During one of my recent departmental PE meetings, we may have moved away from the set agenda. Instead we engaged in an enjoyable but heated discussion about the ‘best’ students we had in Physical Education. So a few weeks ago I asked the #physed community the same question:
To be fair it was a vague and subjective question (that might not have been the right one to ask), but I was hoping to build up a profile what a ‘best’ student in Physical Education would look like. With close to a 100 responses from PE teachers I managed to put together a reasonably comprehensive list together. So a ‘best’ student in PE would display the following:
|Can articulate to peers what success looks like||Displays high amounts of effort consistently||Is a go getter||Is mentally resilient|
|Intrinsically motivated||Shows a desire to improve||Is open to critique and acts on it||Is creative|
|Takes the initiative||Is competitive||A* at GCSE PE||Is a team player|
|Is excited by new opportunities||Never complains||Took up sport outside of school||A good work ethic|
|Helps and supports others||Good sense of humour||Inspires those around them||Independent worker|
|Plays by the rules||Is humble||Always asks questions||Tenacious|
|Is willing to share ideas||Challenges personal boundaries||A great attitude in lessons||A problem solver|
|Is always positive||Is responsible||Shows sportsmanship||A leader|
|Unselfish||Makes everything seem natural||Listens and acts on advice||Takes risks|
|Good body language||Polite||Shows character||Insatiable winner|
Many were repeated by teachers, however the ones most mentioned in some way were motivation and effort. Personally I agree wholeheartedly with motivation and effort. They are key to ensuring our students are the ‘best’ they can be. Without them in our subject there is very little chance of progress and learning. Without them there is very little chance our students will stay fit and healthy for life. If a teacher can create an environment where students are motivated and put in effort, then there is a very good chance of success (that being for me some form of improvement). Motivating a child, especially in a subject like PE can be problematic, and should be a area of real thought and development for us as practitioners. This I would imagine is why many teachers, myself included, would instinctively think of our ‘best’ students as intrinsically motivated. It makes them very easy to teach as they engage in everything and anything we deliver for them.
In The Educational Benefits claimed for Physical Education and School Sport: An Academic review, it suggests that Physical Education and School Sport offers 4 areas of benefits to the participant. They are physical, social, affective and cognitive benefits. These in turn can become individual learning domains. (Physical Literacy has three learning domains; physical, affective and cognitive. Whilst I am growing in my advocacy for Physical Literacy, I do prefer having the social element being drawn as a learning domain in its own right, even though this can be hugely context dependent). Learning in these four domains can contribute to the development of the whole child. A holistic approach to PE that I try to aspire to with my provision.
The physical domain would include physical competency, fundamental motor skills, health and skill related fitness, technique and psychomotor skills. The social domain would include leadership, working with peers, treating others with sensitivity, playing by the rules and communication. The affective domain would be motivation, confidence, self-esteem and engagement. The cognitive domain would be knowledge and understanding of healthy and active lifestyles, awareness of rules and tactics, feedback and reflection and understanding how to perform.
So if we go back to to the original question ‘can you describe the best student you have had in either PE or Sport’ then it would be reasonable to assume that that student would do well in all four learning domains. Below I have taken the responses from the table above and placed them into the four learning domains:
This to me is striking. A subject that is uniquely defined by its physical nature doesn’t define its best students in this way. Where is the physical competence? Where is the skilful mover? Where is the athletic student? I’m not talking about being elite here, but having students that that are confident and competent movers in purposeful physical activity, no matter what level that might be at.
Have we forgotten what PE is about? Have we become so worried that a student might fail, or find something difficult, that our expectations on the physical learning domain have disappeared? Being able to play football, is not the same being able to move confidently. Being able to play rugby, is not the same as being able to hold your own body weight. Being able to finish the cross country course, is not the same being able to run properly. Surely our best students can run, and jump, and skip, and climb and move. They need function, before they play sport. As I stated previously, yes we must create an environment that encourages improvement in the affective learning domain. It may be the most important thing we can do without doubt. But we create that environment so pupils themselves can become intrinsically motivated to move, so they learn to move, that they learn through movement, that they learn about movement and that they become confident movers for a lifetime.
If and when we talk about our ‘best’ students within PE, we don’t mention the confidence and competence of their basic functional movement, then what does this say about our weaker students? Surely basic functional movement should be a non-negotiable for all? Each year these basics reduce in the students that come to us from primary school. The 6 weeks block of sports that have been a staple diet for many secondary schools may no longer be fit for purpose, if it isn’t creating functional confident movers. It is with this in mind when I look to plan and develop our provision for the future.