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What To Look For In A Great PE Lesson - 5 aspects for Subject Leaders

In this blog, Martin Radmore, director of VisionED, shares 5 key aspects subject leaders should look for within great PE lessons.

Posted on Tuesday 31st May 2022

This blog is aimed at sharing 5 simple aspects of what to look for, as a subject leader, when monitoring PE lessons either formally or informally. I would always advocate that all involved should have a shared understanding beforehand of what is being looked at during any lesson observation. Also, that feedback and professional discussion afterwards focusses on improving practice as part of a culture of ‘moving teaching and learning ever forward’.

Many PE subject leaders I work with have never had the opportunity to see teaching in their own school and are unaware of the effectiveness of it across the school – its impact. Many teachers only get feedback on their teaching through mandatory lesson observations and because primary teachers teach across a full range of subject areas, many never get feedback on their teaching of PE – this is such a shame. I would argue that it is hard to lead and improve standards in a subject if you have no clear understanding of what it looks like in your school and that, as I’ll suggest later, staff don’t have a clear, agreed understanding of what effective teaching in PE looks like either.

So, having stated the above, you are about to look at teaching in your school – monitoring.

So, what do you look for?

On the whole as a subject leader, you need to know the big picture – like the jigsaw puzzle, the picture of what you are trying to build. (This is why my company uses the jigsaw puzzle piece icon). If you know what you are trying to achieve at each step and how it all fits together, it is far more likely that you will achieve it.

In my work to support schools I have found the following very helpful and impactful in helping the development and embedding of high-quality PE. They are not in any real order and are not presented or meant as a definitive list. They form part of the national qualification in Leadership & Management in Primary PE that we offer as a company and are based on real feedback from subject leaders on what has helped them as they work tirelessly to improve practice and outcomes.

1. ‘What’ and ‘Why’

Just as with all lessons, pupils should be helped to understand what they are about to learn by the teacher sharing the lesson intent.

Many schools use schemes of work which provide this clearly stated at the beginning of each short-term plan (lesson plan). Increasingly these schemes are also showing all the lesson objectives for the sequence of lessons, so that teachers can see the progression within the unit.

So, how is the teacher sharing this with their pupils and are they kept concise using simple terms so that pupils can understand.

I also look for the teacher and their pupils having a shared understanding of WHY they are learning this. Looking at how the objective relates to prior learning and talking about what is still to come helps to excite the learning and engage children further in their learning by giving it context and a purpose.

For example, the teacher may talk about what is still to come. ‘So, this will help us when we come to extend our work in gymnastics onto the apparatus’ or ‘this is so that when we look next week at front-crawl breathing we will be able to add the arm-cycle that we are looking at today’.

TOP TIP: I often like to ask pupils questions during an observation, such as “What do you need to do to get better?” (in this lesson, topic etc). From this approach I have seen schools develop ‘The Power of Yet’ – I cannot do a Teddy Bear Roll – Yet!

2. Modelling – what does it look like and how to achieve it?

Think – How does the teacher model the learning?

There are many different acronyms associated with sharing learning objectives, such as WAGOLL, WAGBA, etc. However, it is done, there is no doubt that helping pupils to gain greater clarity about what they are learning can make a significant difference. Many studies have shown that demonstrations can be incredibly effective in providing this for pupils.

So, does the teacher make use of practical demonstration (teacher or pupil) or suitable video clips to illustrate learning? Do they use the teaching points from the scheme of work to good effect and help the pupils to see these in action e.g. ‘chin to chest’ when performing a roll in gymnastics.

Alongside this, it is important that children have the time to experience, explore, practise and refine for themselves. There might be time built in to have conversations with a partner perhaps (a ‘Performance Buddy’) about their work or another pair who watch them (self/ peer assessment).

TOP TIP: As Subject Leaders, create with staff a shared understanding of what makes a good/outstanding PE lesson. How does it relate to quality teaching across the school in other areas of the curriculum? Establishing this can really help colleagues understand ‘what good looks like’ in terms of physical education and the environments in which it is taught.

3. Learning from the ‘get-go’

When watching the lesson do you get the sense that learning has started from the very first opportunity?

Do the pupils come into the teaching space ready to learn and get straight down to it as quickly as possible?

