Are the stakes too high in physical education?

Physical education Healthy Eating Game

How do you lower the stakes on activities?

Recently it occurred to me that for some students, the stakes are too high.  When students get tagged in a running activity what are the consequences?  Obviously we must be measuring out the consequences to fit the situation.  So when a student gets tagged we might have them do 5 jumping jacks to re-enter the activity or when they aren’t following the safety precautions with a hockey stick they may sit out of activity for a prescribed time.  I have realized that sometimes I have had the stakes too high!

Let me share my experience.  The activity is called 5-a-Day.   It is one of my students’ favorite games.  It is similar to Capture the Flag with a healthy eating spin.   The goal of the game is for a team to acquire 5 different colored bean bags (fruits/veggies) on their plate ( hula hoop).  The gym is divided into four quadrants.  Each quadrant has a  hula hoop (plate) near the back corner, and a hula hoop (jail) near the middle line.  Teams begin with four bean bags of their own color, they try to steal other teams bean bags collecting 5 different colors.  The fifth color comes from the center at beginning of the game.  Players are safe within their quadrant.  If they are tagged in another team’s quadrant they must give up beanbag, if they have one in, and then go to that team’s jail.  Players can get out of jail by a player from their team coming to get them.  If the rescuing player gets tagged, they also go to jail.  If the rescuing player can get to the jailed teammate without getting tagged, they hold hands and walk freely back to their own playing space.

Now lets review with a variety of lenses.

Is game practicing physical skills?  Yes, running, chasing, guarding/defense.

Are all students physically active?  Yes, they are instructed to rotate positions every few minutes: guarding plate, guarding jail, stealing bean bags (fruits and veggies).

Is game teaching a concept?  Yes, a healthy diet includes lots of colors of fruits and vegetables.

Now the clincher, are the stakes too high?  Yes!  I have had my students play this game repeatedly.  A few students would have a difficult time when they were the jail guarder or when they were in jail and their teammates didn’t immediately get them out.

Initially I thought,  students are learning to measure risk.  If you go into another teams’ territory, you take a risk.  We would even discuss how to lower your risk by waiting until the players were distracted.  Yes, students were learning to measure risk, but I would still have a student get upset at getting tagged.

Does any of this sound familiar?  Do we all have students who have a hard time keeping their cool?  Whose responsibility is it?  I believe it is my responsibility to set up students for success.  I also believe it is my responsibility to teach students how to manage their emotions during physical activities.

I am not a child psychologist, however I can attest to some successful teaching techniques.  First of all that means setting students up for success.  when the stakes are too high for them that often spells disaster.  It then becomes my job to differentiate consequences to accommodate all learners. When beginning 5-a-day  I once had this conversation.

Me:” Mary, I have seen other students have a difficult time when they get tagged and have to go to jail.  Can you see that you might have a difficult time?  What would make it difficult?”

Mary: “Kids say they tagged me when they really didn’t”.

Me:  “Okay, I can see that would be a problem, especially because we have the rule if the tagger says “gotcha”, the tagger is always right.  Can you accept sometimes the tagger might be wrong?”

Mary: “Maybe”

Me:  “Do you hate going to the jail?”

Mary: ” Yes, then I am stuck there forever.” (hopelessness leading to high frustration)

Me:  ” I see, then you miss out on all the game. What can we do to solve problem?”

Mary:  ” You call a jail break.

Eureka!  This is when I realized she doesn’t see a way out!  I would never call a jail break!  I still don’t but now I watch for these students’ frustration levels rising.  I ask them to also be aware.  If they realize their frustration is high I ask them to take a break, go get a drink, let me know… But I also watch, when I see a student has been in jail for a minute I give them a get out of jail for a question. “How many minutes of physical activity are you supposed to have each day? , Can you list the 5 components of health related fitness?….  This method also encourages low risk takers to take more risk in the game because the consequences of getting tagged are lower.  I differentiate rules to fit the student’s needs.  Does this mean they are the same for everyone, not always!

Seems that 5-a day is worth keeping in its’ revised form.  It is a game my students will ask for as a reward.  When I have surveyed students about what activities they really look forward to, this is always at the top of the charts. I found that this technique of lowering the stakes can easily be adapted to all the activities in the gym.  Some other ways I lower the stakes of activities:  we don’t keep score, small sided games, switch opponents and/or positions every few minutes, change elimination games so there is an easy entrance back into activity altering game to be never ending.

Do you have an activity or game where a few of your students get really frustrated?  Do they ever resort to cheating?  I used to think I needed to catch them so I could correct their behavior.  Now I re-examine the activity.  I want to catch kids being great!  I want them to have success at managing themselves!  What are you doing to ensure the stakes aren’t too high?

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