Dr. Paul McMillan is a Lecturer in Physical Education at the University of Edinburgh. Along with his colleagues, including Mike Jess and Wilma Irvine, they have been exploring the potential of Lesson Study as a teacher-led approach to professional learning. In this blog, they describe the key elements of Lesson Study and highlight some of the recent developments in the Scottish context.
Lesson study: It’s not new!! by Paul McMillan, Mike Jess and Wilma Irvine
Lesson Study originated in Japan in the late-19th century as a teacher-led approach to professional learning. However, it took over 100 years to reach the wider world. In a global search for the best ideas known to improve classroom practice, Stigler and Hiebert (1999) uncovered a well-established Lesson Study culture that had historically been presented as the reason for Japan’s strong education performances across international league tables. Since then Lesson Study has spread rapidly across many countries and is now used to enhance teaching and learning in schools, particularly in literacy and numeracy.
What Is Lesson Study?
Lesson Study is a situated form of ‘real’ professional learning. Groups of teachers meet regularly to execute ‘research lessons’ that are taught to their own students in their own classrooms. Each ‘research lesson’ involves key elements:
- A focus on specific issues or topics chosen by the teachers;
- Detailed planning, usually with one or more colleagues;
- Observation of student engagement during the lesson by other teachers;
- Recording of student interviews after the lesson;
- A post-lesson ‘colloquium’ involving Lesson Study group members, other colleagues, administrators, and/or invited individuals.
Lesson Study is best viewed as a ‘cycle’ (see Figure 1). Critically, across several cycles, teachers work collaboratively to investigate aspects of their teaching to improve classroom practices (Dudley, 2015). Two features of this Lesson Study cycle – observation and reflection – are worthy of special mention.
Figure 1: Lesson Study Cycle (adapted from Dudley, 2015)
A Special Word On Observation
Observation is a widespread practice in schools. The conventional approach tends to involve teachers being evaluated annually by their line manager to confirm that their practice is of a satisfactory standard. These occasional high stakes observations, with their emphasis on auditing competence, often cause teachers much distress (Donaldson, 2016). In contrast, Lesson Study positions observation in a completely different light. It becomes a regular feature of school life and is realigned as a more productive form of professional learning because:
- There is collaborative planning with others, including the observers, ahead of the ‘research lesson’.
- There is a shared focus for inquiry to align the observation of ‘research lessons’ to an agreed area of interest.
- The observer maintains a focus on the students, rather than the teacher, during the ‘research lesson’ to gain insights about the teaching practice.
This shift in emphasis for observation is an important, long term feature of teachers’ professional learning.
Reflection: (Re)acknowledging The Potential
The term ‘reflection’ is common in education settings. In fact, it is so common that it seems to have lost a bit of traction in recent times. We want to refresh readers about the potential reflection offers for teacher-led professional learning. The Lesson Study ‘colloquium’ provides a safe space for teachers to reflect on their observations. This opportunity to reflect is important because it fosters a deeper understanding of the student learning displayed during the ‘research lesson’. Critically, the purpose of this post-lesson discussion is not to assess a teacher’s practice, but to collectively reflect on the observations made about the learning process. The emphasis is on the whole group of teachers involved in the cycle and not just the teacher who taught the ‘research lesson’. Subsequently, the Lesson Study process demands teachers reflect in collaboration with others and this seems to have more power than reflecting alone (Day, 1993). Challenging misconceptions, confronting underlying value systems, developing a wider range of possibilities, tackling difficult practice issues: all are more likely to happen when reflecting with others (Day, 1993). This collaborative form of reflection is a chance for teachers to learn with and from each other (Dudley, 2015). It can help teachers strengthen their ability to reﬂect upon and challenge their practice as professionals.
Lesson Study: Next Steps
Currently, the Lesson Study hotspots are Japan, China, U.S.A, and parts of mainland Europe. While our own Scottish context may not be there yet, there are encouraging signs on two fronts. Firstly, the existing policy context advances ‘practitioner inquiry’ as central to the work of teachers. Lesson Study, therefore, provides a clear framework for teachers and school leaders to support a form of inquiry that fosters these policy ambitions for reflection and the active interpretation of data to enhance practice. And secondly, to the best of our knowledge, there are now a number of schools and individual practitioners in Scotland starting to experiment with Lesson Study. A recent round table discussion at the Scottish Educational Research Association (SERA) annual conference (McMillan et al., 2019) was a chance for these Scottish pioneers of Lesson Study to present the successes and challenges of their work. Thus, as Lesson Study continues its spread across the globe, we are confident that developments will soon see Scotland become another hotspot!!
Day, C. (1993) Reflection: a necessary but not sufficient condition for professional development. British Educational Research Journal, Vol. 19:1, pp. 83-93.
Donaldson, M. L. (2016) Teacher evaluation reform: focus, feedback, and fear. Educational Leadership, Vol. 73: 8, pp. 72–76.
Dudley, P. (2015) (Ed.) Lesson Study: professional learning for our time. London: Routledge.
