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What if CHOICE was the answer?

We explore what happened when we gave our year 6 class full responsibility...

For the last term we’ve been working with a class of year 6 pupils, teaching them tag rugby. Everything from passing, catching, running, to try scoring, tackling and matches.

Over the last few weeks behaviour was starting to become a problem in the class.

They’re a great bunch of children - but they just seemed to set one another off in the wrong way. It was like they were struggling for power or attention. Something wasn’t quite right.

So we decided to switch things up for today’s lesson. We changed the teacher and we changed the focus of the lesson.

Rather than tag rugby, we gave the children a choice.

We arrived early and set out four different stations across the playground and field. We set out a rugby pitch with balls and cones. We set out a football pitch with bibs and balls. We set out a table tennis circuit with paddles and balls, and we even left a number of other bits of equipment in the corner for new games to be created.

At the start of the lesson, the new teacher explained that instead of tag rugby, the lesson would be a free choice. The teacher was open and honest, and explained that we wanted to increase motivation amongst the children. The teacher went on to say that by giving the children a choice, they would take more ownership over the lesson. The teacher also predicted (and told the children) that because they would receive greater ownership and responsibility, it would probably mean the children would be more respectful of the lesson, the teacher and each other…

The only rules were:

  1. Play what ever game/sport you want when you want.

  2. When you play, play to what ever rules you know - but make sure everyone on the pitch understands the rules.

  3. Play safely.

The teacher was keen for everyone to know that this wasn’t a simple ‘free play’ lesson, so the teacher added a couple of important challenges (lesson objectives).

  1. Compromise. Throughout the lesson the children were to try and compromise with a friend or opponent.

  2. Skill. The children should attempt a skill they wouldn’t normally try - and use the skill to beat an opponent.

There was no warm up and the children were left to start any of the sports.

After 10 minutes half the class were on task and playing fantastically. Everyone who chose football was playing. They had fair teams and they were compromising well when a dispute occurred.

The other half of the class were a little lost. Some were at the table tennis tables, some had tennis rackets, some had rugby balls in their hands and others were walking around the field aimlessly.

The teacher called the whole class back in to talk.

All of the children had a choice - but the only children that understood any type of boundaries or rules were the group that chose football. They’d played 1000 other matches and games in the playground that week so they were obviously well versed in rules, games and tactics for their chosen sport.

The table tennis players, the netball players, the tennis players and the rugby players were all in a different situation though. They had no rules or ideas to fall back on.

So the teacher spent 5 minutes showing each group a few games and ideas. The table tennis players now had rules and a scoring system. The netball players had a ladder of skills to try and master and the rugby players created a new challenge to complete by the end of the lesson.

Everyone was now on task! 40 minutes in to the lesson and every child was playing, exercising, laughing, compromising, showing skill, learning, practicing… and not a behaviour issue in sight!

We’ll need to continue testing this approach with the children. We understand that there are lots of practical flaws - namely the set up time. But it seems that giving the children autonomy creates an environment for them to thrive. They motivate themselves better, respected each other and the lesson more and they learnt to problem solve and lead one another.

Maybe we can’t give them complete autonomy in every lesson, setting out lots of different sports - but what if we could give them more choice and ownership within the lesson itself? Maybe during next week’s tag rugby lesson we can let them chose which balls to work with, what partners to play with, the name of their team, the type of warm up they do… ?

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