Adopting the three bears approach

 Differentiation is a difficult concept for many physical educators to get their heads around. If you run a one-size-fits-all, teach to the ‘normal’, all-in activity, you will probably find in a class of 20 that: For about five students its too easy and a tad boring (unless they dominate everyone else); for 10 students its meeting needs at a point of optimal challenge and; for another five or so its chaos and completely disengaging. So what to do. There are many ways of course to avoid this situation, including some very easy practices such as using small cooperative group activities/games, where individuals generally have to be engaged to get the task done. You can use an approach to planning like Universal Design for Learning. This basically says there is no such thing as normal or average. Instead, you need to plan for the edges of your jagged learner profiles. You could read up on Mosston’s slanted rope inclusion style, I love that. Here is another way you can think about it. I call it the 3 Bears approach.

You all know the story of Goldilocks and the 3 Bears. Let’s assume that whilst the porridge was originally too hot for all of them causing them to go for a walk, Pappa Bear liked hot porridge, Baby Bear liked warm porridge and Momma Bear liked her porridge cold. It doesn’t really matter who liked what kind of porridge, the fact is they all liked porridge and all ate porridge but none of the porridge was the same. This scenario repeats itself for choices of a chair, bedding and various other things. They all sit, but they sit most comfortably when they sit on ‘their’ chair, which is different from the other two chairs. They all sleep, but they sleep best on their own particular mattress. You get the idea.

So, if you are planning a PE class, think of planning for the 3 Bears and any random Goldilocks people who rock up. You want them all to be doing the same activity (ie. eat porridge, sit down, sleep or play tee ball) but all doing it in a way that ‘works best’ for them. That is, their ‘best way’ to do the activity.

EXAMPLE: A striking game (small sided of course), depending on self-rated experience and chosen level of optimal challenge you can try one or more combinations of the following: Three types of bats; three types of pitches (Fast, medium, gentle or); three types of fielder set up (spread, 1/2 on one side, clustered). Just manipulate the constraints of the task, equipment or environment and let the students choose. “Oh but the talented students will pick the easiest option” I hear you say. Generally not. People like to be challenged. If they are underselling it, it is your job to give them a nudge. This is also a cool way to assess. If your assessment focuses on learning and growth, then they can demonstrate this by how far they move along the challenge continuum over time, irrespective of where they started from. If they want more or less challenge, let them adjust it but they need to account for their decisions.

In the one mixed ability small-sided game, students can nominate their choice of bat, pitch and maybe even field, based upon where they are optimally challenged. They don’t get judged because in your class difference is celebrated and you have taught them to acknowledge we have all had different opportunities and to respect (even celebrate) difference. In three classes from now, you will be looking for them to change it up after some effort and practice.

Now think about how your 3 Bears might want to play volleyball? Which one would have the net up full, which down low? Who would want to use the official volleyball that stings your arms? Is it best for Baby Bear to serve it from behind a line miles away just like Pappa Bear? You get the idea. Two options: a) Set up three different courts and let the students choose. b) Within mixed ability groups, allow choice (note its pretty hard to adjust the net up and down each time though).

I call this the rule of three* in another blog post

* The rule of 3: As a side note, it’s interesting how the rule of three works. Three little pigs, three Musketeers, three blind mice. While you won’t get everyone fitting neatly into three boxes, three is better than one and when you combine it with other options it becomes quite varied. The reason I think the rule of three works here is similar to why it works in storytelling. Three things bring enough variation to the table to satisfy and engage, the user is more likely to remember the choices and there is a rhythm to it. It also works for landscape gardening and photography I believe.

Fairness, inclusion and assessment in [PD]HPE

“Fair isn’t equal; fair is when everyone gets what they need.”



As HPE teachers you have probably seen this image in terms of equality versus equity, but it could also represent the concept of equality versus fairness.

  • Equality means giving each person the exact same thing.
  • Fairness / Equity means that each person gets what he or she needs to be successful.

Imagine the following scenario in a [PD]HPE class:


  • You have set up a vertical jump test where a braid is hanging from a basketball hoop, so high that only the tallest student can reach it.


  • You challenge the students with a reward for whoever can reach the braid.


  • When you ask for volunteers to try to reach the braid you choose your tallest student, Lisa who is able to reach the braid and gets a reward.


  • When you ask for a second volunteer, you select the shortest person in the class, David. 


  • After a few unsuccessful attempts, David goes for a chair to help him reach the braid.


  • At this point you say, “You can’t use a chair; that would be unfair. Lisa did it without any support. You must do the same.”


  • The class starts complaining saying “That’s not fair! David can’t help that he’s short.”






I think most of us would agree with the students here that indeed this scenario is not fair on David (or any of the other students in the class for that matter) as without additional support they will never be able to successfully reach the braid. However, if we allow other students some additional support, they will more than likely be able to demonstrate that they can reach the braid.

