Last week, I wrote about the importance of receiving feedback from the students. As the instructor, it is your job to make sure that the games integrate with the classroom content, but you can rely on the students to help you make it fun as well. Their critique of the games in gym can substantially improve their overall playability and fun. Leaning on their advice at times can make them, and ultimately you, happier as the students enjoy what they are learning.
This week, I want to highlight the importance of giving feedback to the students, particularly about form and technique of physical skills. Montessori PE is an integration of the classroom curriculum with physical education. We need to remember the balance between exploring and learning classroom content with practicing skills and moving the body. Over emphasizing one over the other will lead to an imbalance within the lesson (and overall curriculum). Traditionally, PE has been all about movement and motor skills without any classroom integration. Once you see the power of classroom integration and its ability to help the students learn, there is a tendency to over focus on integrative aspects and forget that the students are indeed working on physical skills. This is the ultimate challenge of the Montessori PE instructor: balancing learning of the mind with learning movement of the body.
To make sure that the students are getting enough instruction on the physical skills of an activity, take time to explain proper form. The first place that this should be done is at the beginning of the lesson. Giving several performance examples of the skill, as well cues for the students to remember, is the first step in learning the skill. If the game is simple enough, they can begin playing the game as you observe them play. If you see students that are not performing the physical skill correctly, pull them aside for quick one-on-one instruction. We do not want the student to repeat motions and skills with improper technique because it will take them much longer to relearn the skill. If the student is not able to do the skill at all, changing the skill or using different rules or implements may be necessary. However, letting a student proceed incorrectly as is without any intervention (when it is obvious that they are not doing the right procedure of the skill) is a disservice to that child.
If the students are playing a sport that involves the use of many skills put together, it may be worth breaking up those skills into mini-games so the students can practice the individual skills before trying to combine them in the sport. When we think of a sport like soccer, we usually think of kicking. However, there are different types of kicks with different intentions (shooting versus passing). Plus, if the player is a goalie, they can also punt the ball. Players must also learn how to throw the ball in correctly from the sideline, and goalies have their own style of throwing as well. Players must also learn how to use their body to trap and stop the ball. There are also head strikes with the ball, which is a unique aspect to soccer. So, one sport with the primary skill of kicking actually has over eight independent skills that should be practiced in mini-game form.
Playing mini-games provides the students with adequate repetitions for learning the skill. If you jump straight into the game, the lesser skilled students will not touch the ball as often, and therefore not get better. Even worse, they may become frustrated or reinforce the idea of their lacking skill and not want to play at all. The mini-games provide lots of chances to practice without added urgency of competitive sport. The mini-games also give the instructor the chance to observe students working on a specific skill over and over, so there is a better chance the instructor can see something wrong and help the student change their approach.
If you are a classroom teacher without experience teaching sports (and you feel inadequate teaching sports skills), you will have to do two things: watch videos that detail correct technique and own your own shortcomings with the students. Recently I taught some of my middle school students how to juggle (for a lesson on economic theory); yet I have never been able to juggle before. I watched a YouTube video and practiced for about an hour the night before, and I was able to juggle three balls for about four throws before dropping them. When I went through the sequence with the students, I told them I started from scratch, and four catches was my best, and I am still learning. Being truthful about our own physical skill shortcomings helps the students understand that perfection is demanded, nor is it what we expect the first time we try a new skill. It did help that I had a student who was very proficient in juggling to show them what mastery looked like; but they also got to see what an hours worth of practice could accomplish, which gave them a reasonable benchmark for themselves.
It is not easy to find time to work with students individually, so we must make time with mini-games that work on specific skills. However, taking that time ensures that everyone gets some opportunities to practice, not just the most skilled. It is especially satisfying to hear a student excitedly talk about something they couldn’t do before, but now they can. While the strength of Montessori PE is that it integrates with the classroom, we must not forget that it is in fact physical education. Physical education demands we provide our students with ample opportunity for practice with appropriate feedback so they have the best chance for success with their physical endeavors.