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.
Kevin McKenzie is a class teacher and a PE teacher at Brunstane Primary School in Edinburgh. In this blog, he presents an overview of his practitioner enquiry that explores the ways in which his pupils engaged with the curriculum model – ‘Student Designed Games’.
Primary Physical Education Curriculum Development: Teacher and Pupil Experiences of ‘Student Designed Games’ by Kevin McKenzie
Enquiry Focus and Questions
Within Scotland, Curriculum for Excellence has provided an opportunity for schools to develop their own individual curriculum to reflect their context. With this in mind, I wanted to design a practitioner enquiry to support the development of the primary P.E. curriculum, relevant to my current context. Working in a small city primary school with a primary 5 class, the following questions guided my enquiry:
- In what ways does the ‘Student Designed Games’ (SDG) curriculum model support children’s engagement within physical education across the four domains of learning; social, emotional, physical and cognitive?
- How can children’s perceptions of this curriculum model be captured and incorporated into curriculum development?
Four Domains of Learning
Recent literature on primary P.E. has emphasised the valuable contribution it can make to holistic learning across the four domains of learning social, emotional, physical and cognitive (Carse, Jess and Keay, 2017). At first, I was unsure about the appropriateness of using the specific language of the four domains with the children, but I found by using images and clear descriptions of them during active demonstrations and teaching input, they were able to grasp them, and it helped them to frame their thinking.
Student Designed Games
As a physical education curriculum model, Student Designed Games (SDG) aims to promote strategies for creativity, cooperation and skill development. Hastie (2010) suggests that this is achieved by setting up a sequence of lessons which help pupils plan, design, test and refine a game that they have either created themselves or adapted from an existing game. SDG can support learning across all four domains by challenging pupils to ensure their games are inclusive, clear, cooperative and competitive.
There has been recognition within educational change literature of the valuable role that teachers and pupils play in curriculum development (Drew et al., 2016; Carse 2015). Therefore, in this research it was important to capture both my thoughts, as the teacher, and the children’s thoughts about our learning and experiences through SDG. By capturing our learning and experiences my aim was to then respond to this to further develop the P.E. curriculum.
To encourage the children to reflect on their learning in relation to the four domains of learning, I adapted Wall’s (2008) pupil view templates to incorporate each of the domains of learning. Pupil view templates are a cartoon prompt with thought and speech bubbles to facilitate pupil response and reflect their thinking of their learning experience. Wall (2008) describes pupil view templates as a visual method with the “aim to be a research tool that can be empirically influential and powerful, while also having an impact upon the pedagogical processes within classrooms” (p. 25). Pupils completed pupil view templates at three points within the sequence of student designed games lessons, one at the beginning, middle and end. To complement the pupil view templates, after every lesson I completed a teacher view template. The aim of this method was to capture my observations and thinking about the children’s engagement and learning in the lessons.
To support the children to reflect on and engage in discussion about their experiences and learning in physical education I used photographs and videos from lessons, which had been recorded by pupils. These resources acted as an assessment tool, a stimulus for reflection and a further form of data.
Findings and Discussion
The findings from my enquiry suggested that, for this group of children, SDG supported their learning across the four domains. This is evidenced in their discussion and the pupil view templates where the children recorded their thoughts on their learning within the four domains. Furthermore, some children could provide specific examples of how they had progressed their learning within the domains.
The children’s responses on the pupil view templates were refreshingly honest and candid. The children expressed their enjoyment of SDG, but a key issue emerged in the difficulties the children faced in their social and emotional learning. The children reflected that they often found it difficult to interact in their groups, this is something that I had also noted from my observations. Reflecting on the data from the pupil view templates at the beginning of the sequence of lessons it was evident that the children encountered difficulties in their social and emotional learning. These difficulties manifested in the children finding it difficult to interact and communicate within their groups and impacted on their physical and cognitive engagement with the lessons. In response to the difficulties the children were having in their social and emotional learning, I intervened to offer support through my teaching. At the end of the sequence of lessons, when the children had the responsibility of teaching their game to others, it was evident that interaction and communication between the children in their groups had improved. I think that this may partly have emerged from the ownership the children felt for their learning by sharing their game with others.