Grimm, E.D., Kaufman, T. and Doty, D. (2014) Rethinking classroom observation. Educational Leadership, Vol. 71: 8, pp. 24–29.
McMillan, P.; Jess, M.; Irvine, W.; Murray, J.; Smedley, B.; Docherty, J.; Stepney, K. and Arnold, L. (2019) Lesson Study as professional learning: empowering practitioners to produce and use evidence to inform practice. Roundtable Discussion, SERA Conference, Moray House School of Education and Sport, Edinburgh, Scotland: 20 November 2019.
Stigler, J.W. and Hiebert, J. (1999) The teaching gap: Best ideas from the world’s teachers for improving education in the classroom. New York: The Free Press.
Dr. Malcolm Thorburn is a Lecturer in Physical Education at the University of Edinburgh. In this short blog, he offers this thoughts on privatisation reforms in the context of physical education.
Physical education and educational values: at what price?
One day many years ago as a young Principal Teacher of Physical Education I was watching one of the school football teams with some colleagues when I mentioned in the passing that our schools football kit was a bit tatty compared with the visiting team. The Principal Teacher of Modern Studies gestured across to the local small town garage and said ‘Why don’t you go across there and ask them to sponsor the school team and buy you a new set of football strips.’ I had trouble even countenancing such an idea. If the school was keen to have sports teams then they needed to fund them out of the school budget. I could not see that it was part of my job to go round local businesses asking for sponsorship and funding.
I was reminded of this moment recently when I was asked to review a series of Australian-based papers on privatisation reforms and health work (including physical education) in schools. What became apparent quite immediately was the advanced state of reforms and of how health work in schools seems particularly ripe for privatisation initiatives. This had many ramifications including implications for curriculum support, professional development, ownership and control over curriculum content and the extent to which teachers’ expertise was valued.
I was particularly engrossed with one large secondary school in an area of high social deprivation where McDonald’s corporate link with the school has progressed from sponsoring sports teams to sponsoring school-based apprenticeships, then positive behaviour programmes, and eventually to creating and sharing common values. This situation seems to reflect Windle’s (2017) concerns that disadvantaged schools in Australia have often needed to embrace privatisation albeit reluctantly such is the need to keep trying to boost the profile of schools whenever possible. Still, at least the ongoing commitment to comprehensive provision in Scotland, being as it is ‘a reflection of democracy and communal solidarity and demonstration that opportunities to succeed should be available to all learners’ (Bryce & Humes, 2013, p. 51) should mean that the visible culture of schools are unlikely to be dominated by two big yellow arches for some time yet.
However, is it possible in tight economic times that teachers may well need to work out where their own lines of professional acceptability and unacceptability are drawn? Certainly, the main point I’ve reflected on recently is that while my own educational values have remained quite similar over the decades (slightly left leaning and troubled by issues over advantage and disadvantage in education), my decision making about what to do in certain situations has probably changed. Faced now with the professional dilemma over tired sports kit and what to do about it, I think I would be more inclined to ask the local garage owner for sponsorship support than previously. All up a case of similar values but different decision-making. Time changes things – sometimes.
Bryce, T.G.K. and Humes, W.H. (2013) The Distinctiveness of Scottish Education. In: T.G.K. Bryce, W.H. Humes, D. Gillies & A. Kennedy (Eds.), Scottish Education. Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press.
Windle, J. A. (2017) The Burdens of Marketized Schooling in Australia: Cherry Picking, Poaching, and Gaming the Curriculum. In: S.N. Bekisizwe & C. Lubienski (Eds) Privatisation and the education of marginalised children: policies, impacts and global lessons. New York: Routledge.
Eilidh has recently graduated from the MA Physical Education programme at the University of Edinburgh. In the summer of 2018, she worked at a refugee camp in Greece to develop a daily sports programme for the children living on the camp. For her final year research investigation, she documented the impact that this programme had on the lives of those young people.
Playing for hope: Investigating the success of physical activity in alleviating the post traumatic struggles of child refugees
One of the most striking realities of our time is the sharp and continuous rise in the number of people worldwide forced to flee their homes as a result of war, natural disaster, torture and other systematic human rights violations (UNHRC, 2018). Approximately 68.5 million people have been forcibly displaced worldwide, with children making up 51% of this population (Nocon et al., 2017). UNICEF recognise the risk of these young people becoming the ‘lost generation’ as a serious concern (UNICEF, 2013). Denied the fundamental means to guarantee a healthy psycho-social development, it has been well documented that children exposed to war and violence are more likely to develop mental health problems (Nocon et al., 2017).
In 2018, I recognised an opportunity to use the skills and knowledge gained through studying Physical Education at The University of Edinburgh to improve mental health, develop resilience and assist social integration in refugee children through sport. In preparation for teaching at a refugee camp in Greece over the summer, I carried out an extensive review of the literature relating to trauma informed disaster interventions. From this, I created a trauma- informed multi- activity sports program called Play for Hope that aimed to prepare young people with the skills and knowledge to thrive in a foreign land and to support their healthy psychosocial development. This programme involved daily yoga sessions, framed with the evaluation and discussion of emotions and feelings. We also organised football and volleyball training which focused on goal setting, critical thinking and cooperation. This slowly built up to weekly tournaments, carefully monitored and supported with ‘cool down’ areas for conflict management. Moreover, there were several culturally intrinsic activities in the programme, including playground games common in Iraq and Syria.
