Exemplars of Great Teaching in Physical and Outdoor Education


This week I’ve picked up Hattie’s Visible Learning for Teachers. Hattie describes characteristics of ‘expert’ teachers.
– Expert teachers can identify the most effective ways to represent the subject they teach.
– Expert teachers create optimal learning climates.
– Expert teachers can monitor learning and provide effective feedback.
– Expert teachers believe that every student can reach the success criteria.
– Expert teachers influence surface and deep understandings.

As I read and reflect, I can picture this type of teaching most clearly in the world where I have spent the most of my career energy – physical and outdoor education. Teaching motor skills is a natural platform where exemplars of Hattie’s description of expert teaching can take place. Great PE and OE teachers have suffient content knowledge to know how to break down a skill, put together a learning progression, and use learning technologies to advance skill acquisition. Master PE and OE teachers possess integrated knowledge. Teaching a motor skill is bigger than just learning to put your body in a certain series of positions, it is about integrating concepts from other disciplines to create new understandings. Introducing concepts such as drag forces and propulsive forces become deepen understandings when learning about how to climb a hill on cross country skis. Expert teachers in PE and OE seek negative evidence – looking for who is not learning. This is an easy task when teaching motor skills – its evident who gets it and who needs a different strategy for achieving the success criteria. For example, kids learning to descend on mountain bikes whose feet aren’t in neutral position are going to have a tougher time with balance and responsiveness to terrain. Expert teachers also maintain a positive belief that every student can learn the content. Having a deeper understanding of the skill and the context for using it allows expert PE and OE teachers to change other variables in their teaching to respond in the moment to the learning context. Changing the teaching terrain, or the learning task, or using peer teaching are all ways that expert PE/OE teachers respond to the situational learning needs presented by students. Expert PE/OE teachers help students learn.

Great PE/OE teachers create optimal climates for learning. Learning a physical skill is different for every person – a unique combination of nature and nurture. Risk taking and failure are what it takes to learn a new motor skill. Having an environment where its ok to make mistakes is something that expert teachers do. In these kinds of PE/OE learning spaces, kids thrive because they know its ok to fall down, its ok to struggle, its ok to not be an expert performer in the first hour or 50. Improvement in skill performance takes place as a result of time and effort, instruction and feedback. This learning occurs in PE/OE much more successfully when the teacher has created a climate where error is ok. Lets face it, people put themselves on the line in a very visible way when engaging in physical activity. Its why so many of our young people stop being phyiscally active – it is immediately obvious to those around you that you are in a learning place. Great PE/OE teachers create safe spaces for kids to take risks when learning physical skills.

Every learner needs feedback to improve. This is the case in learning to read, to write, its true in learning math skills, or learning a new language. Feedback is also a crucial piece of learning a motor skill. Expert PE/OE teachers canonitor the current status of skill learning in each student and provide them with the indiviual feedback to move them closer to the success criteria. Giving every student something different is what expert teachers do based on their individual performance of that skill. One student might need to bring their shoulders closer to their handle bars when ascending on a mountain bike, while for another student, the more appropriate feedback might be move your bodyweight forward on your saddle. In learning a motor skill, sometimes it is plainly evident to the student that something isnt working right in their skill performance. A deficiency in an aspect of a motor skill can make it alot harder work. For example, not paying attention to the biomechanical principal of using core muscles before extremity muscle groups makes it much more tiring when double poling as a cross country ski skill.

Hattie states that expert teachers believe that every student can achieve the success criteria. One of my own experiences when I was a high school student, and something that led me to believe I can be an athlete, was a grade 11 phys ed teacher’s tenacity, patience, and belief that I could learn to do a forearm pass, that I was capable. I did learn to do a forearm pass, even though it took a while, and I am still not the most expert volleyball player in the world. The language and the interactions of phys ed and outdoor ed teachers when teaching a physical skill have both short term and long term influences on students lives. As a club cross country coach, I have worked hard to send the message to every athlete that they are capable of being a master performer of a skill.

Expert PE/OE teachers foster deep and surface learning when it comes to motor skill acquisition. Putting a skill into the context of a game, using tactical situations to learn a skill, give opportunities for deeper understandings. In the case of outdoor education physical activities, putting the skill into the context of the terrain provides opportunities for the development of deeper understandings of that skill. Understanding the biomechanical concepts or the physics of physical activity provide the deeper understandings that can positively influence skill acquisition. Surface learning happens easily with motor skills – put your arms in this position, bend your knees first, etc. Great PE/OE teachers start with the surface learning and then move into deeper understandings so that activity becomes more efficient, less taxing on the body, and more enjoyable.

Reading Hattie makes me realize I have lots to learn. It also reinforces that visible learning concepts apply equally to physical education and outdoor education learning. Great teachers have alot in common.

Roy Strum
CBE Outdoor Ed Consultant


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s