Norwegian Students’ Experiences of Physical Education

One of our pedagogical cases showcases the Norwegian approach to youth sports. We identified ways in which some of the features of meaningful experiences are present in that system’s approach to youth sport participation. Tim recently met Lars Bjorke (@larsbjorke) from Inland Norway University. Lars mentioned a national study he was involved in, which is the largest that has focused on Norwegian students’ experiences of physical education. This provides the focus for this guest post:

We are a Norwegian research group in PE at Inland Norway University. Last year we conducted a national representative survey on how 3226 5th to 10th grade students (aged 10-16) experience Norwegian PE. This study was the first National study on PE in Norway and provides a useful overall picture of students’ experiences. In this blog post we will present some of our key findings, and discuss how teachers could address these by reflecting on their own practice, and providing a starting point for conversations with students.

First, a short glimpse into the Norwegian PE context. PE in Norway is a compulsory subject, taught in mixed-sex classes. It is the third largest subject measured in allocated teaching hours, and our curriculum is competence based, regulated by the national law of education.

So, over to some of our key findings. We provide a short summary of three key findings in our study and attach some questions as a starting point for reflection.

Finding 1

Overall, the study shows that PE is a subject that most students like a lot. However, the proportion of students that like the subject declines with increasing age. Furthermore, we found that boys like PE better than girls.

Reflective questions

How do these findings apply to your class? If they are similar, why might that be the case? And if they are different, what are the reasons for that? How can you as a teacher meet the needs of both boys and girls in PE? Or to take one step back; is it really the biological sex that matters or is it more relevant to see each student as an individual in their own right?

Finding 2

The content of PE tends to focus on ball games and fitness training. Dance, outdoor education and modern activities receive little attention.

Reflective questions

Is this representative of what you teach in your classes or do you have more variation? What is the rationale behind your practice – is it based on activities or learning objectives? What consequences do your choices about practice have for each individual in your class?

Finding 3

Traditional instructional methods dominate the subject. However, at the same time we found that the students call for more variation in both content and methods.

Reflective questions

What approaches do you use when delivering the subject? How can students’ voices be can heard when they call for more variation? Maybe you as a teacher are in the best position to decide choice of methods?

To conclude, we would like to offer two suggestions for how to approach our findings (with and without your students):

  • Based on democratic principles (which are central in Norwegian society and in most societies around the world) students’ voices deserve to be heard!
    • Think of ways that you can talk with your students about how they experience PE – e.g. orally, digitally or through written assignments
    • How can students’ voices inform your choice of both content and methods in the future?
  • At the same time, in order to have meaningful conversations with your students, a fundamental premise is for you to reflect upon how you experience and want to develop your own teaching. We believe that in reading this blog, you already show an ambition of developing yourself and your practice.

Norwegian Students’ Experiences of Physical Education: A Response

Many things come to mind from reading both the summary and report from Lars and the research group at Inland Norway University. One of the most impactful is that many students like physical education and this is to be celebrated. At the same time, the decrease in enjoyment that occurs as students get older is also perhaps cause for concern. Importantly, the report indicated that students themselves – not just teachers and other key stakeholders – would like more variety in both content and pedagogy. We don’t think this necessarily means cramming more activities or themes that are the same or similar to what is already being offered (e.g., more types of ball games) into often already crowded curricula, but changing what is offered and how it is offered based on what students find meaningful and relevant to their lives. For instance, in Justen O’Connor’s article, students spoke about the meaningfulness of surfing or even being in a mosh pit as being sources of meaning. If teachers are aware of what activities students want, that can provide a good platform from which to begin negotiations of the content of physical education.

When we reflect on how the findings from Norway can influence our understanding of the contexts we are working in, we come away feeling that things are more similar than different, despite the cultural, geographical, social, and political differences. It would seem that PE tends to be taught in much the same way in many places, with similar outcomes for children’s experiences of PE. The questions Lars posed for reflection are simple but very important and get to the heart of some of the major questions we should be asking ourselves and our students. They also highlight an inherent tension or dilemma: whose voice should be granted the loudest volume? Mine as the teacher (who makes decisions based on education, experience and professional judgment) or the students’? Teachers’ decisions are informed by education, experience and professional judgement but must ultimately be made in the contexts in which they teach, and particuarly with their students in mind. Students’ voices must be heard and responded to in authentic ways if physical education is to truly influence their lives beyond schools. Having an understanding of what a large sample of students want can give us some ideas about the types of experiences we should aim to be facilitating that would encourage ongoing engagement with physical education in ways that are meaningful to those whom we teach.

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