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Creating authentic learning experiences

The previous blog explored the idea of trusting our students to facilitate, support and thrive in a learner-centred classroom. Drawing on an early paper on Cooperative Learning the blog showed how it takes time to change classroom structures but yet these changes are invariable ‘worth it’. It concluded by asking how, as a community, we can we make such transitions easier and how can they be made to better serve the needs of learners.

This week’s blog looks at three pedagogical models (Sport Education, Teaching Games for Understanding and Cooperative Learning). The paper suggests that while we are often comfortable with our daily practices we need to do more, try new approaches and explore new possibilities if we are going to help students have an authentic experience of physical education. Pedagogical models are positioned as being a ‘wave to the future’ and one way of providing meaningful, relevant and authentic experiences for young people.

 

Volume 4: The curriculum and the subject matter of physical education

Paper 77:

 

Dyson B., Griffin, L.L., & Hastie, P. (2004/2012). Sport Education, Tactical Games, and Cooperative Learning: Theoretical and pedagogical considerations. In D. Kirk (ed.) Physical Education: Volume IV. (pp. 101-118) London: Routledge.

  

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

I’ve worked with enough people to know that many have a favourite way of teaching and just in the same way as we have a favourite flavour of ice cream or a favourite jumper we return to our way of teaching time and time again. It’s understandable and I do it myself.

However, while there are different flavours of ice cream and different styles of jumper we don’t have too many ways of teaching. Well, we do but they’re not always readily available to us. It’s not that they haven’t been described or designed and its not as if we can’t get our hands on them, but they’re expensive. They might be best described as the McLaren or Vivian Westwood of teaching and learning whereas the favourite way is the Walmart equivalent i.e. it’s available everywhere, in any town and it’s cheap.  I can talk to anyone about it, watch anyone use it, get it anywhere and apply it anywhere. Like a favourite jumper it fits well, I don’t have to keep cheeking to see if I think I look good in it. In fact I don’t have to think about it at all.

The truth is though that we all seem to wear matching jumpers (or pedagogies). It’s a sort of uniform. It reminds me of the old adage “you can have any colour you want as long as it’s black.”

So what to do?

My experience suggests to me that, yes, learning a new pedagogical approach is costly in terms of time invested, uncertainty of outcomes, and personal feelings of being a beginner teacher again but these feelings quickly pass. To do this multiple times is also expensive but buying in bulk – so to speak – is a cheaper way of doing it.

Another way is to learn how to use similar approaches. Just like we have increasingly taken to thinking of games in categories (target, fielding/run score, net/wall, and invasion) perhaps we should think of pedagogical approaches in the same way. There are teacher-led and student-centred. There are curriculum models (that are geared to specific areas such as TGfU (games) and Adventure Ed (outdoor pursuits)) or instructional models (that involve specific ways of teaching such as Cooperative Learning (facilitating) or TPSR (guiding students through levels)). By learning similar approaches we reduce the cost and in the end we are wearing pedagogies that suit the environment – the learner, the context and the teacher – rather than having a uniform. The advantage of this, unlike with our favourite jumper, is it is adaptable. Different pedagogies can be worn to suit the ‘weather’ i.e. a raincoat or a t-shirt.

So when you start thinking of your pedagogical wardrobe for next week or next year what will you do? Wash and iron the old jumper or will you go out and buy your self a new wardrobe?

 

The Paper

Dyson, Griffin and Hastie are not the first authors to suggest that we need to think of tailoring our approaches to teaching to suit the learner. Nor are they the first to suggest, “students rather than the teacher should be at the center of the teaching and learning process.” That said they are, to my knowledge, the first to make direct comparisons between Sport Education (SE), Tactical Games (TG) and Cooperative Learning (CL). Furthermore, building on fairly new work in PE, they were the first to make links with how students learn in groups through the theoretical perspective of situated learning as legitimate peripheral participation in a community of practice.

I don’t think I need to explain SE, TG or CL (but if you don’t know what I mean when I talk about these models, or are new to this, then please follow the links to read a PEPRN blog that relates to the model). On the other hand situated learning, legitimate peripheral participation and communities of practice do probably need explaining.