For my final year research investigation on the MA Physical Education Programme at the University of Edinburgh, I aimed to explore the experiences of young people from the perspectives of the teachers. I chose not to interview the young people directly at this stage due to language barriers and their current levels of vulnerability to stress and anxiety. Using qualitative methods, including face to face teacher interviews, graphic elicitation and participant observations, I gathered data relating to the young refugees engagement in the daily sessions for a 2 month period
The results of this study initially highlighted the prevalence of inter-cultural conflict that existed on the camp, resulting in physical altercations and violent outbursts. The development of social competencies including emotional regulation and conflict resolution through Play for Hope was seen to lead to more positive outcomes, with the perception that there were fewer violent outbursts and an increase in evasive or avoidance behaviour as opposed to physical altercations. Having a clear structure to each session and the inclusion of ‘cool down areas’ and strategies to deal with emotional difficulties were essential to this outcome.
Importantly, while competitive sports were a great source of joy and socialisation for children, they also presented challenges to those young people whose trauma has left them in a constant state of arousal. They seemed less able to cope with the complex emotional demands of competitive sports and left them vulnerable to further disturbance and impediment to recovery.
The teachers interviewed perceived that the programme allowed the children to develop a sense of purpose and responsibility, and their physical competence improved as well as self-esteem and confidence. However, further research working directly with the young people is required to support this claim.
Sport plays a prominent role in the work of the UN and other international bodies to bring positive value to children’s lives, especially for the growing number of youths living in refugee camps around the world. The results of my investigation would suggest that such movements from the UN are a fundamental part of responses to displacement. However, the foundation of such interventions must include sufficient evaluation of participants needs and levels, the communities values, and be supported with long and short term aims for participants development. This research demonstrates the possibility of sport to foster positive child development through community centred intervention.
Stephanie Beni is a doctoral student studying physical education at Brock University in Canada. She also teaches physical education part-time to private and home schooled students. She is a member of the Learning About Meaningful Physical Education (LAMPE) research team based in Ireland and Canada. Her current research interests lie in identifying practical pedagogical strategies by which practitioners may promote a focus on meaningful experiences in physical education and physical activity contexts and in teachers’ professional learning in physical education.
A Focus on the How of Meaningful PE in Primary Schools
In his 2019 Cagical Lecture Address at the AIESEP World Congress, Mikael Quennerstedt (2018) highlighted the need for a focus on the why, what, and how of physical education (PE) in order to promote PE experiences for students that are both educative and meaningful. With the topic of meaningfulness in PE gaining interest in recent years, both the why and what of meaningful PE have been well articulated (Metheny, 1969; Kretchmar, 2006, 2007; Beni, Fletcher, Ní Chróinín, 2017). However, the how – specific pedagogical strategies by which teachers might prioritize an emphasis on meaningfulness – has remained somewhat elusive. This gap in understanding how to promote meaningfulness in PE is the focus of this research.
Using a collaborative self-study approach, Tim, Déirdre and I examined my experience of attempting to prioritize meaningfulness for my students in primary PE. The study took place during a 16-lesson unit on striking and fielding games in my classroom in a small private school in Southern Canada where privately- and home-schooled students of a range of ages (7-14 years) were integrated into the same PE class. Six students submitted exit slips and four participated in one-on-one interviews. Tim acted as my critical friend – reading and responding to my twice-weekly journal entries.
From the outset of the unit I planned for a prioritization on meaningfulness by emphasising five features of meaningful experiences we had identified through our review of literature (outlined below). Importantly, I made my prioritization on meaningfulness through these features explicit to my students and welcomed them to be part of the process of working toward their inclusion in our classroom. A brief summary of the particular pedagogical strategies I used to promote each of these features is highlighted in the table below:
|Positive Social Interactions||• Varying group selection methods (student-vs-teacher selected; random-vs-purposeful)
• Providing opportunities for individual, partner, and group work
• Allowing students space to ‘struggle’ through learning to manage interactions with peers
• Promoting a positive teacher-student relationship by listening to and incorporating students’ ideas
|Fun||• Including students in design of play-based activities
• Utilizing elements of TGfU and Sport Education teaching models
• Hosting a culminating tournament and festival
|Increasing Motor Competence||• Including contextualized skill-development activities in each lesson
• Promoting a focus on tactical understanding of the game category
• Allowing students to design skill development activities or choose from several options
• Allowing team-led practice opportunities
|Appropriate Challenge||• Modifying games and activities to suit the needs of all learners
• Gradually shifting responsibility for making modifications onto students
• Allowing students to make choices regarding their level of challenge
• Promoting personal goal setting over externally referenced competition
|Personally Relevant Learning||• Incorporating skills (physical, cognitive, social) emphasised in each lesson in a culminating activity
• Explicitly helping students make connections between their learning and their lives beyond the classroom
• Utilising autonomy-supportive strategies (e.g. allowing choice, involving students in decision-making processes)
Importantly, my students responded very positively to the use of these strategies. It is our hope that this paper offers some practical guidelines for practitioners interested in prioritizing meaningfulness in primary PE in an attempt to promote educative experiences.
