Guest Post: Reimagining Physical Education by @jeffjgiles

A clear shared purpose is one that points towards a future direction. It offers a set of guard-rails inside which people can innovate and learn. It is the place which the past and the future come together in a way that guides people’s actions in the present.
What is the purpose of Physical Education?

What competencies should a student that has journeyed through Physical Education possess?

How do you cater for the variety of individuals that are present in your Physical Education class?

I believe that one of the primary functions of Physical Education is to develop the students attitude and skills to allow them to be active throughout their life. Although this view has not changed, what sits underneath certainly has over the last few years.

If High School English only catered for one type of student, those engage by the highest level of English, what we call Literature what would classes look like? What would become of those that don’t fit that mould or do not desire that level of English knowledge?

Looking back at the Physical Education departments that I was a member of, I believe we only catered for the one type of student, the ‘Literature’ students. Those who were physically competent, had the skill to play the traditional games covered in the curriculum and had the physical fitness to endure the lesson. Upon reflection this quote I came across by Kretchmar rang true:

Inferior skills, poor movement habits, only bits of fitness knowledge or distilled information about movement science, scant introductions to movement subcultures – all of these features of subsidiaries that too often typify the prudential, intellectual, and affective approaches leave children … unable to explore, unable to act creatively … uncommitted, and unmoved … They exercise out of obligation, learn some movement theory, appreciate the mechanisms of health, have a bit of fun, and then in too many cases, return quickly to what they were doing before.

So, what changed? In an attempt to broaden my reading horizons, I read a piece by Atul Gawande called Personal Best. For me the story is about the journey of a professional from Novice through Competency to Proficiency and eventually…well, settlement. Well it shouldn’t end with settlement as the next step is Expertise, but I felt I had settled for somewhere around Proficient and had taken my eye off the journey towards Expertise.

I could run lessons without formal planning. Students came and went with only the rare behavioural management issue. Lessons ran smoothly and I saw plenty of students enjoying class, engaged and applying themselves. However, through reading more, engaged in challenging conversation and reflected upon my teaching I begun to see the ‘wall flowers’. The students that camouflaged into the background. Sure, they participated but always managed to find a space where the ball never came. They came and went without fuss. But what was I to do? They needed one-on-one help. Their skills so below those of the class. Their interest in sport was non-existent. Their disengagement had nothing to do with me – right? They were ‘put off’ long before they got to me. With 6 lessons to introduce, teach and assess Sport x, how can I stop to teach this kid to run or catch?

My thinking was initially challenged by Shane Pill and Mark Upton. Reading and reflecting on their thoughts led me to Al Smith whose reflecting and questioning fuelled me to question and reflect further. Lately I have been trying to wrap my thoughts around tweets by Nate Babcock. The cognitive dissidence created by our conversations forced me to re-evaluate the Physical Education programs I was a part of.

So, whilst I still want to instil a life-long love of movement I have reimagined what Physical Education looks and feels like. Some (not exhaustive) modification include;

A reimagining of Physical Education
Using a Movement Screen as diagnostic tool to provide students individual feedback and corrective exercises
Implement a developmental appropriate, sequential Physical Education curriculum.
Move to a thematic approach to lesson sequencing.
Incorporate a Constraint-led Approach into lesson design – activities are representative of the end game that we are progressing towards
Place less emphasis on games where the sole criteria for play is winning or isoloated technique production. Here I have been influenced by De Koven’s The Well-Played Game.
Giving students a sense of autonomy – even if is as simple as choosing between a competitive game or a social game.
Looking at providing activities that are accessible to students in their local community.

I’m now beginning to look at Physical Education through a different lens. I see the importance in developing competence, both perceived and actual, at the earliest possible age. I see the need to be proactive in creating a landscape that offers the affordance to move and be active. I see the value in including parents and influencing their understanding. I see the value in participation & non-traditional sports as well as performance & traditional sports. I am thinking of what could be possible if we are bold enough to question what we do. If we reflect on our purpose and how it aligns with what we are creating and delivering.

Reimagining Physical Education – Imagine for a second you could start afresh and design the optimal journey through Physical Education for your students given their varied backgrounds, level of ability and interests, with different aims and aspirations. What does that journey look like? How different is it from what you are currently delivering? Now how do you work to bring those two closer?

This post was written by Jeff Giles, contact him on Twitter to carry on the discussion. 