The pupil view templates, video and photographs were an effective way of capturing pupil learning and reflections on SDG and I could then use the pupils’ responses to develop the curriculum. Casey and Hastie (2011) suggest that SDG provides pupils with a positive way to develop their understanding of P.E., to challenge themselves at an appropriate level and to take ownership of their learning. The findings from my enquiry reflect this and lead me to conclude that in my school context SDG is an approach which can support children’s learning across the four domains and therefore, has a key role to play within the P.E. curriculum.
For my next enquiry, I decided to build on the findings from this enquiry to continue looking at pupil and teacher view templates, but this time using ‘Teaching Games for Understanding’ with a ‘Central Net’ focus as a curriculum approach and with a Primary 3 class. Watch this space…
For any questions about this blog, please email Kevin at: email@example.com
Carse, N., Jess, M., & Keay, J. (2017). Primary physical education: Shifting perspectives to move forwards, European Physical Education Review (special edition on primary physical education)
Carse, N. (2015). Primary teachers as physical education curriculum change agents. European Physical Education Review, 21(3), 309-324, DOI: 1356336X14567691
Casey, A. and Hastie, P. (2011) Students and Teacher Responses to a Unit of Student-Designed Games. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy. Vol. 16, No. 3, pp. 295-312.
Drew, V., Priestley, M., & Michael, M. K. (2016). Curriculum development through critical collaborative professional enquiry. Journal of Professional Capital and Community, 1(1), 92-106.
Hastie, P. (2010) Student-Designed Games: Strategies for Promoting creativity, Cooperation, and Skill Development. Human Kinetics: United States.
Wall, K. (2008) Understanding Metacognition through the Use of Pupil Views Templates: Pupil Views of Learning to Learn. Thinking Skills and Creativity. Vol. 3, pp. 23–33.
Sean Stewart has recently completed his final year of the MAPE Programme at the University of Edinburgh. In this post, he provides a summary of the research he carried out for is Educational Studies 4 Independent Research Project.
Masculine identities in physical education: a comparison of S1 and S4 boys in a Scottish secondary school by Sean Stewart
Research suggests that the PE domain is male-dominated (Parker, 1997), often expressed through the curriculum and activity content (Hickey, 2008). Thus, a particular form of masculinity is valued in PE, while others are oppressed. Hegemonic masculinity (HM) theory (Connell, 1987) proposes that masculinity is hierarchical, with typically masculine (or ‘orthodox’) behaviours such competition, ability and homophobia viewed favourably (Parker, 1996). Unfortunately, research suggests that the PE environment can foster these ‘orthodox’ traits and can result in the disengagement from PE of those boys who cannot conform to such masculine norms. Yet, HM theory has come under scrutiny (de Boise, 2015), leading to the introduction of more contemporary theories of masculinity. For example, Anderson’s (2009) inclusive masculinity (IM) theory suggests that males, regardless of their place in the hierarchy, can engage in feminine or homosexual behaviours without stigmatisation. However, although Wellard (2006) also suggests that males can engage in a range of ‘feminine’ behaviours, these are often only available to those males who embody a high degree of physical and social capital, or exclusive masculinity (EM). Campbell et al. (2016) investigated masculine identity in a Scottish school and found evidence of EM among adolescent males (age 16-17) the PE context.
In my research, I aimed to extend the work of Campbell et al. (2016) by exploring the masculine identities of both first year (S1: age 12-13 years) and fourth year (S4: age 15-16 years) boys and to understand the role of PE in the construction of their identities. During a 10-week investigation, I observed the student’s behaviours within the PE environment. Towards the end of the study, I carried out group interviews with four boys from each class. These boys volunteered to participate in this study and where of middle and working-class backgrounds. Critically, the boys all played sport, the most prominent being rugby, and were present for every lesson observation.
