Voices of #PhysEd: APE Through the Student’s Eyes
After teaching Adapted Physical Education now for 9 years, I spend a lot of time planning my lessons by first looking at what content am I going to deliver and then how am I going to deliver the content to my students with disabilities. We all know that students with disabilities have the right to access the same curriculum as the general education classes, but it is up to the highly trained Adapted Physical Education teacher to decide the adaptations or modifications that need to be made for the students to be successful. It often helps if I first look at the content I am going to deliver through the eyes of my students.
I often think about students that are physically impaired, but are not necessarily cognitively impaired that are in the general education PE setting. I know that all they want in life is to not look different in their general education classes.
“Do I really have to have this extra teacher here in the gym with me? Having this person following me around the entire time is really embarrassing. I just don’t want to look different.”
I think about what it must be like for a high school student that just wants to fit in with their peers to have the “extra” teacher in the room hovering around. Years ago I met an Adapted PE teacher from Kansas named Margery Thompson. She had a slide on her powerpoint that was titled “The Dance”. First I thought we were going to discuss one of the greatest Garth Brooks songs from my senior year in high school, but I was wrong. What she talked about next changed the way I work with my Adapted PE students that are placed in the general education setting. Margery said that you need to do “The Dance” with the students.
If they need assistance in a skill STEP IN, but then STEP OUT. If they need extra clarification on the rules of the activity STEP IN, but then STEP OUT. If they need reminders on proper behavior STEP IN, but then STEP OUT.
Over time I have come to realize that some of my students need me to dance slow like the prom, but some of my students need me to dance fast like a 4 AM rave party. It’s a delicate balance of giving the student just enough support to be successful, but not too much support where they look different by having the extra teacher with them.
What about my students that are not able to have their voice heard? What about my students that do not have the ability to communicate at all? All students have a desire to be active, but when you can’t communicate your needs to your teacher a lot of frustration can set in. Sometimes it is just simpler to give up on learning a skill when my teacher doesn’t know what I need to be successful. I often need to take the time to hear my students voice through their facial expressions and body language. Everyone has the ability to communicate their needs. The way those needs are communicated can be very different depending on the student. I look for those visual cues that tell me the students are getting frustrated with the progressions of the skill being taught and I know maybe it’s time for me to change my approach. It is so very important that these students of mine feel success with the skill development. Making the right modifications to the activity, equipment, and/or time of a skill will allow the student to feel success and be excited to continue participating in the activity.
I often think about my students with cognitive impairments that are in a separate Adapted PE class and what it is like when they come to the gym. My students use their iPads to scan a QR code in their Special Education Reading and Math room before they come to Adapted PE The QR code takes them to a Google Doc with words AND pictures that shows them the order of the activities that we are going to do today including the location (gym, weight room, wrestling room, outside). I try to lessen any anxiety they might have when coming to the gym area.
The voices I hear from these students tell me that they need the learning progressions taught in a simple way. They need more complex skills broken down into smaller parts that are slowly demonstrated visually and sometimes require hand over hand assistance. When it comes to small sided games they need the rules to be pretty basic and they need to be given the opportunity learn by doing. I feel my students frustration when basic movement patterns and motor skills that their grade level peers have acquired many years ago are still so difficult for them to process. My students need the reassurance that their frustrations will soon turn to joy when that first birdie is served legally over the net, that first base hit from a pitched ball in a game of whiffle ball, or even that first time independently climbing the 35 feet to the top of the ropes course. When my students with disabilities are given the opportunity to build confidence and acquire the knowledge and skills needed to someday independently participate in recreational and fitness activities their voices tell me that are incredibly thankful for the chance to be physically educated in a specially designed setting that allows them to learn at pace that caters to their individual needs.
Please remember that students with disabilities often have a very difficult time having their Voices of #Physed heard. All students deserve the opportunity to be physically educated and have that education delivered to them in a way that is appropriately based on their individual needs.
The voices of Adapted Physical Education are sometimes overlooked when designing a Quality Physical Education program, but we all must remember that “All Quality Physical Education is Adapted!”