In my last post I looked at the four domains of learning within PE and asked if they were both necessary and sufficient to achieve one of PE’s ultimate aims, that of empowering lifelong physical activity.
Mel Hamada asked via a comment on the post “Great points raised – would you say these four are equal or that they are all important but you have a hierarchy?” A good question to reflect on.
When initially looking at the four learning domains as legitimate outcomes of a holistic approach to Physical Education I was influenced by the thinking on Physical Literacy. Margaret Whitehead describes Physical Literacy as “the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for engagement in physical activities for life.” As set out in the definition the three essential elements of PL are the affective (motivation, confidence and commitment), the physical (physical competence) and the cognitive (knowledge and understanding). These elements are interdependent and of equal importance. Each is essential to realise progress on an individual physical literacy journey. This combined with the educational benefits claimed for PE and school sport led to the intial development of our current framework for our PE Curriculum.
Do I have a hierarchy or are all the learning domains of equal importance? I certainly personally value the physical domain most highly. For if we don’t improve physical aspects beyond what is natural growth, development and maturation then can we legitimately call ourselves teachers of physical education? It is the one domain I hold myself to account for and influences the choices of curriculum, content and pedagogy. Why? The best thing we can do to make a student feel confident in our subject is to make them competent and feel competent. It is believed that motor skill competence drives physical activity levels, although that is currently being contested, so a focus on improving motor competence is central for me as a key learning outcome to curriculum PE. I also see that social dynamics have a huge influence over whether children seek out opportunities for movement and physical activity or not. As an adult I have found it is those dynamics that influence me on where and how I am active. I’m beginning to see that teaching social skills which are needed within a movement context are an essential element to life long movement.
Whatever learning domain I may or may not prioritise within PE, the emphasis is always on experience at the centre of learning and of knowledge in action. So how does this practically work? When teaching I have a primary and a secondary focus over the unit of work. From Year 7 to 11 each of the learning domains will be a priority multiple times, so pupils always come back to reapply and refine what they have learnt previously in those domains. For example I’m currently teaching Dance to Year 7 and the primary focus is to develop their social skills within a movement context (in the hope they might transfer to other physical activities) and the secondary focus is developing their physical skills with the movements of the dance itself. Over the next few years the social domain will be the priority in a number of activities such as wrestling, games making and athletics. It is the primary focus that is the main objective over the course of the unit of work and the key area for student reflection and assessment.
A 2 by 2 matrix perhaps isn’t the best way of visualising the four domains. It makes them seem separate and isolated when in reality they are fluid and impact on each other. Even if I have a priority for learning within a scheme of work, a focus on a another domain might be the key for progress and learning. For example the focus in last term’s rugby unit for Year 7 was the physical. However one young man got very emotional when decisions went against him when in games. This prevented him from making the physical progress he wanted. So for him I focused on the affective side and worked on implementing a IF, THEN protocol. It was a partial success which requires refinement in the future, but it was sufficient to help the student overcome his emotions enough when playing and therefore help him to make the desired physical progress he had wanted.
Using the four domains as overarching themes for learning in PE needs to be as flexible as say teaching styles. You may be focusing on learning and progress on one area, but it maybe that a focus on another that is key to supporting and developing the learning. Therefore It becomes a moment of professional judgement and decision making. We need to ask what will help help with the focus of learning and sometimes more of the same is not the answer. I’m hoping with experience, attention and reflection that I will become better at spotting those moments and have a bank of tools to call upon to help the children in my care learn.