Popularity. The S1 boys valued effort and learning, with boys being picked for teams because of their effort, regardless of ability. These values allowed S1s to gain popularity, and those who exhibited more orthodox values were deemed unpopular. By contrast, the S4s students called boys who gave effort ‘keenos’. They valued ability and competition, for instance, in the beep test where pupils disregarded it as an ‘individual marker’, instead seeing it as a ‘battle’. Popularity for the S4 students was given to boys who displayed more orthodox behaviours, referring to them as ‘top of the pack’. However, reflecting Wellard’s (2006) concept of EM, the S4 boys also exhibited more feminine behaviours in PE, such as dancing or showing emotions, yet seemed to remain at the top of their perceived hierarchy.
The body. The S1 boys did not appear to be influenced by the body, they did not normalise a particular form of embodiment and therefore did not marginalise ‘other’ bodies. The body was important in the construction of the S4 boy’s masculine identity and was strongly influenced by the local rugby culture in the area. Consequently, they situated their bodies around the idea of an athletic rugby body which they described as being like a ‘tank’. If boys did not possess this body they were called ‘small boys’ and appeared to be oppressed.
Homophobic discourse. The S1 boys showed signs of inclusive masculinity, for example, rejecting aesthetic activities as being gay and stating they did not care about a peer’s sexuality. The S4s contradicted this, with homophobic discourse being the most generic form of oppression. Interestingly, the boys also used homophobic language towards each other, adopting what McCormack (2011) describes as ‘gay discourse’, a form discourse that is not perceived to be negative or homophobic.
The PE curriculum. The S1 curriculum consisted of a range of both ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ activities where the teachers used innovative, learner-centred pedagogies. The S4 boys participated in a choice-based curriculum, often choosing a team sport. The teachers suggesting that this allowed the “boys to be boys”. Importantly, the game of rugby and the boys that played rugby were highly privileged within the whole-school structure.
The results from this research suggest that multiple masculinities do exist in this school, but that as the male students move from S1 to S4, masculinities become more exclusive, to the detriment of those boys who do not display orthodox, rugby-oriented characteristics. There are several implications for PE teachers. For example, if teachers aim to challenge orthodox norms and create a safe space for multiple masculinities, then they need to consider the impact of their PE curriculum and pedagogies on boys of all age groups. Developing and sustaining a diverse and inclusive curriculum, as well as innovative, learner-centred pedagogies may be a first step towards achieving this aim.
Adams, A. (2011). “Josh wears pink cleats”: Inclusive Masculinity on the Soccer Field. Journal of Homosexuality, 58:5, 579-596
Anderson, E. (2009). Inclusive Masculinity. London: Routledge
Campbell, D., Kelly, J., Gray, S. & MacIsaac, S. (2016). Exclusive and Inclusive Masculinities in PE: A Scottish Case Study. Sport, Education and Society, 1-13
Connell, R. (1987). Gender and Power. Stanford: Stanford University Press
de Boise, S. (2015). I’m not Homophobic, I’ve got Gay Friends: Evaluating the Validity of the Inclusive Masculinity. Men and Masculinities, 18:1, 318-339
Hickey, C. (2008). Physical Education, Sport and Hyper-Masculinity in Schools. Sport, Education and Society, 16:1, 1-16
McCormack, M. (2011). Hierarchy without Hegemony: Locating Boys in an Inclusive School Setting. Sociological Perspectives, 54:1, 83-102
Parker, A. (1996). The Construction of Masculinity within Boys’ Physical Education. Gender and Education, 8:2, 141-158
Wellard, I. (2002). Men, Sport, Body Performance and the Maintenance of ‘Exclusive Masculinity’. Sport, Education and Society, 11:2, 105-119
Zack Williams is in his final year of the MAPE Programme at the University of Edinburgh. In this post, he provides a summary of the research he carried out for is Educational Studies 4 Independent Research Project.
