Where to start? There are a dozen pedagogical models. More, depending on how you define and delimit them, and each offers something different. Some even come with their own straplines (or at least you can imagine them).

“Putting the game and the learner at the heart of everything we do” (Teaching Games for Understanding)

“Developing competent, literate and enthusiastic sports people” (Sport Education)

“Sink or swim together” (Cooperative Learning)

“Valuing the physically active life” (Health-based physical education)

But like every choice there are the “chosen” and the “unchosen”. But how do you choose?

Do you pick the model with the largest following? The most famous model (so to speak) – after all this would probably have the most free-to-access resources available, the most blogs and the most research papers written about it and the most advice available online? It would certainly make your job easier.

If we follow Mike Metzler’s (2011) list – and I certainly did that when I first started my models-based practice (MBP) approach – and then imagined that each model was a twitter feed or a Facebook page, how would we choose?

In doing this I imagine that Sport Education would have the most followers and likes. Maybe even a blue tick on both twitter and Facebook. It would, in this analogy, be followed by Teaching Games for Understanding (and others in the family of games-centred approaches – think of them like the Kardashian), Cooperative Learning, and maybe Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility. Beyond that would be a smaller group of models - Personalised System for Instruction, Peer Teaching, Inquiry Based Teaching – each with either a growing or a loyal fan base.

Finally, there would be new models such as Health-Based PE, Health Optimizing PE, a Model of Human Practising in PE, and Adventure in the Curriculum, which are new twitter feeds and Facebook pages under development. They have identified and seek to addressed perceived gaps in the current provision of models.

That said, we mustn’t forget Direct Instruction. In some ways, we might imagine that information about this might only be found on the Dark Web. After all, it has been historically mauled in the media and blamed for many of physical education ills. Alternatively, it might just be so famous that it doesn’t need a Facebook page. Like the Queen of England, Direct Instruction simply might not feel the need for social media (as a caveat to that statement there are many fake ‘HM The Queen’ accounts and a genuine Royal Family account – with a blue tick and everything).

So, which account do you choose to follow? Given, I suppose, that you already use one version or another of Direct Instruction?

In returning to the title of this blog “finding a pedagogical place for a pedagogical model” I’m going to suggest a pedagogical solution to your choice dilemma. To do that we need to pause to consider what pedagogy is – at least from my perspective. My definition is influenced by my academic mentors and involves teaching, learning and context.

Imagine pedagogy as a Venn diagram made up of three circles (i.e. learners and learning, teachers and teaching, and knowledge and context (Armour, 2011)) with pedagogy ‘living’ at the meeting point of all three circles (see https://www.slideshare.net/secret/24sfPrgzalwdGq). Seeing pedagogy this way has allowed me to consider the impact that my pedagogical choices might have on the way I teach, the way the learners in my care develop and the context in which I work. 

If we place the learners and learning at the forefront of decision making process then we are faced with a set of questions or choices. Equally, if we put either teachers and teaching or knowledge and context front and centre then we are faced with a different set of questions or choices respectively. But what might that look like?

Learners and learning: If the first set of dilemmas, questions and choices we tackle focus on learners and learning then we begin to see the pedagogical process from a more specific perspective. Our choice reflects the needs to the learner. We are required to focus on their needs and reflect on what learning best suits them. Popular rumour says that physical education and sport teaches leadership, collaboration, ethics, fair play etc. In short, simply by being involved in physical education and sport will make you better at these things.

The fact is, though, it doesn’t. If we want the learners in our care to learn these things then we have to provide them with opportunities to learn. We have to make pedagogical choices that facilities learning in this way. If we want learners to learn cognitively, socially and affectively then we need to make the right pedagogical choices. This might mean using Cooperative Learning or Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility to achieve our learning goal(s).

Teacher and teaching: I suspect that this is a domain of pedagogy that most frequently determines the approach to physical education that dominates most classrooms and gymnasium. I also suspect that often there is no choosing. We do what we have always done and what worked for us as learners (see my previous blog in the series). But no choice is still a choice.

This is certainly the way I started with MBP. I chose the model and then the models I wanted to use and retrofitted the benefits to learners and learning and the knowledge requirements of the context in which I worked to this choice. I was influenced by who I meet through my academic work, what I could find in books, journal articles and the web (although this wasn’t as easy in 2002 as it is today) and evidence from other teachers. This for me was the strongest form of initial evidence. I was looking for rave reviews from real teachers. In this case, I wanted to best Facebook page with the most followers and endorsements.

This allowed me to find real world examples of how the models (in my case this was initially Cooperative Learning, Sport Education and Tactical Games) and then use them in my classrooms. I could read something in the morning and it could be used in the next lesson. I could find the ‘best stuff’ for my context and my learners and feel I was having an impact in my knowledge and their learning.

Knowledge and context: Of the three components of pedagogy, knowledge and context is the most complex (at least for me) to understand. In education systems, the “knowledge to be taught, coached or learnt is always a context-bound decision that reflects, reinforces, reproduces (and sometimes challenges) what powerful individuals or groups believes is valuable at any given time” (Armour, 2011, p.13). This might be defined by state or national guidelines, local or national curriculum, and/or history. Indeed, one of the biggest obstacles to pedagogical change is history and expectation.

I was frequency faced with the argument from colleagues that “this [MBP] isn’t what we normally do” or the accusation that “this wasn’t real teaching”. I was also faced with the challenge of maintaining an extracurricular programme and inter-school fixture list in our traditional sports that didn’t always (or maybe ever) meet my aspirations for MBP.

This meant I picked lessons for MBP that I taught on my own and in activities/sports that we didn’t have an historical legacy of playing locally. I also picked lesson where students had pushed back against the traditional curriculum or my traditional teaching. Because these lessons hadn’t been working I felt I had a chance to see if something else might work better or differently.

If we place the learners and learning at the forefront of our decision-making processes or teachers and teaching or knowledge and context then we are faced with different questions or choices. But in making the choice to address those questions we begin to see where we could make a change and why.

The danger is, of course, there are simply too many choices to make. But my advice is try and make one. That might be across all three domains of pedagogy or two or one. I might say that I want the learners to work together better in gymnastics so I choose Cooperative Learning or Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility. Or I may choose Sport Education because everyone says it’s great. Or I want to improve swimming at the school so I going to use the Direct Instruction model better.

Either way, try and make a choice but don’t make too many. Don’t try and change everything. Like a beginner juggler don’t start with five balls in the air at once because they will fall fairly quickly and you’ll probably give up learning how to juggle. You already have a version of direct instruction in the air so think of a second to add. Get used to the trajectory and flight of that second ball before bringing in others.

MBP is a step change but it takes time (a lot of time) to gain confidence. Remember, not only are you learning to teach in a new way but the learners are learning to learn in a new way as well. So, when you make a choice and give yourself time and your learners time to adapt to the new model. Above all else, make your decision pedagogical.