Individualizing the Task Demands of an Activity
"Individualizing task difficulty is a basic element of education, and of adapted physical education in particular."- Martin Block
Any type of teaching or coaching requires us to set an appropriate task difficulty. What components of our PE activities can we adapt?
- The Movement Form
- The Environment
- The Equipment
- The Rules
- The Instructions
- Adapting the Movement Form
One of the simplest ways of adapting an activity is to modify or substitute the movement involved.
Can we suggest a slightly different movement that may be more appropriate for some pupils?
- Instead of running or walking,
think about different forms of locomotion that some pupils could use:
- Propelling themselves in a wheelchair
- Driving a powered chair
- Riding a tricycle
- Pedaling a hand-bike
- Walking with a partner
- Crawling / walking on all fours
- Rolling across a mat
- Instead of throwing or kicking a ball,
think about different ways of passing a ball:
- Carrying a ball between two points
- Dropping / releasing a ball at a certain marker
- Rolling a ball along the floor
- Sending a ball down a ramp
- Sending a ball along a table-top
- Instead of catching a ball,
think about different ways of stopping or catching a moving ball:
- Blocking a ball using your own body
- Intercepting a ball using a bat or racquet
- Blocking a ball using netting held between pupil and a partner
- Capturing a moving ball through a hoop
- Instead of running or walking,
- Adapting the Environment
Children with mobility problems can get about in different ways. When we look at the school hall or yard, we need to consider all the various means of locomotion that could be used within this space:
- Propelling wheelchair
- Propelling cycle or tricycle
- Walking, skipping, hopping, running
- Walking with an assistive device
- Walking or running with a partner
How can we organize our playing area so these forms of mobility may be used?
- Ensure there is a good floor surface, to allow smooth running of wheelchairs or other mobility aids.
- Find out if there are specific types of mobility aids that may be of use to pupils in your group: talk to a physiotherapist or occupational therapist.
- Position gym benches or chairs at specific points in the hall. These can be used during the lesson for children who have difficulty standing for extended periods.
Children with difficulties in standing or walking may enjoy participating in activities from the floor - for example, from a sitting, kneeling, or side-lying position.
- Have comfortable gym mats / exercise mats on the floor.
- Find out if there is positioning equipment that could be of use during PE:
Children with muscle spasticity may have difficulty lying or sitting directly on the mat - foam wedges and rolls can help the child achieve a stable position on the mat.
There is also more specialist support furniture available to help maintain positions such as side-lying, or lying in a prone (on the front) position. Children who would benefit from these usually have contact with a physical therapist - you can discuss the most appropriate type of support with the child's physical therapist.
Within the sports hall or yard, are we using all available space together? Do we want to create separate zones where certain children can have more space?
- Use colored cones to mark out separate zones, or use chalk to draw lines.
- Adapting Equipment
There are many options to adapt any equipment used in PE. In this article, we will focus on examples relating to ball activities.
We can adapt the type of ball used:
Think about the different characteristics of a ball that we can adapt:
The weight / traveling speed of the ball
- We can choose between a Balzac ball, a sponge ball, or a regular football. (A Balzac ball is a balloon covered by a light material cover.)
The size of the ball
- We can choose a beanbag, a tennis ball, a soccer ball, or a beach ball.
The sensory input and texture of the ball
- To provide sound as the ball is played, we can use a goalball. This is a ball with bells inside. We can get a similar effect by using a plastic shopping bag: put a football in a bag, tie the top of the bag together tightly. The ball will make noise as it rolls.
- To provide different tactile surfaces, we can find balls with different coverings, tie netting around a ball, or attach pieces of fabric to the ball.
- To provide extra visual input, we can use brightly colored balls, or balls with streamers attached.
We can adapt any bats or racquets used:
We can adapt the weight of the racquet used
- Consider the difference between using a badminton racquet compared to a tennis racquet, or in using a plastic hockey stick compared to a field hockey stick.
We can adapt the lever arm of the racquet
- Racquets with shorter handles are easier to control.
We can adapt the way the bat / racquet is held
- Strapping can be used to secure the hand / wrist to the racquet handle.
Alternatively, the player can wear a mitten on their hand, and use a Velcro attachment to the racquet handle.
