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“It’s behind you!”: Looking forwards as an alternative future for physical education

Volume 1: The Nature and Purposes of Physical Education

In the previous blog we explored the idea that school is more about civilizing students to be ‘good members of society’ than it is about education. In his paper written at the end of the last century, Kirk argued that mass schooling has played a significant role in the taming of the working class through the use of elite sports that were once the preserve of the elite. In the discussions around the blog we heard from David Kirk himself, who asked what was it that we could learn from the history of the subject? What don’t we do now that we did a century ago? But equally what do we still do now that we did a century ago? We can learn from history if we can acknowledge the patterns and repetitions that guide our presents and possible futures. Brendan Jones also warned at the messages we give out - or perhaps throw out - to kids in the convenient epithets that persist in sport i.e. “failing to prepare is preparing to fail” etc.

In this week’s blog we explore the idea that we need to look forwards at what physical education, indeed education, ought to be. In other words, how can we envision a future for physical education that supases the norm and places it at the heart of the lives of young people, their families and their communities. It challenges us to think of the networks in which we engage and to acknowledge the values that such ‘communities’ hold and champion. In doing we are asked to consider how we might be catalyst for change.

Paper 12:

Lawson, H.A. (2009/2012). Paradigms, Exemplars and Social Change. In D. Kirk (ed.) Physical Education. (pp. 186-210) London: Routledge.

My ‘take home’ message – the implications of the research on practice

At first sight - well my first sight at least - this paper looked like it was going to be about research and I wasn’t sure how I could work it to fit the aims of this blog. However, when reading it from cover to cover and considering the messages that Lawson is putting across I am now convinced that it carries a poignant message. In fact, I am positive that the underlying message is one that relates to all of us as practitioners - whether than be in physical education, coaching, sports science, health etc. We are guilty (me, probably you) of living in our own silos. I did it as a games teacher (I use this term deliberately as that was certainly what I aspired to be in my early career), and I guess I do it now as a physical educator. I am not a scientist, a coach but I ‘do’ physical education. When I set out to be a physical educator I wanted to teach rugby and cricket. When I set out to be a PhD I wanted to learn to teach through pedagogical models. When I set out to be an academic I chose my specialisms - I would be a teacher educator but I would not sit in an ivory tower. In all of these cases I set out to learn more and more about the ideas and concepts that were important to me and from this position of expertise I have sort to inspire people to my cause. I have followed the work of great people in my field, but have I looked forwards or backwards?

Research (being a researcher) teaches you to build your ideas on what has come before. To “stand on the shoulders of giants” and to justify your claims through the findings of others. As a teacher I did this with my lessons (what has so and so done? Is there a book on that?). The only time I looked forward was in my PhD research. I wanted to do what had never been done before. Use a models-based approach to teaching secondary physical education. I wanted to be the first person to use a multi-models approach (Cooperative Learning (CL), Sport Education (SE) and Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU)) and I think I managed it. But since then I have been trying to establish myself as an academic and have been looking backwards again, to find out what others have said. I have done this to broaden my research and to better understand why people have said what they have said about physical education. I have explored the professional learning and the occupational socialization of teachers, the use of visual methodologies, and the use of CL, TGfU, and Health-based Physical Education by real teachers in real schools in multiple contexts. But why? Because I am interested in how to build school-university partnerships around research and wish to use my practice-informed knowledge to create theory-informed practice and practice-informed theory. Yet, a lot of this involves looking backwards in order to learn from it (not a bad thing if you take David Kirk’s response to the last blog) but at some stage we all need to look forwards to where we are going and make choices about our journey. What Lawson’s paper suggests (and I now see that the programme we are building at work around research is already doing this) is that we need to look forwards and we need to envision a unique future and then work to find ways of making that happen.

But it won’t happen by chance. Teachers need to take responsibility for blue skies thinking and actively seek collaborations with universities and other agencies. Equally academics need to leave their ivory towers and really engage with teachers and other agencies. In the words of Joey Feith we need to build bridges (what Dean Dudley would prefer to call pathways) between different establishments. Personally, I have been concerned with my own practice, is it too narrowly focussed on pedagogical models? Are these only one possible future or one aspect that needs changing? How can I influence cross disciplinary change?

