Former teacher Bryn Llewellyn discusses Tagtiv8, his bespoke active learning resource that builds children’s confidence in key areas of the curriculum through physical activity. A research study evaluating the impact of Tagtiv8 lessons on physical activity and academic performance was carried out by Leeds Beckett University, and provided evidence to support the assertion that exercise improves brain function.
Bryn Llewellyn spent 25 years as a teacher, deputy head teacher and acting head teacher.
He has cherished memories of his time in the classroom, but just as vivid are his recollections of disillusionment with government education policy.
He had devoted himself to teaching for a quarter of a century, but as those nagging feelings of disempowerment grew, so did his frustration that lesson times were deemed the most inactive periods of children’s lives.
He could no longer sit idly by while an endless conveyor-belt of career politicians and Education Ministers continued to tinker with education policies that were wholly at odds with his own philosophy and beliefs; whose knowledge of pedagogy was at best limited, and whose only experience of teaching was their own childhood experiences.
‘Policy-makers and government ministers were forcing things on schools that were not in keeping with my own core values,’ explains Bryn. ‘English and Maths were the sole drivers for most schools. Don’t get me wrong, everyone wants high standards in English and mathematics but not at the expense of everything else, and I wanted to go back to my drivers, which are about physical activity and creativity.
‘I wanted to get that element of fun back into the learning. Children were sitting down for far too long and there were not enough opportunities to move and learn. I do believe that children engage more when they are physically active, when the chemicals are being released and the oxygen is getting to the brain.’
Moved to action
Unable to reconcile himself with the education ideologies of consecutive governments, and further spurred by the knowledge that ‘subjects were being taught in boxes and we know that this is not how we learn best’, Bryn made the life-changing decision to leave the profession.
He did not leave education though, as his passion for teaching children remained as robust as ever.
‘I left teaching with a view to setting up something that would help teachers and schools support children in becoming more physically active in these days of sedentary lifestyles,’ says Bryn.
‘When I was teaching I used to do a lot of after-school activities and it was obvious that children weren’t as physically fit as they used to be.
‘During the 25 years I taught, you could see a noticeable decline in terms of stamina, strength and speed. How much of that was down to modern lifestyles, or dietary habits, I’m not sure, but I wondered if maybe the schools were contributing to that as well, in terms of the traditional sit and listen, sit and learn teaching method.’
The seed of an idea had been germinating in Bryn’s mind for some time, growing slowly but surely into a fully-fledged business plan, the root of which was to develop a completely bespoke active learning resource that would build children’s confidence in key areas of the curriculum through physical activity.
Founded on the principle that if you can’t reach them, you can’t teach them, it would be a win-win solution for health and education.
In 2013 Tagtiv8 was born, which enabled Bryn to, quite literally, bring all his ideas to play.
Tag rugby meets scrabble
Tagtiv8 is a neat play on words that does exactly what it says on the tin – using tags as the building blocks for an array of engaging educational games that promote physical activity and provide an enjoyable alternative to classroom-based learning.
He explains: ‘When I moved from Tyneside to Yorkshire, I had no understanding of tag rugby whatsoever. My background was football, football, football. But after seeing how children playing tag rugby engaged with Bradford Bulls and Leeds Rhinos coaches, it struck me what a fantastic leveller it was. It allows girls to play alongside boys and does not discriminate between abilities. It really fires children, excites them.’
Bryn’s original idea was ‘tag rugby meets Scrabble’ and ‘tag rugby meets Countdown’, which he says came to him one morning in a Eureka moment as he was ruminating over how he could blend physical and cognitive elements into fun and enjoyable games and activities.
He wondered if it had ever been done before. It hadn’t. And so after resolving the intellectual property rights, the process of designing and producing his own set of Tagtiv8 games and testing them out in schools began.
‘While it was my idea originally, it is very much an organic process,’ says Bryn. ‘By working with the schools, teachers and children, it turned out that the initial raft of games which I considered pretty cool, actually weren’t as cool as I thought.’
Children’s creative juices were sparked to such an extent during the game-testing phase that ideas for modifications and improvements came thick and fast.
His original cache of games were individually fine-tuned and remoulded. Now they weren’t just cool, they were uber-cool, with even the most boring mathematical concepts brought vividly to life.
‘The best games now come from children and teachers on the activity days I run,’ adds Bryn. ‘The idea is, down the line, schools can buy the kit and go on to develop their own games and then share them online.’
This is another attraction of his learning model – children’s awareness that the games they devise and develop could one day be played by potentially thousands of other children up and down the country.
Putting the fun into maths
Okay, so the approach offers a new perspective on learning – making English and maths relevant and fun while encouraging creativity in children, even allowing them to develop their own active learning games.
But what does a typical Tagtiv8 game look like in practice?
