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What to Do Once You Have Determined Where Students Are Relative to Your Content

This is an excerpt from Core Teaching Practices for Health Education by Phillip C. Ward & Shonna L. Snyder.

There are many different yet appropriate ways that students' needs can be accommodated. In this section we present some common strategies to do so. Specifically, we discuss how to adapt instruction in the health education classroom in such a way that students can learn the health knowledge and skills that will affect them for life.

Flexible Grouping
Tomlinson and Moon (2013) identify flexible grouping as an element of instruction that is well suited for the health education classroom and that can be easily adapted for the diverse learner. This strategy ensures that students get to work with a variety of peers in their class, regularly and frequently. We believe students should work with each other at least on a weekly basis, but even more frequently is better. Peer work should be a regular expectation in a health education classroom. This provides the opportunity for students to work with peers who learn similarly and differently, who share the same and different interests, and who approach the task in the same or a different style. It is also important that sometimes the groups are randomly created, sometimes teacher selected, and sometimes peer designed. These opportunities allow for students to learn and acknowledge their own strengths and needs and those of their peers. This is important in health education, a topic in which strengths and needs can be life-enhancing or life-threatening.

Key to flexible grouping is that it must be planned. If it is not planned for, the opportunities will not occur. Too many things will draw the teacher away from groups (e.g., a noisy classroom or students who do not get along) if no purposeful plan is in place for flexible grouping.

We suggest using the framework from chapters 2 through 4 (big ideas, enduring understandings, and essential questions) to determine what you will teach and including how you will choose your flexible grouping during your planning. This will force you to think ahead about how you will create groups and what the purposes of the groups are for the lessons. The sidebar Tobacco Unit provides an example of this planning outcome. The first section shows the outcome of the planning process described in chapters 2 through 4. The next section shows how the essential questions are addressed in the lessons. The last section shows the purposeful planning of flexible grouping. Note that this is a simplified example to show how the connections are made.

Tobacco Unit

The point of planning for flexible grouping is that you allow the students to have different opportunities to find ways to learn from each other. This adaptation will create a learning atmosphere that ensures that all students, instead of a select few students, feel as though their strengths and needs are being addressed by their teacher.

Project-Based Learning
The next strategy that will increase adaptation in the health education classroom is project-based learning (PBL). The Buck Institute for Education’s PBLWorks initiative ( describes PBL as “a teaching method in which students learn by actively engaging in real-world and personally meaningful projects.” This method works to adapt instruction to student learning by having students choose projects based on their own interests and abilities, provides students ample time to work on the project (from one week to an entire semester), gives students support to complete the project, and then has students present the outcome of their project. By presenting their project, they demonstrate how they have addressed a complex, real-world problem while learning content, in our case health education content and skills. The PBLWorks initiative promotes a Gold Standard model that is based on research and aligns with the High Quality PBL framework ( This framework suggests that high-quality PBL must include the following six student-centered criteria: intellectual challenge and accomplishment, authenticity, public product, collaboration, project management, and reflection. Table 12.2 provides an overview of the six criteria for using PBL in health education. This example project is centered on mental and emotional health and focuses on the question “How can our school reduce bullying?" This example is not exhaustive of the entire project; rather it provides an idea from which to gain an understanding of high-quality PBL.

Table 12.2 An Overview of a PBL Project in Health

As you teach health education content and skills and guide students through their learning, we recommend using the seven project-based teaching practices of Gold Standard PBL (see These practices will ensure that you adapt instruction so that all students can perform the indicators of the National Health Education Standards according to their age and developmental level. The seven practices are

  1. design and plan,
  2. align to standards,
  3. build the culture,
  4. manage activities,
  5. scaffold student learning,
  6. assess student learning, and
  7. engage and coach.

Kokotsaki, Menzies, and Wiggins (2016, p. 267) describe “project-based learning (PBL) [as] an active student-centered form of instruction which is characterized by students’ autonomy, constructive investigations, goal-setting, collaboration, communication and reflection within real-world practices.” They discuss six recommendations based on a literature review that will help PBL to be successful in your classroom: student support; teacher support; effective group work; balancing didactic instruction with independent inquiry method; assessment emphasis on reflection and on self and peer evaluation; and student choice and autonomy. We provide an overview of each in the following sections but focus on those that directly help to adapt instruction to meet students’ needs, in particular, balancing didactic instruction with independent inquiry and student choice and autonomy.

Student Support
Students in the health classroom need to be supported and guided as they develop their health projects. They need to be guided in their time spent on tasks, such as research and development, and in managing their academic behaviors (e.g., organization, using the computer safely, etc.). Additionally, they need to have ample time and resources to complete the projects.

Teacher Support
Health teachers need the support of their administrators and colleagues to continue to grow in their field. This support, which can take the form of money for attending professional health teacher conferences and resources for teaching health in their classrooms, is necessary in order for teachers to have robust ideas for PBL and to incorporate it successfully.

Effective Group Work
As discussed earlier, group planning and group work instruction is an important part of planning an effective health project in which all students have an equal opportunity to learn. Health teachers must ensure that all members of the group are able and willing to participate in the project.

Balancing Didactic Instruction With Independent Inquiry
Didactic health instruction is instruction given directly to students to impart health knowledge and skills; generally, it is teacher-centered. Independent inquiry in health education occurs when students work on a health project independently with minimal teacher guidance; generally, it is student-centered. When adapting instruction, it is not only important to balance these two methods, but it is important to help students progress from didactic instruction to independent inquiry. While working from teacher-centered toward student-centered learning, the teacher needs to be aware of when or if students are ready for more independence. This requires that teachers know their students. Teachers must be tuned in to factors such as how their students learn, at what speed they learn, and what motivates them to learn. In health education PBL, the goal is for students to produce an outcome from their project while they learned about a health topic or skill along the way. Independent inquiry is likely to produce a student product.

Assessment Emphasis on Reflection and on Self and Peer Evaluation
Kokotsaki, Menzies, and Wiggins state that “evidence of progress needs to be regularly monitored and recorded” (2016, p. 274). In health PBL this can occur in several ways. We recommend that students keep a daily journal or other type of record that shows their progress. Peer evaluation summaries or progress notes could be recorded each day. The health teacher can have checkpoints during the process in which students must answer reflection questions about their progress, such as “Have you completed at least half of your project at this point?” “How many more resources do you need before you can move to the next step?” or “Have you started on the analysis portion?”

Student Choice and Autonomy
PBL allows students to choose how they will learn based on these things. However, the teacher must consider how to deliver the instruction so that all students have the opportunity to learn with their own style and abilities and even at their own pace. The first way we suggest is to allow students to choose their own projects. Some examples that students might choose are to develop a recycling project for their school, create a coronavirus PSA that can be shared with parents and the community, collect data from peers and develop a presentation, or work on a nutrition project that ends in healthy eating. As students choose their projects and begin working toward their outcome, they will develop goals for their projects, develop timelines for completion, determine who they might need to collaborate with along the way, and decide how they will investigate the problem they will be working on. All these components, giving students choice and autonomy, are key to PBL.

More Excerpts From Core Teaching Practices for Health Education