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Teaching ‘the unteachables’

The previous blog explored what I consider to be one of the seminal papers written about games teaching. It explored the TGfU (Teaching Games for Understanding) model and showed how Bunker and Thorpe deliberately placed game appreciation and tactical awareness above skill execution and performance (in terms of importance) when it came to teaching children about games. It concluded by asking how often we expect children to fit the games we ask them to play rather than fitting the games to the children we teach.

This week’s blog looks at another pedagogical model, TPSR (Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility), and the impact that it had on the involvement and self-direction (among other things) of six delinquency-prone youth. The blog argues that while transferring positive change from one situation to another proved difficult, change in perspective toward these young people and a change in pedagogy had some fairly positive effects. It concludes by suggesting that change takes time and, like Rome, doesn’t suddenly appear in a day.

 

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

 

Paper 75:

DeBusk, D. & Hellison, D. (1989/2012). Implementing a physical education self-responsibility model for delinquency-prone youth. In D. Kirk (ed.) Physical Education: Volume IV. (pp. 70-79) London: Routledge.

 

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

I am sure there is one such class in every school that are unfavourable in comparison to the rest. This class is often identified as the unteachable, the dreaded and, for example, ‘THE 6AB’. It is the class that no one wants to teach at period 5 on a Friday. It is the class that is the topic of staffroom conversation where as one teacher complains about ‘THE 6AB’s’ behaviour in period 2 the next hangs his/her head of the thought that they are teaching them period 3. In fact I can’t think of a single conversation that went along the lines of “had 6AB today and they were a dream to teach.” These words, or ones like them, were never spoken in my school.

One kid, among a core of about six in my ‘6AB’ was the most difficult, in my eyes, of them all. In my PhD study he became known as Coco the Clown. I can remember his face clearly now and his name but the enduring image of Coco as the class clown is one that will stay with me for a long time. Such was Coco’s influence on the group that when he was absent they were like a different class.

As I have written before, such was the ‘delinquency’ (to coin a phrase from this week’s paper and use it arbitrarily to describe this class – particularly Coco) of 6AB that I initially kept the ‘good stuff’ away from them and taught them as I had tried and failed to teach them (at least teach them very well) for the previous three years. One of my critical friends brought me to task on this and asked me “why the best got what I considered to be my best teaching and the rest got what they had always got” – which I’m told was still considered good.

That question stumped me for a bit but, truth be told, I didn’t have a reason outside of fear and sense that they didn’t deserve the best – only the best deserve the best. What I have come to realise is that everyone deserves the best and that I’m not convinced (any more) that kids do learn things wrong. I must be a significant part of the learning equation and therefore ‘wrong’ is a matter of perspective. I’m sure that on a number of occasions I taught it wrong.

Yes, trying to teach them through Sport Education was a challenge, and many thought I was rewarding their poor behaviour by giving them what they wanted, but the glimpses (sometimes which lasted whole lessons) of what they could achieve was motivation enough. I don’t think that the unit was a success but nor was it a failure. It took steps forward and steps backwards and Coco took them with his class. Did it change them? In the short term no. Yet as they matured, and my teaching matured with them, then they did get better. I’m not convinced they ever lost their tag as ‘unteachable’ – not in many people’s eyes – but in trying something new and focussing on more than just academic outcomes they did become, um, teachable.

So do you have a class like 6AB or a student like Coco? Einstein suggested two things (among many) that are of relevance here:

Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. 

My question is “are we teaching the ‘fish’ in our care to climb trees in the same way time and time again and then complaining that they are unteachable?”



The Paper

DeBunk and Hellison explore the development of six delinquency-prone boys and their responses to school, to physical education, and to a special programme of physical education focused on teaching social-responsibility (through the Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility (TPSR) model). While a number of assumptions can be made about the school and the PE programme, none of which are clarified in the paper, it is important to understand a little more about this special programme and its use of the TPSR model.

TPSR fits into the family of models known as pedagogical models (like Sport Education, TGfU and Cooperative Learning) and has a particular focus on social development. Specifically it presents PE goals as a series of developmental levels through which students can progress. TPSR doesn’t position these as fixed (“as children don’t follow fixed patterns of progression”) but uses them as “a framework for planning, responding to specific incidents, and evaluation, as well as providing a vocabulary for doing so”. The five levels are presented as follows:

Level 0: Irresponsibility – students are unmotivated and undisciplined. They try and discredit and ridicule other students, they interrupt, intimidate, manipulate and abuse other students and sometimes staff.

