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Physical Literacy

I am delighted to say that Professor Margaret Whitehead has joined PEPRN and has created a physical literacy discussion board as one of the key themes on PEPRN. She has also agreed to write a short blog which can be read below. So welcome Margaret and the Physical Literacy dicusssions and I look forward to reading the ongoing discussions around this topic.



Physical Literacy by Margaret Whitehead

I have recently been alerted to an article in a Canadian Journal (‘Teacher’ August 2010) proposing the value of the concept of ‘Sport Literacy’. This identifies four distinct aspects, being to do with a) sport as an applied, practised and situated set of skills, b) sport as a body of knowledge with meaning that can be interpreted, understood and used creatively c) sport as a socially and culturally constructed ‘text’ which can be communicated and read in various forms, and d) sport as a learning process.

While I can see broadly where the writer is coming from, Sport Literacy does not sit well beside Physical literacy. Sport Literacy would seem to encompass embodied aspects of movement, elements of propositional knowledge, aspects of cultural understanding and the promotion of learning. Each is valuable in its own right but do not necessarily form a coherent whole. In fact the presentation suggests that they are distinct aspects. Physical literacy is seen to be an essentially intra-related concept, being centred on motivation, confidence and physical competence which on account of our embodied nature resonate with many aspects of our appreciation of the ourselves and the world.


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On Thursday 02 February at 19:04 Liz Taplin said
Thank you Margaret. It is interesting (and, on occasions, somewhat confusing) to see the increasingly common use of the word literacy. I hadn’t come across sports literacy before your post, but I have seen that ICT is being re-branded as digital literacy, and then of course the phrase emotional literacy is frequently used. I wondered if it would be timely for you to remind us how the word ‘literacy’ should be defined and how you came to use this word to describe the concept we know as physical literacy.
Ashley Casey
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On Monday 20 February at 22:39 Ashley Casey said
From Margaret Whitehead: Thank you for your comment Liz. Literacy was a word that aptly picked up the way, described by Existentialists, that we are what we are, on account of our interaction with the world around us. As explained in Whitehead et al (2010) it is through this interaction that we make sense of the world, create our own unique nature and also come to know ourselves. As a result of this interaction we relate with ease with all around us, very often on a pre-reflective level. We perceive the world, readily assimilating its features, accommodating these within our previous experiences, and responding appropriately. Literacy carries connotations of an awareness and appreciation of features beyond self, an openness to further interactive engagement, self awareness and fluent response. Literacy could be seen a human capability within the reach of everyone and capable of being nurtured in the interests of enhancing life. Literacy within a particular area issues in an assured ability to interact effectively, and a confidence of rewarding experience. While literacy has heretofore been associated principally with cognitive aspects of our human nature it is just as applicable to our embodied dimension and our embodied relationship with the world. Physical literacy suffers from a lack of descriptive vocabulary on account of its nature as significantly pre-reflective. However this does not invalidate the concept, although there is an ever present danger of trying to legitimate it on the grounds of cognitive abilities. Significantly physical literacy is grounded in a monist appreciation of the human condition, and on account of our holistic nature impinges on and enhances many aspects of our nature. Margaret Whitehead

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