watch and see is it working?

The last thing I want to talk about is providing meaningful feedback. We say good job a lot in physical education and I think we need to be more specific. Good job. I like the way you really planted that foot, or wow, your groups started one, two, ready, go – during a long rope lesson. That’s a great strategy for students to develop and it’s important that they see us giving specific feedback and hopefully they’ll eventually start giving specific feedback to peers when we start peer assessment and things of that nature. These are just a few strategies for helping motivate your students by fostering perceived competence. Give them a shot and see what you think.


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