All classrooms are comprised of mixed-ability students and require Differentiated Instruction. For Health and PE classes there is assuredly a greater range of skills and deficits because there is no separate advanced placement (AP) or adapted section. At any rate it is a mistake to assume such tracking of students (grouping students of similar ability) adequately addresses their dynamic range of skills and abilities in the context of lifelong learning. The use of student tracking is like trying to hit a moving target after practicing exclusively with a stationary one.
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Differentiated instruction must first anticipate the different needs of the learners. Evidence of differing needs may be gleaned from assessments and interventions (extensions and refinements). Although a commonality for all students is that their physical development occurs in stages as directed by genetics and hormones, the reality is developments of skill vary in pace and in response to environment. An advanced student may suffer in development when they accept doing work that is “safe.” A struggling learner likewise must find positive ways to contribute to their own learning by testing their strengths and not by remediating flaws. Differentiated instruction responds to these differences through continuous reevaluation to maximize capacity of all learners. It strives for that “sweet spot” just a bit beyond a student’s comfort level but still within Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development.
Ongoing (formal) assessments guide differentiated instruction. Through continuous progress monitoring the educator may gradually complicate a task environment. For example a task could begin simply with isolated practice using large easy to see objects and modified striking implements over small distances then expand to larger distances, smaller objects, unmodified striking implements, introduction of opponents in small sided lead-in game practice, and finally regulation game play. The introductions of groups or teams should be consistent with the principle of inclusion. Students vary in the amount of collaboration they need and the sorts of peers with whom they work best. So any grouping of students should be flexible not static and supported by strong behavior management.
Differentiated instruction varies most importantly the nature of the tasks rather than the number. It is beneficial to try to include as many of the senses and/or Gardner's multiple intelligences (verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, kinesthetic, visual- spatial, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist) as possible. Designed tasks must be relevant and interesting to the student. Individuals may respond to varying degrees by visualizing, by listening and discussing or by doing and being physically involved in a task. A universal design for learning (UDL) takes into account the extent of these individual tendencies through multiple means of description and demonstration. UDL increases opportunities for participation by providing multiple means for student engagement.
Inclusive teaching styles create a climate and culture of participation for students regardless of skills and abilities. Some educators may not be comfortable with the “new PE” which shifts focus from an exclusionary competitive environment to more focus on cooperation, collaboration and critical thinking by the individual student. It would be pretty boring if PE and Health classes remained the same with all the improvements in technology and instructional strategies. Our differences make us interesting and exciting. Teachers should respect individual differences by creating inclusive environments in their classrooms that will also help students to become independent learners. Is that not the goal of education?