Using Student Voice in PE

Written by Grace Cardiff & Lee Sullivan

In our previous blog we explored why collecting student voice can form a critical part of your curriculum and lesson delivery. In this blog we review how this valuable information can shape and enhance our physical education (PE) delivery.

Talking the Talk, Walking the Walk

In his paper ‘Talking the Talk, Walking the Walk Six Simple Strategies for Enacting Student Voice in Physical Education,’ Donal Howley (2022) discusses the implementation of student voice in high school physical education (PE) settings. It acknowledges that while student voice is often advocated for in PE, it is not always effectively practiced. The author emphasises that student voice is a social and emotional process, requiring both teachers and students to develop competencies in self-management, self-awareness, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.

The paper presents six simple strategies to effectively enact student voice in PE:

  1. Full-Value Contract: Instead of imposing established rules, invite students to co-create rules and expectations relevant to PE. This collaborative approach fosters a sense of ownership and shared language within the class.
  2. Personal Biographies and Timelines: Encourage students to reflect on their personal experiences with PE and physical activity. They create timelines highlighting significant moments that shaped their relationship with PE. This exercise helps develop self-awareness and social awareness among students.
  3. Digital/Written Reflections: Provide students with opportunities for reflection, allowing them to make sense of their learning experiences. These reflections can be done online and tailored to class content to keep them engaging and relevant.
  4. Taster Sessions: Offer a variety of movement activities through taster sessions, allowing students to vote on their preferred activities. This approach incorporates students’ interests and experiences into the PE curriculum, making it more relevant and meaningful.
  5. Cooperative Learning: Promote cooperative learning structures that encourage positive interdependence, interpersonal skills, and group processing. Group discussions help students identify their emotions in PE and understand their peers’ perspectives.
  6. Consultation and Negotiation Classes/Conferences: Dedicate time for teachers and students to discuss and negotiate the PE curriculum. Students vote on unit preferences and collectively decide on inclusive and meaningful options.

The paper concludes by highlighting the importance of gradually integrating student voice into PE and balancing it with established teaching approaches. It emphasizes that by consistently implementing these strategies, both teachers and students can commit to and enact student voice, leading to more meaningful and engaging PE experiences and promoting physically active lifestyles.

Beyond Lip Service

As explored in our first blog, the 2022 JOPERD article titled ‘Beyond Lip Service: Making Student Voice and Meaningful Reality in Elementary Physical Education’ by Iannucci and Parker discusses what can be done with student voice. In the article they challenge teachers to ‘develop our ability and confidence to listen and respond to that voice.’
The article explains that listening and responding to student voices requires courage, compassion, and confidence to relinquish control, though the extent depends on the context. Allowing students to take responsibility for their learning involves celebrating successes and learning from less-than-ideal decisions. In practice, it entails facilitating democratic processes, such as deciding to move a lesson outdoors. Reflecting on their choices fosters a sense of ownership and trust in the co-construction of their physical education experience.

Iannucci and Parker suggest a gradual approach to receiving student voice. Exploring authentic student voice involves teaching and facilitating social and emotional skills, starting gradually, and avoiding overwhelming students. While choice isn’t equivalent to voice, introducing it and progressing toward authentic voice can be an effective entry point. Genuine use of student voice, listened to and responded to, is crucial for meaningful engagement and avoiding mixed messages.

Just Let Them Have a Say

The article, ‘Just let them have a say!’ Students’ perspective of student voice pedagogies in primary physical education’ discusses the importance of incorporating student voice pedagogies in primary physical education (PE) to enhance the learning experience. The study explores how involving students in decision-making and reflection can empower them in shaping their PE lessons. The key findings and strategies used to implement student voice pedagogies are summarised below.

The blog highlights several strategies employed to promote student voice in PE:

  1. Sharing Learning Objectives and Lesson Outline: At the beginning of each lesson, learning objectives and lesson outlines were shared with the children in a child-friendly way. This allowed the children to understand the purpose of the activities and encouraged them to be active participants in the learning process.
  2. Offering Choice: Students were given choices in various aspects of the lesson, such as selecting warm-up/cool-down activities, choosing equipment, and deciding the order and length of activities. This choice empowered them and helped them find their voices in the learning process.
  3. Groupings: Children had the option to choose between student-selected or teacher-selected groups for games and activities. This allowed them to work with partners or groups they felt comfortable with, enhancing their engagement and collaboration.
  4. Challenge Level: Grace initially provided different challenge options (hard, medium, easy) for activities, allowing students to choose the level that suited them. Over time, students were encouraged to co-create challenge levels with the teacher, giving them autonomy over their learning experiences.
  5. Personal Practice Time: Students were given 5-10 minutes for personal practice time at the end of lessons. During this time, they could choose specific skills to work on, helping them see the relevance of PE activities in their lives.
  6. Self-Designed Games: Towards the end of a topic or unit, students worked in small groups to design games based on the content they had learned. This cooperative activity encouraged them to make decisions and communicate effectively.
  7. Reflective Pedagogies: Various reflective methods were used, including goal setting at the beginning of lessons, in-class discussions, and post-lesson reflections through exit tickets and reflection prompts. These practices allowed students to share their thoughts and influence future lessons.

The research also discusses the broader context of student voice in PE and how it can lead to more meaningful experiences for students. The study indicates that providing students with opportunities to share their voices in decision-making, reflection, and personal practice time enhances their engagement and ownership of their learning.

The importance of creating a safe space for students to express their voices is emphasised and provides evidence of how sharing curriculum objectives and engaging in reflective practices during and after lessons positively impacted the students’ learning experiences. Additionally, the article discusses the value of choice in PE activities and groupings, allowing students to work with friends or choose challenge levels.

The research findings suggest that implementing student voice pedagogies in primary PE can lead to more meaningful and engaging learning experiences. However, it is also important to consider students’ capabilities and preferences when involving them in decision-making processes. The study concludes that student voice practices should be viewed as guiding principles rather than rigid goals for educators, and that further research in different contexts and subject areas could provide additional insights into the benefits of student voice in primary education.

Using Student Voice to Inform Change

Once we have received the student voice feedback there are a number of areas that we can use it to inform our delivery. Whilst the student voice might not always be easy to accept, accept it we must! The table below provides some examples of where we might look to use student voice to inform change.

In Conclusion

We must seek out and accept the feedback from our students if we are truly to meet their needs and build a positive connection with PE, physical activity and sport. Leaders can use student voice as a tool for change and to ensure that our purpose meets our practice.

Top Key Takeaways

  1. Embrace Change: Present student voice feedback to your team to create awareness and drive change. Acknowledge students’ dissatisfaction, lack of value, and desires for improvement in PE. Use their collective voice as a catalyst for rethinking approaches, embracing innovation, and creating a relevant and enjoyable PE program.
  2. Act on Feedback: Accept and act upon student voice feedback, even if it challenges current practices. Use student voice to inform various areas of your PE delivery, such as curriculum design, instructional methods, assessment strategies, and extracurricular offerings. By actively incorporating student perspectives, you build a positive connection with your students and improve their engagement in PE.
  3. Start Small: Student voice is a learning journey for both teachers and students. Start small – start with something that you are comfortable with (i.e. an exit ticket at the end of the lesson, a choice of warm-up activities etc.). As you begin to see the benefits of eliciting your students’ voices in lessons, continue to build on and encourage your students’ autonomy and collaboration. The ”best version” of student voice will look different for every teacher and their respective students. Often what works for one group of students, may not work for another.

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