The Evolution of Literature Enhanced Physical Education
BACK IN THE DAY
Think back to a time before organized competitive sport entered your life. Now, think of all the reasons you moved with enjoyment and purpose during that time. As physical education teachers, my guess is that many of you were like me, pretending that you were a professional athlete beating the buzzer to win a national championship.
Having grown up a tomboy in Massachusetts, I emulated Bobby Orr of the 1969 Boston Bruins. So in the streets, on the ponds or in the neighbor’s driveway, on any given Sunday, I could be seen acting out Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge, Wayne Cashman and Gerry Cheevers winning the Stanley Cup. Of course in the summer, my friends and I would become Freddy Lynn and Jim Rice or Carl Yaztremski of the Boston Red Sox. I look back now and realize how unfortunate we were not to have a hoop in the neighborhood. The many opportunities to enjoy the fame of the Boston Celtics were lost to us.
Additionally, while my neighborhood friends were, generally speaking, a sport oriented crew, I must confess to the occasional foray into the world of superheroes and detective series. Batman and Robin, were an option, but never Batgirl because I thought she was lame. However, I will admit that Charlie’s Angels provided us with some valuable storylines. I will even admit that I would have preferred to be Farah Fawcett with the perfect hair than the intelligent but cute Kate Jackson.
THE AH-HA MOMENT
Fast forward fifteen years: I became a young, tenure-less teacher, just out of college and relegated to a newly formed Kindergarten Center. Teaching eight, half hour classes of 25- five year olds every day was a daunting task in the beginning. It wasn’t until I rediscovered the magic of a child’s imagination that all the anxiety of trying to teach and control a “herd of cats” day in and day out disappeared.
Did I mention that at this time, I would go home to my own five and three year old children after a day of teaching 200 five year olds! While at times this threatened my sanity it also strengthened my teaching. My home became my classroom and my children became my professors, introducing me to the names of the Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers, as well as the timeless, and endless, Disney characters.
I found that all children became motivated when one spoke their language. When fitness exercises became Power Ranger training and dinosaurs played tag, non-movers and movers alike began to sweat! For the next nine years as Kindergarten Cop, educating, controlling, and motivating children to move was enjoyable and entertaining.
The dismantling of the Kindergarten Center coincided with the debut of Harry Potter. In my new primary school that featured K-3 students, Quidditch became all the rage. Sitting in a chair reading an except from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, the children were given the scenario for what would become the throwing unit complete with Harry Potter balloons and foam ball Golden Snitches. Having graduated from Springfield College in Massachusetts, where the philosophy of the school is Spirit, Mind, and Body it seemed to be a perfect lesson. Motivating children to move by using literature to engage their spirit truly embodied the inverted triangle that depicts a balance of the disciplines with no one area of study as the base.
Very few books, however, lend themselves so perfectly to motivating students as does Harry Potter. Likewise, while the story creates a fun and competitive scenario with motivational objectives, it does little actual educating in physical education terms.
That’s when it dawned on me that if I were to create my own stories, then not only would the children be able to pretend, but I could also imbed verbal cues into the storyline and include visual cues in the illustrations, essentially creating physical education specific literature to enhance my lessons.
Starting with the physical and cognitive outcomes being targeted, developing lessons to achieve them, and creating fantasy around the lessons is the premise behind Literature Enhanced Physical Education (LEPE).
Clean Up Your Backyard
Clean Up Your Backyard, the first book released in 2009, is based on the popular PE activity of the same name. The book includes a whimsical story about two neighboring families attempting to clean up their yard by tossing their garbage over the neighbor’s fence. It includes verbal cues to help children remember to step in opposition and illustrations depicting the phases of overhand throwing. Additionally, this teacher resource includes lesson plans, creative equipment ideas and rubrics for teaching throwing and throwing for accuracy. While I have been very happy with this book in its present state, I am also amazed how quickly children can take a story and make it their own. Since the first reading of the book, the children have invented scenarios that have improved, not only the storyline, but also provided imaginative cues that increase safety and team development. Once again, the children are becoming the teachers and I the student. Given an educational objective, the children will come up with an imaginative solution that fits their needs and my goals.
To Read or Not to Read?
Huntington Union Free School District in Huntington, NY is one of the few districts on Long Island in which K-6 students receive PE 3 X week for 40 minutes. So, to take 5 minutes a month to read in order to gain quality movement minutes by all students, especially the typically non-moving students, is worth it to me. I do, however, understand that in most schools across the country, quality physical education is difficult to administer given the minimal time allocations. Therefore, I understand that for some, taking the time to read is either unrealistic or undesirable. While I believe that the physical education teacher is the best teacher to convey the story, point out the visual cues, and ask the questions for reflection; I also believe that most primary school teachers would be more than happy to take the five minutes necessary to read to the students before coming to the gym. Likewise, promoting extra credit writing assignments and drawing contests based on the stories is a great way to promote PE as interdisciplinary without impacting upon teaching time.
Having already won over the audience that counted, it was time to invite the principal and superintendent of curriculum into the gym. The children had given their two thumbs up, and the Director of Physical Education was on board but what would academia think? To my surprise they responded with “What a rich vocabulary you have used!” and “The story provides a text to self experience.” To which I responded, “Really? and What?” So I pulled out the NYS ELA Standards and took a look. To my surprise and delight Clean Up Your Backyard meets ELA Standards One and Two.
More specifically, children are:
l Learning movement and other vocabulary
l Learning cues for movement
l Applying verbal cues to physical movements
l Interpreting the book version of the game and generalizing it to a physical education activity
l Predicting outcomes
l Relating text to their own performance
l Using the story for self expression and artistic creation
Meeting Children Where They Are
I have been both applauded and chastised for bringing literature into the gymnasium. My response to both is the same. Literature Enhanced Physical Education is not about teaching literature in the gym but about using literature to motivate and educate children to move. Literature Enhanced Physical Education (LEPE) is trying to meet all children where they are educationally and allowing them to use one of the greatest gifts they have: an imagination. As educators, being able to guide a child’s imagination into meaningful learning in the gymnasium could be the key to building a foundation for all children to become successful, intrinsically motivated movers at an early age.
Take the LEPE
If you would like to take the LEPE into Literature Enhanced Physical Education, check outwww.LEPEinc.com or e-mail me @ LEPEinc@gmail.com, join LEPEinc on Facebook and follow LynnHefele on Twitter.