What are the educational outcomes of PE? Is it solely about the physical, or should we have a wider set of learning outcomes for our subject? When I asked other PE teachers to describe their best student there was a range of answers, however the physical outcomes were distinctly missing and this made me worry that perhaps as PE teachers we didn’t value the development of movement competency.
In the paper The educational benefits claimed for physical education and school sport: an academic review Richard Bailey et al (2009) divides the the potential benefits of PE and School Sport (PESS) into four distinct categories: the physical, the social, the affective and the cognitive. The authors conclude by asking which ones should PESS be accountable for and called for researchers, practioners and policy makers to work together to agree what benefits could be substantiated, supported and focussed upon. Taking the benefits promoted, we can transfer them to domains of learning within Physical Education. Both David Kirk in Chapter 9 in Debates in Physical Education and the Educational Value and Models-Based Practice in Physical Education and Ashley Casey with Vicky Goodyear in Can Cooperative Learning Achieve the Four Learning Outcomes of Physical Education? A Review of Literature position these four learning domains as the ‘legitimate learning outcomes of Physical Education’. Even Margret Whitehead’s current definition of Physical Literacy sees learning as beyond the physical: ‘Physical literacy can be described as the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for engagement in physical activities for life.’
I have adopted this idea, due to its potential but mainly for its inclusivity, basing my departments current assessment without levels structure on these four learning outcomes. This post is exploring in further detail what I understand them to mean.
For me without doubt the most important outcome within PE. At its most basic level this is improvement of movement competency. It is central to our subject that we help our students master a range of movement capacities. In this domain I would see learning of movement patterns, more complex sports skills and also the improvement of components of health such as cardio-vascular endurance and skill related fitness such as balance. Competency and perceived competency are the drivers of engagement of physical activity beyond the school gates and is something we should all aspire to improving in our PE programmes. The question I always ask myself is whether we have the time to do so and if we can what are the essential movement skills we need to teach students to ensure they leave school prepared ready to take responsibility and seek out new challenges for their own physical activity?
Richard Bailey et al (2009) talk about cognitive benefits of Physical Education as the potential improvement to academic achievement. I have changed this to mean knowledge and understanding. Basics of anatomy, physiology, methods of training, short term and long term benefits of an active and healthy lifestyle. Knowledge that children need to ensure they understand why and how to take responsibility for purposeful physical activity for the rest of their lives. Included in this domain are rules, tactics, choreography and planning and designing solutions to problems presented with in class. These two areas can be summed up as understanding the nature of movement and the understanding of the benefit of movement. I have recently started to think perhaps I should also add ‘learning to learn’ to this domain, and spend some time teaching students about theories of learning within Physical Education, so they can take responsibility themselves outside of school.
This is the motivation, confidence and commitment towards engaging in physical activity. The International Physical Literacy Association promote the affective, the physical and the cognitive domains and all are equally important. Each is essential to realise progress on an individual physical literacy journey. However they give particular attention to the affective domain as ‘Physical competence without the motivation to maintain activity would not seem to encourage continued participation.’. This domain has been difficult to teach in the traditional sense. In practice I have tried to create a classroom environment where students are willing to have a go and feel safe to take risks, then discuss with them their feelings and emotions, to make them more self aware. The work of Dave Collins and colleagues on Psychological Characteristics of Developing Excellence may offer practical solutions to help develop learning in this domain. Could the explicit teaching of skills such as goal setting, realistic evaluation and self regulation help improve a students motivation, confidence and commitment? Work done in Scottish primary schools on this suggests that it might be part of the answer. However I don’t think it is the complete answer. Part of our role is to help our students find joy, meaning or (my preferred term) value in movement. By unlocking this unique value in each of our students could be the biggest motivator of all.
Physical Literacy does not see this as a separate element, but for my context it is hugely important. Many students come to my school unable to treat each other well, especially within Physical Education. They also lack the basics interpersonal and social skills to help create an environment of trust and risk taking. Just putting students in groups or teams does not necessarily improve these skills. As Ben Dyson and Ashley Casey state in their new book Cooperative Learning in Physical education and Physical Activity ‘that is important to explicitly teach rather than simply assume that students can develop appropriate social skills’. The environment the students create for each other is just as important for learning in PE as the environment the teacher creates for the class. Making the development of basic social skills such as listening, shared decision making, leading and encouraging other a priority is essential within PE if the learning in other domains is to occur.
At the beginning of this post I questioned why PE teachers, when describing their best students, didn’t mention any learning from the physical domain. Perhaps it isn’t as simple as not valuing it. That for physical improvements to occur learning must also be made in the affective, cognitive and social domains as well. This would see these learning domains not as separate entities from each other but interconnected with learning in one impacting the learning in others. That our students, like ourselves, are complex Biological-Pyschological-Social individuals and that we need to take that into account when teaching them Physical Education, even if for me, the physical must be the key area of learning within our subject.