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Model Fidelity

Model fidelity is not a watchdog. It’s not the kennel club looking to maintain pure breeds for showing. It is simply an acknowledgement that there isn’t one version of any model.

In my research over the last few years I’ve advocated strongly for Model Fidelity. At the heart of this advocacy is the belief that we shouldn’t make false or spurious claims about the model or models we research; especially if this advocacy encourages practitioners to adopt a models-based approach.

This belief in model fidelity stemmed/stems from my reading of large swathes of models-based practice research. I would see titles like “Sport Education as a vehicle for whole school development” (a made-up title) and then see statements like “we used Sport Education” in the methods section and I’d set to wondering what had happened in the real-life lessons to prompt these conclusions. Unfortunately, the paper would provide no more information outside of that ‘catch-all’ statement. It seemed as if it was sufficient to say something had been done and, hey presto, it was. Journals and reviewers were content with this state of affairs and so it went unnoticed or unchallenged. 

I’ve taught using Sport Education and I know I didn’t get it right. I know didn’t teach it as Daryl Siedentop imagined it, or Peter Hastie, or Hans Van de Mars - so how could I say I “used Sport Education”? As if it’s one thing? I used an approximation of Sport Education for sure, but I certainly didn’t use IT. Working with Peter Hastie (See Hastie and Casey, 2015) we developed the notion of Model Fidelity.

Model fidelity is a means (not the means) of trying to show the reader of a research paper/project what approximation of a model was used. It is positioned as a “guide to future investigations” and asks the research community to comment on three things when they are researching/extoling/challenging the outcomes of a researched, models-based practice intervention. These are (a) rich description of the curricular elements of the unit, (b) a detailed validation of model implementation, and (c) a detailed description of the program context that includes the previous experiences of the teacher and students with the model or with models-based practice.

In doing this researchers are encouraged to reflect on their use of models-based practice (be it one or multiple models) and the reader is able to better understand more about the real-life lessons that were taught and how the model(s) was/were used. From this basis, the reader is able to make informed decisions about what a model might be able to ‘do’ for them, in their school and with their students.

The question that many people have asked me is “should teachers or coaches adopt a model fidelity approach to their teaching?”

My answer is, and remains, NO.

Model fidelity is not a watchdog. It’s not the kennel club looking to maintain pure breeds for showing. It is simply an acknowledgement that there isn’t one version of any model and therefore it shouldn’t be acceptable for research/researchers to simply state that “we used Sport Education” and move on. Model fidelity is positioned to help researchers and readers alike understand what was done to facilitate the outcomes of a particular piece/body of research.

It isn’t positioned to hold teachers accountable for their use of models. Absolutely not.

That said, while it was never designed to make teachers teach correctly, or hold them accountable for their teaching, it might be helpful in developing your own models-based approach. In what remains of this blog I’ll explore each of the three aspects of model fidelity in turn and suggest ways in which it might help you in your use of a models-based practice approach.

A rich description of the curricular elements of the unit

In planning for your first, second or third unit/model in your models-based practice approach take the time to imagine and articulate what you want to achieve. A rich description of your aspirations and what you want to achieve pedagogically, is a great place to start. Physical education hasn’t been great in considering and tracking its innovation nor gathering evidence about what works. If you want support from colleagues or administrators then help them to understand what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and what impact you want to make, and where and with whom. Joining the dots up for everyone else makes it easier to see the whole picture rather than just seeing a fad or aspiration.

A detailed validation of model implementation

How will you use, for example, Cooperative Learning or Sport Education? You don’t have to validate the model. Absolutely not. But how will you convince yourself and others that your striving towards the model? Or indeed that the outcomes that research has attributed to the model might be seen in your classrooms? If you see this as a goal for your pedagogy, how will you know you are getting closer to it? Achieving it? How will you set personal targets for development? How will you attribute your gains to the model? Will you advocate for changes elsewhere in your school? Town/District? County/State? Country? By keeping your own records you will get a better sense of where you are and where you’re heading.

A detailed description of the program context that includes the previous experiences of the teacher and students with the model or with models-based practice.

Flying by the seat of your pants might be exhilarating but it’s hardly professional. How will you help yourself to learn to teach in a new way? How will you help your students to learn to learn in new ways? Will you remember which classes and/or students have experienced which models? Previous experiences are important. They help you in your teahcing. Remember, longitudinal uses of a model/models have an impact on teaching, learning and knowledge; but probably less impact if you lose track of who’s done what and when. Don’t leave things to chance but map out the ways in which you are using models-based practice in your lessons.

The important message in this blog is - don’t get hung up on or feel limited or constrained by model fidelity. It was proposed as a way of helping the research community to better understand the impact of models. That said, maybe use it to your advantage. You shouldn’t start with the aspiration of teaching THE MODEL or MODELS. This/these don’t exist: except perhaps on paper. Instead, think about how you are using the different aspects of each model to your advantage and your students advantage. Think about how you can ‘prove’ to others the value of what you’re doing and think about how you are supporting learners on their journey through physical education to physical literacy (or whatever other term you’d choose to use).



Hastie, P.A. & Casey, A. (2014). Fidelity in models-based practice research in sport pedagogy: A guide for future investigations, Journal of Teaching in Physical Education. 33, 422 –

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