Dyson and colleagues suggest that situated learning is part of broader theory of learning i.e. constructivism, and investigates the “relationships among the various physical, social, and cultural dimensions of the context of learning.” In other words, the theory suggests that when you learn about PE you don’t just learn the physical action of a sport or activity but you learn how to interact with other people and the culture of school, the classroom, and the activity. These additional social and cultural contexts “contribute to and influence what is learned and how learning takes place.”

Expanding this idea Dyson and colleagues suggest that learning is not simply the taking on board of facts. Instead it is “legitimate (genuine), peripheral (complex inter-play of persons, activity, knowledge, and the social world), participation (activity toward a specific task/goal)”. Furthermore, ‘legitimate’, ‘peripheral’, and ‘participation’ occurs in a community of practice. A community of practice is a community (such as a team or a class) where its members form relationships, have shared understandings and all contribute equally (but in different ways, such as through roles in Sport Education team of recorder, coach, timekeeper etc…) to the goals and tasks at hand.

While legitimate peripheral participation in a community of practice occurs in SE, TGfU and CL, by drawing on Dyson and colleagues example of SE these arguments around how learners learn in groups can be understood.

SE (like TG and CL) is a student-centred approach in which learning takes place in small groups (teams of 4-5). Links are made between the activities and the wider sport culture (for example, students learn sportsmanship and authentically experience competition). Its essential focus is an authentic experience of sport (and not the narrow focus of competition as ‘winning’ vs ‘loosing’). The overarching aim of SE is to develop competent (has skills and strategies to participate) literate (understands the rules and how to participate) and enthusiastic (can respect and participate in the culture of sport) sports players. 

SE aims to meet these aims by focussing on the implementation of 6 features: (1) students experience seasons, (2) they remain members of the same team for all seasons, (3) the seasons are defined by formal competition, (4) there is a culminating event (like a cup final), (5) there is extensive record keeping, and (6) there is a festive atmosphere. In this way, SE tries to mirror the community culture of a sport team that develops in the context of a sports club and a league.  In this team, club and playing league, SE mirrors the shared understandings, team relationships and equal responsibilities that contribute to teams’ successes. In other words it promotes legitimate peripheral participation as situated within a community of practice. Indeed, students are responsible for organisation and management and take on roles (in addition to that of player) such as coaches, captains, referees, scorers, statisticians, and members of the sport’s organising board. By recasting PE lessons “as matches and training sessions, SE reproduces aspects of the contemporary community of practice, as it exists outside the school.”

So how will you/do you find ways of creating authentic, meaningful and relevant experiences for your students that mirror participation in sport or physical activity outside of school? It would be great to hear about these experiences and the challenges and rewards involved. 

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

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

Act on what you’ve read. What do you believe? Is it your responsibility to make changes or is this just something else that I’ve 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? If you want to do something or are looking for help then 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.

 

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Vicky Goodyear for her work behind the scene as copy editor and Routledge (part of the Taylor and Francis group) for donating a copy of the Physical Education: Major themes in education series. Their respective help certainly forms a vital part of the production of this blog, and in getting out on time and in a semblance of coherence. However it is important to note that any mistakes that remain are mine.

 

 

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On Friday 18 July at 14:36 Ben Dyson said
Greetings all, Thank you Ash for highlighting my paper Dyson (2001) on your blog last week. Sorry for the slow reply from Japan. I think your interpretation of the work is ‘spot on.’ This takes me back to the days when I wrote this paper and had the wonderful experiences of learning from Michelle Harper and her students in Montreal, the PE teacher and students represented in this paper. Ash does ask two relevant and meaningful questions in the blog that sorry I don’t have any easy answers to… However, I still believe that we as teachers, too often operate from a deficit model and do not learn to ‘really trust our students” -- good teachers learn to trust their students. In many schools I have seen Cooperative Learning operate as a pedagogical practice that relies on trust, where students are free to make mistakes and learn with their teammates. I also maintain that students should learn to care about each other and take responsibility for each other and that this is extremely important in the education of our children. My question is this: Why don’t we trust our own students more? I do hope that we learn to be more student-centred in whatever area of physical education or educational setting we teach. Kind regards from the University of Tsukuba Summer Institute in Japan, Ben.

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