In 2013, Sarah completely overhauled her grading practices by switching from traditional, old-school grading to standards-based instruction and assessment. Prior to making the switch, her students’ grades were based on whether or not they changed their clothes for class and participated in every activity. Now, when everything’s going according to plan, her lessons are tied to clear learning goals and objectives, and her students’ grades are based on what they know, understand, and can do.
Last year, Dr. Stephen Harvey (@drstephenharvey) introduced Sarah to a new term, cultural dilemmas. These are the circumstances or obstacles educators deal with that are often unchangeable and permanent. In physical education, cultural dilemmas include class sizes, equipment, facilities (or lack thereof), class time (how often we see students and for how long), the weather, our geographical location, the number of teaching staff in our departments, and whether or not we have vertical and horizontal program alignment in our schools and districts. Cultural dilemmas are often the barriers that hinder our ability to provide quality learning opportunities for our students. Most of us encounter them on a daily basis.
Within her program, there are several cultural dilemmas that have Sarah completely stumped. During the past few months, or maybe even longer than that, she’s started to question whether or not the assessments she creates and the concepts she teaches are really what’s best for her students.
Sarah teaches middle school physical education. The number of classes and grade levels she teaches varies every year. This year she has two 6th grade classes and three 8th grade classes. There are four PE teachers and two health teachers in her department. Even though some of the teachers are certified to teach both subjects, they don’t. Health and physical education are separate courses at Sarah’s school.
All of the students are enrolled in forty minutes of daily physical education for three quarters each year. During the fourth quarter, students rotate to a quarter of health. This means that Sarah’s class rosters change slightly every quarter. Some students stay in PE, some rotate to health, and others come back to PE. (The students who are enrolled in health do not have PE during the school day.) Some students’ schedules change at the end of a term, moving them into a different period, often with a new teacher.
Now, here’s where it gets even trickier. With fewer teaching spaces than teachers, PE teachers must often share the gym (using a curtain divider) during the winter and on bad weather days and teach in more than one space throughout the day. Starting times for class periods overlap (there is a 10:54-11:34 class, an 11:19-11:59 class, and an 11:37-12:17 class, for example). This makes it difficult to track long-term progress and the teaching spaces often dictate which standards and outcomes are covered.
These cultural dilemmas make it difficult for Sarah to determine three big things:
1) Within these parameters, which concepts should she teach her middle school students?
2) If her class rosters change each quarter, when should she teach the various concepts?
3) How can she ensure that her grading practices are accurate and fair if she can’t track her students’ performance over time?
Critical Friends Groups
Developed by the National School Reform Faculty (NSRF), Critical Friends Groups (CFGs) consist of 5-12 members who commit to improving their practice through collaborative learning and structured interactions” (NSRF). According to Education World, “CFGs provide a safe, nonjudgmental place where teachers can have their work sympathetically critiqued.” CFGs typically meet once per month to “engage in direct, honest, and productive conversations with colleagues about the complex art of teaching” (Bambino). Group members examine student work, share feedback, and participate in peer observations.
To help Sarah answer her questions, we’ve decided to start a Critical #PhysEdFriends Group. We contacted four educators we respect and admire and invited them to participate in a Google Hangout discussion. In order to keep the conversation direct, honest, and focused, we’ve adopted this Critical Friends Protocol from YouTube. Check out this link to see the entire protocol.
The members of the Critical #PhysEdFriends Group are:
- Jo Bailey, High School Physical Educator
- Sarah Gietschier-Hartman, Middle School Physical Educator
- Naomi Hartl, Former Physical Educator and Technology Specialist
- Amie Schneider, District Resource Teacher for Elementary Physical Education
- Katie White, Coordinator of Learning and Assessment Consultant
- Glenn Young, Retired Physical Education/Athletics District Coordinator
Sarah and Naomi will be hosting the Critical #PhysEdFriends Conversation LIVE on Saturday, December 23, at 12:00 PM CT. You can be a part of the discussion by watching the live broadcast (check out the link below!), joining the conversation through a chat box function in the Hangout, or using the #PhysEdFriends hashtag on Twitter.
Event: Critical #PhysEdFriends
When: Saturday, December 23 @ 10:00 AM PT, 11:00 AM MT, 12:00 PM CT, 1:00 PM ET
Link to View: To participate in the live chat click on the following link https://youtu.be/e7HCoF-lMdc