 One way to begin to think of this is to engage in cross disciplinary thinking. I need to better understand that the fields and segments I work in have been created around certain expectations and examples of what counts as physical education, teacher education, teaching etc. I need to look outside of these. I need to work with schools, agencies and other universities to do some blue skies thinking and then some blue skies doing. I need to reconsider my vision of physical education. Where does it come from? Who are the main players in its conceptualisation? What ideas underpin it? What can a break be made that might make it stronger? What am I prepared to break? What is so steadfastly fixed that I cannot break it or wouldn’t be allowed to break it? Physical education, for me, is a silo. It is one I understand (I’ve worked in it for half my life now) but it needs to be challenged. How can you challenge what physical education is? Can you work with other agencies to reconsider what physical education is and does? Can you see and then be the blue skies?


The Paper

Much of Lawson paper explores the development of fields (or paradigms) of research in physical education. He argues that there are a number of key aspects (exemplars, segments, networks and gatekeeper) are needed that make any field or paradigm successful (and by that I mean enduring). He warns that we need to be more aware of the social context in which research exists and that, when we read and internalise research we need to be aware of the wider context in which is written and be more discerning in our judgements of what is good research capable of social change and what isn’t.

The first of the aspect Lawson explores are exemplars i.e. examples of how research can and should be done. Physical Education research (in contrast to Sport Science research) relies predominantly on qualitative methodologies and this ‘type’ of research has come to define the exemplar. Within this there are expectations about how the research will be conducted, how rigour will be judged and what counts as valid and useful knowledge. The second aspect forms around segments of the wider field. So within physical education this might be around health, or games, and within some of the bigger fields or paradigms around Sport Education (SE) or Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU). Those who write and work in these segments promote their vision for the segment within the wider field. Research serves as a vehicle for winning an audience, and potential converts, to certain vision of physical education. The third aspect, networks, are those social groups that are formed around different segments. These groups are invisible to everyone but their members and there is an expectation from those outside looking in that these networks share a sense of unity and a consensus of opinion i(for example, in fields such as SE and TGfU). The final aspect is the presence of a gatekeeper or gatekeepers. These “paradigmatic leaders” are advocates of the paradigm through their visible research productivity, recognition in terms of awards and keynotes, the development of influential doctoral programmes and therefore future researchers and network members. The leaders are opinion shapers and are instrumental in the formation of networks.

All four of these aspects shape the research environment and, Lawson believes, constrains innovation and limits the development of both cross-network, even cross-paradigm, collaboration and eventually ‘sees off’ innovative researchers who don’t conform to the expectations of the field. All of these ideas are explored through the autobiographical experiences of Lawson as a researcher but I won’t explore these further here at it would take too long and I don’t think it is relevant to the core purpose of this blog. However, Lawson’s key message in this paper is that we need to be asking new research questions and to do this we need to create a new paradigm or field aimed at developing innovative physical education programme prototypes that are aimed specifically at being capable of ‘working’ within the social, cultural, economic, political, and demographic “realities-as-challenges” of the 21st century. To do this we need to be asking “ought questions”

Ought questions are those challenges that look not at what works but at the future. In looking forwards and not backwards these types of questions force us, as a community, to consider the values and ideologies around physical education that best serve its capacity to create a good and just society in a sustainable world. Core to this message is Lawson’s belief that PE has suffered by being modeled on other schools subjects and squeezed into the timetable. Indeed he firmly holds that “efforts to make it [PE] conform to them [other subjects] has been counter-productive and ill-advised”. The future of PE lies not in conformity but in uniqueness and the special contributions it can make to the life quality and well being of young people, their families and their communities. Physical Education is currently disadvantage in the competition for the hearts, minds, identities, bodies, behaviour choices and “lifestyles” of young people (See my Kirk and Houlihan blogs for a fuller consideration of these ideas). However, it is also uniquely positioned to have an impact. If it could be designed and configured using lifespan framework that works for young and old alike (and those in between). If it could stand alone from other subjects and work within a social context to educate the community, the family and the individual through school-agency-university partnership then it could serve a much fuller role in our societies. But to do this, Physical Education needs to create a new paradigm: one that works with colleagues from the wider field of kinesiology (sports science for example), from nursing, nutrition, social work, juvenile justice and public health). If it can do this and we can ask the ought questions then perhaps there is a future for the unique subject that is physical education.

