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Motivate students to learn with these techniques

This is an excerpt from Survive and Thrive as a Physical Educator by Alisa R. James.


Get practical guidance for day-to-day challenges with Survive and Thrive as a Physical Educator.

Using Instructional Techniques to Motivate Students

In addition to earning students’ respect and developing positive relationships with students, you can also use specific instructional techniques that are effective in motivating students. According to Brophy and Kher (1986), four conditions need to be created in order to motivate students to learn, and teachers can create these conditions by doing the following:

  1. Present tasks that are developmentally appropriate.
  2. Present tasks that have meaning to students and contribute toward learning objectives.
  3. Present a variety of tasks to minimize boredom.
  4. Present tasks as learning opportunities, and provide students with assistance and encouragement to help them accomplish the tasks.

Present Tasks That Are Developmentally Appropriate Activities that are developmentally appropriate contribute to students’ intrinsic motivation to participate. Developmentally appropriate tasks motivate students because the tasks are challenging and not too easy or too difficult. If a task is too simple or too difficult, it will likely reduce student motivation to continue participating.

Teaching by invitation and intratask variation are two ways to ensure developmental appropriateness and to motivate students who are at different skill levels. Teaching by invitation is when you invite the whole class to change the task in some way; however, some students may choose to not change the task (Graham, Holt/Hale, & Parker, 2010). For example, you may state the following: “At this time if you are comfortable throwing the ball at the target from your spot, I invite you to make it more difficult by moving back two giant steps. If you believe you need more practice from your current spot, you are welcome to stay at that spot.”

Intratask variation involves changing the task for an individual student or a small group of students (Graham, Holt/Hale, & Parker, 2010). This is useful when a task is appropriate for most students but a single student or a small group of students are either struggling with the task or finding it too easy. In this situation, to motivate students to stay on task and keep learning, you should have a conversation with the individual student or small group and change the task as needed for them while the other students continue to practice the original task.

Present Tasks That Have Meaning and Contribute Toward Learning Objectives Students should find learning tasks meaningful, and the tasks should meet students’ personal interests. As a teacher, you need to find ways to present tasks that have meaning and importance to students. At the same time, you must ensure that students are working to accomplish learning objectives through these tasks.

One way to do this is to plan the physical education curriculum in a manner that offers students choices of activities. Many physical education teachers use an activity interest survey to determine students’ interests and then plan their curricular offerings based on the results. The survey could also include questions about why the students participate in physical activity. For example, are students physically active because they want to enhance their physical fitness, because they want to be with their friends and have fun, or because they want to improve their appearance? Students have various reasons for choosing to participate in physical activity. It is your job to determine their reasons and needs for participation and to provide activities that allow them to meet their needs. Resource 6.2 provides an example of an activity interest survey that a teacher could use when making decisions about curricular offerings.

Curriculum models are used to deliver tasks in a meaningful way that also contributes to learning outcomes. Curriculum models focus on specific, relevant, and challenging outcomes that allocate more time for learners to be engaged with learning (Lund & Tannehill, 2010). Some of the common curriculum models include Sport Education, Adventure Education, and the Skill Theme Approach.

The goal of Sport Education is to develop competent, literate, and enthusiastic sportspersons (Siedentop, Hastie, & van der Mars, 2011). The model has several features that mimic authentic sport experiences, such as seasons, affiliation, formal competition, record keeping, and culminating events. In addition, this model includes an emphasis on fair play and developing game sense. Game sense is a combination of learning skills, applying tactics, and understanding rules (Siedentop, Hastie, & van der Mars, 2011). Furthermore, students take on different roles in the model, such as player roles, team roles (i.e., coach, trainer), duty team roles (i.e., official, scorekeeper), and specialist roles (i.e., line judge in volleyball).

Adventure Education is a model that focuses on the development of interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships through the use of activities that involve challenges and an uncertainty of the final outcome (Lund & Tannehill, 2010). Adventure Education involves the practice of group processing (debriefing) of learning activities. Debriefing helps students sort information in a meaningful way, and it allows them to focus on issues arising from the experience and to verbally reflect on and analyze the experience (Lund & Tannehill, 2010).

Another feature of Adventure Education is the concept of challenge by choice. Challenge by choice implies that students can choose from a variety of activities with different levels of physical and emotional challenges that involve a degree of risk. The final aspect of Adventure Education is the full value contract. The full value contract is a social contract that group members agree to adhere to in regard to personal behavior and group interactions.

The Skill Theme Approach is a model that is commonly used at the elementary level. The approach is built around skill themes and movement concepts. Skill themes are the fundamental movements that build the foundation for sports and physical activities, such as throwing, kicking, and striking. Movement concepts enhance the quality of a movement. For example, the skill theme of throwing can be enhanced by the movement concept of force, such as throwing the ball hard at the wall.

The Skill Theme Approach has four characteristics. The first is that students will develop competence in performing a variety of locomotor, nonmanipulative, and manipulative motor skills. Second, the approach is designed to provide experiences that are appropriate to a child’s developmental level, as opposed to age or grade level. Third, the scope and sequence of the skill themes are designed to reflect the varying needs and interests of students over a period of years. Finally, the approach emphasizes instructional alignment, which involves the teacher deciding on objectives for a lesson, developing a series of tasks to accomplish the objectives, and designing assessments to determine if the lesson objectives have been achieved (Graham, Holt/Hale, & Parker, 2010).

These three curriculum models are very popular, but other models are also available that enable teachers to present tasks in a meaningful manner while helping students achieve learning objectives. Figure 6.1 provides several resources for more information about curriculum models.


Read more from Survive and Thrive as a Physical Educator by Alisa R. James.


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