So, routines like taking shoes and socks off for Gym and Dance lessons should be slick, quick and organised. Transitions from parts of the lessons need to be well-planned so that pupils go straight from a warm-up that raises their pulse to a linked main activity. You would want to see pupils being eager and enthusiastic to get going and get engaged, with the teacher planning how to harness this effectively.

For example, teachers may use a question as the pupils walk to the lesson. I often use P.P.P.B.P. as an approach to create this – Pose, Pause, Pounce, Bounce, Plenary.

  • Pose a question to investigate
  • Pause – to allow time to have a go, try, explore, discuss.
  • Pounce by asking a pupil their experience, opinion (as pupils have had time to think etc).
  • Bounce the ideas around by asking others what they think about the answers heard / shared and their experience.
  • Plenary – pull all the learning together.

TOP TIP: Show colleagues how to consider transitions in their planning. For example, a paired warm-up activity that then develops smoothly into working with this partner for a main activity or that might say in a games lesson, require teams of 4 or 8 (combining pairs). These simple group management skills when shared with colleagues, can make transitioning between learning tasks quicker and smoother.

4. Active Time!

Look at the actual time in which the pupils are engaged in physical activity, learning and consolidating their knowledge, skills and understanding. They should be engaged in physical activity for sustained periods of time allowing them to experience, explore, learn for themselves, practice, refine, make mistakes etc.

Consider some of these questions:

  • Do children have sufficient time with equipment or in tasks to improve and build schema?
  • Are equipment and/or apparatus being used effectively to reduce the need for queueing or waiting for a turn?
  • Does any equipment being used allow greater experiential learning and opportunity for challenge, progression etc?
  • Is teacher talk, which is often about organisational matters / group management, kept to a minimum so that pupils are facilitated to be actively engaged in their learning?
  • Does the teacher move pupils on at an appropriate pace by monitoring and assessing progress?
  • Are consolidation activities planned at the start of the lesson to quickly get the pupils active as they re-cap by doing what they did last lesson?

These are just examples but look at the pupils in front of you – are they active for more than 85% of the actual lesson time?

5. Look for learning

When watching a lesson, it can be helpful to have an idea of what to look for in terms of pupil behaviour. Here are some examples:

  • Are pupils concentrating, engaged, asking questions, enthusiastic, excited, persevering, using examples to help them?
  • Do they show a high involvement, seem confident, able to make connections, independent, helping others, explaining their actions, reviewing, correcting themselves and/or others?
  • Are pupils seeking a challenge?
  • Do they want to show the teacher, each other their work?
  • Do they talk about ways to get better at and improve?

There are so many things that could be added here but I hope that you get the impression of behaviours associated with good learning as opposed to pupils who are not engaged, frustrated, reluctant to try, avoid task, ask repetitive questions etc.

In my opinion, you can see this and get a feel for it throughout the lesson.

TOP TIP: If you see the positive signs – how has / is the teacher creating this? Can you capture this to feedback, for example ‘because you kept teacher talk down and had smooth transitions the pupils had plenty of time to actually ‘do’- which they relished and thrived through as a result’. If you don’t see it, what could you feedback about that might change this?

When you then get together to feedback, share the positives. Do not underestimate the impact that receiving positive feedback can have.

I hope that you have found these 5 aspects helpful and that when presented with the opportunity to monitor your subject they prove useful in guiding your thoughts and the narrative.

About the Author

Many thanks to Martin Radmore for sharing is many years of insight within this blog.

Martin Radmore is the Director at VisionEd – The Primary PE Experts

VisionED is all about curricular PE provision and ensuring that ALL pupils receive a high-quality experience and entitlement in physical education that inspires them to learn and be active throughout their lives. It’s our ‘Big Picture’ and why we use the jigsaw piece as we help you to build your Vision, your Big Picture for what PE will be. We do this by empowering staff and schools to sustain high quality provision through CPD, professional qualifications, guidance and support. We work to ensure PE is lead by well-informed, trained and empowered subject leaders who have access to high-quality professional development, including national qualifications in primary PE for themselves and their colleagues. Take a look at our offer, download free resources or book your CPD at www.visioned.org.uk.

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