10 thoughts on “Guest Post: Reimagining Physical Education by @jeffjgiles

  1. Thanks for this post. I’m very interested in Physical education in early years.

    Reimagining is what I am trying to do this year with my reception class. The children are all in the middle of their first year of compulsory education and despite being in the same year group some are almost a year apart in age. This presents its own challenges in the classroom. Add to that diversity of background and opportunity. Starting points are wildly different.

    I wanted to make fitness, sport and being outdoors to exercise, the norm. Two children had never been to the local park despite living within walking distance so it seemed sensible to combine studies in nature with exercise and being aware of changing seasons, weather etc. The park itself is a simple mix of deciduous/ ever green, with a well looked after path circling a large green. It has an outdoor gym, zip wire and apparatus as well as a traditional ‘play bit’.

    I digress! Put simply, we do a mile a day, every day. We run-walk it. The children started off coughing, spluttering and stopping every two minutes or so. They now need three stops to regroup and can complete the circuit in twelve minutes. When we first started we needed at least twenty minutes. Half a year in, children have lost weight, eat well ( we run just before lunch) show better coordination and most have improved motor skills. More than that….they love it.

    The routine and regularity as well as the expectation that all children and adults do this is part of the reason for its success. Raining just before lunch? We go when it’s not raining either earlier or later. The thing is to give it the importance it deserves in the curriculum.

    What else do you think I could do to embed and give children the best possible start? They already have one formal PE lesson weekly delivered by a specialist teacher and access to outdoor ‘play’ in which physical is an important aspect.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It sounds like you doing a great job blending fun and purposeful activity. Maybe you could think about adding some fundamental movement skills. I use spine, squat, hang and support as a basic toolbox for the repetition and comfort they find in routine. Challenging these movements in a variety of ways provide novelty within repetition. Shoulders, knees, ankles and as you age the lower back become the most common sites of injury from a lack of knowledge and exposure to sound biomechanics. Don’t get hung up at the early ages of insisting on perfect form but certainly model it. The refinement can come later. They mimic good form perfectly well. And lastly, the game – always a game, this ensures lessons continue to be fun..


      1. Thanks, will look up the age related movement skills and incorporate into games we play for spatial awareness. We use GPS to plan ‘drawings’ and mapping lines too, which is always good fun. Can you recommend a text or site for form in early years?


  2. Hello madeupteacher – Thank you for reading and replying to my post.

    Can I begin this reply with a caveat that my experience is with high school students and am only now beginning to assist with the development at your end.

    I agree with phyedjames in regards to the great job you are doing and the inclusion of some fundamental movements into their day. A way of achieving both would be to run to station a and do 10 x, then run to station b and do 10 y. These stations can be a mix of games based activities, the making of animal shapes, co-operative activities etc.

    You may need to incorporate some basic strength activities into your sessions. Strength and the ability to correctly sequence movements are intertwined and require simultaneous development – in my opinion. A resource I use and recommend would be Dr Greg Myers Integrative Neuromuscular Training, which is simple to implement and evidence based.

    Note this may not apply in your circumstance due to the fitness level of your students but I am personally still grappling with the idea of whether I would get children to run for long periods of time. I feel you can get a better return on your time investment doing intermittent based activities.

    I would encourage you to continue to look for ways to link what you are doing in class with the activities they can access outside of school. I would also suggest looking at activities that you can scale in terms of challenge. If you have not seen the Jedi levels then google them. Great way of allowing students to select challenges.


    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Jeff,
    the reason we do daily mile is precisely linked to the curric- science ( classification)/ health and the body. Seasons, weather and strength is incorporated.
    We use outdoor gym or playground, monkey bars etc.
    The running is varied- we play rabbits and foxes. Group heads across field to be chased after 20 second count by foxes! Children talk as they move. It is very sociable. We have been doing this since October and it’s never boring.
    We practise coordination movements such as skipping or side steps. The daily mile itself is as varied as its participants. I am often surprised at who manages to get to the top of the hill first ( though it’s not strictly billed as a race all treat it as such. They can’t help it!).
    I will def look at your recommendations and thanks again for your advice.


  4. Jeff,

    Great post. Enjoyed reading about your journey!

    It’s an honor to be mentioned in the same paragraph as Shane, Mark, and Al. And so glad to see that Bernie DeKoven has left a mark on you as well. Keep up the good work!



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