For many PE Teachers the end goal of a high quality PE curriculum would be to ensure we have produced competent (even skilful), life long participants in physical activity. That the children we have taught leave school and take responsibility for meaningful and purposeful physical activity for the rest of their lives.
Therefore, based on my curriculum, I’m proposing that:
Physical Learning + Social Learning + Affective Learning + Cognitive Learning = life long participants in physical activity.
There are four key elements to our curriculum; Physical, Social, Affective and Cognitive Learning. If an element is necessary then without that element you could not have the thing in question, in this case life long participants in physical activity. However a necessary element isn’t always enough to have the thing in question though. When you have enough necessary elements to guarantee the thing in question then these elements are called sufficient.
Is physical learning necessary?
If we didn’t help pupils to acquire new skills and give them a sense of competency would they look for opportunities to move and be active? Probably not. Therefore skill acquisition must be central to the task of physical educators. It is through the development of motor competence that we develop confidence. What current literature we have suggests that there is an emergent relationship between motor skill competence in physical activity. A curriculum design that focuses on the acquisition of skill and the development of motor competence, both perceived and actual, is key if we want to best chance of helping to develop life long participants in physical activity. However we must ask ourselves questions. Are the motor skills we are teaching necessary? Are they really skills or just decontextualised technique? Do we provide enough time to give learning of these skills a real chance? How do they promote life long physical activity not just in sport?
Is social learning necessary?
The more I step back an observe the interactions of my pupils within the PE context I believe it is necessary. A big part of being active is a willingness to ‘have a go’. The social dynamics of a class or group have a significant impact on individuals willing to have ago both in class and outside of school. Being able to listen, communicate clearly, treat each other with kindness, support and motivate fosters an environment where pupils are willing to try things and have ago without the fear of being singled out, belittled or moved to the periphery. If we teach these explicitly for our domain, then we can teach them the culture and etiquette of building a community of movement both within and beyond school.
Is affective learning necessary?
This is an area I’m unsure about. Not because I don’t think it is necessary. How can pupils learn without focus and attention? Also commitment, coping with pressure, goal-setting, realistic performance evaluations and self-awareness are important. These are all essential behaviours for learning in, through and about movement and the continuation of physical activity through our lives. What I’m unsure about is how we go about teaching them explicitly through our curriculum. Perhaps we first need to be less abstract in our definitions and agree concrete examples of behaviours we want to observe and improve. From there we can then begin to develop strategies that teach them to support the learning of the physical.
Is cognitive learning necessary?
Yes without doubt. Learning about movement is a key part of PE and the promotion life long physical activity. Knowledge of how to be active and the effects of exercise on the health and wellbeing are legitimate areas of knowledge. As are rules, etiquette and the cultural aspects of different sports and activities. Not only this but also learning effective processes on how to provide feedback and how to self reflect would fall under this domain. We need to be wary of the over academisation of curriculum PE and the focus on GCSE PE results influencing the curriculum is something I am increasingly concerned about.
Are they sufficient for life long participants in physical education?
On reflection no I don’t think they are sufficient, as some of the necessary elements for life long physical activity are out of our control. Such as diet, parental influence and expectations, facilities, social dynamics beyond school and environmental constraints to name but a few. All these will have some influence whether a child becomes a physically active adult. So does that mean we should give up? Definitely not. We need to continue to debate about what being physically educated means. To reconsider what ability means within PE. To question what activities we provide in our curriculum. Are they aligned to what the majority of adults do? Do we provide enough time on them for learning and skill acquisition to occur? How do we get more parental involvement? What can we do to shape both the culture and environment of movement both within school and the local community we serve?
The best thing we can do that is both necessary and in our control is to focus on pupil learning as much as possible. Skill acquisition as the priority, supported by learning in the social, cognitive and affective domains. Perhaps all we can ever realistically do is empower children to be able to feel competent, take responsibility and make decisions about their own physical activity. To do that we must continue to ask if ourselves if what we provide within PE and the decisions we make are both necessary and sufficient to achieve this aim.