The Role of Social Interaction in Meaningful Physical Education – Part 1

In a previous blog post, we discussed Kretchmar’s (2006) criteria for personally meaningful movement experiences.  In this next series of posts, we will use examples from a number of studies as well as current examples from LAMPE projects demonstrating how Kretchmar’s criteria may be used to foster meaningful experiences.  In this post, we will turn our attention to the role of social interaction.

Social interaction has been cited as an important factor in the meaningfulness young people derive from movement experiences.  In some instances, the social dimension of physical activity has been cited as a primary reason for continued participation in, for example, youth sport swim clubs (Light, Harvey, & Memmert, 2013).  For female students in a secondary physical education program, the social support received from both peers and instructors in physical education was as critical to the meaningfulness of their experience as the actual content of the course (Gibbons & Gaul, 2004).

Although social interaction is found to be a key component in the meaningfulness derived from movement experiences, at times, it has also been found to be a factor in meaningless experiences.  For example, some students have expressed feelings of isolation in physical education suggesting they are, “not really a part of that team feeling.” (Carlson, 1995, p. 471).  Furthermore, social interactions with teachers can also result in meaningless experiences.  For example, teachers’ actions can (sometimes unintentionally) lead to gender inequity with girls spending significantly more time on the sidelines than boys who are active for the whole lesson (Satina, et al., 1998).  Additionally, social interactions with peers may sometimes be perceived as negative.  For example, when students cheat during game play in physical education, their behaviour may detract from the enjoyment of the lessons for other students (Dyson, 1995).

It seems important for the physical education teacher or coach to recognize that social interaction is neither inherently meaningful nor meaningless.  Thus meaningful social interactions must be intentionally planned for in a movement environment, the topic to which we turn our attention in our next post.

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