- The bat can be held with both hands by pupils with decreased arm strength.
We can adapt the target or goal used in games:
Targets for distance throwing / passing / kicking
- Draw different-colored lines to show 1 meter, 2 meters, etc., from the throwing point.
Targets for accuracy
- Adapt the size of the target - e.g., throwing into a small box or a larger box.
- Think about using graduated targets - e.g., goalposts of blue cones 5m apart; inside these, position red cones 3m apart.
- Adapt the distance of the pupil from the target: remember this does not have to be the same for everyone, or the same throughout the game. Pupils can move further back from a target as they progress.
- Adapt the height of the target, e.g., a basketball net can be lowered
Targets with additional sensory feedback
- Use a bin which makes noise when the ball lands in it.
- Attach bells to skittles so they make noise when they are knocked.
We can adapt the playing surface
We are all familiar with throwing, striking, or kicking a ball. This is usually done through the air or on the ground. Consider using other ways of moving a ball:
- Use a table-tennis table (without net). Partnered pupils can play (roll or hit) the ball back and forth across the table top. This can be adapted further by using side walls to prevent the ball from going off the table to the side. These can be made by using firm cardboard or plywood.
- A gutter ramp can be used by pupils who have difficulty throwing the ball. This is often used in sports such as boccia or bowling, but it can be used in any activity involving passing a ball. A simple ramp can be made from a length of gutter or from piping cut in half.
We can adapt the freedom of the ball to move
- We can create a funnel for the ball to travel in once propelled along the ground. Lay two gym benches on their side. Pupils can use this funnel for any activity where they are sending a ball on the ground - rolling, dribbling, and kicking.
- For striking activities, use string to suspend a shuttlecock or sponge ball from the end of a bamboo cane. A teacher or assistant can hold the cane. The length and type (elastic/non-elastic) of string also can be varied.
- For beginners' striking activities, a player can aim for and strike at slower-moving balloons or bubbles instead of a ball.
These are only some examples of how equipment can be adapted. Over time, you will come up with your own adaptations to add to this list.
- Adapting Rules and Instructions
Some children may have difficulty following the rules or format of games.
- Start with games / activities that have few rules to remember. Introduce further rules one at a time when pupils have grasped the pattern or flow of the activity.
- Explain instructions using a minimum of different words.
- Try to minimize the time between giving instructions and starting the activity
- Think about using ways to slow down the activity when starting, e.g., using a slower moving ball.
We can make our instructions as clear as possible for all pupils, including those who might have a hearing or vision problem.
- Make sure the room is well-lit, and that the teacher is clearly visible to all pupils.
- Minimize background noise during instruction.
- Have a flip chart or board available for giving further visual instruction.
- Think about how to have good eye contact for children who may sit at a lower height (e.g., in a wheelchair): Kneel down or sit on a bench.
Can we make use of different forms of communication in our PE activity?
- Picture symbols are useful when working with children who use augmentative communication devices: discuss with the child's speech and language therapist which symbols would be useful, and how they can be best used.
- A multi-sensory approach can be used when giving instructions - for example:
Give verbal explanation with an accompanying demonstration; or
Give verbal explanation while manually assisting a pupil through a movement.
- Musical sounds or recorded sounds can be used to signal when to perform a certain activity
It is important to keep directions simple and clear. Try not to use complex or abstract descriptions of body movement:
- For example, use:
"How high can you reach in the air?"
"Straighten your arm above your head."
How can we provide closer instruction for pupils who may benefit from it?
Pupils with a movement problem can receive help from a partner or "buddy."
- A pupil is paired with a partner, or buddy, who will help him or her during an activity.
The pupil might receive physical assistance, feedback, and / or encouragement from the buddy.
Remember also that there should be reciprocal helping between pupil and buddy. In cases where the pupil is not able to physically assist his or her buddy, there are still possibilities for the pupil to give feedback and encouragement as the buddy practices an activity.
- The benefits of the buddy system are threefold:
- The pupil gets one-to-one assistance, and spends much more time on task than if he or she was dependent on help solely from the teacher.
- The buddy gains a better insight into the abilities of their partner, and can learn the importance of people participating in sport / physical activity at their own level.
- Both pupil and buddy learn through the process of instructing / helping their partner.