Beni, S., Fletcher, T., & Ní Chróinín, D. (2017). Meaningful experiences in physical education and youth sport: A review of the literature. Quest, 69(3), 291–312.
Kretchmar, R. S. (2006). Ten more reasons for quality physical education. Journal of Physical Education. Recreation & Dance, 77(9), 6–9.
Kretchmar, R. S. (2007). What to do with meaning? A research conundrum for the 21st century. Quest, 59, 373–383.
Quennerstedt, M. (2018). Physical education and the art of teaching: Transformative learning and teaching in physical education and sport pedagogy. Cagigal Scholar Lecture presented at the AIESEP World Congress, Edinburgh, UK.
Dr Leigh Sperka is an Associate Lecturer in the School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences at The University of Queensland. Her research focuses on the outsourcing of education. This includes investigating decision-making around the practice, how outsourcing impacts curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment, and student perspectives of outsourced lessons. In this blog, she discusses a key finding from a paper presented at the 2018 AIESEP World Congress in Edinburgh. This paper has since been published in the Sport, Education and Society Special Edition ‘Creating thriving and sustainable futures in physical education, health and sport’. The full paper can be accessed here.
Students as consumers or co-producers in outsourced Health and Physical Education?
There has been a growing number of studies about the prevalence of outsourcing in Health and Physical Education (HPE) internationally (see Sperka & Enright, 2018). To date, however, relatively little research has been conducted on students’ experiences in outsourced HPE lessons (Kirk & Colquhoun, 1989; Powell 2015; Tinning & Kirk, 1991). This is concerning not only because students are the primary stakeholders in the educational experience but also because it has been argued that corporate involvement redefines education and repositions students in the educative process (Powell & Gard, 2015). It was therefore necessary to undertake a study that explored students’ positioning in, and perspectives of, outsourced HPE.
Focus groups were conducted with 25 Year Eight students (age 14 years) at an independent co-educational secondary school in Australia that was delivering the ‘Cardio Tennis’ component of Tennis Australia’s Tennis in Secondary Schools Program. Each focus group had either three or four participants and topics for discussion included experiences and learning in HPE in general and in the Cardio Tennis unit specifically. Observations of the Cardio Tennis lessons, which were co-taught by a HPE Teacher and a Tennis Coach, were also completed.
While there was heterogeneity in students’ perspectives on outsourced HPE, we found that the Year Eight students were positioned as ‘active consumers’ but ‘passive learners’ (Ball, 2004) in the Cardio Tennis lessons. They were ‘consumers’ in two distinct ways. Firstly, they were positioned as consumers of education itself. Both the HPE Teacher and the Tennis Coach controlled the enactment of the Cardio Tennis unit, imparting structured and pre-determined knowledge to the students rather than engaging with their voices and encouraging processes of curriculum and assessment negotiation. Secondly, and directly connected to the outsourced nature of the unit, these students were also consumers of the products, services, and philosophies being sold by Tennis Australia. Importantly, many of these students were critical consumers as they were able to recognise the impact that outsourced lessons had on teaching and learning in HPE.
In this paper we advocate for the protection of the educative and socially just intent of the subject through a reconceptualisation of the student as ‘co-producer’ in the educational experience. This would involve more dialogic processes where students’ distinct perspectives are elicited and responded to. In this case, the HPE Teacher was arguably best positioned to interpret, communicate, and bridge the interests of Tennis Australia, the school, and the students.
Overall, this study highlighted how crucial it is to seek out students’ voices and perspectives on outsourced HPE and demonstrated that more research in this area is warranted.
Ball, S. (2004). Education for sale! The Commodification of Everything? Paper presented at the King’s Annual Education Lecture, London.
Kirk, D., & Colquhoun, D. (1989). Healthism and physical education. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 10(4), 417-434. doi:10.1080/0142569890100403
Powell, D. (2015). “Part of the solution”?: Charities, corporate philanthropy and healthy lifestyles education in New Zealand primary schools. Charles Sturt University.
Powell, D., & Gard, M. (2015). The governmentality of childhood obesity: Coca-Cola, public health and primary schools. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 36(6), 854-867. doi:10.1080/01596306.2014.905045
Sperka, L., & Enright, E. (2018). The outsourcing of health and physical education: A scoping review. European Physical Education Review, 24(3), 349-371. doi:10.1177/1356336×17699430
Tinning, R., & Kirk, D. (1991). Daily physical education: Collected papers on health based physical education in Australia. Geelong, Victoria: Deakin University Press.
Enrique García Bengoechea is a Dean’s Research Fellow in Physical Activity and Health in the Faculty of Education and Health Sciences at the University of Limerick in Ireland. In this blog, he discusses the results of his research that investigated the relationship between different curricular activities and school engagement.
