Lee Garrett

A teaching and learning journey through PE


Physical Literacy

As a PE teacher and indeed any teacher you are continually thinking about behaviour management, progression of activities, questions for effective feedback, AFL strategies, warm-up, cool down, differentiation. The list goes on. But physical literacy? This is a term that I’m well aware of but never really gave it much thought. Why? Probably because there is so much we have to consider to incorporate within a lesson that specific physical literacy tasks is put to one side and left to develop over time through day to day experiences. Until now!

physical literacy

I recently attended a course on developing physical literacy by CreateDevelopment delivered by @creatorronnie and @cretorjohn. This is not a sales pitch for CreateDevelopment although they did deliver an outstanding course but my thinking and reflection from that day has ignited some thought as to the future of my PE units of work and lessons.

When we talk about physical literacy, we essentially are talking about the basic fundamentals of skill and movement. Some call it multi-abilities or A,B,Cs (agility, balance, coordination) but it is all very much the same. The analogy which really stuck with me is that the sport specific skills / the complete execution of a task is referred to as a sentence of movement. I will use triple jump as an example.

But what about the letters and words that make up these sentences? Without the letters, you get mis-spelled words, incomplete sentences and a paragraph that does not make sense. The letters are the so called physical literacy skills needed to execute the skills. For example in triple jump the words run up, hop, skip,  jump, flight and landing make up the sentence (the complete execution of the triple jump). Within the words are letters. These letters are the fundamental physical literacy skills, balance and coordination, and don’t forget these skills need to be transferred bilaterally. Generally the multi-skills which act as a foundation for movement are by and large overlooked.


– How could physical literacy be embedded? As part of the warm-up/cool down, integrated within the lesson? We have the resources to do this but department planning and sharing good practice is key.

(Next question refers to our school which starts from Foundation Stage 1 to Post-16)

– Could we do INSET training to Primary staff and encourage/guide them to set aside 5-10 every day of physical literacy exercises as part of 5-10min motivator break? There is actually another learning benefit by doing this.

– Physical literacy was largely developed through “play”. With the ever increasing technological society, is it possible to educate parents about the value of physical literacy and the various ways that home support can contribute. We constantly get asked by parents what they can do to support their son/daughter although many rely on school as their only provision of physical activity.

– How can we get staff to support PE and offer physical literacy ECAs?

– Would Secondary students benefit from an intervention of physical literacy? or is it too late by then.

We have already took a big step since September by redesigning the curriculum to focus on developing 6 non performance skills (cognitive, physical, creativity, social, personal, health and fitness) and have already seen higher attainment, an increase in a positive attitude towards PE and visible learning. But if 75% of students are switched off PE by the age of 16, questions have to be asked as to why. Is it because they do not have the physical literacy skills developed enough to participate AND ENJOY sport, peer group pressure and other external factors, inflexible curriculum, or some other complex reason.

Whatever the reasons, PE teachers have to try and eliminate as many factors as possible. For me right now, the development of physical literacy is important especially in the environment I work and live in. Culturally, the students I work with do not have opportunities to develop the basic fundamental skills and this can be observed in the quality of their own body movements and coordination.

Like I said earlier, I always knew about multi-skills and abilities but it was never in my radar until now. I’m pretty sure that just a minimal amount of time spent developing some aspect of  fundamental skills will go a long way. Some would call this a marginal gain.

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Health and Fitness COG

Health & Fitness

Over the last 5 weeks, the PE department is really doing a good job, exploring, trialing and sharing successful ways of embedding the Accelerating Abilities cogs within our revised curriculum and lessons. One thing is for sure though, and that is that our culture shift is starting turn. Over this last week I’ve heard some fantastic responses through the use of independent learning one of which I will provide later. But in truth, the work and effort in planning from the PE staff is admirable and I can only praise them for their drive, open-mindedness and effort of working outside their comfort zone. However, as you will read later I think that they have been rewarded and inspired with the way students have responded to the change in philosophy.

One experience which I would like to share is a fitness unit (Year 7). In our 5 week block, the Year 7 boys started the term with fitness under the watchful eye of Mr Mosley. Previously, we would have done a wide range of fitness tests etc and got the students to experience various training methods. The first 2 weeks involved information at a multistructural level to be gathered. This included components of fitness and definitions, characteristics of health related and skill related circuit training and how the heart can be used as an indicator for intensity. The final 3 weeks focused more on applying and evaluating the Health & Fitness cog within a specific sport. In this case it was football. From an earlier pilot study last year, this was trialed on a smaller scale, Swimming. In the SOLO world this would be the beginning of the relational and extended abstract learning journey.

