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Reinventing the wheel is a good thing

The previous blog explored the notion of health-related exercise (HRE) in education and argued that we’ve taken a sport-based and not a health-based approach to HRE in schools. In this way we’ve constantly positioned performance above participation and prioritised ‘the moment’ of activity over the potential of lifetime engagement. Until we move from the ‘here and now’ of sports and start to build for the future then HRE will continue to be seen as a supplement rather than the mainstay of school physical education.

This week’s blog looks at the development of a hybrid Sport Education and Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility model – Empowering Sport - and argues that we need to find new ways of addressing persistent problems. The blog doesn’t argue that we need change for change’s sake but instead suggests that we need to be more open to the possibility of change. When something repeatedly fails to achieve the results we hoped it is time to find new and better ways of achieving our aims. To me this means adopting pedagogical approaches that have a history of success rather than simply just a history.

 

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

Paper 82:

Hastie, P.A., & Buchanan, A.M (2000/2012). Teaching responsibility through sport education: Prospects of a coalition. In D. Kirk (ed.) Physical Education: Volume IV. (pp. 200-220) London: Routledge.

 

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

One thing that repeatedly baffles me of late is the romanticized notion that traditions are always good things. That is not to say that I’ve always felt this way but more recently it is increasingly becoming the case. Tried and tested does not always equate to best but nor does it always equates to worse. Instead it equates to what we currently know and in innumerable cases we often have a difference of opinion.  

The mathematician and philosopher Karl Popper went some way to explaining this with his theory of falsifiability. Popper argued that current thinking is not bounded by truth but by what, as yet, hasn’t been proven false. He used the example of swans but we could easily replace this with pedagogies, atoms or legs (in the case of the hyperlinked example above). Popper asks what we would believe if, throughout our lives, we only ever saw white swans? Surely we’d believe that all swans are white. Why would we believe otherwise? What would our reaction be if we saw a black swan? Would it be unreasonable to suggest that we might take the sudden appearance of a black swan as a joke? Might we look around for the hidden camera or the friend with a can of black paint? How many black swans would it take before our firmly held belief about swans was altered and our previously, and firmly, held belief was proven false?

Why, when we encounter new ways of teaching, do we revert to established truths? In the UK we’ve suffered under the caretakership of Michael Gove whose answer to everything seemed to be that standards had slipped and we need to return to the roots of teaching and the role of teacher-as-teller. Progressive pedagogies were rebutted and a return to the past was called for. Years of progress might have been lost if not for the honesty and integrity of teachers who knew him to be misguided at best and plain wrong at worst. 

Reinventing the wheel is often seen as a bad thing and yet how many times has it been reinvented? If it hadn’t then we’d still have wooden wheels (ones without the metal band even that was used to increase their longevity). Education needs to be reinvented a little at a time so as to take advantage of the development in our thinking and understanding about how children learn. It is not a case of allowing the wheel to turn full circle (as Gove insisted) but ensuring that ideas and practices continue to move forwards.

To me, and you might disagree, models-based practice (pedagogical approaches such as Teaching Games for Understanding, Cooperative Learning, Sport Education, and Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility) is a possible (and better) future for physical education. These approaches have been decades in the making and are built on evidence that they work. They are developments in the pedagogy of physical education and they have been shown ‘to work’ in many diverse settings and with huge numbers of the students. Yes, we are still learning how these approaches can be used, but no they’re not gimmicks or fads. As Hastie and Buchanan argue they offer opportunities for coalition and a chance to engage all students in their own learning.

So have you been brave enough to use one? How has this worked? Where has it worked and where hasn’t it? Often I worry that the ‘hasn’t’ is more significant than the ‘has’ and yet how many times has the traditional approach to teaching PE let us down? We seem content to look beyond the ‘hasn’t’ when it comes to tradition. Isn’t it time we look beyond the ‘hasn’t a little more readily when it comes to enhancing the learning of those in our care?

 

The Paper

Hastie and Buchanan argue that sport is a “significant social phenomenon” - one that constitutes a “multibillion-dollar venture” – and yet it often represents both the best and the worst of human culture. Despite the place of sport in our social lives (you don’t even have to like sports like football (soccer, Aussie Rules and/or American) to recognise the place it has in society) what occurs in schools is not sport as we know it. While it is beyond the limits of this week’s blog to discuss the various merits and flaws of physical education-as-sport it seems remiss that what children get in PE doesn’t even resemble the “essential characteristics of formalized sport”.

