Game Sense as Explicit Guided Discovery

Figure 1. Some of the emergent paths a Game Sense approach could lead to within a PE lesson

James Gee, in his excellent book Good Video Games and Good Learning, believes there are two divides in video games and learning:

*The First Divide:*
On one hand there is break everything down into bits and pieces each bit in its proper sequence (drill and practice theory). On the other hand there is practice the bits inside larger and motivating goal based activities of which there are integral parts (problems and goals centred theory).

*The Second Divide:*
On one hand there is just turn the learners loose to immerse themselves in rich activities under the steam of their own goals (mindless progressive theory). On the other hand deep learning is achieved when learners are focused on well designed, well ordered and well mentored problem solving and shared goals (teacher and learning community together).

Mindless progressivism and drill and practice are both wrong.

These divides can be equally applied to the teaching and learning of games and sports within PE. My preferred approach to teaching these forms of movement in PE is Game Sense. Although originally designed for sports coaching in Australia it has much to offer the PE teacher. This is mainly down to its flexibility and adaptability (see Figure 1.) over other game based approaches such as TGfU (Game-Focus, Game Appreciation, Tactical Awareness, Decision Making, Skill Execution and Performance) or a Tactical Games Approach (Game, Practice, Game) which have a more prescribed path to follow.

I see Game Sense falling under what Mosston and Ashworth would describe as a Guided Discovery style – “The defining characteristic of the Guided Discovery style is the logical and sequential design of questions that lead a person to discover a predetermined response.” As you can see from the principles of Game Sense in the table below and in the paths in Figures 1. to 4. it is the questioning, reflection and reviewing that drives the approach.

However its fluidity can also be its weakness, especially for novices trying to apply it to their PE lessons for the first time. As Shane Pill states in a recent Playing with Research in Health and PE Podcast about his experience and research into Game Sense a key part of the teacher’s role is stepping back, observe and step in with meaningful interventions that enrich the child’s experience of the activity. You need to be able to scan, notice, have good subject knowledge and a range of subject specific pedagogy to be successful.

How can we then use the model to ensure we don’t don’t slip into ‘mindless progressivism’ and have a framework that will help us to make better professional judgements and decisions? Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction (see table below) can be added to Game Sense within a PE context to create an explicit guided discovery approach.

Game Sense Principles Principles of Instruction
• design a game.
• Begin a lesson with a short review of previous learning
• modify it so that it is a representation of the full game.
• Present new material in small steps with student practice after each step.
• emphasise a particular tactical, technical or physical learning intention (preferably integrated).
• Ask a large number of questions and check the responses of all students.
• use a series of structured questions, reviews or reflections to bring about either convergent or divergent ideas and solutions.
• Provide models.
• game first but practice or preparation if needed.
• Guide student practice.
• Check for student understanding.
• Obtain a high success rate.
• Provide scaffolds for difficult tasks.
• Require and monitor independent practice.
• Engage students in weekly and monthly review.

Figure 1. (above) is a graphical representation of some of the emergent paths that a Game Sense approach could take in a PE lesson, using the principles of Game Sense and the principles of instruction. Below are some further details about the graphic explaining the process and possible paths you make take during a Game Sense PE lesson.

  • Game A – This is a very important game to design as you will want to use it for many purposes such as charting progress and practice retrieval. Design the game with the end in mind, asking yourself what would you like the play to look like in your final lesson. Start the unit of work with this game. Start and end every lesson with this game. It will help provide you with data so you can assess performance and learning every lesson, helping you to make better decisions over time.
  • Game 1.1 – This is a game with a clear learning intention that you should share with the pupils. Ensure that it is representative of both Game A and the full game in which you are teaching. Where possible this learning environment should match the performance environment but emphasise a particular, technical or physical learning intention (either preplanned for a novice teacher or what comes out of the playing off Game A for an experienced teacher).
  • Learning Intention – As this is explicit guided discovery you need to be very clear about the learning intention and ensure it is shared and understood by the whole class. Make sure it allows for the chance for exploration of a solution to a posed problem.
  • Reflection – Make sure the reflection process links to the learning intention and where possible get your pupils to talk first and talk last. Children have a habit of focusing on the play that is happening in front of them, rather than the specific learning intention or problem they are having to solve. Questioning is a key part of this aligning their reflections to the learning intentions with good questions allowing you to find out what the children actually think, rather than telling you what they think you want to know. The quality of the review is then what drives the next part of the lesson (See Figures 2, 3 and 4 for some potential paths). When comfortable allow the children to have greater say in what they need to help them improve.
  • Game 1.0 – This game has the same learning intention as Game 1.1 but has the complexity reduced in some way. CHANGE IT is a good guide for novice teachers to use to make this adaptations to the game. You are attempting to scaffold the learning but within a representative game environment.
  • Practice – Game Sense does not always mean play, it means game first (and game last in my mind) but practice if needed. Based on the observation of the play linked to the learning intention and the quality of reflection you made decided that practice of technical, tactical or physical aspects might be the best way forward. It is a chance to provide models, give instruction or feedback or allow for confidence to be built.
  • Games 1.2, 1.3 and 1.4 – These games have the same learning intention as Game 1.1 but have increased complexity in some way. You might decide to implement the changes on certain individuals, groups or the whole class. As with the other games give time to play, reflect and play again.
  • Next lesson – Start with Game A and watch what emerges from the play, especially in relation to last lesson’s learning intention. You now have a decision to make – revisit the learning intention through Games 1.0 – 1.4 or continue with the Curriculum with Games 2.1.

With time and experience you may have different individuals or groups of individuals at different points of the path, playing different games of varying complexities or involved in different forms of practices based on their needs, demands and priorities. Some might follow Path 1, others Path 2 and some Path 3 (Figures 2. to 4. below) and others a different path, based on their need, all in the same lesson. Hopefully developing their competence and finding the experience meaningful making through Game Sense, an explicitly guided approach to teaching games and sport within PE lessons.

Figure 2. Start the lesson with Game A, move to Game 1.1 with clear learning intention, reflect on learning intention generating solutions, place back into Game 1.1, review llearning intention, finish lesson with Game A.


Figure 3. Start the lesson with Game A, move to Game 1.1 with clear learning intention, reflect on learning intention generating solutions, move to practice on highlighted needs from reflection, back into Game 1.1 to play due to success, review learning intention and finish lesson with Game A.


Figure 4. Start the lesson with Game A, move to Game 1.1 with clear learning intention, reflect of learning intention generating solutions, move Game 1.0 to reduce complexity based on reflection, gain success, back into Game 1.1 to play, reflect on learning intention and progress made, move a group to 1.3 that increases the complexity of the game due to success, review learning intention and finish lesson with Game A.

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