The goal of this post is to state my current thinking with regards to Purposeful Physical Education. It is not meant to persuade you, the reader, that this is the ‘correct way’ or the ‘only way’ to approach Physical Education. It is a post to help clarify my thoughts. To see if my actions, judgements and decisions are congruent with my thinking. I hope to come back to this post throughout 2017 to check, review and challenge whether this is truly the case.
If PE is to be purposeful, then we must be clear on its purpose. In the last few years our purpose has gone through many iterations, being influenced by many different sources, particularly external bodies. We have tried to come up with something that fits our context and have been constantly reflecting on it and refining. I know members of my department have found this a waste of time. However I don’t think revisiting the basics, of which purpose is one, can be done too many times. All PE departments I think can benefit from going back to their purpose and spending time to uncover all the hidden assumptions and differences of opinion that might provide the foundation for clarifying it. Our agreed purpose is:
“To empower children to move on their own terms“.
Having a clear purpose helps to align all individuals which then allows debate and discussion of the potential ways of achieving it. In terms of content our thinking is more developed. We agree that to empower children to move on their own terms our curriculum has to provide learning in four domains; the physical, cognitive, social and affective. I have written about this in more detail here and here. The next step is to confirm some essential agreements of curriculum content we will use to hold our teaching to account.
This post though will focus more on the framework of delivery of the content. These thoughts are mine alone and act as principles to guide decisions about my teaching in PE.
Play is the true environment of movement, where we can observe children to see what support they need and to see what they have learnt. Without setting PE in play do we lose the risk of losing it’s meaning? Play is meaningful in it’s own right and we do not need to justify PE via targets, outcomes and metrics beyond the involvement in the activities children are participating in. Daryl Siedentop in Physical Education: Introductory Analysis argued,
Play is the proper classification for physical education, both from a logical and psychological perspective. Classifying physical education as a form of play puts it clearly in perspective alongside other primary institutionalized forms of play—art, music, and drama. . . . This classification allows us to recognize that the activities of the weekend golfer or skier . . . and the noon-time hand- ball player are analogous to that of the painter, the member of the community theater, or the musician. Each is at play, at an institutionalized form of play, and it is only the play form that distinguished one from the other.
However I do believe play in PE should be structured and purposeful. There needs to be clear and explicit learning outcomes of each game played or movement puzzle proposed. Play in PE should not by a ‘roll out the ball’ approach to teaching movement or sport, but a very structured environment of playing with purpose.
Some children do struggle with play, even in it’s simplest of forms. To help children to access play, purposeful preparation would be needed. This is a structured physical skill development through the PE curriculum which could provide pupils the chance to acquire the behavioral, psychological and movement skills that increase the likelihood of physical play and lifelong physical activity. There is a relationship between enjoyment, self-determination, and perceived competence. Purposeful preparation focuses on on improving physical skill competence with the hope of improving and supporting the conditions of children’s involvement in play.
There are those children where performance in play is just as important as participation (if not more important for them). In essence, deliberate practice is a highly effortful and structured activity with the explicit goal of improving performance (as compared to play) through specific tasks designed to overcome current levels of weakness. Therefore any practice must be intentional, aimed at improving performance, designed for our children’s current skill level, combined with immediate feedback and repetitious. The most effective approach to improving performance all follow a set of general principles of practice.
The start and the end of purposeful PE is play, but it isn’t in my opinion a panacea. We must watch the children in our care play and then decide how best to support them. This for me is a choice between purposeful preparation (to help them access play) or purposeful practice (to help them further develop their play). It is a dynamic flowing process of moving from play to either practice or preparation back to play. Making judgements and decisions based on constant observation and dialogue. If we can provide the physical, cognitive, social and affective tools children need to purposefully play, then I think we will be a step close to empowering them to move on their own terms.