Promoting equality and respect for LGBT pupils in Physical Education: ‘activist’ students’ perspectives
For many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) pupils, repeated acts of bullying, prejudice and intolerance make school a place of hostility and fear (Kosciw et al, 2012). Physical Education (PE) is highlighted as a subject that is traditionally challenging for LGBT youth. This is because the environment can perpetuate social norms of hyper masculinity and homophobia leading to a negative climate in PE (Clarke, 2006). There is a dearth of research that focuses on LGBT pupils’ experiences in PE and fewer studies that have analysed these perceptions through the eyes of pupils. Consequently, I carried out a study that explored the views four pupils who formed an activist group that aimed to give a voice to the young people in the school and support their rights. Importantly, of these four ‘activist’ pupils, two identified as LGBT whilst the remaining two identified as heterosexual and cisgender. The aim of my study was to gain a deeper insight into their perceptions of how LGBT pupils experience PE and to understand the ways in which they think PE could promote equality and respect for LGBT pupils. Analysis of the data generated from the focus group interview I conducted resulted in four main themes: Homophobia in PE, Supportive PE, Hegemonic Masculinity & Identity and finally Future changes in PE.
Homophobia in PE
The group believed that homophobia remains a big issue for LGBT pupils in PE, especially verbal abuse and derogatory slurs that were experienced or witnessed by the pupils. For these young activist pupils, the demographic of the school was a contributing factor to the frequency and the severity of homophobic victimisation for LGBT students. The school is situated in a rural part of the UK and the group believe that this contributed to a more traditionalist outlook on society and a less tolerant attitude towards the LGBT community.
Previous research has shown most PE teachers will have witnessed, to some degree, homophobic abuse throughout their careers. However, research suggests that limited action has been taken towards dealing appropriately with incidents, and many have been brushed off as insignificant (Morrow et al., 2003). However, in this study the group disagreed with the literature and highlighted the positive impact their supportive PE department has on the wellbeing of LGBT students, not only in PE but in their wider school life.
Hegemonic Masculinity and Identity
This theme highlights that male pupils who have their identity questioned are stigmatised if they do not conform to societies perceptions of specific activities, especially when a male takes part in activities that are perceived to be feminine (Atkinson and Kehler, 2012). The group discussed their own experiences in PE, emphasising that boys who participated in activities that were perceived to be feminine led to negative reactions from peers. Similar to Buston and Harts study (2001) the group highlighted that people who were perceived to be gay were subject to verbal and physical abuse and therefore believed pupils refrain from taking part in less masculine sports or activities for fear of being ostracised.
Future Change in PE
It was extremely valuable to listen to the group discuss ideas surrounding what could be done to create a more equal and respectful PE for LGBT pupils. The group highlighted that homophobia was prominent in changing rooms therefore they believed that introducing gender neutral changing rooms as a strategy to prevent this. Furthermore, the group agreed with much of the literature advocating for further professional learning opportunities for PE teachers in LGBT inclusiveness. They believed that this would give teachers the knowledge and confidence to handle sensitive and challenging issues. Finally, and arguably most importantly, the group believed that more has to be done in PE to raise the awareness of LGBT pupils’ experiences in PE and to educate the wider school. They believe that this could be achieve by establishing a group with straight allies and supportive teachers.
I hope that this study encourages more consideration in the PE and Education worlds towards the experiences of LGBT pupils in PE. With PE in Scotland positioned at the forefront of Health and Well-being now, more than ever, is an appropriate time to investigate the PE climate for LGBT youth. I believe that gaining an insight from these activist students on their perceptions of LGBT students experiences in PE has been an invaluable learning experience for myself as I can start to use some of the ideas discussed in this paper in my own practice, to make PE a more inclusive and equal environment.
- Buston, K. and Hart, G., 2001. Heterosexism and homophobia in Scottish school sex education: exploring the nature of the problem. Journal of adolescence, 24(1), pp.95-109.
- Clarke, Gill. 2006. Sexuality and physical education. In The handbook of physical education, ed. David Kirk, Doune Macdonald, and Mary O’Sullivan, 723 –39. London: Routledge
- Kosciw, J.G., Bartkiewicz, M. and Greytak, E.A., 2012. Promising strategies for prevention of the bullying of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth. The Prevention Researcher, 19(3), pp.10-14.
- Morrow, R.G. and Gill, D.L., 2003. Perceptions of homophobia and heterosexism in physical education. Research quarterly for exercise and sport, 74(2), pp.205-214.