Think before you cut… Are physical education and the arts the glue that holds the school together?
School physical education is often placed outside of the subject areas considered as ‘core academic subjects’. This has prompted leading experts and professional associations in Europe, Canada, the United States and Australia to release position papers and documents that advocate for physical education as a unique and essential learning area focused on educational purposes and assert that all young people in schools are entitled to quality experiences in this area (Crum, 2017; Physical and Health Education Canada, 2017; SHAPE America, 2015; The Australian Council for Health, Physical Education and Recreation, 2014). Similar to physical education, curricular arts programs are often perceived as marginal and therefore susceptible to cuts during periods of economic restraint.
With a few exceptions, studies that include curricular factors when investigating influences on students’ engagement with the school are surprisingly absent from the literature. In light of this, we recently conducted a study to assess pupils’ experience in a range of subjects by asking them to rate how much they enjoyed the subjects. We also analysed data to determine how parents, teachers and peers influenced the pupils’ engagement with school. We used data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth – a long-term study of Canadian children that follows development and wellbeing from birth. Those taking part (aged 12-15 years) were asked to rate their enjoyment of arts education, language arts, mathematics, physical education and science. We used logistic regression procedures to examine the link between enjoyment of subjects and school engagement. We accounted for factors such as gender, parental encouragement, peer relations, perceptions of teachers, and academic performance. We also assessed participation in a variety of extracurricular activities both in and outside of school (Bengoechea, Lorenzino & Gray, 2019).
Overall, the findings suggest that pupils who enjoy physical education and the arts take part in school life more fully than those who do not. All factors considered, for 12 and 13 year olds, enjoyment of physical education was the greatest contributor to feeling connected to school. Taking part in school-based extracurricular art, drama or music activities was, along with feelings of connection to peers, the most important contributor to school engagement for 14 and 15 year olds. As expected, enjoyment of the different academic subjects was generally associated with greater feelings of connection to school. However, of all curricular factors considered in our study, enjoyment of physical education and arts education were the strongest contributors to pupil engagement in both age groups.
Curricular factors, and in particular the quality of pupils’ experience in physical education and arts education, may be more important than previously recognized in terms of understanding and promoting their engagement with school during adolescence. The findings of our study emphasize the importance of physical education and the arts— subjects typically considered less essential academically—in the school curriculum, particularly in the key transition from primary to secondary school. Findings provide also support for the role of participation in extracurricular activities and after school programmes in fostering school engagement in adolescence.
How can we interpret these findings? For the time being, I think that the more holistic nature of physical education and arts education, compared to other academic subjects, may explain some of the observed associations between curricular factors and pupils’ engagement with school. However, no matter how encouraging these initial findings are, we need more research, particularly using longitudinal and mixed methods designs, to further tease out the relationships of curricular and extracurricular factors with pupils’ engagement and inform the design of school-based interventions and programmes to promote this developmental asset among young people.
Bengoechea, E.G., Lorenzino, L., & Gray, S. (2019). Not academic enough? Enjoyment of physical education and arts education and school engagement in early and middle adolescence. Retos, 35, 301-309. https://recyt.fecyt.es/index.php/retos/article/view/63700/41411
Crum, B. (2017). How to win the battle for survival as a school subject? Reflections on justification, objectives, methods and organization of PE in schools of the 21st century. Retos, 31, 238 -244.
Physical and Health Education Canada (2017). Time to move! Retrieved from http://www.phecanada.ca/sites/default/files/advocacy_tools/TimetoMoveEnglish_crop.pdf
SHAPE America-Society of Health and Physical Educators. (2015). Physical education is an academic subject [position statement]. Reston, VA: Author.
The Australian Council for Health, Physical Education and Recreation (2014). The importance of the Health and Physical Education learning area in schools [position statement]. Retrieved from https://www.achper.org.au/documents/item/394
Jennifer Roberts was a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh. In her secondary school-based ethnographic work, she explored the experiences of adolescent girls in physical education (PE). In doing so, she uncovered how PE in contemporary times remains a space where traditional masculine discourses pervade and create unfair, unequal and unjust learning experiences for girls. This blog presents a selection of her key findings.
Jennifer’s work revealed that historical notions of masculine strength and skill prevail in PE, promoting the idea that gender inequalities are a biological fact rather than a social construction, and used as evidence and justification to optically center boys as successful while simultaneously marginalizing girls. She describes an example of this in a co-ed rugby lesson she observed. All of the students were given the option of participating in full contact rugby or non-contact rugby. All the boys in the class chose full contact rugby while all but three of the girls chose the other non-contact option. Subsequently, the three girls who chose to participate in full contact rugby were rejected by the boys, refusing to pass the ball to them, generally excluding them from the lesson. When asked later in an interview about the boys’ disruption to inclusion for the girls, the PE teacher suggested that the girls would need to work harder to prove themselves to the boys as skilled team players. However, this was extremely difficult for the girls, made more difficult by the fact that they had limited access to discourses of success. For example, those who attempted to display or celebrate their athletic skills were often labelled as ‘show offs’, a form of gender block that policed the girls to censure each other and limit their expectations in PE.
