One of my greatest fears as a teacher is becoming complacent, irrelevant, or too comfortable in what and how I teach. In August, when I found myself staring at my old unit plans and trying to figure out how to plan this year’s program, these worries started creeping up on me again because so much of what I’d done in the past was starting to look the same. Now, at Christine Meikle, we work with students with severe and complex cognitive, behavioural, and medical needs, so there is something to be said for not reinventing the wheel. In fact, by repeating similar units each year, many of my students have progressed closer toward the overall aim of the physical education Program of Studies, which is for students to develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary to live an active way of life. The more they do something, the more familiar they become with it, and maybe the more likely they might be to want to use some of those skills if they encounter a ball or a hockey stick somewhere in their adult lives long after they have left my program. However, I couldn’t help but wonder, if I was starting to feel like “oh, ok, this again…” about certain units, how might my students be feeling about them?
As luck would have it, I rediscovered two physical literacy-based programs at the end of August that gave me the spark I needed to re-ignite my planning energy and put a new spin on my tried-and-true units from the past – DANCEPL3Y and the AMA Youth Run Club. I say rediscovered because, as is often the case in teaching, I had been introduced to both programs at least a year before, but my initial introductions were at a point where I already had my plans made so I put both programs on the back burner. Long story short, I ended up doing the DANCEPL3Y Kids instructor training course at the end of August and I signed Meikle up for this year’s Youth Run Club right around the same time. Inspired by how both these programs focus on getting kids to be active and have fun, I then buckled down to figure out how I could adapt some of the specific physical literacy skills and present them in such a way so that my students would understand what was going on. Here are some of the things I did:
- If choreography was too fast, we slowed the dance down and picked 1-2 moves to do instead of trying to do them all at once.
- We used floor spots to create our bubbles of awesome and offered students choices of activities they could do to make their bubbles awesome (e.g. jump on the spot, helicopter turn, balance on one foot).
- If students were physically unable to run or didn’t understand the concept, we isolated training concepts and worked through circuit activities targeting each skill (e.g. arms at right angles, high knees, bum kicks).
- For students in wheelchairs, we talked about Fartlek training (run/walk) and pushed them at different speeds to help them understand. We used “first run, then walk” language and made visual schedules to help them understand the expectations. We also used “fast” and “slow” to describe how we were moving.
- We had different culminating Fun Run activities for each class. One class did a blackout bingo goal setting activity during their warm up routine, and it took them a couple of weeks to complete. Other classes did timed walks outside on the ring road or participated in fun locomotor based tasks on the playground.
In conclusion, I have to say that the thing that has made the biggest difference to my program this year has to do with positive communication. Part of the DANCEPL3Y program involves finishing each class with the 3 most important words you can say to yourself: I AM AWESOME. I spent a good chunk of last year on a stress leave and these were the last 3 words on my mind at that point, but I was determined to change that and have a way more successful year this time around. I also knew this year was going to be challenging, especially as our school community prepares to move from our current site in Bridgeland to our brand new facility in Varsity. Thus, I took this mindset back to work and incorporated it whenever I could – saying “I am awesome” when people asked how I was, high fiving people in the hall and saying “You are awesome” whenever I could, and teaching students to say “I am awesome” at the end of each and every class, either with their voices or augmentative communication devices. The result? After 2 months, some students are asking if there are other fun words we could use other than awesome, other students are high fiving each other during class and using positive language more often, and I see more smiles and hear more positive talk from staff in the hallways on a regular basis. CMS, WE ARE AWESOME!