A focus on the ‘how’ of meaningful PE in primary schools by Stephanie Beni

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.


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