Bildung – a student-focused approach to PE

Guest blog post by Jonas Wibowo & Claus Krieger

This blog entry has its origin in a meeting we had with Tim and Steph at the AERA conference in Toronto on April 5th 2019. We had the great opportunity to learn about our respective approaches to PE and found some similarities and links we would like to pursue and exchange. Specifically, we saw a lot of similarities in ideas about meaning and the German concept of Bildung. To possibly and hopefully enrich the discourse on Meaningful PE, we will try to introduce and outline the German concept of Bildung and briefly explain how it can be enacted in PE:

First of all, Bildung is an idea from the German epoche of idealism that refers to and draws from different theories such as anthropological philosophy, phenomenology, and others. Apart from the different theoretical approaches, there are some general assumptions that are crucial for the idea of Bildung: (1) Humans are open beings and not pre-determined; (2) Humans form their subject-world-relationship through cognitive, bodily and aesthetic processes; (3) Bildung describes a process that evolves from a situation of uncertainty and a lack of routine in a specific situation. By reflection and intentional action, it can lead to a change in the individual subject-world-relationship.

Movement and sports, seen as aesthetic processes, offer a unique way to form the individual subject-world-relationship. These processes require, however, space and time for students to find their own individual meaning in and through movement and sports. Physical education aims to provide these opportunities by designing educational settings in which it is likely that students‘ routines would be unsettled. If these unsettling moments are offered, PE teachers then need to give students responsibility and space for decision-making, e.g. by the use of open methods in cooperative or problem-oriented learning environments. Openness seems also necessary in terms of selecting content and areas of focus. Openness can be established, for example, by focusing the understanding of elementary movements in a certain sport rather than reproducing techniques. E. g. instead of teaching a gymnastic-style toe-stretching handstand, students could work collaboratively on the problem of how to stand stable on the hands or even walk on them. New and/or unknown or unusual sports, movements and activities may also be suitable for such Bildung experiences and processes.

Just as with the work done in Meaningful PE, we have been using pedagogical cases on the one hand and qualitative research of the subjective views of students and teachers on the other hand to substantiate and illustrate the concept of Bildung in PE – we would be happy to share further info – if interest exists – in  future posts.
Jonas Wibowo & Claus Krieger
jonas.wibowo@uni-wuppertal.de; claus.krieger@uni-hamburg.de

Bildung and/in Meaningful PE (response)

Quite often we come across ideas and concepts that have been around for a while in some places but take their time to reach our own worlds. Although we had heard the term Bildung before, we had not had the opportunity to engage with it or understand its nuances until we heard Jonas and Claus present on their research at the Research on Learning and Instruction in Physical Education SIG Invisible College at AERA in Toronto. It was clear to all of us that there were several areas – both realized and potential — of overlap and alignment with Bildung and Meaningful PE, as Jonas and Claus described in their post.

In their presentation, Jonas and Claus showed a video of a teacher working with primary students in a gymnastics lesson. Many of the students were highly engaged as they tried to determine ways to execute jumps off a box and onto a springboard. It appeared that the teacher was working very hard, even though it was not him that we saw or heard most of. That is, he was working very hard to be quiet, to stay out of the way of students, and to provide helpful ‘nudges’ to get them to think about the task and what they could do – not what they should do.

As we and others have written about elsewhere, ‘how’ to do meaningful PE is a bit murky. And this is where some of the ideas from Bildung strike us as being similar. So while many people might first associate the ideas of meaningful PE with the features (i.e., social interaction, challenge, fun, motor competence, personally relevant learning and delight) it is the pedagogies represented by Bildung that we see as being particularly resonant with ideas of Meaningful PE. For example, students are given appropriate degrees of autonomy to use their voices and make choices in their learning. The direction of lessons is quite open and based on how students are interacting with each other (and the teacher), with tasks, with equipment, and with their environments. Also, there is time provided for students to reflect on their experiences in order to identify what and how they are learning. In the video we watched, reflection was not provided as it typically is, in an end of lesson discussion forum. It was provided as students were moving in the forms of questions, prompts, and probes. Often this was quite brief, but importantly, it was effective in having students actively engage with what it was they were doing

Teachers who embrace the ideas of Bildung or of Meaningful PE seem to take on the role of activity-broker; a term used by Scott Kretchmar to describe what teachers can or should do to foster meaningful experiences for learners. Activity Broker stands in contrast to Activity Director and emphasizes teachers as negotiators in setting up movement opportunities for students that they find significant in their personal experience. Furthermore, the teacher needs to facilitate learning and Bildung actively and individualized in the sense of adapting and connecting to the students processes.

As we have said before, we have borrowed many of our ideas from other areas to try to create some coherent whole in the form of Meaningful PE. Our engagement with Jonas and Claus in learning about Bildung has added another layer to this. However, we have struggled to identify ways in which teachers can be intentional in providing meaningful experiences, and be forthright in prioritizing these experiences for learners. Bildung offers some promising avenues to explore as we seek to build more connections and capacity to provide young learners with meaningful experiences based on students’ own interests, needs, and lived realities.

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