As I see it, the majority of curriculum lessons place too much emphasis on pupils accomplishing ‘recognised’ Gymnastics actions. This is possibly born out of the fact that success in Artistic Gymnastics, the discipline most commonly featured on TV, is reliant on technically accurate execution of a range of highly and increasingly complex skills. In the classroom, however, a focus on skill based learning is only likely to entice the more physically able whilst potentially discouraging the majority from wanting to participate longer term in a widely beneficial sport. Accordingly, I implore those delivering Educational Gymnastics to promote mastery through a breadth of theme based learning opportunities that pupils can access at their own ability level rather than focusing on a depth of learning through skill acquisition.
Inspiration for Gymnastics theme based topics can come from a variety of sources. For example, categories of Gymnastics actions e.g. rotation, balance, weight on hands etc. work well as a starting point for learning at KS1 and KS2 with Gymnastics disciplines such as Acrobatics Gymnastics providing a basis for learning at KS3. To encourage a complete move away from a skill based emphasis, however, perhaps look to different aspects of school life for stimulus e.g. cross-curricular links, school values and termly/whole school topics. My son’s current whole school topic is based on bridges and the slide show of world famous bridges playing on repeat throughout a recent ‘making morning’ just resulted in my brain conjuring up a range of Gymnastics activities through which pupils could use their bodies to explore those and their own bridge shapes and structures.
So, with all that said, my answer to the question posed by this Blog post title is the British Gymnastics Core Proficiency Award Scheme Resource Pack (www.british-gymnastics.org/shop/product/core-proficiency/core-proficiency-resource-pack/). Whilst produced to support those delivering the British Gymnastics badges (which might have a place in the extra-curricular setting) the pack content can alternatively be used to as a source of movement vocabulary for a wide range of Curriculum Gymnastics themes with 80 skills differentiated across 8 complexity levels. So as not to seem like I’m contradicting myself, however, the main point to instigate effective use of this resource is that the 80 skills presented must be seen as nothing more than a starting point to inspire pupils to create an infinite range of their own ability relevant Gymnastics movement vocabulary.
I’ll provide a practical example based on the theme of wide shape actions to demonstrate how to use the Core Proficiency Resource Pack effectively as this topic is fresh on my mind following a recent extra-curricular session. Taking the skill based approach to this topic, a teacher would highly likely identify a selection of wide shape actions from the award scheme e.g. level 8 straddle sit, level 5 T balance, level 3 cartwheel and level 1 straddled half lever to teach to a whole class exactly as modeled on the wall charts/CD Rom and exactly as detailed on the relevant work cards with pupils then possibly linking 2 – 3 of those skills into a sequence. The theme based thinking teacher, on the other hand, might start by asking pupils to identify and try ability relevant wide shape actions from the wall charts incorporating use of the work cards to facilitate teaching point and performance quality related feedback.
To then extend the learning beyond ‘recognised’ skills, the theme based thinking teacher would next focus pupils to think further along the topic lines to create original wide shape movement vocabulary. For example, pupils could be challenged to identify non wide shape ability relevant actions from the wall charts in order that they can explore adapting them into wide shape actions. Take the level 6 v-sit which, performed in it’s technically accurate format, shows piked legs with as closed a hip angle as the pupil’s flexibility allows. Why not, however, turn it into a wide shape action by increasing the various angles to cover as much of the mat surface area (and space above it) as possible? Posed with this example challenge in Gymnastics club, my gymnasts worked out they could open the hip angle as much as their individual core strength allowed, straddle their legs as much as flexibility allowed and place their hands far away and apart on the area of mat behind. The before and after photos above demonstrate how performance quality remains significant even when the emphasis on accurate skill replication is reduced.
Having used the v-sit example to establish a definition for ‘wide’ in the context of Gymnastics actions i.e. actions that cover the majority of the mat width and/or length (or area above it), the extra-curricular gymnasts began to identify their own ability relevant actions to explore adapting into wide shapes. They worked in pairs rotating between the roles of performer and observer with the observer providing feedback to help the performer further increase the area each adapted action covered. Pictured above are a few of the resulting static wide shapes e.g. a wide arch shape, a widened/flattened bridge and a headstand showing a straddled leg position. Less easy to capture were the moving wide shape actions that the gymnasts created but they too were in abundance.
The most creatively minded gymnasts (often the least experienced gymnasts) eventually stepped away from using the Core Proficiency Resource Pack wall charts having gained the confidence to devise completely original wide shape actions through exploration of placing different body parts as wide apart on the mat as possible. It’s fair to say many of the resulting actions (examples pictured above) would have served the gymnasts well in a game of Twister!
The extra-curricular session providing the practical examples in this Blog post led to gymnasts linking a range of their static and travelling wide shape actions into sequences but just imagine the diversity of responses compared to the lesson in which the skill based approach focused delivery on whole class accurate replication of a minimal selection of wide shape actions. Not only does the theme based approach cultivate a plethora of creative Gymnastics movement vocabulary that won’t ever feature in a purchasable resource, it also discretely develops pupils’ all round fitness to a point where the more complex ‘recognised’ skills begin to develop of their own accord. In this way, teachers are relieved of the responsibility to enter lessons with a list/knowledge of skills to cover and worry of how to include those pupils that aren’t physically ready or confident to perform those skills. Moreover, as pupil success is dependent on reflecting understanding of a theme rather than physical ability, all pupils have equal access to a positive outcome and experience of Gymnastics!
Like in many of my previous Blogs, the practical activities detailed here are solely based on one theme. The key message, however, is that the presented method of using the British Gymnastics Core Proficiency Award Scheme Resource Pack (or other purchasable Gymnastics resource) as a means to tap into pupils’ own creative abilities is transferable to generate movement vocabulary related to any lesson/unit theme. Ultimately, therefore, the most effective and freely available resource to support the teaching of Educational Gymnastics is actually the pupils’ own imagination which is best fuelled by a theme based teaching approach!