The why, what, and how of Meaningful Physical Education: PART 1

Following the recent publication of our book Meaningful Physical Education: An Approach for Teaching and Learning  as part of the Routledge Focus on Sport Pedagogy series, we wanted to share a few posts from some of the contributors to the book. The posts over the coming weeks will give readers an overview of what might be found in the chapters. They will not necessarily be presented in the order they appear in the book and may feature some commentaries on chapters provided by readers rather than the authors themselves (much like a book review). In the next few posts, we provide a brief summary of the first chapter, ‘The why, what, and how of Meaningful Physical Education’.

In the first chapter of the book, we outline the main theoretical and pedagogical foundations of the Meaningful PE approach and points for clarification. We provide distinct characteristics of Meaningful PE and share appropriate teaching and learning principles and strategies, and the decision-making processes teachers might undertake. Since writing the chapter we have added some other thoughts about this in a recent open access publication in PESP: Pedagogical principles for prioritizing meaningful physical education: Conceptual and practical considerations; interested readers can find more detail about the approach in that article.  In this blog post we focus on the why of Meaningful PE, which will be followed by two more posts that address the what and the how, respectively.

Following an invitation to share some of these ideas with the Ontario Association for the Support of Physical and Health Educators (OASPHE) we are cross-posting this on their blog. Check it out if you have not yet done so!

Why Meaningful PE?

We agree with Kretchmar (2008) who suggests that when meaningfulness is prioritized, students’ experiences in physical education have the potential to enrich the quality of their lives. In this way, meaningful physical education places the quality and personal significance of students’ experiences at the forefront of a teacher’s pedagogical decision-making. A consideration of why to use Meaningful PE begins with questioning one’s overarching vision or philosophy for teaching. For us, prioritizing meaningful experiences is crucial if we want children to experience some of the things in and about movement culture that have been and are so central to the quality of our own lives. We want children to walk through the doors of a gym or dance studio or enter onto a field, hiking trail, bike path or body of water and be filled with a sense of excitement, joy, and adventure rather than dread, boredom, or fear. Beyond our personal beliefs and perspectives, however, there are some other broader reasons that support our position.

Prioritizing meaningful experiences also links to some of the major purposes of physical education, represented in policy documents and also in the beliefs and values of key stakeholders (such as teachers, students, parents, and administrators). Amongst a wide range of identified purposes of physical education, we align ourselves with the purpose of democratic transformation (Ennis, 2017), where ‘different ways of being in the world as somebody are both possible and encouraged’ (Quennerstedt, 2019, p. 611). In this way, education is viewed as a continual transforming of experience, with an aim of cultivating educative experiences that lead to the growth of further experience (Dewey, 1938). From this perspective, having learners seek and become aware of the personal meaning of movement through reflection becomes part of the core purpose of physical education, where it is understood as a ‘suitable learning context for initiation into a range of worthwhile social and cultural practices’ (Thorburn, 2018, p. 26).

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