Unified Physical Education Part 2: Simple Strategies to Get Started

In this follow-up to Mike Messerole’s recent blog post on Unified Physical Education, you’ll learn about the components of a Unified Physical Education course as well as some tips for designing and implementing a Unified PE course in your school.

The Unified PE concept can be integrated into an existing general physical education course (e.g., Fitness for Life, Outdoor Education, Aerobic Conditioning) or used to create a new course. Regardless of how the course is created or integrated, the goal is to have — as close as possible — a class with an equal number of students with disabilities and peers without disabilities.

An Inside Look

In Unified Physical Education, the physical education teacher provides a variety of modifications and adaptations (e.g., lesson objectives, equipment, environment) to support all students in the course as they move toward mastery of the physical education grade-level outcomes identified by the school district.

For students with any type of a disability, a Unified PE course could very well be one of the many least restrictive environment (LRE) placement options. However, a Unified PE course may not be the LRE for all students with disabilities. Simply stated, the LRE is an environment where students learn the best, and it is up to the IEP team to determine if the Unified PE course would be the LRE for any student with a disability.

A major philosophy behind a Unified Physical Education course is that all students in the course earn physical education credit (vs. service-learning credit) at the completion of the course. It is expected that the physical educator will design and implement a standards-based curriculum for the course that removes barriers whenever possible so all students can learn together.

Conceptually, this philosophical approach to a Unified PE course might not meet the needs of students who need more support within a physical education course. For example, a peer-partner or reverse mainstreaming philosophy could be utilized in these situations where the students’ emotional or physical needs could benefit from peer support.

Strategies for Implementing Unified PE

If you are thinking about implementing the Unified PE concept in your school, consider some of the following tips and strategies:

  • Identify and follow your school procedures for adding/modifying a course so Unified PE can be added to the physical education course offerings.
  • Recruit a team of supporters who can assist you throughout the design and implementation stages of the Unified PE course. These supporters might be fellow physical educators, adapted physical educators, special educators, counselors, administrators and students.
  • Connect with physical educators at other schools who have implemented the Unified PE concept or created a Unified PE course so you can identify and avoid potential pitfalls. (Your state SHAPE association and state Special Olympics office can help you make these connections).

Tips for Creating a Unified PE Course

Design your Unified PE course the way you would any other well-designed physical education course and develop a syllabus that includes the following:

  • A course description
  • Student learning outcomes or course objectives
  • An outline of the units that will be taught during the course
  • The physical education standards and grade-level outcomes that are being met in each of the units during the course
  • The specific policies and procedures for students during the course (dressing, attendance, etc.)
  • The assessment procedures and grading criteria for the course, which should be based on objective assessments that demonstrate student learning (achievement of standards/grade-level outcomes) and not managerial tasks (dressing, effort, attitude)

An effective Unified Physical Education course provides students with and without disabilities the opportunity to develop physical literacy while also fostering an environment of respect and acceptance of all people. As with all school-based physical education, the goal is to develop physically literate movers for a lifetime.

If the information provided above has piqued your interest, check out the additional resources below.

Additional Resources

Susan Tarr

Susan J. Tarr, Ph.D., is an associate professor and coordinator of the Developmental Adapted Physical Education Program in the Human Performance Department at Minnesota State University, Mankato. She has trained adapted physical education teacher candidates for the past 26 years. Sue presents at the local, state, regional and national levels on adapted physical education, as well as standards-based assessment and grading in physical education. @suetarr