Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Athletics - focusing on technique not measurement

At the start of every year I take my students through a unit on athletics, this year it is years 7, 8 and 9. Each year I teach the different events and associated skills and by the end students have recorded times, distances and heights for all events. Along with other observational data I have used those times, distances and heights to generate a grade. This year I have not been getting the students to measure any results. We started last week with their focus purely on developing technique.

I am employing a variety of methods to improve technique including:
1. Watching video as a class and clearly establishing what makes a good technique for each event.
2. Giving students checklists with key points so they can work in pairs and provide feedback to each other during lessons.
3. Homework tasks asking students to self reflect (through a blog post on http://middleschoolhpe.edublogs.org/) on how they are going by answering questions based around watching videos of the different events at home. A paper version for those without the Internet - yes there are still some out there - is provided.
4. iPad apps like Excelade help compare student technique to more accomplished athletes. I hope to do this but have not got to downloading video from You tube and trimming to a suitable length for use on the app - I've been doing this for my senior classes in table tennis and badminton and don't seem to be getting there for my middle school kids. Seems like their are not enough hours in the day.
5. Feedback and assessment will be based on the key technical points associated with each event covered.

I'm hoping that by not focusing on measuring results that I will engage those students who are not great at athletics. These students know they will never be able to run, jump and throw as far as others in the class. By telling them I will record results and therefore force comparison with others as a part of my assessment it immediately puts them in the headset of, 'I'm no good at this, I will fail". However if I focus on technique it can be framed as a learning experience i.e. how do we get better at this? It becomes about how can I get from my current ability level to a higher one. To me this may allow for more intrinsic motivation.

One of the interesting observations from this process so far is that not one student has asked to measure any of their results (exception is the high jump which is hard to avoid unless I can find some uprights with no measurements on them, perhaps I could cover the measurements with tape?)

I would be interested to hear what others think of this process.


  1. Hi Nick!

    Some really interesting points that you raise & make here.

    We've all done the measurement stuff (and still do at times) with our Aths I'm sure. Quantitative data can be very useful & indeed necessary for certain things like picking Aths teams (for Intra & Inter school competitions).

    As we know, the nature of Athletics is such that in many cases, the kids who are bigger, faster & stronger can & often do, win or perform best - regardless of technique & skill. Sometimes that's all the info we really need to know & that's ok!

    However, I believe that if we are to "teach" Athletics as part of the curriculum, then we also need to 'Educate' learners about the importance of the relevant Fundamental Motor Skills (FMS) that are found in traditional Athletic events.

    By that I mean that we need to teach technique correctly & thoroughly for a 'Process' based goal - ie. ‘HOW’ to perform the relevant FMS & ‘WHEN/WHY’ they are important in what we do both within & outside of Athletics (ie. transferable learning), rather than just for the sake of seeing who can run faster, throw further or jump higher/longer - ie. ‘WHAT’ they can do (which is an 'Outcome' based goal).

    This will hopefully help learners to see the 'bigger picture' and help increase their motivation & desire for lifelong involvement in, and enjoyment of sport & physical activity.

    In teaching Athletics skills within the PE program, we want students to see the connections between what they are trying to achieve in athletics and the other sports & physical activity that they do. For example, improved running technique, speed & endurance that can be taught & developed in athletics, can help one's performance in other team or individual sports that they participate in. For those students who couldn't really care less about athletics, hopefully we can still appeal to their sense of health & wellbeing and the general benefits that come from being somewhat athletic, if not competitive!

    Intrinsic motivation to improve & the desire to achieve 'personal best' performances/results in athletics are also qualities that we obviously want our students to develop in their physical education experience. (Again, another way of engaging the ones who are 'not great at athletics' as you said in your original piece.)

    In terms of 'Athletics Assessment' within the school context, we can cater for all students (those who are more athletically gifted/talented as well as those less so & perhaps intimidated by the inevitable & obvious results based comparisons) by ensuring that we focus on both 'Results-based performance' AND 'Technical Skill Development'.

    Anyway, it sounds like you're doing a great job with your approach & that the kids are benefitting from & enjoying their experience in PE. And that is really what it's all about!!


    Stuart Welsh
    Essential Phys. Ed. Services

  2. I think you have raised a really important point about the FMS required in athletics and their transference to any number of physical activities, recreational or organised. It is something I have not discussed with my 7/8/9 students and will think about how I can have this discussion with them in the coming week. Thanks.