Teacher to pupil: “What are you doing?”

Pupil to teacher: “I`m thinking.”

Teacher to pupil: “Well, stop it and get on with your work.”

Michael Barber, The Learning Game

A new school; a new teaching and learning policy; a new beginning! September 2010 saw the opening of our academy and the start of our journey towards producing an ‘outstanding’ education for the pupils who came through our doors…

Much work had gone before the first pupils ever stepped foot on the school site…mainly in the development of our detailed, rigorous and (in my opinion) inspirational Teaching and Learning Policy. The hope has been to develop a curriculum based on questioning and move away from the old-fashioned view of knowledge and learning that manifests itself in an ‘answering pedagogy’, that is to focus on a ‘correct answer’ and not deeper understanding or the process of coming to an answer…

The terms Unit or Scheme of Work are not used; instead the dialogue amongst staff is that of ‘Fertile Questions’. Now I’m not going to go into too much detail on the theory behind it now as there is a cracking Case Study here, written by our outstanding Director of Mathematics. It outlines the concept in detail…please do read…it will make the rest of this blog make far more sense.

In Short:

A fertile question is “a planning device for knitting together a sequence of lessons, so that all of the learning activities – teacher exposition, narrative, source-work, role-play, plenary – all move toward the resolution of an interesting historical/scientific/mathematical/RE problem by means of substantial motivating activity at the end.” (Ark Academy; Teaching & Learning Policy)

It is a rich, open, engaging question, which takes students on a journey of enquiry, and away from the idea of rote learning.

So how have we got on in the Physical Education department?

I cannot lie and say that coming up with questions to frame whole units of work is easy….in fact, its pretty challenging! (and as all of with a growth mind-set know…this means an opportunity!) All teachers within the department contribute to the dialogue that goes into deciding on the questions…and beyond the department to other teachers if necessary. Now…I’m not going to go through every unit but instead share one that is very successful with our Year 7 Boys:

‘What makes Lebron James the complete basketball player?’

This question frames the whole 6 or 7 weeks of work…with constant reference to it as we progress through individual lessons and the questions that frame them. Boys go away and look Lebron up on YouTube or you hear them discussing Miami Heats latest result…they are placing the unit of basketball into the realm of the professionals…the BIG PICTURE. Some pupils will suggest that Lebron is not the complete basketball player…great…but why not? Another question…explain why you think this…the whole unit is held together with questions and discussion.



As we take pupils through the unit we ask them:

  • ‘What does it mean to be the master of the basketball?’ (Dribbling)
  • ‘What is the Perfect Pass?’ (Passing)
  • ‘What has B.E.E.F got to do with shooting?’ (Shooting)
  • ‘How can you prevent your opponent from getting past you?’ (1v1 defending)
  • ‘Are you becoming the complete basketball player?’ (Overview/Analysis)

I’m not claiming that these are necessarily the most amazing questions….but THEY ARE QUESTIONS…they implicitly set the objectives for the lesson…they get the pupils thinking and learning through problem solving. For example….having posed the problem (question): ‘How can you prevent your opponent from getting past you?’, I set the boys off in 3’s working on 1v1 with the 3rd pupil acting as a coach/observer. After each and every attempt the 3 boys had to discuss what worked for the defender, or the attacker would input how/why he found it difficult or easy to get past his opponent… Less than 10 minutes later and after small group and whole class discussion the boys produced a 5 point (technical) list of how the defender should defend in a 1v1 situation…I didnt have to tell them a thing!

With so much work being done with ‘Questioning’, ‘Independent Learning’ and my current favourite ‘Literacy in PE’ at the moment I think the concept of Fertile Questions is great. Others may call it enquiry-based learning but both of them have the same aims; to develop Communiities of Thinking (Yoram Harpaz & Adam Lefstein) and to ensure that the following statement rings true for our students:

To be “educated” is not (only) to know but (mainly) to know how to relate to knowledge

Yoram Harpaz informs us that traditional ‘Schooling is based on and guided by four basic conceptual pictures reflected in all our activities: learning is listening, teaching is telling, knowledge is an object, and to be educated is to know’ and that Fertile Questions ‘propose to replace these pictures with the following: to learn is to be involved, to be affected by the contents of learning; to teach is to create conditions for involved-effective learning; knowledge is a human structure or “a story that works”; and to be educated is to relate to knowledge in a positive, critical, and creative manner.

We will continue with the challenge of developing our Fertile Questions…especially as we approach the introduction of Key Stay 4 and the beginning of our GCSE PE course. We will evaluate and refine what has gone before and I’m sure we will change and update the questions but one thing I am sure of is that this approach to learning is having a positive effect on our pupils…helping to develop curious, independent and thoughtful learners!

Please feel free to share your thoughts on this…or to ask questions…hopefully it has got the mind ticking.

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6 thoughts on “How Fertile is your PE…?

  1. Pingback: Bespoke Wallpaper for PE | Physically Educated

  2. I absolutely love this approach and am encouraging PLCs to try this out. Will update is there’s any progress.
    It fits in with challenge based learning, problem solving, developing thinking. If all education was like this, would it make us better people? I think we would be more creative which is only a good thing.

  3. Reblogged this on bevsym and commented:
    I love this approach, if all education was like this, would we be better people. Better thinkers, more creative and able to solve problems in real life context. Can’t be a bad thing can it?

  4. Pingback: iPad supporting project learning in PE | #Physed Blog Library

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