During my few years as a PE teacher, I found myself delivering Gymnastics units of work around the topic of flight and always stumbled across the same problem – the majority of KS3 students did not have a wide enough range of proficient Gymnastics movement vocabulary to safely incorporate moments of flight. For example, how many students can perform a forward roll with the technical accuracy required to show a flighted entry, a cartwheel with the efficiency to progress onto a round off or a handstand with the expertise to hop on their hands? It leaves me wondering how safe and inclusive our KS3 Gymnastics provision generally is and makes me question how PE departments actually define the term ‘Flight’.
As a starting point for this post, I therefore researched examples of KS3 Flight units of work and found that the content overwhelmingly centres upon vaulting activities with the common approach of teaching (quite complex) specific/named vaults to whole classes. Generally, speaking, there is little evidence of regard for progressions to accommodate/engage all abilities or thought about breaking the technique of vaulting down into it’s many phases.
Now, those of you who follow my work will know I tend to encourage teachers to steer away from skill driven Gymnastics in favour of a creative/explorative approach. Vaulting, however, is a Gymnastics discipline through which I do feel it’s relevant, accessible, valuable and worthwhile to develop KS3 students’ accurate replication. To ensure it is safe and inclusive though, vaulting technique must be broken down into it’s 7 phases – run up, hurdle step, take off, first flight, push from the vault, second flight and landing. All these phases can be introduced to students without a vault in place and, more significantly, apply to all levels of vaulting technique.
In making the improvement and accurate replication of the 7 phases the basis of success and assessment in a vaulting unit of work, every student has equal access to achieve. For example, one student could choose to improve the 7 phases of a squat on and straight jump off vault whilst another targets long flight. The most successful students will therefore be those who demonstrate the most improvement and accurate technique in the performance of an ability relevant vault rather than those who perform the most complex vault by the end of the unit. Accordingly, once the teacher has introduced/established the 7 phases of vaulting early in the unit, the focus should turn to developing students’ application and implementation of a range of evaluation and target setting techniques so they can work with increasing independence to progress their chosen vaults.
So, as I see it, a unit of work truly based on the topic of ‘Flight’ can only be effectively delivered to a PE class of physically higher ability students who can safely incorporate moments of flight into well-established floor skills that can then be developed into sequences and adapted to involve apparatus and/or others. As ability setting is rare in PE and very much against my personal ethos, however, I’d alternatively suggest PE departments rethink flight based units of work. Should these be Jump and Land units that allow only the physically ready to explore other ways in which moments of flight can be incorporated into Gymnastics actions? Otherwise, maybe stick with a vaulting focus and call the unit ‘Vaulting’ or, better still, come at it from an angle that allows students to be educated beyond the Gymnastics itself. For example, could you deliver a Sport Education vaulting unit so as to explore and develop different roles within a more competitive Gymnastics environment or how about developing a Gymnastics unit of work called ‘Motion’ that incorporates the 7 phases of vaulting as a means to study Newton’s Laws of motion?
All in all, the purpose of this Blog post is to get readers thinking about how they can turn flight based units of work into something safer, richer and more inclusive so I’d be very interested to hear any thoughts you have on this and ideas that any of you subsequently develop and implement in practice.