I am nearing the end of my first full year teaching GCSE PE, and there are some major barriers that I would like to improve upon next year

  1. Students missing lessons and accepting that they have missed content
  2. Students completing homework to an inadequate standard
  3. Chasing students who fail to complete homework

With the new specifications increasing the theoretical weighting of the course, I feel now is the time to try and combat these problems to improve the quality of learning being experienced by my students. Let’s take them one at a time.

Students missing lessons and accepting that they have missed content

At the beginning of this year, senior management paraded attendance figures to both staff and students, detailing that all outgoing year 11’s who attended school for more than 95% of the year received 5 A*-C grades. Obviously, the lower the attendance, the less desirable the students grades. The message was clear – “students need to be in school to achieve”.

I would challenge this message, instead turning the attention to teachers – If your students are not in school, what are you doing to ensure they do not suffer in your subject? I must admit I have been quite naive in my expectations of some of my students, simply asking them next lesson to copy up notes they have missed. Of course, rarely does this happen, and a cosmic-sized hole appears in the knowledge that students have of the course.

My proposed solution is taken from something I saw posted on twitter a while back. The most important premise behind this dilemma is that the student must take ownership of catching up the work, but the teacher must provide a framework that makes this feasible, and above all, expected. The moment students are allowed to “get away” with missed work is the moment they will stop doing it. Therefore, I plan on introducing a slip that is stuck in to students exercise books upon their return to my lesson. It will look something like this:

GCSE PE missed learning notice

The teacher will fill in the necessary boxes and agree a fair deadline for the student to show the work has been completed. If all tasks are not completed to a satisfactory standard within the agreed deadline, the student will sit a detention. Hopefully, this will remove the belief from students that missing a lesson is a valid excuse for not knowing a part of the course.

Students completing homework to an inadequate standard

Issuing homework is not something that I find natural as a PE teacher. It is not common practice in the core element of our subject (not at my school, anyway), therefore I have not had a great deal of experience with it until this year. I find it frustrating that the array of work students hand in is vast in quality, demonstrating that some have spent 5 minutes on it and some 45 minutes. Ironically, the ones that spend more time on it are invariably the ones who have the best knowledge of the topic in the first place. This should not be the case.

My solution for this takes on board a theory of learning that I have become more interested in over the last few months – mastery learning. This is in large part due to listening to webinars from James Simms at MyPEExam.org, who applies this theory in his software package. My initial solution was to convince my HoF to buy into MyPEExam for all/a selection of our GCSE students, but that was sadly rejected due to financial constraints. Therefore, I am having a go at applying the theory myself.

I plan on setting more homeworks with a very simple intention – anything short of mastery is considered inadequate. To do this, I will use socrative.com to create short quizzes on each of the topics. Students will complete the quizzes for homework, and redo them until they achieve 100%. Hopefully, this should reverse the counter-intuitive trend mentioned above – what should happen now is those that know the most prior to the quiz should complete it quicker with less submissions, and vice versa.

For this to work, students need to understand that ALL of them are capable of achieving 100% – it might just take some longer than others. It might require some seeking help from friends, or coming to see me during a lunch time, or requesting additional support in the form of a video or textbook page. However, the premise is completely clear – anything less than 100% is deemed inadequate and will be followed up by an appropriate sanction (my answer to a “detention” in this situation is to work through the homework with the student at a lunchtime of my choosing. No point punishing them for not knowing something).

I have trialed this idea of using Socrative to get mastery within a lesson, but never as a homework. I am hoping it will mean those that need the most work to improve will have to apply it.

Chasing students who fail to complete homework

I sometimes feel like too much of my time is spent chasing students for detentions, either for forgetting kit in core PE, or not handing in homework in GCSE PE. For the latter, I hope a move to online homeworks (as mentioned above) will make it much easier for me to keep track of who is doing homework.

Additionally, I would like to make use of student email addresses next year as my school moves closer to the 21st century and students are becoming encouraged to use their own devices for learning purposes. This move to a digital dialogue with my GCSE class I hope will reduce the effort of having to chase students. I have considered setting up specific emails for students to be used only in GCSE PE, or asking them to provide me with an email that I can contact them on; this could be there school email address, which some use, or a personal one.

It is my intention to use digital solutions as much as possible this year, in an attempt to decrease workload and also increase student engagement. I hope these measures mentioned above will lead to my students getting a better deal in my GCSE lessons for years to come. Any suggestions or ideas on how you have overcome these issues would be greatly appreciated – message me on twitter or comment below.