The third week involved getting the students to watch a live performance of 8v8. The remaining students was on the sidelines armed with clip board, pencil and paper making notes. The task was to observe  and identify the health related and skill related fitness components throughout the 8v8 game. For this, students needed to use the knowledge gained from the first 2 weeks worth of lessons.

The fourth lesson was based on specificity of football. In small groups, students had to design and plan a drill which was aimed to develop a fitness component identified in the game from the previous week. A very open ended task and resourced with balls, cones, ladders, hurdles and poles, this was the start of them creating and evaluating (high order task) whilst making connections. What impressed me was the energy, collaboration and enjoyment. If football is involved, usually, we would expect questions such as… “Can we have a game?”, which all teachers must have had at some point in their career, “when are we going in the pool?” and “it’s too hot, can we go inside?”. We had not one of these questions asked.



The fifth and final lesson of the fitness module was focused on positional needs. Mr. Mosley wanted them to think even more specifically and apply their leadership, knowledge and analytical minds to key football positions. Facilitating and activating the students, I could sense that the majority of students were outside their comfort zone and starting to stretch themselves. I was blown away with the general level of detail that the Year 7 boys responded with and so I decided to record a discussion with the first group of students that I approached. There were no prompts or suggestions that I was going to conduct a mini interview but as you will hear, the enthusiasm, knowledge and understanding and the correcting of each other is impressive. In fact it was quite funny to watch them jostle between them to give me their answers. This was certainly inspiring and satisfying. You can hear the mini interview below:

Yr7 Fitness Cog discussion

Part of the planning stage involved homework where students had to provide plans of the sessions that were to be carried out along with statements of the fitness components that were being developed with short descriptions of specificity within football. Thinking about it now, this would have been a great opportunity to go through the process of critique as superbly described in Ron Bergers book, An Ethic of Excellence, and allowed the students to ask questions of themselves and of others enabling them to re-draft acting upon the use of feedback. Note taken for next time.

General thoughts

The cog provided motivation for the lower ability to achieve not in the execution of football skills but in the attainment, development and knowledge of Health and Fitness.

One student asked “sir, does it matter that I can’t head the ball properly in this drill?” Response, “No, as long as you try that’s great but you need to be concerned more about applying your health and fitness knowledge to improve others.” With that he happily turned around, and eagerly ran off to continue setting up his session. I think this demonstrates the student wanting some security of the fact that the shift in PE philosophy of assessing the life skills (cogs) rather than performance still stands.

I had what John Hattie calls a teaching conversation with Mr Mosley (we have quite a lot of them) about his perspective on the impact the cogs has had thus far. Interestingly he said that certainly the middle and higher ability students just accelerated and took off but the lower ability struggled. When he explained this, it turned out that they had at least achieved their target grade but not necessarily at the same rate. Here’s some possible questions as to why.

1) Would the result be different if we had used a different sport within the fitness unit.
2) Did the differentiated tasks target/favour and stretch the upper tier more?
3) Did the makeup of the groups affect the output. They were aloud to choose their preferred working party.
4) Were they effectively assessed. There was a range of peer/teacher formative assessments but were they reliable and valid?
5) Had we used a more traditional national curriculum level, what would have been the outcome?

All these questions I’m sure we will discover throughout the year. But for now, facilitating a Year 7 practical lesson to a standard where they could probably answer a GCSE question on fitness components with specific terminology is definitely a step in the right direction and a further step in shifting the culture within PE.

The use of the Health & Fitness cog in a fitness module obviously goes hand in hand. But there were ample opportunities to develop different ones. For example, students had the chance to show off their creativity, social and cognitive skills which you can identify in this post. Over the next couple of weeks, I feel a real need to seek different ways to maximise the implementation/recording of the various skills within lessons/units as I feel that students are missing out on opportunities to develop these cogs.

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Accelerating in PE

This year we are embedding the Create Development COGS within the PE curriculum. Essentially, the concept of the COGS has changed the PE Departments educational philosophy. Not straight away I might add but given time the 4 man team is cohesive in the approach of high quality teaching and learning and development. I say development because that is exactly what the COGS do. For us they provide a framework of skills which we use the power of sport, health and exercise to deliver.

