TGfU Takeaways #3

Between Monday 25th July and Wednesday 27th July 2016 I attended the Teaching Games for Understanding Conference in Cologne, Germany. This is the third in a series of posts that forms a collection of the knowledge shared by the presenters along with some of my own personal thoughts and questions. The first post, TGfU Takeaways #1, looked at the philosophy that underpins TGfU and how Ecological Dynamics might provide a coherent learning theory to support game centred approaches. The second post, TGfU Takeaways #2, was my interpretation of what a Game Sense Approach looks like in practice and also whether we can withdraw pupils from the game but still make that practice representative.

Is TGfU a model only test pilots can fly? by David Kirk

David opened his keynote on TGfU with the question that Alan Launder posed way back in 2001, “Is teaching games for understanding a model only test pilots can fly?”. In essence it isn’t really a question, but a potential answer why it hasn’t been embraced as the dominant method of teaching games to children in school. Is TGfU simply too complex and demanding of PE Teachers? No doubt the interplay of designing games, questioning and tactical understanding requires a deeper subject knowledge and subject pedagogy than a more direct instructional approach to teaching games. This interestingly David challenged and suggests we should stop comparing traditional sports technique-based approaches to TGfU as they have fundamentally different purposes with regards to learning.


As with any issue it isn’t a simple as saying PE teachers aren’t able to cope with TGfU. If we want TGfU to be pedestaled” as a preferred pedagogy for teaching games we need to consider many factors that impede its use. David suggested the key ones in a school setting being; timetabling, spaces and facilities, curriculum and subject matter, the recruitment and further professional development of PE teachers and thinking about what experiences you want pupils to have. Essentially we need to change the context PE is practised in if we want TGfU to be used more widely. Not only can ‘test pilots’ fly TGfU but also ‘ordinary’ PE teachers, however this will only be achieved if we tackle the sources that impede its adoption and use.

David left the audience with a warning before he finished. “Games is no longer the dominant discourse in PE. It will be gone in 10 years time.

Thoughts and Questions: This presentation has stayed with me. In many ways it helps me feel more confident about the changes I’ve made to the curriculum, particularly with regards to timings for activities. The one major change that embracing models like TGfU and Sport Education has brought, is the ending of short units of work that ‘cover the same introductory lesson again and again and again.’ In some cases units may last over an entire term and far from ‘boring’ pupils it has had a significant improvement on their enjoyment of PE (self assessed) and participation rates in extra-curricular clubs. We need to ask ourselves are we here to entertain or educate? Are we a physical activity provider or physical educator? If it is the latter then perhaps we need to take some risks with our timings, space and content and make a brake from the status quo that seems to only be beneficial for minority of already competent students.

Further Reading: TGfU reconsidering its relevance and PE Futures


High Fidelity by Stephen Harvey and Shane Pill

Metzler’s Teacher Benchmarks for Tactical Games Approaches

In this session Stephen and Shane shared their research regarding whether model based instruction (Sport Education, Tactical Games, Cooperative Learning etc) can only be faithfully delivered by teachers adopting specific benchmarks.

Benchmarks (an example in the picture to the left) are for both students and teachers and are specific ways to teach and learn within the model. Following those benchmarks means the model is more effective and students have a better chance of learning what is intended. If as teachers we are true to those benchmarks when delivering the model, then it can be seen as the model having fidelity.

Stephen and Shane polled 44 academics on their thoughts about model fidelity and the result (below) is that they overwhelmingly could not agree whether teachers needed to be true to the model via the implementation of the suggested benchmarks.

In Support of Benchmarks

Not in Support of Benchmarks

Support Benchmarks with some Flexibility

We have to be sure which are the characteristics of the program, otherwise we cannot properly assess or interpret results. The simple answer is “no” as it is more about the teachers “intent” to use the “model”. To question whether the model is applied exactly how it is outlined disregards teachers professionalism. Critical…but not all benchmarks are equal.
A dip in and out approach to aspects of instruction/model usage invites slippage, potentially detrimental to achievement of intended learning outcomes. The issue of fidelity to a model removes the teacher’s ability to make ‘on the fly’ decisions with respect to the needs of their students. It limits their creativity. Every situation requires some modification….all teachers should follow the most important benchmarks that are the cornerstone of the model.
Validation of the process is of utmost importance! It is important to be descriptive in the methods used so it can be generalizable. Prefer to educate teachers as we ask them to educate students in games. This requires a focus on teacher understanding and not on ‘techniques’. One should interpret models as working hypotheses, not as a definite canvas to be applied at all costs.
Metzler’s benchmarks can help to verify the implementation of the models. As to promote and advocate the implementation of models it is a good guideline. Kids are sacred – models are not. Teachers should not be bound by highly structured models. Rather it is important for teachers to use their professional judgement to adapt to the needs of their students. It depends on the students and the context.
Reliable and valid research needs to continue. General principles should be followed but not slavishly.

Thoughts and Questions: As a HoD who has embraced and adopted a models based approaches into the curriculum, I found this presentation fascinating. The fact that academics can’t agree on model fidelity doesn’t worry me, in this case it gives me hope. That as a department we can be flexible with the approaches to achieve our curriculum aims. However it has highlighted our lack of knowledge on models. I brought this up in a recent departmental meeting at the beginning of term. Out of that discussion it seems the department is keen on focusing our professional development around models based practice over the next two years, with each of us becoming an ‘expert’ in a certain model. Initially the first year would be to gain further understanding of the models we use, with the second year reviewing our schemes of work and delivering practical departmental INSET on how best to deliver them in our context. Hopefully that will allow us to ensure our implementation is best suited for the students we have in front of us.

Further Reading: Instructional Models for PE  and Models. One size fits all?

One thought on “TGfU Takeaways #3

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