Motivating Students: Making Physical Education an Individual Experience

Individuality subs

Inspiring students to be individuals? In physical education? I have some ideas to share on just how to do this.

How to Focus on Individuality

Physical education lessons are an ideal place to promote physical activity and motivation. While the literature on motivation can be quite complex, the acronym P.R.A.I.S.E., which stands for perceived competence, relatedness, autonomy, individuality, social support and enjoyment can be very helpful. To simplify all of this complex literature specifically focusing on individuality allows us to really meet students where they are and make physical activity meaningful and a positive experience.

Share Their Interests

An important thought to keep in mind while teaching is that students are individuals and while this seems like a simple concept, I know at times at least I get bogged down in things like GLO’s and assessments and lesson plans and lose sight of the individual students and I think it’s important that we let them be who they are and meet them where they are and feed into their interests, whether it’s superheroes, space, technology, history, whatever their interest and understand that they’re all going to have different likes and anytime a teacher knows a student and connects to something they like, that face lighting up on a kid is priceless and such a neat experience as a teacher and a student.

Help Them Get to Know Themselves

Another strategy for helping motivate students is to assist them in getting to know themselves as individuals, especially as it relates to physical activity choices and we live in a society that is consumed with comparison and I think it’s important that we encourage students to be themselves. Try emphasizing that our physical activity choices are individual, makes sense and it’s their choice on what activities they like, some activities they will love and some activities not so much and teach them what makes it enjoyable to them. It might be that they like adventure and risk and those are two concepts or two ideas that can be found in other activities they may enjoy beyond physical education.

Give Specific Feedback

Also, watch your students as individuals and see what brings them joy and lights them up during your lessons and give them feedback and let them know that you see that. For example, something like Holly, you really love these cooperative activities. I like that smile! This starts helping students identify and see their own joy and physical activity and start to identify these activities that they really enjoy.

Challenge Students

The last idea I have about working with students as individuals is to really challenge students and help them find what my friend Andy Vasily calls their just right challenge. Challenging oneself is an important part of learning, but for many it has to be learned and done intentionally in order to learn to embrace challenge and frankly otherwise they could avoid the challenge and we don’t want that obviously. Teach students to pick a challenge that they can come have some success with but pushes them just a little bit. Messing up or are failing, making mistakes isn’t a bad thing.

Teach them that in PE for instance, during an obstacle course there may be challenges. Have students identify something that’s a challenge for them or a way to make an obstacle course more challenging for them. For instance, maybe they jump and land on one foot as opposed to landing on two feet off of an obstacle or they do a spin or they do a heel click just to challenge themselves and whether they identify a something is challenging for them or something they want to make more challenging. Have them really think about this as they’re moving through the course and then as an assessment, have them discussed this with a peer or a partner, questions that can prompt a discussion. What was the challenge? What strategies did you use to overcome that challenge? How did you make it more challenging? Would you change anything? I did this with a class several years ago and when I asked how they overcome the challenge, one student said, “I just went around it so I can keep on moving” and I, my initial thought was going around to challenge, but who am I to argue that probably sometimes that’s a good solution and it seemed like a good reason and he’s a problem solver.

So not only did we teach about challenging, but we also use it as an assessment and we have quite a few assessments that deal with challenge and really hone in on this idea of teaching students about challenge in our website. In summary, teaching students about challenges is kind of a Goldilocks type scenario where it’s not too hard, it’s not too easy, but it’s just right for them and I think this is such a valuable tool for physical activity and highlighting students as individuals.

So as you can see, individuality is such a great part of physical activity and learning and feeling comfortable as an individual is also a very valuable life lesson. Try a few of these strategies and let us know what you think.


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