Now it’s at this point in which I have to admit that we are still learning and experimenting with the most efficient and effective ways of delivering the six COGS. Thus being Physical, Social, Creativity, Health & Fitness, Personal and Cognitive.

Hopefully, I am going to provide a series of blogs which will detail you with examples of how we have interpreted the inclusion of the strategy within our curriculum and see if we can generate some feedback to improve the way we approach this or even inspire others to consider the benefits within their curriculum.

When we had a member of staff return from a Create Development training event, we instantly started generating ideas and the potential benefits that this could be used within our curriculum. At that time, I would say that it was quite a traditional curriculum being taught in a traditional way.

So from our eyes,with the nature of our students, the benefits included: raises attainment levels, easier to differentiate, easier to assess with the assessment ladder being linked to the National Curriculum, allows the lower ability kids (from a traditional viewpoint) to achieve, provides a very basic structure for planning, improves confidence, develops skills which can be transferable to other subjects/workplace, raises value of PE, gateway for quality teaching and learning, and finally performance improves.

The above list created many discussions within the PE office, and so we started to trial the approach in various lessons.

Using twitter as a Personal Learning Network, I quickly found Simon Scarborough who uses COGS with whom I have been reading his personal quests through his blog. Excellencethroughpe has some really honest reflections and some great interpretations of their particular use of COGS.

Here is my first reflection.

Learning objectives:

L2 – I can talk and listen to others about work.
– I can help, praise and encourage others.

L3 – I can cooperate well with others and give helpful feedback.
– I show patience and support others.

L4 – I can help my group make decisions.
– I can guide a small group through a task.

Year 5 (I teach Yr4 to Year13 in an International School) group B (deemed low ability) – football

First introduction to the curriculum and I mention that we were doing football. I was immediately thrown back by the disapproval that we were to play football and that it was outside. (Still hot in the UAE).

I introduce the COGS system and the reasons for using this approach. First lesson was passing. Normally it would have been a few drills followed by a game but now with our new focus, passing had to be delivered through the Social COG.

Warm up: we quickly talk about the reasons for warm up using the Pose, Pause, Pounce method and in groups of three I ask for some one to willingly take the pulse raiser phase, stretch and mobilise and sport specific element. So far, so good.

It is clear to see who has opted to take leadership and performing a pulse raising warm up (football related)
After rotating the leaders independently, I praise them on their group cohesion and their discussion on generating ideas. I feel as though I am activating them to engage in the lesson and motivation is high. I quickly remind myself that these are bottom set Year 5 who don’t are not very active outside of school.

After a quick water break I show them a simple skill of an instep pass and off they went performing the most simplest of drills. Traditional you might think and you’re probably right but I didn’t wait long before I stopped them to inject a new condition. The condition was how can you modify your drill to make it more difficult? Bingo! The Social COG was turning again and I had 6 different groups with 6 different ideas. All on task with some even re-modifying their own modification!

Going round the groups, I questioned the impact this had on their overall performances and I have to say that there was evidence of improvement with good technique but now that was irrelevant because I wanted to develop the Social Interaction and group decision making.

I finally finished off with 3 v 3, conditioning the game to 3 consecutive passes to score 1 point. I must confess that the finale was not as effective and this is something I need to re-plan but if I was to assess some of the students, without doubt using the assessment ladder from Create Development, there was some Year 5 girls who achieved a level 3 and dare I say a level 4 using the Social COG.


Within each lesson there is easily more than 1 COG being developed. As a department we need to find ways round this. Recording and monitoring has to be considered. Would this give the lesson more value or just hindrance?

Do we focus on a different COG per lesson?

Even though we were using football as a medium, the lesson was planned around the development of Social skills but still performance improved – until the 3 v 3 game!

Activating students to become independent learners channelled their efforts into decision making and evaluating.

For older students, I would probably use less of a scaffolding lesson structure but I felt Year 5 needed this guidance (the instep pass demo)

Overall: there is still a lot of work to do/plan and share but I don’t see any negativity when walking out with the students onto the field. Students seem to be enjoying the ownership of designing and creating ways to stretch themselves and discussing how to take their next learning step forward.