In previous blogs on this site, writers Prof. Paul Wright and Richard Sievwright have given accounts of their perspectives on teaching social and emotional skills in PE through their use of Hellison’s model, Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility. For more detail about these posts and TPSR see: Teaching Social Wellbing in PE and Social and Emotional Learning in Physical Education: From Policy to Practice
My interest in TPSR came from my early discussions with Prof. Paul Wright, an expert in TPSR and, at the time, a visiting scholar at the University of Edinburgh. In our discussions, we began to articulate the relationship between TPSR and the PE curriculum in Scotland. In Scotland, PE teachers are guided by a broad curriculum framework aims to develop not only physical competences, but social and emotional skills such as confidence, self-esteem, respect and leadership (Education Scotland, 2017). Similarly, TPSR aims to encourage pupils take responsibility for and develop skills related to the ways they conduct themselves (effort, control, self-determination) and interact with others (respect, care, leadership).
It was around the time of these discussions with Paul that we met two PE teachers from secondary schools in Scotland (Stuart and Richard). Paul had delivered a TPSR CPD session which both teachers had attended and afterwards, they approached us to discuss the connections that they could make between TPSR and their own experiences, values and aspirations. The result of this conversation was they each embarked upon an action research project to learn about TPSR, projects that both Paul and I were keen to be involved in. We were interested to know how the teachers learned to use TSPR, what it looked like and how it was experienced by their pupils.
As they embarked upon their action research, Paul and I became their critical friends, and were given opportunities to observe their lessons, support their reflections, offer advice and help them to interpret and understand their findings. The methods that the teachers used to gather data for their research included structured and collaborative reflections, peer and researcher observations and pupil interviews. The data from their research were analysed by the teachers and then discussed at length with Shirley, Paul and with each other. Below is a summary of some of the themes that emerged from these discussions.
A different approach
The teachers had to think differently about how they planned and taught their lessons. They became more explicit before, during and after their lessons about the social and emotional skills that they aimed to teach. They praised positive behavior and created numerous opportunities for their pupils interact positively with others. Both teachers also began to understand and embrace what they described as ‘teachable’ moments. In other words, they began to see social and emotional behaviours (both positive and negative) as opportunities for pupil learning, rather than as moments to be ignored, or moments were pupils had to be punished.
A more democratic and positive learning environment
Both teachers believed that one of the main benefits of using TPSR was that it encouraged them to talk to their pupils more. This then helped them to develop more positive and respectful relationships that involved listening and responding to their views.
Pupils’ understanding of TPSR
Many of the pupils in Richard’s class were aware of his learning intentions and he observed small changes in levels of self-control and respect for some pupils. The boys in Stuart’s class recognised that this was a different experience from their ‘usual’ PE lessons, one that aimed to improve their behaviour in PE and the wider school context. This had a positive impact on their behavior in PE, although they struggled to transfer this to other contexts in the school.
Challenges, doubts and discomfort
Both teachers explained the difficulties they had in moving away from an approach that they were comfortable with. For example, they highlighted the discomfort they felt initially when ‘let certain behaviors go’ to create teachable moments so that they could deal with behaviors in a more positive and democratic way.
Learning and change over time
Richard and Stuart discussed how they felt like the change process was much slower than they expected, and that they have become more aware and accepting of the fact there may be significant periods of difficulty and challenge to overcome before any noticeable change takes place.
Despite these challenges, both teachers were (and still are) very positive about TPSR, describing how it aligns well with their values and beliefs about the goals of PE. Their experiences using TRSR have been challenging but have enabled them to explore their own learning and teaching. As a result, they now have the knowledge and skills to create learning experiences in PE that have the potential to develop not only physical competencies, but also social and emotional skills. Furthermore, both teachers continue to apply and investigate their use of TPSR, creating time to reflect on their learning with their pupils and their colleagues.
Hellison, D. (2011). Teaching responsibility through physical activity. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Richard Sievwright is a PE teacher in an urban state secondary school located in Central Scotland. He is also currently undertaking a MEd in Leadership and Learning at Moray House School of Education, University of Edinburgh. In this blog, he describes how his engagement in a self-study project as part of his Masters degree has encouraged a shift in his philosophy about what PE is and for.