Level I: Self-control – students may not participate or show mastery or improvement but they control their behaviour and don’t interfere with other students ‘right to learn’ or teacher’s ‘right to teach”.

Level II: Involvement – Students display self-control and are involved.

Level III: Self-[direction] – Students take on more responsibility for choices and link these choices to their own identity. They work without direct supervision and eventually take responsibility for their own intentions and actions.

Level IV: Caring – students are motivated to extend their sense of responsibility by cooperating, giving support, showing concern, and helping. 

These levels were positioned, in this study, as six teaching strategies that were used to help the teacher to keep these ideas “in front” of the students on a regular basis: Teacher talk, modelling, reinforcement, reflection time, students sharing, and specific level related strategies (such as student constraints and reciprocal teaching). 

The authors suggested that the number of office referrals (i.e. the number of times a student is referred to the school leadership team) attributed to these six students did not change as a result of the intervention. This statistic alone could be considered definitive and would suggest that the special programme achieved nothing in terms of reducing school-wide incidences of delinquency. However, what this finding actually highlighted was that it was difficult to transfer gains in a special programme to the main school lives and attitudes of these six boys. This was particularly evident when the brevity (3 x one hour recess sessions over six weeks) is considered.

That said DeBunk and Hellison did highlight some significant gains – most particularly in the special programme itself. By the end of the programme all the boys appeared to behave in more socially acceptable ways (in the programme when compared to regular PE, and then again in regular PE when compared to the classroom or the playground).

There were a number of affective (emotional) changes as well. Many of the boys showed enhanced perceptions, feelings and values towards self-responsibility and they valued the opportunity to talk about their problems.  They felt that the special class helped them to learn and “be better” and most were more accepting and took some responsibility for themselves. The boys were seen as being more open and sharing in their attitudes and they were certainly more aware of the levels – especially self-control and caring. 

However, the majority of these perceived gains occurred only (or at least most noticeably) in the special programme and there was a real issue about transferability. The teacher was aware of this but he was also aware of the brevity of the programme. From his perspective his attitude towards these boys – who he had previously seems as delinquent – had shifted and he could noticeably see the benefits of using TPSR with all his students and not just in isolation.

DeBunk and Hellison concluded by suggesting that while TPSR was a “vehicle for the social development of delinquency-prone youth” it needed time to have an impact beyond the site of implementation (my words). This finding is similar to the wider literature on change and it does mean that, as educators, we need to stop expecting change to be quick and dig in for the long haul. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.


 

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 04 July at 16:48 William Bode said
As I agree with the fact that all children deserve our best, and the brevity of the program was too short; I do have other thoughts based upon my reading of "Mindset" by Carol Dweck. I believe one reason the teachings did not transfer was not only due to time, but the true issue in the students had not been addressed. Obviously not knowing the background of any of these students I am not claiming this to be the answer, but I am suggesting another solution to add to the table for discussion. Dr. Dweck explains the definition of fixed and growth mindsets. Fixed mindset individuals, for their own reasons, create barriers for themselves, so ultimately they can be protected from judgement. This can be high flyers who blame outside influences for their failures, or it can be "the 6 delinquency prone youth" who would rather cause trouble than to be judged for so called 'lack of intelligence/ability." In either situation failure is seen as personal and detrimental. Also in a fixed mindset, an individual believes he/she either has "it" or doesn't. The opposite of fixed is growth mindset. A growth mindset person sees opportunities to grow from the setbacks encountered. Self-reflection allows them to see areas to be improved upon, not a fatal flaw they must suffer through the rest of their lives. Feedback is seen as information to learn, not personal judgement. Individuals believe learning is on going and failure is inevitable, not detrimental. With all this said, students not only need to be taught social responsibility, but also a growth mindset for these teaching to transfer outside the program. This is my personal reflection as I grow as an educator who primarily teach "unmotivated" youth. I would recommend Dr. Dweck's book to anyone who teach. My "Change" will be a more intentional approach to helping students with their mindset, so the concepts I try to teach them are taken beyond the classroom. Thank you for your dedication to improve education through these blogs. It gives me the chance to reflect upon my own teaching, and bridge together the other wonderful things I have learned from other dedicated educators around the world.

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