Another key finding was the visible lack or representation of women in the PE context. For example, a football booklet was created as a resource for pupils and teachers. In this booklet, there were 14 pictures of white masculinsed male footballers and only one white feminised player. Jennifer highlights that girls make meaning about who is valuable and worthy in PE based on who is optically centred and represented as legitimate. In this context, it appears as though value and worth are assigned to the boys, especially when it comes to playing football.
Finally, there was a lack of awareness by the teachers of their own gender expectations in PE and school sport. For example, a PE teacher explained in an interview his understanding of girls’ resistance to participating in team sports. He described the girls’ complaints about not being passed the ball by the boys in basketball as ‘learned-helpless’. He stated that they create their own barriers to participation, and that it is difficult to break those barriers.
In light of these findings, it is clear that the barriers to the game for girls in PE are more than ‘learned helplessness.’ In PE, the girls were inadvertently encouraged to learn their limitations to power and success, had fewer opportunities to display agency and learned that their failures were due to lack of effort. Consequently, there is a need for future research to shift the focus away from girls and turn towards teachers in an attempt to raise their awareness of their own gendered expectations in PE. This may be achieved if more critical and empowering pedagogies are adopted by PE teachers. For example, there is much promise in critical pedagogies such as the Activist Approach (Oliver and Kirk, 2015), an approach that aims to make PE better for girls by providing them the space to ‘identify, critique and negotiate their self-identified barriers to valuing the physically active life’ (Oliver and Kirk, 2015; p 2). Essential to teachers’ successful uptake of such an approach, is their ability to identify and critique their own gendered perceptions. Indeed, in light of the findings presented in this blog, the success of the Activist Approach might be less to do with empowering girls, and more to do with educating teachers about the social, societal and cultural challenges that young girls’ face. This may provide them with the resources to challenge the status quo and to work with the girls to create fairer, more equal and liberating experiences.
For more information about the Activist approach, click here.
Oliver, K.L and Kirk, D., (2015). Girls, Gender and Physical Education: An Activist Approach. London.
Denise and Sue are seconded teaching fellows at the University of Edinburgh. While working in schools, they both encountered initiatives aimed at the development of thinking skills. These experiences evolved into a project about ‘critical thinking’ and exploring how these ways of working could be fostered in PE settings and beyond. This blog reports on key insights from their collective self-study that has tracked the impact of their efforts to introduce critical thinking to undergraduate PE students. As part of the PERF’s Practitioner Inquiry (PINQ) Project, their research has been guided by LaBoskey’s key elements for self-study (2004).
Critical Thinking: Creating Meaning in Physical Education (PE)
Critical thinking is an amorphous term (Tan, 2017). It has numerous interpretations on both its definition and on the processes involved in developing critical thinking. Most definitions highlight the connections to the upper three levels of Bloom’s (1956) taxonomy: analysis, synthesis and evaluation. These forms of thinking skills have been associated with a number of ‘Critical thinking’ learner dispositions including; open and fair mindedness, flexibility of thought, inquisitiveness and willingness to take risks (Lai, 2011).
Within the PE literature, critical thinking is a term first popularised by McBride (1992). He viewed PE as an ideal setting to develop critical thinking, which he defined as:
Reflective thinking that is used to make reasonable and defensible decisions about movement tasks or challenges (p112)
The short term focus within this quotation can be seen in the way in which any critical thinking is applied to the immediate tasks and challenges within a class situation. Our own efforts, however, have been geared towards viewing critical thinking from both a short and long term perspective. As can be seen in the figure below (click on image to enlarge), pupils not only respond to unique movement problems and reflect on and justify the decisions they make in class, but are also encouraged to view PE critically as part of their overall physical activity habits and lifestyle.
One key driver for connecting with these longer term ambitions comes from Dewey’s (1933) work on ‘deep’ learning. He explores the connection between ‘thinking’ and ‘meaning’ to create what he termed ‘profound learning’. More recent research with a focus on ‘meaning’ has identified personal experience as a central feature. In the PE context, Beni et al (2016) explain how pupils with personalised experiences can feel more ‘meaningful’ connections to learning tasks, which are more likely to commit to a physically active lifestyle.
Our knowledge of critical thinking initially developed through our reading and shared discussions with each other and with critical friends. Knowledge and understanding was further developed by piloting with the undergraduate PE teachers through lectures, seminars and practical workshops. Our lecture to second year students was included as a key part of the curriculum course and was followed by a seminar which allowed students to discuss their understanding of critical thinking and explore ideas for their teaching of core PE. Within practical workshops, fourth year students reflected on their own wider experiences of dance and chose a ‘purpose’ best suited to them, the students created a group performance based on these personal experiences. They then performed the dance, evaluated the performance collectively and then reflected on the thinking involved in the creative process.