What’s next?As part of this series of blogs I propose the following as a way of considering the implications of this research- Think, Act, Change (or TAC for short).

Think about findings of the paper – do they resonate? Use the comment box below to ask question, seek clarification, may be challenge the findings.?

Act on what you’ve read. What do you believe? Is this your responsibility or just something else to be put on your plate? Is there action to take? If so, what might it be?

Change what you do in response to your thoughts and actions? Is this a personal undertaking? Please let the community know about it.

I wouldn’t expect every paper to get beyond the T or even the A of TAC but if one paper resonates enough to get to C then hopefully all this is worthwhile. Good luck.

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On Friday 22 March at 23:34 andy vasily said
Looking forwards as an alternative future for physical education? I believe that moving forward requires essential transformation in the way physical education is taught in order to best prepare students for the future. I am a strong advocate of blurring subject area boundaries and embedding important concepts within the learning experiences we have our students engage in. This can only be achieved by kicking collaboration to a new level. Physical literacy, of course, is a top priority in any quality PE program, but how can we, as educators, address other critical concepts? I am fortunate to working in the primary years program (the PYP) as this model focuses on transdisciplinary learning. As we move forward in the 21st century we must foster the development of transdisciplinary skills. In the PYP there are 5 transdisciplinary skills areas that are further broken down. These 5 areas are: Social Skills, Self-Management Skills, Communication Skills, Gross Motor Skills, and Research Skills. To see how these 5 areas are applicable in the units and lessons we teach see this link (http://www.pyppewithandy.com/the-transdisciplinary-skills.html). If we are to truly address the values and ideologies around physical education that best serve its capacity to create a good and just society in a sustainable world, we MUST focus on the whole child. We must empower them to utilize their strengths and learn from the strengths of others. Creating an environment that promotes meaningful collaboration with their peers is essential and allowing for students to be actively engaged in the designing of their own learning is critical. There is so much emphasis on problem solving, but how about problem finding. Getting students on their own or in groups to think about their own learning and identify, well ahead of time, obstacles and problems that will hinder their learning is a lifelong skills. As physical educators, we can and should be promoting this type of thinking whenever possible. As a physical education teacher for the past 15 years, I believe that I have always tried to give students as much ownership over their learning as possible, but when I really reflect, a lot of what I have done has been too teacher driven. So, for the first time, I am trying a new model of instruction and will document this journey. The questions in the above article that captured me were: What do you believe? Is this your responsibility or just something else to be put on your plate? Is there action to take? If so, what might it be? I am taking action by putting my new model to the test in my upcoming Athletics unit. I will introduce student learning outcomes for the unit next week. The students will be made very aware of the PE Scope and Sequence Learning Outcomes in a language that they can understand. These outcomes involve measurement of time and distance, providing and receiving feedback to promote improvement in skills, ongoing reflection, improvement of skills related to throwing, running, and jumping, recording of data, analysis of data, and ensuring safety at all times. Once the students are aware of and understand the student learning outcomes, they must form 'Learning Groups' on their own. They must look at what skills are necessary in order to achieve the Student Learning Outcomes at the end of the unit . They will need a maths oriented person, an athlete, an organizer etc to assist in the learning their learning journey. They will formulate a plan of action and design all of their own learning which I will oversee and facilitate. They will share with their peers, with their teachers, and with their parents their successes. They will learn from one another, teach one another, and work together in helping one another achieve the learning outcome at the end of the unit. What is the teacher role in all of this you may ask? My vision is a facilitator, a coach, and mentor in this process, learning along with them, and stepping in when only necessary to offer advice, to coach, and to encourage. As PEPRN is very much a research based website that shares substantial information related to current research and trends in PE, I believe that hearing from the voice of teachers is just as essential. I am passionate to make change in physical education and will do so one step at a time, but I believe the biggest step I have taken over the past 15 years is about to come next week when I put this new model to the test. I will seek feedback from my students on the effectiveness of this model by having a grade 9 team of students randomly video my grade 3 and 4 students to ask them about their learning in athletics. Administration will be involved and observe the effectiveness of this model and I have teamed up with another school in Asia that will put this new model to the test in an adventure challenge unit. I am seeking multiple lines of feedback to help modify and revise the model as I move forward. If you are interested in how things are progressing, please view the initial link (http://www.pyppewithandy.com/2/post/2013/03/putting-it-to-the-test-a-new-approach-to-teaching-athletics.html) I would very much appreciate any further ideas on how I can test the effectiveness of this model. Thanks!
