Tagged in: Move Live Learn Blog, Physical and Health Education

You’re Not Learning if You’re Talking

The importance of assessing the cognitive

As a teacher, I am a firm believer that what a student knows and understands is very important. I feel the same way as a mum. I can’t assume others are getting what I am trying to teach. I have always advocated for cognitive assessment in physical education as a way to guide instruction. I also think it’s important for summative reasons so that teachers can evaluate their abilities and their programs’ competence at reaching objectives and/or curriculum outcomes. As much as I enjoy assessing the cognitive domain, I am not naive as to the challenges around doing so in the gymnasium/field settings. I want my students moving at health-gaining intensities (moderate to vigorous) each class. I don’t want them running with pencils. I recognize many students in early elementary do not have access to technology in PE. I also want to formatively assess students (not all students!) each class. To do this optimally, partnering with classroom colleagues is the best way to accomplish these goals. I typically find that requesting PLN meeting notes electronically from colleagues in the classroom is an ideal way to integrate their content in my PE lessons, and they become key in helping me reach my assessment goals related to cognitive assessment.


I’m currently a work-from-home mum (lucky me!). I chose to be a stay at home mom for a few years while my children were newborns and we were moving around (Virginia, Colorado, Missouri) due to MacGyver’s work commitments. During this time, projects showed up in my inbox and that’s how I began doing the diverse work I am doing now (in physical education, coaching development and health). Yet, I never miss an opportunity to parent as a PE teacher (why would I not combine my two greatest passions)?

My 4.5-year-old recently begged to join a 3 vs 3 league (soccer). I said okay. I’m not for traditional sport at this young age, but it’s modified and she is obsessed with Coach Steve so it’s all good. They play small sided soccer-related games, but the focus is on skill and game development and working with others - all skills that can be transferred and are certainly age and developmentally appropriate. She’s happy, meeting new friends, and viewing activity as a privilege - so I’m happy, too. All this said, I asked her the other day to draw me a picture of something related to her soccer experience. I was expecting a scenic pic that might include her friends, coach, or a soccer ball. Instead, as I chopped up vegetables for a dinner recommended to me by my sister-in-law, Amy (it was amazing) she asked me to help her spell a few words (Note: she spelled ‘baoll’ all on her own). After a brief exit to get some duct tape (she is her father’s daughter!) she returned with this:

“This is for Coach Steve. He can hold it up when we play so it will help us remember we should touch the ball with our feet.”

photo-1I love this idea! She made a “Coaching Sign” for her coach. While I would NEVER ask a 4.5-year-old to tell me the rules to a traditional sport and use her/his response as a cognitive assessment, I thought the overall idea was brilliant. Physical educators can collaborate with classroom teachers to set up the writing learning center as a “Coaching Sign” center. Students could write messages (or draw if more age and developmentally appropriate) something that is related to their PE class. The extensive list of materials include:

  • Paper
  • Tape (Duct tape if your last name is Stanec)
  • Popsicle stick
  • Pencil/Marker

If the lesson focus was dance, it could be the “Dance Instructor” sign station, etc.

My father-in-law (a man I respect very much) said, “You don’t learn anything when you are the one doing the talking.” He said that once (not to me, just in a general conversation we were having) and it left a lasting impression. I try to learn from my cherubs any chance I get. Fortunately, they remind me each day how much there is yet to learn. Our students will do the same if we give them voice.

In closing, I hope you can modify this idea to make it even better! It could be a great way to assess life skill connections in youth sport as well as the sport education/teaching games for understanding instructional models. Older students/athletes might also tweet creative slogans to be used by coaches and use class hashtags, etc. The goal is, as always, to make sure you are checking their understanding in a way that helps you to be the most effective educator you can be.

Special thanks to my big girl for inspiring this blog. I am one heck of a lucky mama!

How about you?
Do you collaborate with classroom teachers in ways to support them and allow them to support you?

What is your favorite way to formatively assess the cognitive domain without losing precious moderate to vigorous physical activity time?

  • Amanda Campbell

    I love this! Assessing the cognitive domain in PE is always a challenge and I always feel conflicted in terms of how I feel about it. I really like my students to be active during PE (as we all do). I no longer teach K-12 PE, but I do teach HPE Teacher Candidates, and I am always looking for practical strategies to pass along to them. And I have two young children of my own (ages 7 and 4), so they keep me connected to elementary PE!Last year, I did an activity with all of the K-1 PE classes at my daughter’s school. It only loosely falls under the concept of cognitive assessment, but I’ll share it anyway.

    First, I taught all K-1 PE classes a dance to the song “Happy.” It was presented as a “secret” dance that they could practice at home and then perform for the other PE classes/grades on field day. Then, I sent them home with a postcard-sized piece of cardstock and asked them to draw a picture of their favorite summertime physical activity that made them “happy.” It had to be a physical activity that would increase their heart rate. They then had to make plans with a parent, relative, or friend to actually do that activity. They brought their picture back to their PE teacher to be displayed on a giant bulletin board in the gym called, “What makes you happy?” By the end of the week, the board looked beautiful and the students were proud of it.

    While this wasn’t really a formal cognitive assessment, what it did was allow me to see whether they could identify (on their own) a physical activity that they could do to stay healthy and have fun over the summer. And I hope that it also encouraged them to actually participate in the activity, and encourage those around them to participate in the activity. Hopefully it got them talking about it with their parents!

    So, it did not take away from physical activity during PE class, and hopefully it encouraged them to be physically active outside of school. And it demonstrated to the PE teacher that the students could identify and had plans to be physically active over the summer.

    I can’t wait to hear ideas from others! Thanks, Amanda Stanec, for your thought provoking blogs and discussions!

  • This is how I assess the cognitive domain. Short assessments. Scroll to Google Forms for examples:http://physedreview.weebly.com/pe-assessments.html

    • astanec

      Thanks so much for sharing, Kevin! Can’t wait to check out all the great stuff you so graciously shared with our PLN!!

  • PhysEdDude

    Thanks again Amanda. Just doing some mindless hand work and started clicking on all your blogs. I LOVE this idea! My G9-10s hear A LOT of cues from me. I am interested to see what they pick out for themselves, when making a “coaching sign” for the class! Thanks again!

    • Thanks so much! I’m so happy you are finding your way around my blog. When the site was redone a few months ago, all the comments were lost so I am sorry about that! But, they look so much better since the site was redone I am okay with it. Please revisit and let me know how it goes! Thanks again for commenting – I love hearing from folks on the posts!