As I have suggested previously in this blog (see blog 3) there are many aspects of sport – immoral aspects - that PE doesn’t want to teach. The ideas of respect and teamwork, of leadership and responsibility, and of cooperation and meaningful competition however, are areas that many pedagogical models set out to foreground. Hastie and Buchanan argue that both Sport Education (SE) – with its foregrounding of the concepts of fair play and good sportsmanship – and Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility (TPSR) – with its aim of “helping students take personal and social responsibility…[through] sharing power with students and shifting decision making to them” – set out to teach the best aspects of sports.

It is the similar aims of SE and TPSR i.e. to teach social responsibility through fair play and equal competition, which drew Hastie and Buchanan to form a coalition between the two models. Yet there were a number of fundamental differences in the ‘outlook’ of the two models that needed to be resolved before they could be used together. Fundamentally these revolved around the role of the individual and the use of games. SE advocates for a team approach to success in which the team cannot succeed within the contribution of each individual. In contrast TPSR holds that self-awareness and personal well-being are central. Similarly while SE formalises the rituals of games TPSR advocates against formalised games because the “presence of authority figures such as referees and coaches might absolve players of responsibility for their actions.”

In a similar way to a recent blog Hastie and Buchanan seem to have (albeit in an unrelated way and without using the same terminology) recognised the “rapport of strength” that existed between players on both the same and opposing teams. It was this rapport that allowed the authors to conjoin the two models and use SE and TPSR to help, in this case boys, reconcile and overcome the differences they felt in PE. 

What Hastie and Buchanan found was that the hybrid model produced “a very positive response [where none had existed previously] toward the problem tasks presented at the beginning of the class.” These problems were in turn “treated seriously, and the students were willing to give opinions about how things would work.” Where, in previous units of SE, the boys had “struggled with the fair play requirements” of the model, the use of TPSR along side SE helped the teacher to overcome these concerns. Indeed the use of “awareness talks” and brief preludes before matches helped to “settle players down from any problems they may have had coming into the game.” Furthermore the use of TPSR allowed students the opportunity, where none existed before, to take themselves out of the game to “get themselves under control”. These self-regulated and imposed ‘time-outs’ would have been shunned previously but now they served to reduce the potential for conflict during games.

Hastie and Buchanan concluded that the combination of SE and TPSR helped to facilitate personal responsibility, empowered students to solve their own problems, helped the students to develop (through the use of empowerment and responsibility), and used sport as a vehicle for change. However, in creating a conjoined approach Hastie and Buchanan acknowledged that neither SE nor TPSR were used in their entirety. Instead a hybrid model – empowering sport – was developed that combined “some distinguished featured of Sport Education (e.g. formal competition and the persisting team) together with facilitating personal responsibility from TPSR to present a model of game play.” Such a model, Hastie and Buchanan concluded, served as a “powerful vehicle for presenting games to students while addressing three major goals of physical education: Skill development goals, social responsibility goals, and personal empowerment goals.”

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 Wednesday 03 September at 07:14 Antonio Calderón said
Thanks Ash! I’ve just read by chance today (waiting my plane to ECER Porto) your “great white hope or white elephant” (Casey, 2014) and the one of David (Kirk, 2013). I cannot agree more! Model-Based Practice (MBP) need to be spread in more and more PE classes around the world. It’s not easy of course. Change takes long and is hard. I have three short stories: Anabel, Juan Pedro and Diego. I consider them as innovative PE teachers who attended a SportEd (SE) professional course. We supported and followed them along a year. Anabel stopped using SE because she had to change of school every year (she is not fixed) and she didn’t want to start again and again every year with new students in a new school (some are little or too critical with new pedagogies). Juan Pedro has a good story because he has suited the model to the specific circumstances of his school context, and uses it every year in some units from four years ago. Lastly, Diego is the “big SE boss”, he uses it every year six years ago) and he perfectly knows the benefits for the student but also for him, of a long-term adoption of MBP. “I can see my students improving every year more and more, they are fantastic and really competent”. They don’t let him to go back to the “wood wheel” (and he doesn’t want). Now he is a enthusiastic SE professional developer and support a lot of colleagues. I think we need to work hard in PETE. In my college, we just teach two semester courses of Pedagogy (in which we teach the TGfU, SE, and some teachers, CL) no more. Our students acculturation is hard enough (20 years of acculturation) to change their beliefs on the efficacy (and easy delivering) of teacher-led instruction. It’s a shame, but it’s real. It’s hard to fight with a whole society, this is the challenge. Finally, I fully agree too, “collaborative partnerships between schools and universities are crucial” but you know sometimes are hard and takes a lot of time. I really like to be part of this (and I am), because I think that MBP are a BIG part of the #PhysEd revolution. Thanks again, I’d really love to listen more stories. Casey, A. (2014). Models-based practice: great white hope or white elephant. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 19(1), 18-34. Kirk, D. (2013). Educational value and model-based practice in physical education. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 45(9), 973-986.

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