Curriculum PE Personal Reflection School Sport

Meaning in Movement

Meaning in Movement, Sport and Physical Education by Peter J. Arnold has been a influential text on my practice as a Teacher of PE. I often speak to colleagues about the three dimensions of movement that Arnold proposes in the book; education about movement, education through movement and education in movement as a framework for teaching our subject. However over a decade has passed since I last read this book and I feel my understanding of Arnold’s original thoughts have been lost to me over time. This post is about re-exploring the book and whether his thoughts, written in the year I was born, still hold up today in my school’s context.

Arnold’s main theme throughout the book is about the idea of meaning and its link to movement. Specifically what movement means through activities that lie beyond itself, such as sport, dance or outdoor activities. He proposes that it is when an individual participates in a form of movement that then person truly understands what movement means, as opposed to studying movement in all it’s many wonderful facets and trying to understand it from a scientific point of view. He distinguishes these as inside movement and outside movement and for much of the book it is the former he philosophically investigates. The last chapter of the book, Education, Movement and the Curriculum, is where he proposes his conceptual framework for Physical Education that has influenced many PE Curriculums around the world. Arnold suggests three dimensions of movement that can be used for PE Curriculum design:

  • Dimension I. Education about movement;
  • Dimension II. Education through movement;
  • Dimension III. Education in movement.

Dimension I. Education about movement

Arnold states that movement can be viewed as a subject to be studied with it’s own theoretical body. By teaching our students about anatomy, biomechanics, physiology and psychology etc. they can begin to answer meaningful questions such as ‘What effect does movement have on the living organism?’ and ‘In what ways does movement, or lack of it, influence the development of personality?’. That through the teaching and learning of the knowledge of movement, a child can become more critical and analytical of their own movement and the choices they make, both within lessons and beyond school. This would then allow them to apply the knowledge learnt to more practical situations, such as how best to train in order to delay the onset of fatigue.  My concern that an overt focus on the academic side of Physical Education may reduce the unique practical nature of the subject, something that I have been guilty of on numerous occasions. That we make our lessons more academic to be accepted by other subjects. It would be far better if the curriculum looked at the importance of control, balance and coordination in the learning of movement as well of self-awareness and self-regulation of movement. With a focus on the knowledge and understanding of how movement impacts the functioning of the body as well as health and wellbeing as a whole. I think PE is the perfect subject to do this, always where possible through a practical approach, but we must be wary of the over academicisation of our subject.

Dimension II. Education through movement

“When activities are expressly taught with a view to promoting their extrinsic, rather than their intrinsic, values, they can be justified as being worthy of inclusion in the curriculum if they can be shown that they are a good means in the promotion of others ends that are considered worthwhile.” What I understand Arnold meant by this is that PE should be used to bring about the goals of general education. That teaching through movement we can have a positive impact on the morals of a student, help with their cognitive development or improve their social relationships. I have and do espouse these reasons and more for the justification of our subject within the curriculum. However If I were to be really critical there is no guarantee that getting children to move in PE necessarily equates to the development of wider educational goals. Just because I put my students into a sports team, doesn’t mean they will learn to improve their communicate and listening skills. These have only progressed when I explicitly taught them strategies to implement, designed a specific learning environment for them to practice them and then given them feedback and a chance to self reflect on their performance. I also don’t really know if that development is domain specific and will only occur within my lessons. Whilst I do want my subject to improve the intellectual, social and emotional aspects of a child, they are not separate parts, but interconnected as the person as a whole and this needs to be taken into account when designing the curriculum and planning lessons.

Dimension III. Education in movement

This third dimension is concerned with the values that are inherent with the activities themselves. To put it in Arnold’s own words “education ‘in’ movement upholds the view that movement activities, especially when looked at from the ‘inside’ or participatory perspective of the movement agent, are in and of themselves worthwhile.” Basically that through movement the individual can learn a great deal about themselves and the world in which they live. Arnold proposes three themes within education in movement. Firstly the learning of activities that children can continue beyond school. Secondly that participating in movement activities can be fun and enjoyable. Thirdly that through movement an individual can develop self-actualisation. Personally I try to promote all three themes, but on reflection they are quite complex to achieve successfully and all at the same time. In all probability I fail to achieve any of the three to a high standard. However if you solely focus on one it could lead to certain actions that I don’t think help our pupils learn. Such as always making fun the main priority for lessons (variety over depth) or focusing on the techniques and benchmarks needed to be successful in a certain activity, rather than the activity itself. The third theme is something I want to explore further to see if It has merit within our subject, our current assessment without levels framework could be easily adapted to help a child explore their own capabilities.

It is clear that people reading Arnold’s work have different views on his meanings. I have stated them as fact many times without reviewing what he actually meant and what it means to me. Having re-read his book it raises some important questions:

  • Do I truly understand the three dimensions Arnold has put forward as the basis of a PE Curriculum?
  • What should we prioritise, especially with limited time?
  • How do we manage to interconnect these three dimensions to ensure a coherent delivery?
  • What are the difficulties in understanding his meaning and therefore translating that to effective teaching practices within PE?
  • What does a curriculum that tries to uphold all three dimensions actually look like?

It seems many of my decisions, especially on curriculum provision, have been made on the assumption of an understanding. Without truly being reflective and critical of the meaning and application of the concepts behind them this has resulted in perhaps a lack of clarity of outcomes and aims of my curriculum, which has lead to incoherent practice. To keep questioning my assumptions is the only way clarity can emerge in the future.


By @ImSporticus

Lecturer in PE, Sport and Physical Activity. Helping others to flourish through movement.

5 replies on “Meaning in Movement”

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