I signed up for the WID program as I felt a need to develop more tools to help my students think and write well. Unfamiliar with writing-IN-the-disciplines, I was expecting learning about specific techniques to assist students in writing better English. What I discovered were ideas and approaches to writing that would help my students learn MY discipline of Physical Education. This portfolio summarizes three such nuggets:
Activating prior knowledge – Small group quiz
Writing as a developmental process – Drafting, peer review, and feedback
Sample writing – Weekly logs
1. Activating prior knowledge – Small group quiz
As a culminating course in the physical education curriculum, the Physical Activity & Autonomy course relies on essential content from the Physical Activity & Health and Physical Activity & Efficacy courses. The reality is that without some form of coaching or structure, students have difficulty recalling basic principles of training, components of wellness fitness, and goal setting. In the past, I have handed out ready-made summary sheets on these topics, but only some students used these resources appropriately as they elaborated their personal activity plans. In order to ‘prime the pump,’ early in the semester, I now have students complete a short quiz covering this essential knowledge (see Small Group Quiz.pdf). After discussion the course content and course outline in the first class, students are informed that they will have a quiz the following on essential knowledge from their previous two classes. As there is no grade assigned to the quiz and that the purpose is for students start re-engaging with course content, I “allow” students to complete the quiz in small groups of 3 or 4. This activity has generated good conversation, pride in those students who reviewed or remember previous content, serves as an early activity in supportive peer-work, and promotes some social bonding.
The information recall questions of the quiz are then reviewed together and students choose a grade for their group. For the most part, student groups successfully complete these questions. Typically, this also reveals some confusion in the goal setting process.
2. Writing as a developmental process – Drafting, peer review, and feedback
One of the more impactful ideas that the WID course has offered me is that of writing as a developmental activity. Bean (2001) repeatedly comes back to the idea that good writing is an iterative process; expert writers explore their ideas through writing and continuously come back to these ideas to cut, paste, chop, reassemble, and buff them. The idea of students learning about themselves and their voice through writing is particularly appealing to me. In designing their personal activity plan, the entire endeavor is predicated, for me, on students actually grasping and reflecting on their current habits and proposing a plan that is personally relevant, realistic, and effective.
In the elaboration of their plan, I have always allowed students to resubmit their proposal after receiving feedback from me. One problem with this approach is that I found myself spending a large amount of time addressing low-level content knowledge issues which drowned out opportunities for deeper level questions. To promote this process of writing and revision, students complete a draft plan and bring it to class. In pairs, students use a feedback form to help each other fine tune their writing (see FITT peer eval.pdf). The hope is that this offers an opportunity for review and discussion all the while correcting some of the low-level content knowledge issues.
Initial challenges in this process were the lack of specific criteria and the propensity of students to immediately begin talking with each instead of referring to the text. To solve the first issue, leading questions were elaborated for each criterion (in essence, the questions I ask myself when I am assigning a grade). To the second issue, I have set a 10-minute silence-only period of evaluation and ask peer reviewers to put themselves in my shoes as a teacher/grader. Following the silence period, students can talk to each to provide feedback and help each other elaborate their thoughts.
I have found two additional benefits in using this peer-review process. Firstly, when they submit their final copy of their physical activity plan along with the draft and the peer-review sheet, I am able to see the degree of progress in their analysis & proposal. This in turn helps me better target my comments and questions. Secondly, the peer evaluation document has been useful for students who are absent in this period as I can email it to them and have them complete it with a friend. Without instruction, it isn’t as effective as when done in class, but it does at least provide an opportunity for some feedback to happen and some reviewing of their text.
The process outlined above lead to 80% of student proposals being personally relevant, realistic, and effective. In the past, to get to this level, I needed to meet individually with students to coach them through. These one-on-one meetings were a significant source of extra workload and also retarded the implementation date for most students (without review, approximately 20-40% of students were ‘good to go’). My grading of their work at this point now consists of open-ended questions, positive reinforcement of good or excellent work, and leading commentaries to more resources. To further foster our conversation about health, wellness, and fitness, students are required to respond to my comments and questions in subsequent submissions. Ultimately, this means that all students have the opportunity to improve their proposal and achieve a 90% or more in this section of the assignment.
The remaining 20% of students receive the same kind of feedback from me, but do not receive a grade until they resubmit their work to a higher standard. For students with significant conceptual misconceptions, they are required to meet with me during my office hours. Though this retards their implementation of their program, there is enough time in the semester for them to successfully complete their plan.
3. Sample writing – Weekly logs
What became apparent in my readings and discussions with my WID cohort is that students often don’t know what good writing looks like in my discipline. In fact, I had a hard time identifying what constitutes writing in physical education as I had a hard time even defining my field. Drawing on Lave & Wenger (1991), I was having difficulty identifying the “community of practice” I wished to introduce my students to. Our students are not being trained to be physical educators, coaches, fitness consultants, or any other such profession. Academic and professional writing in the field of fitness and health is thus not my target language or culture (though the ability to read, understand, and interpret some information from these fields, at least at a superficial level, is).
A colleague and previous WID participant summed up the goals of our discipline thusly: “our goal is to inspire our students to want to live a healthy lifestyle and to have them agree that regular exercise is a requirement for physical fitness and optimal health.” These goals could be further detailed and nuanced, but taken as stated, this definition directed me to seeing the community of practice that I am interested in having students participate in is the community of people who are engaged in healthy & fit lifestyles. This in turn directed me towards considering writing as personal reflection, testimonial, journaling, etc.
Within the Physical Activity & Autonomy course, the weekly documentation of their physical activity plan plays such a role. However, without clear examples, student responses on this section of the assignment tend to vary with their given writing orientation – good writers provide in depth, specific, and well supported responses; poor writers offer the barest and vaguest of reflections. To help low reflection students realize the potential of a good response, I tried out the inclusion of a sample log (see Weekly logs.pdf). In my test group, though some students, the majority wrote to a passing standard or better from week one onwards.
Bean, J.C. (2001). Engaging Ideas. San Franciso, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Lave, J. & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambrudge, MA: Cambridge University Press.
Physical Education Competencies : http://www.dawsoncollege.qc.ca/programs/about-general-education/physical-education