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"How long should a SoW be?" Curriculum scrutiny: 4 week rotations

During my teacher training I had always had an interest in time management. If you did not find learning about padagogy, lesson planning and behaviour management techniques difficult then discovering you need to be excellently efficient with time definitely was.

The effectiveness of time management by a teacher in attempt to be as efficient as possible fascinated me (and still does). "How long should a lesson be? How long should you stay on a task for? How long should I question for? How long should a SoW be?", were questions I kept asking myself. This curiosity continued throughout my degree and led to my dissertation title, "What impact does the duration of a lesson have on Year 8 & 9 Boys' achievement in P.E". I observed and took data from five schools who taught different lessons times (1x50mins, 2x60mins, 1x90mins & 1x100mins) and compared which was the most effective. I mention this because I believe the findings from this research project apply to the question a lot of PE teachers & departments are discussing today, "How long should we teach a unit of work for" (I will share the results of my study at this end of this blog).

I have worked in, completed placements in, volunteered in or attended myself schools that follow different curriculum programs. The structures ranged from 4 weeks to a whole half term and recently I asked the twitter community to share which programme their school was currently running (see diagram below). The response was brilliant as the poll received 195 votes in 24 hours with the most popular answer at 41% (80 teachers/schools) following "as long as the half term". I think it would be fair to say this is a "traditional" route and for good reason it is for many reasons very successful. Half terms can range between 6-8 weeks and this is enough time to deliver a very well-rounded SoW that will result in pupil progress and skill development. 

So you might be now asking: why try anything different? The answer is: Because we must continue to grow and adapt to expand our knowledge which can only be done by trying new things.

"When you're finished changing, you're finished." -Benjamin Franklin

Trying something new is what we preach in the classroom everyday but it is something that us teachers can fall into a habit of not doing ourselves and getting "stuck in our ways". Not to disagree or disrespect that through years of experience you may have found the best way to do or teach something but it is more than likely that you found this knowledge through trialing different methods before decide on the most successful. I am preaching that no matter how many years of experience you must never settle, never stop evolving and never finish - always look for new ideas and change. So I challenge you in your next department or curriculum review meeting to bring up the idea of changing or at least discussing the possibility of change and what that might look like in your curriculum for next year.  Well that is exactly what we did at my school as we changed from a "as long as the half term" to a "4 week rotation" - here's how it has gone so far in my opinion...

There were lots of positives to take from this change as a bigger scope of sports/activities could be offered as our previously module offered only 6 activities and through this new module we managed to offer 10 different activities! This allowed for the introduction of Ultimate Frisbee, Gaelic Football, Handball, Table tennis & Hockey into our curriculum. We found this increased motivation and participation as pupils were experiencing new sports for the first time and we noticed an improvement in behaviour and decrease in pupils "forgetting their kit". Students fed back that they enjoyed the short sharp burst of new activities and unlike previous years they knew if they did not like an activity they only had 4 weeks worth instead of 8 weeks which had a clear positive impact on enjoyment levels. Students also commented they liked the change of setting for example, they would have 4 weeks in the dance studio then go out outside rather than a long period of time in one setting. All this was music to our ears but we would be very naïve to think that through all these advantages there were no disadvantages...

At first it meant a lot more planning for the department as new SoW had to be planned for the new activities and original SoWs had to now be condensed into a 4 week timetable - this led to the biggest disadvantages: surface learning. For example, it was very difficult to decide which fundamental Basketball skills to teach and what would be essentially cut from the original longer SoW and this led to the next problem. When I picked dribbling as a fundamental skill and after one lesson the whole class did not achieve my LOs then there was a tough choice to make whether to move on with only 3 weeks left or stick with this dribbling lesson but then lose out on learning another already condensed fundamental skill. Furthermore, sometimes this problem was forced upon the department as a school trip, training day, charity event or exams would result in a class losing a lesson or facility. These problems led to a lack of skill development which negatively impacted our enrichment teams and performances. To look further down the line this would/could impact GCSE practical grades as we were developing pupils who were moderate at 10 sports rather than strong at 3 or 4. 

It should now be becoming very clear to you that this 4 week rotation has some real pros and cons. But be honest with yourself now and take a moment to list a few pros and cons are your current model...

That leads to my final point. The curriculum you offer as a PE department must be inline with your aims. You must have a clear vision and goal as a department that you are trying to achieve and make curriculum choices in favour of this. If you have problems with participation and motivation the 4 week rotation could be worth trialing for a year in your school. Especially if you have a lot of pupils in sports clubs outside of school already and a very strong extra-curriculum programme that compliments and supports the skill development of the more likely pupils who would take GCSE PE. Remember when making changes to audit the equipment you have, the skill sets within your department but most fittingly your curriculum must match the needs of your pupils. For one school this could be a 4 week rotation and for another longer. I believe there is not a one size fits all approach to curriculum planning or for that matter teaching itself. 

In conclusion, this brings me back to my research project and the results. To summarise the results the actual duration of time of a lesson itself did not seem to matter but it was how that time was spent that was the key. Progress was made and goals were met when the lessons were catered for the needs of the learners and the teaching was good. 

I hope this blog provokes thought and conversations in your departments.

Thank you for reading 

Written by Oliver Parkinson


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