Most have a physical challenge followed by a thinking challenge. A physical challenge might be 30 children divided into six teams, with each team’s challenge to fill their bucket with tags they have grabbed from the opposition – which are attached to a Velcro belt worn over a bib.
Picture a kaleidoscope of colours as 30 intensely focused children – with different colour bibs worn by each team – sprinting, stretching and weaving around a field or sports hall until all the tags have been placed in the bucket.
At this point, rosy-cheeked from their exertions, they will be given a thinking challenge. For example, sort your tags into multiples of ten, or order them from small to large, or into halves and quarters.
‘There are infinite possibilities,’ says Bryn ‘Any aspect of the maths curriculum can be adapted and delivered by this active learning approach. For example, you can focus on number bonds, prime numbers, times-tables or SATs-type questions that develop reasoning.’
Red tags represent an even number, yellow tags odd numbers. Blue tags, meanwhile, have the operations on them.
Because the colours are so easily defined, children can quickly see patterns in multiplication, addition and subtraction. The word version works on the same principle, with tags containing letters or word parts, and used to develop an understanding of spelling and phonics.
Over time the games also develop social and personal skills, including problem-solving and teamwork, as children learn to work as a group and support each other.
Currently, more than 100 games have been created, which are stored and shared with schools across the globe via Google Drive.
It is testimony to the success of the enterprise that things have now reached a tipping point, with Bryn, pictured below, contemplating going down the route of employing coaches – or even disenfranchised teachers who want to recapture their enthusiasm for learning – to go in and deliver sessions to schools.
Evidence of impact
Enriching children’s learning through physical play is, of course, not a new concept.
But Bryn’s brainchild delivers a fresh new twist to active learning, and any innovation that helps brings the curriculum to life and make learning more exciting, engaging and relevant is to be applauded.
Tagtiv8 has engaged more than 50,000 children across the UK and abroad to date.
‘The challenge,’ explains Bryn, ‘is to now get the active learning message out there to the decision-makers and practitioners, in both education and health, as well as the strong evidence that physical activity improves brain function.’
It is in Bryn’s obvious interests to shine the spotlight on those studies that provide evidence to support the assertion that children who are physically fit are better at absorbing and retaining new information.
But he has gone further than this, by teaming up with Leeds Beckett University researchers to evaluate the impact of Tagtiv8 sessions and assess whether his own anecdotal evidence was well-founded.
In the experiment, half the cohort was tested in a classroom session and half in a Tagtiv8 session. Prior to that, pupils were baseline tested in terms of mathematical ability, concentration levels, speed and accuracy.
More details of the research process can be found here, but the key findings were spelled out by senior lecturer Andy Daly-Smith:
‘When it came to assessing whether active learning led to better academic outcomes we saw promising results. Overall, there were small improvements for pupils who learnt in an active way. Further, those pupils who were most active in the Tagtiv8 lessons seemed to have the greatest benefits. This suggests activity may play a key role in enhancing learning.’
It adds to a growing body of research – including studies from the Universities of Strathclyde and Dundee – linking physical activity to improvements in academic achievement.
Bryn reflects: ‘It’s great that we now have strong evidence of impact. When the endorphins kick in and the oxygen gets into the brain, that’s when the magic happens.’
And magic is the operative word. Lower Key Stage 2 Leader Susan Abbott, of Ingram Road Primary School in Leeds, tells the tale of one pupil’s reaction to a Tagtiv8 session:
‘My teaching assistant was amazed by a boy who normally speaks in one word answers in school. He wouldn’t stop talking all day and used full sentences for the first time, describing all the learning he was doing!’
Teaching is underpinned by effective strategies that deliver consistently outstanding learning outcomes, and proof of impact does not come any more conclusive than this.
Anybody wanting further information on Tagtiv8 can contact Bryn on 07506-523354.
Endorsed by afPE, Coachwise has created PE Core Activities resources, which help teachers benchmark and measure pupil progress in PE. We have updated the PE core tasks to meet current national curriculum guidelines, making them available as durable activity cards and as downloads and video demonstration clips on the PE Core Activities website.
You might also be interested in the 1st4sport: PE Confidence Series, a new eLearning suite which includes modules on:
- Introducing Competition in PE
- Assessing Progress in PE
- Organising PE Lessons
- Planning PE Lessons
- Managing Behaviour in PE
- Mentoring in PE
The courses are for:
- Teaching staff, timetabled to deliver primary PE or wishing to deliver extra-curricular activities, who aren’t PE specialists
- Student primary teachers who may or may not be specialising in PE
- Coaches delivering PE, sports or physical activity sessions in primary schools
All six courses in this bundle offer you the opportunity to ‘learn by doing’ by making decisions in real-life online scenarios and seeing the consequences of those decisions. You can find out more about the courses here.