Data were gathered through a mixed methods approach: pre and post workshop questionnaires with students together with our own individual and shared reflections with two experienced teacher educators acting as critical friends throughout the research process. In both years of the project we were surprised by the decisions students made when presented with choices in the lesson. This reinforced our belief in offering pupils opportunities to not only make decisions but also justify these decisions to gain more insight into them (McBride, 1992). Also, in the second year of the project, we felt we were more explicit in teaching thinking skills and dispositions within the workshops and using the language of thinking from the literature. The importance of reflection time was highlighted in collective reflections, as we felt students needed time to make sense of the task and the thinking process.
From data collected following the second year of workshops all students were able to identify when they used thinking skills and dispositions within the session. We felt this indicated a deeper understanding of the concepts and tied in with our own reflections of being better able to ‘model critical thinking’ (McBride, 1992, p 118).
In harmony with our reflections, students also highly valued pupil reflection as a key component of critical thinking, with over half (52%) indicating that this would be an area of their own practice they would like to enhance.
Most students (93%) thought the session was made ‘meaningful’ with most of them connecting this to being given choices throughout the session, being able to express themselves freely and the nature of the session being sociable and enjoyable.
As an ongoing longitudinal study, we have had some valuable findings so far. The responses from the students have been encouraging, particularly as all students recognise the importance of critical thinking within PE. In addition, as we have grappled with the key critical thinking concepts, our shared reflections have helped us make more sense of the non-linear nature of the design and enactment process of this type of project.
In the future, we will continue to integrate key components of critical thinking in the gymnastics element of curriculum and pedagogy course for year 2 and will reflect individually and collectively on the enactment process. In addition, we will continue to share our critical thinking journey with other practitioners as part of the PINQ project and more widely.
Beni, S, Fletcher T and Ni Chronin, D (2016) Meaningful Experiences in Physical Education and Youth Sport: A review of literature, Quest, DOI: 10.1080/00336297.2016.1224192
LaBoskey, V. K. (2004). The methodology of self-study and its theoretical underpinnings. In J. J. Loughran, M. L. Hamilton, V. K. LaBoskey & T. Russell (Eds.), International handbook of self-study of teaching and teacher education practices (Vol. 2, pp. 817-869). Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers
Lai, E.R. (2011) Critical thinking: a literature review. Research report. Pearson.
McBride, R. 1992. Critical thinking—An overview with implications for physical education. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 11: 112–125.
Tan, C (2017) Teaching Critical thinking: Cultural challenges and strategies in Singapore. British Educational research journal, 43:5 988-1002
In this blog, Dr. Malcolm Thorburn from the University of Edinburgh discusses the value of PE and sport, and the potential they hold for the development of character, health and wellbeing.
Back to the future: Plato, play and physical education
We seem to be living in unexpectedly precarious times, where good intentions towards protecting young people are having counterproductive effects. Lukianoff & Haidt (2018) in writing about ‘The Coddling of the American Mind’ highlight that the post millennial generation (those children born between 1995 and 2012 – frequently called the iGen or Gen Z generation) are less autonomous and more anxious and depressed than previous generations. Social comparisons and social media are not helping health, and this along with the culture of safety and ever more paranoid parenting are leaving many young people more fragile and less resilient than previously. Lukianoff & Haidt (2018) outline that in some Universities students are being provided with safe spaces ‘equipped with cookies, colouring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets, and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as student and staff members purportedly trained to deal with trauma’ (p. 28). Alarming news and not a time to be making undue assertions about how these multiple concerns can easily be overtaken. That said the fact that Lukianoff & Haidt (2018) mention in detail that the decline of play is making young people less competent physically and socially, and less tolerant of risk and more prone to anxiety disorders should be of interest to the physical educator.
A contrasting way to consider these play-related matters is presented by Carr (2010) who has drawn on Plato’s writing in the Republic to reconsider the value of physical activities, as Plato offered a highly distinctive account of the value of physical education for developing the part of the soul which Plato characterises in terms of ‘spirit’, ‘energy’ and/or ‘initiative’. And while Carr (2010) goes onto have some philosophical reservations regarding the role of spirit in the explanation of agency this should not obscure the fact that there is much to be learned about character formation from reviewing Plato’s arguments about the value of physical education and sport. Thus as Carr (2010, p. 13) notes, ‘Plato introduces the idea of spirit as a desire to do what is right – a desire that is, in short, internally related to action – and secures a role for physical education in the training of right dispositions.’
On this view, the value of the physical educator would be to bring the physical aspects of being into an intelligible moral order. And in so doing, well-conceived physical education programmes can play a constructive part in emphasising the everyday gains of practical activities where cooperation and dispute resolution are fundamental to participation and to being resilient within our broader daily lives. Thus, the enduring capacity of well taught physical education to provide students with experiences which help them get winning and losing in perspective, improve self-awareness, be responsible, accept decisions and realistically evaluate ability should not be underestimated in terms of their contribution to wellbeing. Furthermore, from a health perspective, developing a healthy level of body/mind fitness which is resilient and deep-rooted enough to withstand other school and societal pressures will benefit regular exercising and attitudes towards physical activity.
Carr, D. (2010) On the Moral Value of Physical Activity: Body and Soul in Plato’s Account of
Virtue, Sport, Ethics and Philosophy, 4 1, 3-15.
