The Most Common Mistake Teachers Make When Teaching PE

How many times have you found yourself in the following situation? You have spent hours (maybe days) preparing for a lesson, and the materials are collected and in order. The students can detect that you are very excited to teach this lesson, so they are excited too. The students are in front of you, you have their full attention, and you go through the rules or instructions. You look at the clock, and realize that you need to get started soon so they have ample time to play the game or activity. When you glance back at the class, you see nine students, urgently raising their hands, with a look in their eyes that screams, “I have a question!”

What do you do?

Many people’s first impulse would be to say, “Let’s get the game started, and if you still have questions, then I will answer them as we go along.” You’re just trying to be efficient with the time, maybe the game requires a longer time frame to play, plus you can see these students need to move and get some energy out. While any and all of these reasons are justifiable, starting the game without answering questions is a big mistake.

I understand the dilemma; these are Montessori kids after all. They are going to have lots of questions. Every question you answer takes time away from being able to play the game. The worst is when a student asks a similar or even the same question as another student just a second ago. Sometimes those students need to be reminded to listen (especially if they were talking to a friend), but sometimes that student truly did not understand something the first time around. Nonetheless, it feels frustrating answering questions when you have this great game for them, and they are eating up their own time asking all these questions.

However, one reason we want to get students started on an activity prematurely is our own ego. We need to remove our ego from the result of the game, or how much the students like and enjoy it. We may be so proud of the game that we want to see it implemented as soon as possible so we can say to ourselves, “Look at what I have created. The students love it!” To be motivated and excited is not a bad thing, but that excitement should not get in the way of giving the students a chance to understand the activity completely.

Every PE lesson should have time devoted for asking questions. If the questions go past the time you had allotted for the questions, that is a good sign that the initial explanation needs to be tweaked so more information is understood the first time. If the students are asking a lot of questions because they were not paying attention, then using strategies like seating arrangements may help in preventing so much distraction in the first place.

Here are some reasons why letting students ask questions is so important:

· Students can ask about portions they were unsure of or didn’t hear well

· Students will ask clarifying questions to test the boundaries of the game (which is a sign of critical thinking)

· Answering questions will help you better understand the rules to the game

· The students may ask a question you (the instructor) did not consider at all

· Answering questions up front will eliminate the need to stop the game half way through to explain rules

I had the recent experience in developing a game on sportsmanship (which you can download here for free), and a question from a student prompted a rule change, which made the game much more fun. The game teaches the tenants of sportsmanship, and there is an element of risk vs. reward in the game. The students are trying to score as many points as possible, and passing the ball can potentially and dramatically make the shot worth more. Part of the rule set is if the ball is dropped on the ground, then the team’s score goes to zero. I had assumed (in my head) that if a shot was missed, then the score goes to zero. However, one of the students asked, “What if someone catches the ball (rebound) before it hits the ground?” This had not occurred to me, but I said, “If the ball doesn’t touch the ground, then that potential score is saved.” This small rule change, prompted by an excellent question, made the game much more dynamic and fun for the students because now they had another way to contribute to the overall good of the team.

If you allow your students to ask questions before the game, the time it takes for the questions and answers will pay off ten-fold in the end. The students will use more advanced strategies because they understand the rule set better. More students may participate because they are not afraid to try now that they understand the game. One question can change the whole dynamic of a game for the better. We are successful as educators not by teaching facts, but by teaching our students to ask great questions. Part of Montessori Physical Education is allowing our students to ask those great questions.