Mosston, Ashworth and me.

I was first introduced to both Mosston and Ashworth in October 2001 at St. Luke’s. It was Will, the head of the course, who made those intial introductions, but they seemed to be friends of everyone involved in the training of teachers of Physical Education. I could see why some of my peers found it daunting and frustrating. Having to learn to teach in multiple ways, that there wasn’t a secret method that would work all of the time, every time. I immediatley saw the variety it could bring to my teaching and how enjoyable that would be not to be restricted to teach in only one way. Yeah, it’s fair to say…. I liked Mosston and Ashworth from the start.

Through my teacher training and first placement I explored the range of teaching styles Mosston and Ashworth offered me. I was encouraged and supported to experiment and reflect on when my choices worked and when they didn’t. I was naturally drawn to Command and Practice. It was the predominant method I had been taught by at school and it came very easily to me. The classes were usually much more manageable as they were ordered and I could see notable improvements in the students performance during lessons. This I found was important to show those that were observing me and making decisions on whether I may teach or not in the future. I became comfortable with Reciprocal, Self Check and Inclusion, but looking back they were always in activities I had a depth of subject knowledge. My ventures into Guided Discovery, Individual and Self Taught were mixed. On some occasions I could see the potential power, in others they were disasters, but was encouraged to reflect and refine. Then in my second placement my exploration of the spectrum of styles that Mosston and Ashworth offered stopped. My mentor and the department saw no point in teaching any other way than Command and Practice. I put up a brief fight, but soon realised that if I wanted to pass, then I needed to do as they said. I finished off the summer with lesson after lesson of Command and Practice, but with the hope that my first job would offer me the freedom of working with Mosston and Ashworth again.

I started my first job brimming with the hope, enthusiasm and energy that all NQT’s seemed to have in abundance. I was fortunate to have two very experienced PE teachers within the department looking after me. The first was the Director of Sport, a giant of man, with an even bigger reputation. The second was the Head of PE, a slim, quiet and reflective practioner. I didn’t realise it at the time, but there was a fundamental difference in opinion between the two men, on all things related to PE and this split the department. Being young, naive and wanting to make a good impression I didn’t read the internal politics. I wanted both to take me seriously, but after a year a line was drawn. It was clear I needed to pick a side. I was drawn to the larger than life, charismatic Director of Sport. To fit in I put on a straight jacket of Command and Practice. The range and variety of Mosston and Ashworth was put away so I would be accepted by those I admired. Years went by and I became a disciple of the practice of isolated sports technique and a deficit model of feedback where I pointed out where my students were going wrong.  

My next step was abroad in an international school. I saw the full range of teaching style that Mosston and Asworth offered the PE Teacher. An all through school, my colleagues were well qualified, well experienced and very knowledgable in teaching PE. And I challenged them immediately from day one. Through socialisation and the acculturation of my first PE Dept. I had become the Gate Keeper of Command and Practice. My colleagues and the pupils who were used to a much wider range of teaching approaches and learning outcomes within PE distanced themselves from me. But I perceived this as them realising I was right and not being able to acknowledge it. I continued to tell anyone that listened why they were wrong. I soon found myself alone and talking to no one, so I returned to the UK in search of an environment that shared my ideas and philosophy.

I found that place and I have been there ever since. As a teacher I was afforded the space to teach the way I saw fit and I found I had kindred spirits within the department. For the first 3 years It was one of the most happiest times of my career. I was promoted till I became Director of Sport and I felt that I now had the opportunity to create an environment that my mentor in my first school had always talked about. However as I started to watch my department teach, as I started to see the numbers of students dwindle in school teams, as I started to listen to how adults spoke to children on the side of the sports field, I sensed there was something wrong. I witnessed incidents that made me question my approach and the culture I was creating within the department. I sought answers to the questions I had and I found them online, on Twitter, in blogs and from research.

