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Digital Differentiation in Physical Education

Digital Differentiation in PE by Zachary Wentz, first semester graduate student at St.Kate’s

Differentiation can be defined as “a symphony, not one particular instrument, of ongoing modifications to every facet of the learning environment in response to students’ needs, interests, and readiness” (Smith, 2005, pg. 39).  This allows students to experience learning in multiple different ways in order to help them succeed. Like Rosen (2011) stated, “providing information through a variety of modalities and sources helped students develop a richer, more complex mental representation of the material.”  Therefore, teachers are strongly encouraged to provide various avenues for students to learn content along with showcasing their knowledge.

An increased amount of digital tools are available for most teachers.  However, “the point is not to teach with technology, but to use technology to convey content more powerfully and efficiently” (Rosen, 2011).  With the numerous tools in the world, physical educators need to select tools that are designed to enhance student learning and create motivation towards the topic. In the following paragraphs, I will highlight several digital tools and how they help differentiate content and assessment.

Differentiationcan be used in three different domains: content, process, and product (Smith, 2005, pg. 39). Process refers to the “range of instructional decisions regarding not only how the teacher will present the information and organize learning, but also the thinking processes students will use to understand the content” (Smith, 2005, pg. 39).  One popular way to differentiate the learning process is the use of videos. iPads along with other video devicescan be used to capture and replay video clips.  LikeEberline and Richards (2014) stated, “teachers can video-tape student performances and then replay the video to show students the skills elements they are performing correctly and those elements that require improvement” (pg. 39).  In fact, “Banville andPolifki (2009) found a student’s ability to learn and perform motor skills increased with the use of digital video recorders” (Pyle andEsslinger, 2014, pg. 37).  Another educational use of videoscan be seen in a variety of instructional videos.  Teachers can create a wide variety of videos thatare directed towards certain skills.  For example, in aracquet sports unit, teachers can create skill specific videos that help with specific skills such as forehand, backhand, spike, or a serve. When students enter the gymnasium, they can identify an area for improvement and watch the corresponding video.  After watching the drill, students are then given practice time to work on their inefficiencies.Another way in which teachers differentiate is by product or assessment.

Differentiating assessment involves the “manner in which students will demonstrate comprehension” (Smith, 2005, pg. 39).  In the past, teachers assessed student effort by simple observation.  Today, heart-rate monitors are being used to help clearly assess a student’s exertion level during class.  Like Eberline and Richards (2014) stated “heart-rate monitors serve as one tool to objectively assess student effort” (pg. 39).  Besides heart-rate monitors, video recording devices also offer an opportunity for students to showcase their knowledge.  Similar to what Pyle and Esslinger (2014) stated “students can showcase the application of their PE knowledge and skill through the creation of instructional and performance movies” (pg. 38).  Other digital options are also available besides video.  These other options include having your students digitally create “charts, diagrams, models, PowerPoint presentations, dances, and even through a song” (Smith, 2005, pg. 42).

As stated, differentiating instruction and assessment can help students have a richer experience in physical education.  There are a variety of digital tools out there and more tools are being developed each day.  Teachers should select tools that work well in their schools and help students develop intrinsic motivation towards a task.  While differentiation can take some time, it is vital each teacher “continue to learn how to design and deliver instruction that extends beyond games, gadgets, and gimmicks” (Smith, 2005, pg. 39).

Pyle, B., & Esslinger, K. (2014).  Utilizing Technology in Physical Education: Addressing the Obstacles of Integration.  Educational Technology, 80(2), 35-39.

Rosen, L. (2011).  Teaching the iGeneration.  Educational Leadership, 68(5).

Smith, S. (2005). Beyond Games, Gadgets, and Gimmicks: Differentiating Instruction Across Domains in Physical Education.Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 76(8), 38-45.

Eberline, A. & Richards, K. (2014). Teaching with Technology in Physical Education.  Strategies, 26, 38-39.


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