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Putting Humpty Dumpty back together again

The previous blog, the last using papers from Routledge’s four-volume book ‘Physical Education’, looked at change not as a whim but as a journey. It argued that we (as human beings) give up on new ideas too quickly; perhaps because we head towards change without realising the effort it will take to begin it let alone to sustain it. The blog argued that change is difficult and without recognition of this it’s unsurprising that we often fail to move forwards and instead stay just where we have always been.

This week’s blog marks a change of direction (and a change of book) for the blog. Drawing on the twenty chapters (and nineteen cases studies) located in Kathy Armour’s edited “Pedagogical Cases” book the blog explores the cases studies of nineteen individual (and fictitious) students aged between 5 and 16. These young people, presented as “complex and dynamic young learners who deserve to be taught and coached by practitioners who draw on a wide range of multidisciplinary knowledge to devise appropriate, interdisciplinary learning encounters.”  Over the subsequent nineteen weeks I will explore each of these cases again from a pedagogical perspective but this week I start with Kathy’s introduction to the idea of a pedagogical case.’


Volume 2.1:

Armour, K.M. (2014). Pedagogical cases explained. In K.M. Armour (ed.) Pedagogical cases in physical education and youth sport (pp. 6-21). London: Routledge.


My take home message the implications of the research on practice

To some degree or other we all engage in multidisciplinary degrees. To teach (and increasingly to coach) you need an undergraduate degree and these degrees are by traditional and perceived necessity – multidisciplinary. My degree started out covering everything that my university offer (at least in my department) and, as I moved through the course, I was required to specialise. I moved from abroad spectrum of knowledge (including but not limited to biomechanics, physiology, sociology, psychology, and philosophy – but worryingly, given my eventual career, not pedagogy) to a specialized knowledge.

Similarly the undergraduates I have taught for more than five years have had similar experiences to me. Even those who undertake four-year undergraduate degrees in physical education are expected to cover the sub-disciplines of sport science as well as pedagogy.

The trouble is – from an insiders (as a member of staff) and an outsiders (as a student) perspective – sub-disciplines don’t talk to each other. We, as psychologist, philosophers and bio mechanists, occupy the same buildings, teach in the same space, meet in the corridors, and teach the same students but we don’t talk shop. We joke about the hardness of statistics and the softness of interviews and case studies and genuinely get along but we don’t talk about pedagogy. 

The same can be said about schools. Subject areas keep to themselves and even though we use similar, transferable skills we don’t talk about our students as single learners (at least not outside of the school). Yes we write reports and yes these are all gathered in the same place but are they ever discussed as a whole? The only people who do this, in my experience, are form tutors and head teachers/principals in their summary comments at the end of the report. Yet these are drawn not from conversations and interactions but from their interpretations of the report.

Students, in both cases, are viewed in isolation. They are not, perhaps, seen as dynamic individuals on a learning journey but as several individuals on a subject-specific journey. What would/does happen when we stop thinking about children in silos and we think about them as dynamic cases? What happens if they become engaged in interdisciplinary learning encounters? Some of the most valuable and memorable experience I had at school was when they collapsed the timetable and created whole school learning experiences. Why? Because knowledge became an interlocking and yet holistic construct, rather than something that sat in different pockets around the school.

The danger is that when we look at students from isolated positions we don’t see everything of the individual. Similarly when we see things (like knowledge but also pedagogy) as fractured and fragmented then we lose track of the links. We sever ties rather than building them up and making them stronger. What this week’s blog and Armour’s book sets out to do is “put humpty dumpty back together again.”


The Chapter

Armour sets out to create a new way of looking at teaching and learning, more specifically, pedagogy. Drawing on examples from other professions (such as medicine and law) and placing students out front as dynamic rather than deficit cases she argues that we need to move towards a situation where research closes rather than maintains the knowing-doing gap. Knowledge (i.e knowing) is currently produced and refined in different fields. We know a huge and increasing amount about human movement but that knowledge often remains in the fields where it was created and infrequently (at least not quickly) makes it way to the field of practice (i.e. the doing). In other words the knowledge that sports scientist gain through their work is discussed in their field but it doesn’t always (in fact Armour would argue frequently) make it “over the fence” to its neighbouring sub-disciplines (PE or youth sport contexts). As a consequence the next generation doesn’t often hear the good news – so to speak.

In contrast pedagogical cases are defined as “translational research” that crosses boundaries. Armour suggests that a pedagogical case compromises three elements 1) a learner case study, 2) multidiscipline perspectives on the case, and 3) an interdisciplinary yet pedagogically focused overview that seeks to bring the multidisciplinary strands together. In this way Armour positioned individual pedagogical case knowledge as a “move away from research designed to merely demonstrate knowledge towards research that has the power to close the knowing-doing gap.”

However, and building on her previous work, Armour acknowledged that pedagogy – and by default pedagogical cases – consisted of three complex dimensions that were made more complex when they interacted: “(i) knowledge in context; (ii) learners and learning; and (iii) teachers/teaching and coaches/coaching.” This is made doubly complex when learners are approached as whole people who participate in life both in and out of school and who are therefore subject to numerous opportunities to learn, understand, and apply their knowledge in practice.

The truth is even the most skilled of practitioners can only hold and utilise a finite amount of knowledge. The question is what types of knowledge do teachers/coaches need to be relevant to the learning needs of their students? Perhaps only by inviting others into our classrooms can we begin to look at the intersections where knowledge overlaps. Perhaps by starting to ignore the arbitrary boundaries imposed on us by subject areas and timetables can we truly be said to be approaching the learner as a whole? At present students are expected to bring their multidisciplinary perspective to each lesson and apply them to each new context. Shouldn’t we, as sports science pedagogues at all levels of education, be able to talk across our discipline silos?

Worryingly while this is at least possible for me (after all my institution subscribes to journals across many disciplines) Armour suggests that it is “difficult to see how teachers and coaches can keep up-to-date with new developments in their subject field unless there are specific enabling mechanisms.” This, as I hope the next nineteen blogs will show, is where pedagogical cases start to come in. As potential enabling mechanisms that provide multiple interpretations from different disciplines of how to engage, support and promote the educational and health outcomes of physical education and youth sport these cases offer a much need translation of academic findings. The cases draw on perspectives from different fields of sports science (such as biomechanics and psychology) and I hope offer a well-considered, broad and informed perspective of how to develop meaningful, relevant, current and impactful approaches to teaching and learning.

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. Her 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 Tuesday 09 December at 20:21 Dylan Blain said
Thanks Ash for continuing this great work by moving on to the Pedagogical Cases. For what it's worth I found the previous blog series extremely valuable and am looking forward to following this series once more. I'm sure many others echo these thoughts and like me are grateful for time and effort you put in to bringing some of the most relevant research in PE to us all. I tend to find myself reading the posts, mulling over some ideas with the idea of returning to comment however doing so infrequently. I feel a bit reluctant to commit my thoughts to comment straight away but always find the discussions interesting. So basically I'm going to try and comment more!!

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