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On Saturday 23 March at 06:43 PEandME said
At the start of the blog a great question is asked 'How can we envision a future for physical education that supases the norm and places it at the heart of the lives of young people, their families and their communities'? Shortly after starting my MA in Education I had a major reflection period and spent time considering what Physical Education means to me as a practitioner. What I found was that my beliefs around the way I teach was based on the fact I had played several sports to a good level. My teaching was based around what I thought was right for me (competition and developing skill) and not what was right by the students. This coincided with me becoming a head of year and forming a strong opinion about a 360 degree education for my students (developing both academic and social competence and with equal importance). My schemes of work and teaching were still based around developing competitive and skilful students, but the major change was the environment students were learning in. If we want something to be at the heart of the lives of our young people then whatever it is needs to be fun, motivational and inspirational. Therefore my focus was more towards their experience than how much they learned a particular skill. The learning environment was fun, but still within a structured environment, part of which was done by developing the rapport I have with students. I was often called 'Fergie' on account of the hair dryers I would give students if things were not done correctly. I was certainly not a mean teacher, just passionate and with high standards. This still remained, however instead of raising my voice, negative discussions were done calmly and students were made to really reflect on their behaviour or attitude. By making the learning environment more fun for the students their experience was made far better. I believe it is these experiences that mould a students views on Physical Education in later life. When you bump into an ex-student in his twenties who did not have a great experience of PE lessons at school what are their views on the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle like now? 90% of the time I would say it is not very good. That 1% that the blog has mentioned previously still needs developing, but the needs to be that link and balance between what students learn and the environment they learn it in. As with the 1%, their needs to be that end product. What links do PE departments have with teams outside of school? Are School, District and County teams developed within your area? Yes this means a little extra work in building up outside links which I have sometimes found some colleagues reluctant to undertake, but we must ask ourselves that question 'why do we do what we do'? If you are finding your answers a not in line with the majority of passionate PE teachers who want to develop their students for the better, then you either need to TAC or find a new career (excuse the tangent rant but I think many of us get frustrated when PE teachers don't give it their all, the ROBers who are sometimes out the door before the students are). As for students who simply want to play (and in fact those who do not) what are we doing in lessons to make their experience one that motivates them as life long learners? For me this is the future of Physical Education, changing more students views on sport and healthy living not just for the now but for their future. Simple I know, but something I think we need to consider more. Especially when we are teaching rugby to a lower ability group in the middle of the winter! Lets not condition these students to associate physical activity with negative emotions. 5 years of conditioning can have either a very positive impact on a students overall life, or unfortunately, a very negative one. This has got to be led by teachers at the forefront of their game, who believe in CPD and are not afraid to embrace it and often challenge their own beliefs and values. Part of this has to stem with the selection policy and process at universities. I believe the students taken on must show real potential to be able to have a positive impact on the lives of our Physical Education students (if anyone is involved in PE student selection please read Martin Seligmans book on learned optimism, we want optimistic PE teachers moving our subject in the right direction). Thanks @PEandME
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On Saturday 23 March at 10:46 Brendan Jones said