Lukianoff, G & Haidt, J. (2018) The Coddling of the American Mind. Allen Lane: London.
Plato (1987) Republic. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Andrew Horrell is a Senior Lecturer in Physical Education at the University of Edinburgh. In this post he provides an insight based on research which explored the experiences of a teacher of physical education with a physical disability. Click here for the link to the full paper.
An insight into teaching Physical Education with a disability
The extract below from Ben’s journal provided an important frame of reference for the study as it establishes that he wanted others to know about his experiences and consider what these might mean for them and their practice.
“I pursue this research in [the] hope that other educators and schools take notice of the world around them. “Normal” is a matter of perspective: Every student, every person comes from a different background with different challenges.”
Ben’s experiences as a student teacher of physical education working in a school located in New England, USA, provided a unique view of what inclusion means in policy and practice. Born with spina bifida, he was small in stature and wore braces on his lower legs for stability. He had worked to develop his upper body strength, which he used to his advantage whenever possible. Ben entered the Physical Education Teacher Education (PETE) programme as a recruited athlete for the sled hockey team.
Ben wanted to explore his teacher identity as part of his studies and I became involved in the study after visiting colleagues working at the University of New Hampshire. After securing ethical approval from the University, Michelle and I undertook additional analysis of a range of data sources. We worked with Ben with a view to providing a unique insight into how teaching physical education with a physical disability had led him and his school mentor to find new ways of meeting the challenges of a placement experience.
The medicalised view of the body has a strong influence in shaping our thoughts regarding individuals with disabilities, leading to the belief that a disability means that a person will be unable to function in the same manner as their nondisabled counterparts (Davis, 1997; Lee & Rodda, 1994). Ben knew that he faced challenges, but he had expectations about what he wanted to achieve. Operating in an inclusive environment which valued his capabilities he worked with his mentor and colleagues in the school to find a way to meet the standards expected of a student teacher and challenge pupils’ perceptions of what being a physical education teacher “should be”.
The Capability Approach
I want to acknowledge the debates in the literature of special education and disability studies about the practice of labelling. As teachers, we know the power of words, ideas and discourses that can shape for good or ill what we do and how we and others think. There are occasions where having a label or a name for something is essential because for shared understanding, it aids our communication. It is also the case that labels can operate and function in ways that restrict, not just communication, but more importantly our ability to understand and act in ways that would be productive and inclusive. Ben knew that he had a physical disability, but he also knew that he had abilities, and, in the study, we drew on the capability approach to inform our theoretical framework (Sen, 1999).
Capabilities are the conditions under which people can “help themselves and influence the world” (Sen, 1999, p. 18). In the context of physical education, Evans (2004) problematises the concept of ability and the privileged status that “physical ability” has in the relationship between physical education teachers and learners. There is an expectation that teachers are required to embody the curriculum, their ability to teach is enmeshed with their knowledge of content and the performative act of pedagogy.
As a teacher with a physical disability, Ben challenged the dominant perception of “ability” and competence by his decisions on how and what to teach. There were areas of the physical education curriculum that he may not have been able to teach, but Ben, working with his mentor found a way to create a curriculum that enabled pupils to learn and meet the requirements of his placement. The capability approach is not necessarily based on the availability of resources but rather the extent to which they enable optimal performance.
I hope that you will read the paper and reflect on its findings. In physical education, planning and teaching lessons which engage all pupils requires teachers to skilfully adapt tasks and be creative to achieve the aim of inclusion. Ben was able to demonstrate these skills and the school and pupils were able to recognise his capabilities as a teacher, he was an agent of change for his own practice and for the school community. There was a fluidity to the disability discourse and there were episodes during his placement where he and his classes did or did not achieve what they set out to do. There were lessons and days when Ben’s physical disability enabled him to achieve more than others or he expected. There were times when the opposite was the case. Overall, in our analysis of data sources “Doing things my way” emerged as a strong theme and became the title of the paper. This did not mean that Ben did “whatever he wanted to do” it simply reflected that he knew what his capabilities were and working within the context of the school, the support provided and the resources available he found a way to teach physical education. He did so in a way that meant that the pupils in his classes learned more than just what was stated on the lesson plans.
What do you think?
This is an area where to date there have been limited opportunities to undertake research. I would be interested to know if there are other teachers of physical education who consider themselves to be disabled, perhaps you would be prepared to share your experiences with members of PERF.
Davis, L.J. (1997). Constructing normalcy. The disabilities studies reader. New York: Routledge.
Evans, J. (2004). Making a difference: Education and ‘ability’ in physical education. European Physical Education Review, 10(1), 95–108. doi:10.1177/1356336X04042158
Grenier, M. A., Horrell, A., & Genovese, B. (2014). Doing Things My Way: Teaching Physical Education With a Disability. Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, 31(4), 325-342. 10.1123/apaq.2013-0089
Lee, T., & Rodda, M. (1994). Modification of attitudes toward people with disabilities. Canadian Journal of Rehabilitation, 7(4), 229–238.
Sen, A. (1999). Development as freedom. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.