The Role of Social Interaction in Meaningful Physical Education – Part 2

In the previous post, we considered the importance of social interaction in movement settings.  Here we will look specifically at the role of group composition as well as pedagogical considerations when aiming to foster meaningful social interactions.

Studies with young people have suggested that the role of all participants in the movement environment are important to consider.  This includes peers as well as teachers and coaches, but also spectators and others who may be present during practices, competitions, etc. (Light, Harvey, & Memmert, 2013).  Some studies have suggested that providing peers with the opportunity to work together may result in a deeper learning experience than may be provided through direct instruction.  For example, when students were placed in groups and offered little guidance from the instructor, Barker, Quennerstedt, and Annerstedt, (2015) found that they tended to take on roles based on their level of experience with the activity and assist/look for assistance from one another.  However, the literature also suggests consideration should be given to group composition.  In some instances, participants prefer teacher-selected groups or those that do not include friends as they feel this may prevent off-task behaviour (Koekoek and Knoppers, 2015; Kinchin, MacPhail, & Ní Chróinín , 2009), and yet in other instances, participants feel selecting friends or group members of similarly physical ability may result in fewer negative remarks from peers (Gray, Sproule, and Wang, 2008).  Although the evidence is inconclusive to support one method over another, it is clear that participants’ qualms over group composition often go beyond mere preference and suggest a level of concern for their well-being and productivity and should be considered by the physical education teacher or coach.

Some researchers have found teaching guided by social constructivism to support meaningful experiences by providing peers with opportunities to connect with one another.  Teachers using social constructivist methods suggest they intentionally plan for high involvement amongst participants through, for example, assigning student responsibilities and leadership roles, using blackboards or posters to pose movement problems to be solved by groups collectively, and posing questions to groups on station cards (Azzarito & Ennis, 2003).  Similarly, the use of the Sport Education teaching model has been shown to enhance meaningful social interactions as participants work regularly with peers in teams (Kinchin, MacPhail, & Ní Chróinín, 2009; Kinchin & O’Sullivan, 2003).

Meaningful social interactions should be intentionally planned for in a movement environment including managing the social interactions of peers, teachers/coaches, and others present in the movement environment, providing opportunities for both individual and group work, giving consideration to the dynamics of group composition, and understanding the important influence of pedagogical decisions on the meaningfulness derived from movement experiences.

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