Affective Thinking

A recent comment on my blog from Dr Alan Thomson and a conversation on Twitter with Nate Babcock and Anthony De Giorgio has got me thinking about the Affective Domain. Of the four learning domains within our curriculum, the Affective Domain is the one that I find the most difficult to practically apply and teach. This post is a reflection of my current understanding, practice and thinking with regards to the domain.


‘Affective’ is defined in  The Educational Benefits claimed for Physical Education and School Sport: An Academic review as ‘synonymous with psychological and emotional well-being and encompassing a range of assets that include mental health, positive self-regard, coping skills, conflict resolution skills, mastery motivation, a sense of autonomy, moral character and confidence.‘ With a wide range of components such as emotion, preference, choice and feeling, beliefs, aspirations, attitudes and appreciations it is no wonder that the affective domain in PE is often neglected and learning is perceived as difficult to observe and teach. However, despite this difficulty I think there is much value within this domain that can help empower our pupils to move on their own terms. Essentially The affective domain of learning in physical education focuses on feelings, values, social behaviour, and attitudes as they relate to human movement and therefore we need to be clear about what our pupils need and how we can go about teaching that.

Current Practice

Much of my current practice is centred around how different activities can have different effects on how you are feeling. From Year 7 to 9 we have a unit of work called Healthy and Active lifestyles. The pupils experience a range of non traditional physical activities such as yoga, sparring in boxing, orienteering. Learning within these units of work is focused on experiencing and understanding how these different activities can alter the way they are feeling. This is done through a simple pre and post questionnaire that asks them about their current state such as how awake they are or how stressed or happy they are. Afterwards they discuss, via group processing, the changes the physical activity has on them. Recently my Year 7s found that yoga calms them down, sparring in boxing makes them more awake and being outside during orienteering makes them feel happier. For many it was the first time they had reflected on how movement made them feel.

As a department we also talk to our pupils about behaviours needed to better learn movement such as focus, resilience and emotional control. Much of this is ad hoc and revolves on picking up when these behaviours aren’t being met, why they are important and then through class discussion how to overcome them. I think this is an element of my practice that could be vastly improved.

Generic vs Context Specific

Grit. Resilience. Growth Mindset. No doubt these undeniably important for development within PE. Given the holistic nature of development, it is likely they can be used across a broad range of activities within life, not just within PE and School Sport. However I’m not sure how useful these constructs are for an 11 year old child within my class. Do we need to be less general and more specific? Do we need to ask ‘What do we want to observe?’ Dean Dudley, when talking about learning in the affective domain on the Global PhysEd Voxcast (33:28) asks how can we see what students feel considering it is an internal process. How can we teach and assess their learning? He suggests that we need to focus on their behaviour, before and afterwards, as a proxy for the changes of their motivations and feelings. He offers an example of how to use SOLO to construct observational rubics in A Conceptual Model of Observed Physical Literacy.

Grading soft skills: The Brookings Soft Skills Report Card questions whether should schools focus on high-abstraction dispositions such as resilience or low-abstraction skills such as not giving up easily when the task is physically or mentally taxing: ‘Dispositions are difficult to teach, not only because they have a strong genetic component, but also because they are, by definition, not tied to specific situations. Skills, in contrast, are typically acquired through specific instructional practices and observation learning so they readily lend themselves to generating relevant instructional approaches.‘ A focus on teaching skills rather than changing dispositions may be a viable way forward for learning in the affective domain.

I think we need to be less nebulous and more clear about what behaviours we would like to develop within our PE Curriculum. Not just commitment, belief in oneself, full focus, distraction control, constructive evaluation, positive images and mental readiness, but being clear what that looks like within our context and content.

Future Directions

So if we can define clearly define the behaviour and observe it in our context, what can we do to help develop it? There is no point being able to observe that someone struggles being on task, if we are unable to teach them skills that help improve their focus and distraction control. Perhaps adapting the Psychological Characteristics of Developing Excellence (PCDE) into a PE curriculum is a possible answer. Teaching skills such as positive self talk, goal setting or realistic self assessment can then compliment the desired behaviours to help children to feel empowered when learning to move. Developing the Potential of Young People in Sport is an example of how PCDEs have been applied in a Scottish Primary School setting and is an area that I would like to pursue further.

It is clear that I need to better define the behaviours required and the skills that complement their development within the affective domain. Currently their is no real structure, lacking both content and definition. It is when there is no structure that I see my practice being haphazard at best and utterly random and confusing at worst. Andrew Abraham and colleagues offer a framework to over come this in Planning your Coaching: A focus on Youth Participant Development which can be used not just for the affective domain but the whole of our PE curriculum. There is much work to do to improve my practice of teaching and learning within the Affective Domain, but the pathway seems a little clearer.


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