18 months on from my initial post about the different domains of learning in PE and my thinking on them has been refined. I am aware that once you accept a ‘theory’ and then use it to make decisions it becomes difficult to find fault and challenge it. It can lead to ‘theory blindness’, meaning discovering its flaws becomes exceptionally hard work. Even more so when your job is relentless and gives little time for collaboration and deep reflection. Perhaps I should have been more critical before using this idea to shape my judgement and decision making within PE? Testing and experimenting with it though has been helpful. As long as I do not only look for evidence to prove it’s usefulness.
Let me recap my current thinking about learning domains with PE. There are four; the physical, the cognitive, the social and the affective. The latter three are not to replace learning in the physical domain, but to support it. We are teachers of Physical Education and therefore the physical domain must remain our focus, but an overt focus on the physical without connection to the other three is flawed, in my opinion, as much as spending time on the latter three without any tangible improvement in the physical. There have been many issues with using this theory as a basis for decision making regarding to learning outcomes, assessment, teaching approaches etc within PE. One of the key ones for me has been a lack of understanding from students. Without a common language which both teachers and students comprehend, it becomes very difficult to hold any dialogue. The terms cognitive and affective have easily caused the most problems. Without clarity of meaning it therefore becomes difficult for teaching and learning to occur within these domains.
Therefore the learning domains have been refined as:
Developing movement competency (Physical Domain)
This for me is the heart of PE and the potential yardstick to measure ourselves. I believe the best thing we can do as PE teachers to develop children’s confidence in moving is to develop their movement competence. Developing movement competency must be a focus of every lesson within PE and this can be done through three main ways; purposeful preparation, play and practice. Purposeful play has now become the start and end point for all lessons, no matter what activity. Either through games or movement puzzles. Play in PE is a perfect way for students to learn about movement, themselves and each other. However play is not enough. Some students need extra support to engage in play, meaning we have to move to purposeful preparation. Some students want to develop their play further and they require purposeful practice. There is a delicate balanced reciprocity between play, preparation and practice that requires a PE teacher to make good judgements for their students based on what they observe during lessons. This is something I need to improve upon.
Understanding the benefits of movement (Cognitive Domain)
Knowledge is an essential part of Physical Education, but I have concerns. There tends to be a worrying trend to justify our subject in the curriculum based on the acquisition of propositional knowledge. The difficulty comes from justifying time spent in pure theoretical study as opposed to reflecting and discussing their practical experience of movement. I find much more value in getting students to reflect on movement or their practice of movement. If we are to have a focus on propositional knowledge then I think the focus should be on the value and positive effects of movement in their lives. When I ask my Year 7 students this question not many give a deeper answer than to say ‘keep fit’ or ‘be healthy’. Perhaps they should before we start trying to teach them facts needed for GCSE PE.
Building a community of movement (Social Domain)
How students interact with each other in PE has a massive impact on developing movement competency. The way they speak to each other, listen to each other and physically respond to each other can affect their motivation and willingness to move. It is a key factor in loss and risk aversion. Just putting them into pairs, groups or teams is not enough to help develop their social skills, they need to be explicitly taught. Routines and structures based on Cooperative Learning are slowly beginning to have a positive impact on building a community that is supportive and encouraging of movement, no matter what its level or quality. Learning teams which ‘sink or swim together’ followed by group processing focused around the four learning domains have a positive impact on how students interact with each other in lessons. Creating an environment where individuals are willing to ‘have a go’ with the knowledge that they will be aided and reassured by the peers in their community is essential for movement competency to develop.
Establishing the behaviours of movement (Affective Domain)
By far the most difficult to understand and get right. Essentially these are the students motivations and feelings. So how how does teaching and learning occur this domain? Currently for me it is only through observing their behaviours, making them aware of their behaviours and getting them to reflect on their behaviours. This is far from perfect, but I have seen glimpses of improvement. Especially around the behaviours of focus and attention when playing, preparing or practicing. Making them aware that attention is an important aspect of learning, highlighting when they lose focus or distracted and then ask them to come up with strategies in their learning teams on how to improve this is gradually beginning to work. It becomes a comparison between how they were and how they are now with time to reflect on that progress and plan for the future. However I feel there is potential to perhaps explicitly teaching affective strategies such as positive self talk, visualisation, realistic self analysis and goal setting that would have great benefit for establishing the behaviours of movement.
The final difficulty I had was there seemed to be a lack of connection between all four learning domains for the student. I believe there should be an interplay between all four domains, not seen as separate individual areas for learning. Asking students to try to finding personal meaning in movement is beginning to bring them all together. This is done through our narrative assessment system where the teacher and the student co-construct targets based on their interests and thoughts on movement. For those who have found no meaning in movement it is the start of a dialogue which helps them explore why, then allows them to connect their thinking to the activities they are involved in. Those who have found meaning in movement are challenged to think more deeply about those reasons and see if they hold up when challenged.
As always your thoughts, feedback and critique would be most welcome.