Revisiting Rules

I have such great memories of my third grade students’ enthusiasm during the gymnastics unit in physical education. After this special, they’d come back to our classroom full of excitement about what they’d practiced, asking me to come next time and see them using their new skills, and comparing what they were doing this year to what they’d done in second grade. They’d had a fun, relaxing workout, and they felt good about themselves.

The physical education teacher at the school, Erin McCorkle, purposefully creates an environment that fosters this success, first by laying a foundation at the beginning of the year and then by reinforcing it each time she starts a new unit. Since this is a time of year when many of you may be beginning new units of study, I recently asked Erin about a strategy she uses extremely effectively: taking time at the beginning of each new unit to revisit the rules. Here’s how she does it.

Erin sets up the gymnasium for the new unit ahead of time, so all the equipment is in place when students arrive. For the gymnastics unit, before students return from December vacation, she sets up equipment and stations to practice balancing, rolling, transfer of weight (cartwheels), and jumping and landing. When the children enter the gymnasium for phys ed, they see the equipment and usually get pretty excited about using it. However, instead of jumping right in, Erin has them gather for a brief meeting. First, she reminds them of the gymnasium rules, which are painted on the back wall:

  • Take care of yourself and others
  • Keep ourselves and others safe
  • Take care of the equipment and space
  • Give your best effort

Then, she asks students to think about what practicing the rules looked like in the units they’ve already covered. For instance, what did it look like to “take care of yourself and others” during the striking (skills for volleyball) unit? What did they have to think about and do to follow “Keep ourselves and others safe” when they were learning to throw overhand? After sharing some examples, they move on to consider what will be the same and different during the gymnastics unit. Erin guides this conversation so that each rule is covered, and she makes sure that common challenges are addressed. She stresses the importance of safety during the gymnastics unit and uses Interactive Modeling to teach procedures that are new for gymnastics, such as removing shoes and socks and putting them together at the start of class.

Older students, who have experienced the gymnastics unit in past years, are usually quick to think of ideas about what will be the same and different about following the rules with the new equipment. Erin draws their attention to issues she knows may be challenging for them, for instance: they will need to wait patiently and safely at stations while other students have their turns; they will have to use self-control and practice only what they have learned when working independently at stations; they can help one another use the equipment appropriately by watching and offering suggestions.

With younger students who have had less experience with gymnastics, Erin delves more deeply into exploring what will be the same and different. She encourages the students to share ideas and clarifies misunderstandings. They make a list of “looks like” behaviors for each rule. For instance, with a second grade class last year, students came up with this list of ways to follow the “Keep ourselves and others safe” rule during gymnastics: following the directions, standing in the safety zones so we won’t get hurt, using only hands to go on or over equipment, and stopping when the signal is given.

With both age groups, Erin wraps up the rules review with a brainstorm about safe things to try, and then gives the students an opportunity to explore the new equipment. Erin watches closely, reinforcing the positive behaviors she sees, providing reminders as needed, and redirecting when necessary. She uses a signal to get the whole group’s attention and tells them specifically about how she’s seeing and hearing students following the rules. She also asks the children to share examples of what they have seen or heard.

The upper grades have a longer block of time for phys ed classes, so after the students have had time to explore, there’s usually enough time remaining for Erin to begin teaching them one skill. Younger students begin learning the first skill of the new unit the next time they have phys ed, after a quick reminder about rules.

All twenty-four classes at Erin’s school began the gymnastics unit last week, which meant she reviewed the gymnasium rules with twenty-four different groups of children in five days. She says it’s absolutely worth it. “The time we spend reviewing the rules in that one week leads to seven weeks of more successful learning. Thinking about how the rules apply to gymnastics helps the children make good choices for themselves. This unit is more individualized than the others, and safety is really important—beginning this way gives each student a chance to reflect on how to challenge him/herself while still being in control and taking care of others.”

What is your next unit? How have you helped students review and reflect on the rules as you segue into different units?

Sarah Fillion is a Responsive Classroom professional development designer.

Tags: Classroom Rules, Revisiting Rules, Special Areas