The thinking should be no different when we are pondering our assessment processes – but it often is. I regularly have teachers remark that “It’s not fair to the others if I let a student with special needs do an adjusted, scaffolded or different task.” This remark defines fairness as meaning that everyone gets the same (just like the image on the left hand side above) and reflects an attitude of equality rather than equity and fairness.

But what if some students haven’t yet grasped the concepts covered by the assessment? Is it unfair to provide them with more explicit instruction so that they do grasp what is being asked of them? And if a student excels, shouldn’t that student have the opportunity to move on and be extended in their learning? 

Meeting each student where they are currently functioning is never unfair to other students.

Continual reminders that students are failing to meet high standards are less effective than establishing where exactly individuals are in their learning, tailoring teaching to meet students at their points of need, and monitoring and celebrating excellent progress towards high standards (Masters, 2014).

“If you aspire to be a world-class high jumper, is it better to set the bar at the world record height and keep attempting to clear it, or to lower the bar to a level you have a chance of clearing and work incrementally up from there?”

Source: Geoff Masters, 2014 Achieving high standards by starting from current performance 

Fairness and inclusion

For a classroom, or school to be truly inclusive, it is critical that the difference between fairness and equality are both understood and embraced.

When we determine fairness based on need we help all students to demonstrate what they know, understand and can do – which is the key purpose of assessment in HPE.  

The ALL-MOST-FEW framework

The ALL-MOST-FEW framework can be used as a mental template to plan assessment for the learning needs of all students in your classes. The ALL-MOST-FEW framework allows you to plan for degrees of learning rather than planning for 31 individual students.


The ALL-MOST-FEW framework allows you to think about how you will prioritise what you will teach, how you will teach it and where the different entry points could be for a class of students with different needs, interests and abilities.

The base represents the learning that you want all students to be able to demonstrate. These are your non-negotiable goal/s. What understanding and skills do all students need to acquire from this unit of work in order to live healthy, safe and active lives (the stated aim of the [PD]HPE curriculum)?

By identifying the key concepts, understandings and skills that are most important for all students to learn you can then identify the teaching strategies and supports required to help them demonstrate this learning. The ALL goal provides the foundation for more complex goals to be built upon. The concepts at this level are not limited to being basic ; the teacher may also identify higher order concepts that are essential for all to learn.

The second level describes additional learning that is an extension of the ALL goal. These are the learning goals that you expect MOST STUDENTS to be able to demonstrate but there may be some in the class that don’t quite get there … and that’s OK.

The third and final layer in the framework describes the most complex concepts and offers the most challenge to the students who need it.

It is common to have multiple levels of readiness, ability and knowledge in a class and for each student this may vary from one area of learning/unit to another. It is therefore important to remember that students’ should not be locked into one level (e.g. a student with a learning difficulty or physical disability), but have access to information from all three parts.

By changing our aim and identifying the supports that all students will benefit from to achieve our non-negotiable (ALL) goals we can add complexity to concepts rather than trying to simplify concepts as we go. It is a more strengths-based model of planning. By planning in layers we are allowing all students, regardless of ability, access to the same curriculum content. Using layers to develop our learning and assessment goals will provide students with more flexibility in how they can demonstrate what they know, understand and can do in relation to that content.

So when you are planning your assessment processes think about what supports will benefit all students to demonstrate exactly what they know, understand and are able to do and plan within your units to include access to these supports for all students in your class. They will be extremely useful for everyone of your students in allowing them multiple ways to demonstrate their learning.

What supports do you use to help all of your students achieving the learning goals?

What does a truly inclusive school environment look like?

Features of inclusive schools

Cheryl Jorgensen in her book The Inclusion Facilitator’s Handbook describes a truly inclusive school that welcomes and supports the needs of all students as having the following characteristics:

  • Students with disabilities are members of age-appropriate regular mainstream classes.
  • Students with disabilities attend the same school that they would be attending if they did not have disabilities.
  • Students with disabilities progress through grade levels according to the same pattern as students without disabilities.
  • Students with disabilities are not removed from mainstream classes for academic instruction.
  • No places or programs in the school are reserved just for the use of students with disabilities.
  • Learning materials are universally accessible to all students.
  • Students with disabilities are active participants in all classroom and school routines.
  • Students with disabilities participate in classroom learning activities in similar ways as do students without disabilities.
  • Students with disabilities participate in school sport, plays, field trips, and community service activities.
  • Schools are physically accessible to all students.
  • Schools accommodate all students’ sensory concerns.

Frameworks to support quality inclusion

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a research-based set of principles to guide the design of learning environments that are accessible and effective for all. First articulated by CAST in the 1990s and now the leading framework in an international reform movement, UDL provides an evidence-based framework to support educators to plan, develop and deliver inclusive lessons that meet the needs of all learners.

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What do you think?

If you were to add to the list of key features of inclusion, what would you add? Share your ideas in the comments below!


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News and updates

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Inclusive Schools Australia has been created to build capacity within the education sector to action the intention of the Australian Curriculum to provide high quality curriculum that promotes equity and excellence to all students without exception.