Maximizing PE participation sounds like a no-brainer to me!
But, what are some of the effective strategies that can make that objective a reality in your physical education?
Based on best-practice research, students in physical education classes should be doing moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) at least 50 percent of the time. Simply put, if you have a 30-minute class, students should be in MVPA at least 15 minutes. This sounds like an easy task but many unmodified physical education activities fall well-short of this goal. Elimination games are at the top of that list. Other common offenders are traditional relay activities and large group games (like sideline soccer). The good news is that there are various ways to modify these activities to help increase MVPA for all students.
Elimination games, often tag games, are easily modified to ensure that all students are engaged. First, provide students who are out with a way to get back into the activity. Typically, we chose a physical fitness activity that students can complete to “earn” their way back into the game. Smart teachers will target areas of weakness that have been previously identified in physical fitness testing (i.e. – if students have consistently scored poorly on abdominal strength and endurance fitness tests, I always chose a “curl-up” challenge for the students to earn their way back into the game). Another forward thinking concept is to tier/differentiate the activities that the students perform to “earn” their way back into the activity (i.e. – we used to have three levels for our students (green-easy, yellow-medium, and red-hard) the activities that students could choose were similar in nature but either required more repetitions or slightly more difficult technique).
Relays can be adapted to reduce wait time to maximize student participation levels. One strategy is to limit the number of students in each relay line. The more students in a line the longer the wait time (i.e. – if there are 4 students in a line, the participation rate is only 25% which is well below the minimum standard). By have only two students on a team, you get that number to a more reasonable 50%. Another interesting concept is having more than one student from a relay team “go” at the same time. For this concept, we used colored flags to designate the students that could move. If working with larger groups (5 or more), we always used flags for half of the group or more (i.e. – for a group of 5, we would provide 3 similarly colored flags for each team). This concept takes a little bit of practice if it has never been introduced but it really works well and can be adapted for collecting activities too. The last strategy is very simple but really ramps up activity levels. If students are waiting for a turn, they must be doing a designated physical activity (i.e. – jumping jacks, cross-crawls, crab kicks, etc.).
Large group games with limited amounts of equipment are another participation buster. One ball and twenty-five students is not a recipe for student engagement or success. The students with the skills needed for the game (approximately 15%) will dominate the activity, while the rest of the students never get a meaningful touch of the ball. It makes more sense to offer small-sided activities where the student-to-equipment ratio is much more conducive to “real” participation and skill building. If offering a large group activity, set game play up in stations to reduce the number of players on the court. Instead of two huge teams, break up the groups into 4-6 teams and have the teams rotate in and out of the game. While teams are not playing, they can be working in skill building or fitness stations that will keep them engaged while waiting for their game time.
The important thing is to think in terms of MVPA. You can always use an MVPA pedometer, such as the FITstep™ Pro Pedometers by Gopher, with your students to get a better picture of the level of activity that they are getting each day and then make adjustments to activities based on that feedback. Another option is selecting one student in a class and timing the amount of time on a stopwatch that they are engaged in physical activity. It is an eye opening assessment, I can assure you!! As physical education teachers we have to make sure that we keep the physical in physical education and provide appropriate games and activities that are designed to maximize not minimize student participation.