Hi Ash, How DO you tell the future? I think many have tried and failed, or have been lucky and guessed closely enough. Whilst it might be good to have ideas on where the future of something (like PE) should go, the reality is it's a much more complex thing. We may have favourite pedagogies, beliefs and tools that lend themselves to being future focused, there are other parts of the equation that are needed for a solution to be suggested. Throw things into the mix like systemic policy, pre service training, the universities and academics that make up that pre service training, the various accreditation processes for teachers, ongoing learning (and the effectiveness of such), funding, school culture, equity of access, demographics of school populations - then the equation becomes a lot harder to work out. My point being - I thinks it's naive to believe that there is one shot, set piece solution for where PE will be in the future. Good teaching is good teaching - quality teaching is one area to explore, but it's not PE specific. Technology is a tool, but not the savior of future PE. My favourite quote (and I'm not sure where I saw it first) at the moment is along the lines of "If you want a hole, use a drill. But the conversation after shouldn't be all about the drill". The point being, technology isn't the answer, it's part of the equation too. Technology in the hands of a dud teacher ends up a dud experience, in my humble opinion. Maybe the answer lies in answering the question "What do we want PE to do?" The answer to that question has changed over the years, and will probably change in the future. I'm no Nostradamus, but that's where my efforts will be directed.
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On Saturday 23 March at 16:28 PEandME said
Great response here by Brenden Jones 'what do we want PE to do?'. For me definitely the enjoyment factor and lifelong learning. Right about technology not having all the answers (and I'm currently researching technology in PE). It's not so much the technology, more how we use it. Keep it simple and make sure it has a positive impact on students learning experience.
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On Saturday 23 March at 20:51 Simon keell said
I have noticed that students' fitness and skills have declined over the past few years. I believe this problem is only going to escalate, as I have at least 50% of my Yr 7 students who are unable to kick a football with any degree of weight or accuracy, these being the supposed national sport. This is down to a combination of factors, a lack of parental involvement In developing basic motor skills, the use of television and computer games as a way of occupying children, the lack of male role models at primary school and the lack of training given to primary teachers in PE. How can we arrest this decline, as practitioners, I feel you have to develop basic competencies as invariably you don't like things you are not good at. Also students have to experience what it feels like to exercise and get used to the fact that when you push yourself physically it hurts, but you are not dying. I want my students to continue to be physically active their whole life and get the same enjoyment that I still get from it, and understand that they have to use their body for what it was designed for to maximise their quality of life. What's the point of living until you are 90 if you are trapped in a body that doesn't work properly for the last 30 years of your life?
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On Sunday 24 March at 08:22 Brendan Jones said
It's interesting, Simon, that we often frame problems with our classes or students with what's traditionally taught in PE. If they can't do / don't want to do what we've always programmed, then we perceive our work as failing. I can see a few ways out of this predicament. Differentiating what we offer is one way. Have a look at your syllabus, work out what the IMPORTANT concepts are and offer multiple ways to achieve them. So some kids don't like football - why are we teaching it to everyone then? Work out what football is supposed to show us from the kids (teamwork, kicking, strategy, etc) and offer other things that may be more attractive to those that aren't keen. Assessment is another thing. In my mind it's to show what they can do, not what they can't. And invite the kids to contribute to the program planning too. You might be surprised at the ideas you get from them. The theme of this paper was about the future of PE - who knows what the future of anything will look like? But I'm pretty sure it won't look like the past. :-) Jonesy
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On Sunday 24 March at 10:07 Simon keell said
Football is irrelevant, it was to illustrate a point that basic motor skills are declining and as a consequence students' physical literacy, which then impacts on what you can deliver. I have already changed from teaching gymnastics to boys, as the majority no longer have the strength or coordination to even do basic rolls and head stands, and now do it as a form of indoor free running to deliver similar skills. Most of the students know all the moves as they have seen them when playing Assassins Creed on their games console. We also have dodgeball on the program of study and have previously had ultimate frisbee. Our syllabus continually changes with input from pupils' voice, however if it changes every year there may be a lack of continuity, everything becomes a taster and there is no depth of learning. We were "advised" by ofsted that the 8 lesson blocks were not long enough to develop learning and have now gone to 12, cutting the 10 sports a year to 6. Looking forward to 2014 and the new curriculum there will be more emphasis on sustained physical activity that has an impact on physical fitness.

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