What is the role of writing in our Physical Education classes in CEGEP? How much of the students learning should be expressed in written format? What is my responsibility, as a college Physical Education teacher, for my students’ ability to write in the “language” of Physical Education? I am still struggling to clarify these answers for myself. I am a Physical Education teacher, and have been at Dawson for 9 years (1990-1994, and 2004 to the present.) In all of our classes there is an active part of the class and there is also a theoretical component. Students are required to write in various forms, such as short answers, journals, brief descriptive paragraphs, and filling out charts.
One common discussion regarding writing that often arises between PE staff members is whether we are interested only in the content, or if we should also evaluate the writing form, style and grammar. We have such a focus on encouraging students to be active outside of our classes that we often don’t evaluate the actual writing. Many of us struggle with this question as we often see student work that clearly indicates that the student is struggling in her ability to express herself properly in a written format. I will sometimes overlook a writing problem in order to reward an insight into living a healthy lifestyle.
To put my initial questions into perspective, I think we have to first ask ourselves what is the ultimate purpose of college Physical Education classes. In general terms, 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. With this goal in mind, we can then conclude that college level P.E. courses focus on the individual student. We want students to explore their own needs, motivators, barriers, strengths and weaknesses with regards to their own physical fitness. We are not teaching our students how to promote physical fitness, rather, how to develop their own healthy bodies. We are also charged with inspiring students to explore a variety of physical activities and to give them the tools to pursue these activities once their time at Dawson has ended.
I think it is very important to understand these goals for CEGEP Physical Education. Our intended audience is not coaches, teachers, leaders, and instructors. It is the individual exerciser, and that makes our Physical Education language unique. Words like reflections, personal program, personal inventory, and self-evaluation are all commonly used descriptions of some of the work students perform in our classes. Much of the written work is displayed in charts and checklists. Students are asked to create meaningful and useful interpretations of the PE theory that they can continue to refer to after the class is over. As far as a personal program is concerned, one student’s program may look quite different from another’s because of differences in goals, exercise selection, or workout frequency. Regardless of the differences, all the data must be displayed in a way that is clear and easy to follow. I think the greatest obstacle against writing in our PE classes is the exercise time requirement in the classes. In a 105 minute class, our students should be active for at least 60 minutes. Many of us believe that it is during the active sessions that students are most inspired to pursue these activities outside of class. Therefore, many of us extend that 60 minute active period to as much as 90 minutes out of 105. Having said this, it is possible to include writing in small group activities like brainstorming sessions or small group discussions on class material. We can also examine our assignments and try to offer students opportunities to express themselves in different formats.
For example, one assignment might ask students to fill in a chart evaluating their fitness results, while another assignment might ask them to examine their exercise choices and explain why they prefer one type of activity over another. Our intensive classes lend well to writing activities. In these classes we see the students for at least 3 lectures before we leave the campus for a one to three day activity session. In these lecture sessions we have the opportunity to develop some writing activities. These activities could include reflections on student’s feeling about their preparedness and then performance of the activity, or note-taking and checklists, or an informative research assignment based on an aspect of the activity. One type of writing that is unique to our courses is mapping. We use maps in many of our activities. Students have to learn to read them and they also may learn how to communicate their travels through maps they have designed themselves. The students own maps may not be to scale, and they may not coordinate properly with a compass, but they do represent the environment they explored in a creative and meaningful way that can be understood by other readers.
In our classes, our students are asked to communicate with their bodies by actively participating, and by visibly testing their own limits. We ask them to communicate orally by calling out to their teammates in games, and by explaining why they are doing a particular exercise. We should also continue to ask our students to communicate with writing by exchanging ideas with classmates and teachers, by reflecting on their own fears, skills, challenges and accomplishments, by charting their progress and mapping their way, and by researching their possibilities and creating their programs.
B. Informal Reflective Writing Assignments and Learning Activities
Adventure Canoe 104 Relections and Adventure Canoe 105 Final Reflections These assignments would be given in class and the students would have a time limit appropriate to the the assignment expectations.
Brainstorming Activity as Preparation for Personal Program Planning Rock Climbing Skills Self Evaluation:
C. Personal Program Planner Writing Assignments
The first version of the Performance Evaluation assignment below is quite open-ended and I wasn’t getting the quality of answers that I wanted. I developed the second version to guide the students through their program evaluations.
The Personal Program Planner is based on the idea that a healthy lifestyle includes exercise. We can customize our workouts and exercise sessions to help us meet specific health goals. The purpose of this assignment is for students to commit to at least 3 exercise sessions per week outside of our PE class.
D. Mapping Assignments
This two following assignments involve mapping, which is a combined form of activity and writing that is not common to many disciplines.
To conclude, let me say that my personal interest in the WID Fellows was to get some ideas about how to integrate higher writing expectations into my classes without jeopardizing my students’ feeling of success and enjoyment in the class. Secondly, I think that the activities that we do in PE classes (specifically our outdoor ed. intensives) can potentially provide students with inspiring material for their writing. I look forward to continuing to write with my students, and I look forward to learning more about how to become a more effective writer and facilitator of writing skill development.