Teaching Games for Understanding, Sports Education, Teaching Personal and Social Responsbility, Game Sense and most recently a constraints led approach based on the principles of non-linear pedagogy. Models that use the full range of teaching styles and had outcomes beyond just the physical. Typically when I realised that perhaps the approach that I had been developing for years may be wrong to achieve the main outcomes of physical education I did a full pendulum swing to the opposite end of the spectrum, without nuance and understanding. I wanted to distance myself as far as possible to my old ways of teaching. For the last 6 years of my career I have been working on improving and refining the delivery of these models, not just for myself but all members of my department.

However a phone call, with a wise man, reminded me of Mosston and Ashworth and all those memories came flooding back. I looked them up again and realised it isn’t the variety that really makes them appealing to the PE Teacher, it’s the empowerment. Teaching approaches are for the benefit of the children we teach. We need to know and understand them, both the children and the teaching style, to better select the most appropriate method for that context. It empowers us as PE teachers to make professional judgments on what is the most suitable, for that child, for that outcome and at that moment in time. Be that a more direct command and practice style or a more implicit method like a constraints led approach. 15 years later in my career and I’m reunited with Mosston and Ashworth. However I now see them through different eyes. It isn’t about developing a variety of teaching styles or becoming a master of one, but about improving my decision making that allows me to choose the best one for the context I find my students in.

9 thoughts on “Mosston, Ashworth and me.

  1. Muska Mosston introduced the Spectrum of Teaching Styles to the field of Physical Education in 1966. Fifty years later, and in collaboration with Sara Ashworth, this is now a term synonmous with the field. Personal I like the hierarchical ideas presented in the original book (and can recommend it to you) as it states that we should aspire to give students more of a role in their learning. Something changed before edition two and I feel something was lost. Still, there is much worth in these ideas and they don’t get the credit they deserved. Some books and ideas are just seminal I guess.


    1. Hi Ash. Thanks for the comment. A question for you. How important do you think it is for PE Teachers to go back And read the original texts their practice is based upon? For example should we read Rethinking Games Teaching by Thorpe, Bunker and Almond if we want to use TGfU? Would reading the original source of an idea ensure we have a better understanding of the essence of it?


  2. Wow – you really nailed this!

    I am an amateur youth ice hockey coach with 30 years of experience working with U-10 through U-14. In the past 6 years, I have also completely rethought my approach to teaching, without the benefit of your educational background.

    Parents want to see highly ordered practices and game systems. I want to see real learning by guided struggling to solve problems. Our team play has been remarkable as a result. The players get to explore without direction from the bench and minimal input during the game.

    Love your articles an thoughts.

    Best regards,

    Karl Norton South Glastonbury, CT USA

    Sent from my iPad


    1. Hello Karl, thanks for your comments. It seems we both want to provide learning in environments that are representative of where performance will take place. I would be very interested if you could share with me a few examples of how you do that in your sport, as I’m still pretty green in my journey of doing that.


  3. I think you’ll find many people with similar experiences and journeys with Mosston. I’m certainly one of those people. Schools can be a real barrier to implementing what we are learning at PETE programmes. I did my BEd between 93-97 and as well as getting introduced to mosston’s spectrum, TGfU was a unit we covered back then!


    1. It seems this narrative is one shared with many PE Teachers. I wonder why that might be? I one thought I have had is that we are afraid to allow others who come into our departments to find alternative ways to deliver our curriculum. Perhaps we are worried they might be more successful, or we are worried that they might be wasting their time because we know more. Do you have any insight on this Ian?


  4. Haha – it’s like a blast from the past remembering Mosston’s spectrum. The Guided Discovery approach has been one that I took a lot from, since I was a student teacher and I still use games and learning activities that encourage them to engage, and think during the doing and then reflect with carefully guided questions. Being flexible in your teaching is fundamental to good teaching practice and therefore being able to utilise aspects of a range of models is effective in engaging students and working with the diverse levels within a class.


    1. Thanks Karen. I wholeheartedly agree with your comments, but I sometimes think that perhaps we might be to concerned with models and delivery and not enough with content and curriculum. I personally feel in the few years I have focussed my attention on the former and perhaps more should be given to the latter? What’s your thoughts on that?


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