Earlier in this chapter we compared the skill themes of gymnastics to sets of actions. Each of the skill themes can be taught alone as a separate set, or they may be taught in combination so they overlap and interact with one another. In a similar manner, each of the learning experiences that follow in part II of this book can stand alone as a single lesson plan, or one learning experience may be developed into a series of related thematic lessons or a unit of work. For example, you might be able to develop two or more lessons from each learning experience, depending on your teaching situation. Realize, however, that in many instances if you were to teach an entire learning experience as a lesson, the children would no doubt finish confused, and probably frustrated, because learning experiences contain far more than can be reasonably taught, and learned, in one 30-minute experience. Most learning experiences contain several objectives. For most lessons you will want to select one, maybe two, objectives to concentrate on. In other words, you want to pick a “learnable piece” that children can truly understand and grasp rather than simply expose them to ideas that they can’t possibly understand, much less learn, in the time allotted.
The decisions that you make as a teacher are unique because of your background level of understanding, the experiences of the children you teach, and your school setting and curriculum. For example, if you do not have a background of rich experiences in gymnastics or if the children you teach are absolute beginners, you may have to spend more time on each of the specific learning experiences. If you have worked on gymnastics with children over a number of years, you may choose at times to teach a given learning experience in a single lesson and at other times to expand a learning experience into a unit of work culminating in sequence development. In other instances the number of times a week you meet the students or the equipment you have available may regulate the development of your learning experiences. If you meet your students only once a week, you may not be able to have the luxury of extending a learning experience over several classes. If you meet your students three times a week, you may think you can stay on the same skill theme for several classes. A word to the wise, however: It is far better to cover less material and do a thorough job in an effort to develop a narrower range of skills than it is to brush over a lot of material and never give children the chance to become skillful or gain mastery.
To answer the question “What is a learning experience?” we would have to say that it is a complete experience. It has a series of objectives. It is intended for a specific age range and includes a complete description of how to teach the material. Again, a learning experience may be just one lesson, or it may be a series of related lessons.
Components of a Learning Experience
Each learning experience in this book is organized according to a consistent format. This format includes the following:
- The name of the learning experience.
- Objectives that explain the psychomotor, cognitive, and affective skills children will improve as a result of participating in this learning experience. When appropriate, the national standard that these objectives are helping students meet is referenced at the end of an objective in parentheses.
- A suggested grade range for the learning experience.
- The organization of the learning environment during the learning experience.
- The kinds and amounts of equipment needed for presenting this learning experience to children.
- A description of the total learning experience, explained as if you, the physical education teacher, were actually presenting the learning experience to children (additional information for teachers is set off in brackets). As the learning experience is developed, each new task for the children is identified regarding whether it is an informing (I), extending (E), refining (R), or applying (A) task.
- Ideas for Assessment, which give key points for you to keep in mind when informally observing and assessing children’s progress in the learning experience. These are related to the objectives for the learning experience.
- How Can I Change This? allows you to either increase or decrease the difficulty level involved in the learning experience, thus allowing for all students to be challenged at their individual ability level.
In addition, although each of the following categories is not included in every learning experience, they are included where appropriate:
- Ideas for Teaching Fitness illustrates how components of physical fitness can be integrated into gymnastics.
- Ideas for Integrated Curriculum illustrates how concepts taught in gymnastics can be related to disciplinary learning in language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, or a combination of these.
- Ideas for Inclusion illustrates how you can meet the needs of special students by adapting tasks, equipment, or requirements for sequence work.