How Can We Foster Meaningful Experiences in Physical Education? Part I

In previous posts we have briefly considered what we mean by meaningful physical education, and why we think it is important to prioritize the fostering of meaningful experiences for young people.  We now come to think about how we might go about teaching in ways that foster meaningful experiences.

Although there is a lot of research on the what and why of meaningful experiences (see our previous posts), there is much less on the how.  From where we are positioned in higher education programs, we are particularly interested in considering how current and future teachers might learn to teach in ways that prioritizes the fostering of meaningful experiences.  While many teachers can quite rightly claim that they do foster meaningful experiences for their students, our belief is that this mostly comes as a by-product of prioritizing other elements (such as developing physical and social skills or fitness or tactical awareness).  We don’t believe there is a clear blueprint or step-wise process that can be followed, but we are working toward developing some general guidelines that can be followed to help guide teachers in how they go about intentionally and consistently providing learners with moments of “personal significance” in physical education.

In the LAMPE project, Déirdre and Tim have been studying their teacher education practice (how they go about teaching teachers) with a focus on learning about providing meaningful physical education experiences.  Over the past three years, we have used self-study methodology (similar to action research, with some differences) to examine certain pedagogies that we and our students have found helpful in drawing out meaningful moments.  In addition, Ciara has been examining the ways she has been able to implement certain pedagogies geared toward meaningful experiences with Grade 4 students in two Irish primary (elementary) schools.  From our research, we have been able to identify some guidelines that might help us progress our thinking and actions about the “how” of providing meaningful physical education experiences in school-based PE.

As we discussed in our post Meaningful Physical Education: What Does That Mean? Part II, Scott Kretchmar(2006) identified five criteria for meaningful physical education experiences that have guided much of our thinking and planning in the LAMPE project: Fun, Social Interaction, Challenge, Motor Competence, and Delight.  In planning our lessons and the activities within, we ask ourselves: to what extent are the five elements in various combinations (likely) present for learners?  As we are teaching, we use the five criteria to help guide how tasks and activities might be modified so that they might be made meaningful.  For example, based on our observations of students’ engagement and in talking with our students, we might suggest they modify the activity to make it more or less challenging based on their needs, or we might suggest using a different body part to develop motor competence.  We also make extended efforts to help students make connections between what they are learning now and how this could be helpful in other parts of their lives outside of school.  These are three very simple examples, but they might give you an idea of how Kretchmar’s (2006) criteria can help serve as the filter for making pedagogical decisions about fostering meaningful experiences.  Tim recently provided some other examples and further explanation of how we might foster meaningful experiences in PE in the Run Your Life podcast hosted by @andyvasily.

In the next few posts, we use actual and hypothetical examples to look into the processes of teaching in ways that foster meaningful experiences by examining each of Kretchmar’s (2006) criteria in closer detail.

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