Elementary PhyEd & Specially Designed PhyEd Teacher
School District of Waukesha
Assessing in Physical Education can be hard. We all know the barriers; big groups, large gym, technology issues, something to write on, and the list goes on. But really the biggest barrier is always the same… time. Many of us are lucky to accumulate much more than 50 hours with our students for the WHOLE YEAR, at least in my experience as an elementary PE teacher. Many of us work that many hours in a normal week! Now, I am not here to tell you that we can switch that and all of our problems will be solved, but it is important to identify our barriers and then move forward from there. So, thinking about assessment, there are four big questions you should ask yourself when planning; what am I assessing? Why am I assessing? When? And sometimes the trickiest, how. In the remainder of this article am hoping I can provide a new perspective or refresher for you when answering these questions.
How do you pick WHAT you assess? For this question, we are lucky to have our SHAPE organization who provides us with so many resources and clear guidance as to what our students should be learning at what grade levels. If you haven’t looked through a copy of, “National Standards & Grade-Level Outcomes for K-12 Physical Education,” you should! Not only does it provide clear grade bands about who is learning what when, but it also gives you some skill descriptions that are useful for who what to look for when assessing. One area that seems to trip people up when thinking of what you want to assess, is people is asking instead, “what do I want to grade.” These two things do NOT have to be synonymous. If you are teaching your students something, generally speaking, you want to assess it, how else will you know that they’ve learned it? But, just because you assess something, doesn’t mean it then has to be graded. Remembering, that some assessments can be formative, or summative, and making reflecting and differentiating with that in mind, will help you to feel as though you are not assessing and grading everything. Because, let’s face it, there are over 50 different things that we are supposed to be teaching our students, at least at the Elementary level, and going back to the 50 hours a year, that seems a little daunting. Let the standards be your guide in planning and in what your students need to know, but that doesn’t dictate what you grade your students on, and does not have to be the same.
Why do you assess your students? Because we want to make sure that they have learned it, right? This, “wh,” question probably is the easiest for us to answer. As teachers, continuous learners, and reflective practitioners, collecting feedback and data on how our students are doing will continue to grow our ability to give our students the best opportunities for growth and learning. And isn’t that what it’s all about? Now, in connecting the, “why,” back to grading. Some of us are probably required to report out on a particular number of standards or assessments, try not to let that dictate why you assess though. Reporting out grades is meant to be a snapshot of where students are at and communicating that to families, but is not your why. Sharing that information, giving feedback and communicating to students what they are learning and why, also helps in creating that student ownership and involvement in their learning, building and expanding the why for us as educators as well.
When you assess connects back to the what and the why. If you are choosing to formatively assess something that might be done at a different time than when you are completing a summative assessment, that naturally makes sense. But when can be more than that, it can be knowing that you are going to revisit a skill multiple times in a year, and deciding when and to what degree you are going to assess it, or it could be knowing your students assess better on certains day, or times of your class. Another consideration to keep in mind could be how you assess, which we’ll talk about next, because it could in turn influence when you do the assessment as well.
Possibly the most difficult part can be how are you going to assess. For this, there are so many options and different ways; paper and pencil, one on one, peer assessment, Plickers, Plagnets, and so many more. But the question that I am now using to challenge myself when thinking about how I want to assess is now to what level or depth of understanding am I assessing, because that will influence my how. Think of the Bloom’s Taxonomy pyramid, low level starts with things like recalling information or identifying, moving up it is things more like comparing, or analyzing, and at the top with verbs like create or design. If I am looking for more high level thinking, how I assess will be different. I may ask them to create a workout plan that includes all of the components of fitness, which allows them to show higher level thinking and demonstrates their knowledge of the fitness components and various fitness activities. In thinking of Bloom’s that is where you get to be the most creative with your planning, what can YOU do to design an opportunity for them to show you their thinking, how are you going to set up the assessment to be higher level thinking, or is it an assessment that is more formative and just requires low level thinking? This sort of planning with Bloom’s verbs and terminology dictates then how you are going to assess. This is your chance to be creative! Do you want them to analyze? Show them a video of a skill in two different ways and have them analyze and describe differences and how they could be used in a game. Want them to compare? Use a Venn Diagram where they can organize their thinking. Want them to apply their knowledge? Ask them to give peer feedback using concepts and terminology they have learned, create a tumbling routine with the movement concepts you’ve been reviewing. The possibilities are endless, but then when thinking of the how, the when, and what also come back in to play, as well as time, formative vs. summative and all of that come back in to play.
In answering all of these questions, remember to take time to plan ahead, use your resources, find ways to involve your students and increase their ownership, focus on learning, not grading, determine your depth of knowledge and think through the what, why, when and how.