Faculty Spotlight Series: Hunter Burnard on the Most Effective Physical Education Instructional Strategy

Nicole Vitale

Hunter Burnard grew up in Binghamton, NY. He played college lacrosse at Rutgers University before choosing to pursue a career in education. Hunter and his wife are both teachers, and together they share a 1-year-old daughter, Shay.

The Windward School is a learning community that recognizes the profession of teaching is a craft that takes an incredible amount of study, practice, and reflection to perfect. Thus, it is part of the School's mission to develop a faculty that is expert in teaching children with language-based learning disabilities. In our Faculty Friday series, we will be highlighting Windward faculty members and their expertise on a variety of educational topics. 


What is the single most effective instructional strategy you have used when teaching Physical Education?  

As physical education teachers, our ultimate goal is to expose students to a variety of sports and gameplay in order for them to develop the knowledge, skills, and confidence to enjoy a lifetime of healthful physical activity. Similar to classroom subjects, physical education classes are made up of students with a wide variety of backgrounds and ability levels. On top of this, I teach at a school for students with language-based learning disabilities. These disabilities manifest themselves in a variety of ways, so as physical educators, we are cognizant that we not only have a gym full of students with language-based learning disabilities, but also that those students have a variety of learning styles—kinesthetic, visual, and auditory. Because of this, I believe that the most effective instructional strategy that we employ is differentiated instruction among our students. 

One way that we differentiate instruction in our class is through the teaching process, or how the material is presented and learned. Physical education class naturally caters to the kinesthetic learner who learns best by performing a task because, after introducing a new skill, students are given the opportunity to practice this skill. However, before students are given the opportunity to attempt a task on their own, we introduce the skill or activity in different ways in order to effectively cater to those students who are visual or auditory learners. For example, when introducing a new skill, I will verbally break down the requirements and strategies required to effectively execute the skill being taught. In addition, for visual learners, I will demonstrate the skill and often use our gymnasium projector to display a short video of what we are learning that day. We may use a video presentation early in the unit to teach a skill such as a wrist shot in hockey or something more conceptual such as route running in football. In addition, we sometimes use video midway through a unit, prior to gameplay, to expose students to sports they are likely less familiar with such as European team handball or badminton. Regardless of the unit, by the time the student will need to use a skill in gameplay, they have heard it, seen it, and done it many times on their own or in a small group.   

We not only differentiate instruction but also we differentiate what we ask the students to produce in order to demonstrate understanding. This is critical to challenging students and keeping them engaged. If the goal of a soccer lesson is to introduce passing, I must differentiate my instruction for one student who has never played soccer and another who plays on a competitive travel soccer team. I may require the inexperienced student to simply practice completing 10 passes with a partner from a short distance while using the inside of their foot.  On the other hand, to challenge the more experienced soccer player and to keep them engaged, I would require that student to use their non-dominant foot and pass at a greater distance with accuracy. Ultimately, although we are assessing skill, we are most concerned with effort in our classroom. Therefore, although the students have different ability levels and are demonstrating different difficulty levels of the same skill, I am most concerned with their effort in completing the assignment. Lastly, we provide opportunities throughout each class for students to raise their hand and volunteer information as another way to demonstrate an understanding of the concept or skill being taught that day. This is particularly important for students who understand concepts and strategies required to be successful but struggle to physically complete a task as successfully as they may like because of limited skill or inexperience.

"If the goal of a soccer lesson is to introduce passing, I must differentiate my instruction for one student who has never played soccer and another who plays on a competitive travel soccer team."

Differentiated instruction undoubtedly requires some additional work while executing a lesson but I think it is essential to implementing an effective physical education curriculum. The great thing about physical education is that while exposing students to a wide variety of activities, we as educators can learn about students' likes, dislikes, skills, and ability levels in a broad range of topics and activities. Differentiating instruction accordingly is the most effective way to maximize the physical education experience for all students.