Teaching Social Wellbeing in PE: a self-study
My teaching philosophy has always been to promote lifelong participation in physical activity through positive experiences and enjoyment in PE. This thinking is not uncommon and has perhaps been influenced by pervading political messages about the economic importance of addressing health issues relating to inactivity as a result of increasing cardiovascular disease (Johns, 2005). However, I have recently come to recognise that this can be problematic from a pedagogical perspective:
“When PE teachers uncritically accept and reproduce this healthism discourse, it can result in a very narrow form of PE, one that focusses on developing skills and practices that primarily aim to promote physical activity participation for the improvement of physical health.” (Gray et al. 2015, p165).
I have always taught towards promoting physical wellbeing and, through engaging in a self-study project as part of my Masters degree, have become more aware that my lessons regularly focus on physical learning intentions, usually involving the development of skills and techniques through the game. Prior to engaging in a Masters degree, I had a very simplistic view of PE believing that as long as my pupils were engaged in physical activity, then a broad range of educational outcomes could be achieved. I now find myself questioning this belief – is it good enough to assume that personal qualities (motivation, respect, tolerance, communication, leadership) will be developed as a result of the social nature of PE? I would describe my teaching of these personal qualities as reactive, unlike my teaching of physical skills in PE when I am very explicit and nurture pupils’ development in an environment appropriate to individual needs.
The Sport Education Model (SEM) is used to teach the broad general education phase in my school (age 12-14 years). Considering the roles that are assigned to pupils in SEM (coach, warm up leader, kit manager etc), the personal qualities that pupils bring to lessons are central to its success. Unfortunately, I often find myself reverting back to behaviourist pedagogical approaches to manage pupil behaviour, which often distracts from the aims of SEM. I recognise this is in contrast with how I teach physical skills and wondered how I could help pupils improve their personal qualities. It was this stage of my self-study that I was introduced to a different approach to developing the personal qualities of my pupils –Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility (Hellison, 2003).
Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility (TPSR) is a pedagogical approach that was developed with the explicit intention of using the contexts of physical activity and sport to help students to become more personally and socially responsible. The purpose of TPSR is to empower pupils to take responsibility for their own development and consider the wellbeing of others. There are five Levels of Responsibility that help teachers deliver the model; (1) respect, (2) effort and cooperation, (3) self-direction, (4) leadership and (5) the transfer of learning to other areas of students’ lives (Hellison, 2003). TPSR makes the social learning intention explicit and gives clear expectations of the way pupils should conduct themselves. It takes into account attitudes, beliefs and values that can be discussed, and has provided me and my pupils with a context to evaluate learning and set targets for the future.
“One prominent model that appears to be almost a natural partner to TPSR within physical education is that of Sport Education.” (Gordon, 2009, p.13).
My early experience of teaching TPSR alongside SEM have been positive and helpful in identifying clear social responsibility learning intentions in exactly the same as I would teach physical skills. SEM has been useful for engaging pupils in my lessons and making it fun with situational learning experiences. TPSR has enlightened me to be proactive with the promotion of prosocial behaviour, and has encouraged me to set clear expectations which allow conversations to unfold with pupils in relation to the five levels of responsibility.
My self-study has led me to re-evaluate my teaching philosophy, which is now: to promote lifelong participation in physical activity and develop transferable life skills in a supportive environment. As part of my self-study, I carried out some interviews with my pupils and I found that they perceive PE as inherently physical and, after using TPSR, they recognised the value of the life skills that were being developed. If all pupils understand these values and recognise that PE is not solely about competition and games, then this could have long standing positive implications for some schools.
Gordon, B. (2009) Merging teaching personal and social responsibility with sport education: A marriage made in heaven or hell? ACHPER Health, Lifestyles Journal, 6(3/4),13-16.
Gray, S., Macisaac, S., & Jess, M. (2015). Teaching ‘health’ in physical education in a ‘healthy’ way. Retos, 28, 165-172.
Hellison, D. (2003). Teaching responsibility through physical activity. 3rd Edition Campaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Johns, D. P.(2005). Recontextualizing and delivering the biomedical model as a physical education curriculum. Sport, Education and Society, 10(1), 69-84.
Scottish Government (2004). A Curriculum for Excellence. Edinburgh: Scottish Government.