The why, what, and how of Meaningful Physical Education: PART 2

In this post we turn our attention to the ‘what’ of Meaningful PE: what is it about and what does a meaningful experience tend to consist of? As we mentioned in the previous post, in finding an experience meaningful, attention is drawn to its quality, which influences the likelihood of individuals seeking the experience again or avoiding it. Although meaningfulness is highly subjective (that is, what an individual finds meaningful will be different to others), it involves a complex mix of individual cognitive and affective elements as well as relational, social, and cultural dimensions.

Conceptually, the personal and retrospective nature of identifying experiences as meaningful suggests that democratic and reflective approaches have the potential to form the foundation for a coherent set of pedagogical principles to help teachers intentionally and consistently prioritise meaningful experiences for pupils. From a pedagogical perspective, our approach is built upon a major review of literature we conducted on studies focused on meaningful experiences in physical education and youth sport since 1987. We drew from Kretchmar’s (2006) assertion that meaningful experiences in physical education tend to consist of several features: social interaction, challenge, fun, motor competence, and delight. We have written several blog posts about these features, which can be found here, here, here, here, and here!

While children often refer to one or more of these features as major contributors to how they experienced meaningful experiences in physical education (e.g., ‘I found it meaningful because I was challenged), the features typically work together and should therefore be thought of as integrated than isolated (e.g., ‘Today was fun because I got to be in a group with my friends and we spoke about playing the same game at the park this weekend’). Modifications to a task based on one of the features can therefore have an impact on the others (e.g., adjusting the level of challenge can have effects on fun and students’ engagement with motor competence). We are also very mindful that these features likely do not paint a complete picture of what might contribute to learners finding a physical education experience meaningful. For instance, we think that creativity and self-expression are but some of the other things that could contribute to how some students experience meaningfulness, and suggest to teachers that the features identified by Beni et al. (2017) are not used in a reductive sense but as a useful basis upon which to begin conversing with students about what they find meaningful in physical education.

We discuss more about the ‘what’ of Meaningful PE in our recent article in PESP, giving attention to its conceptual and practical basis. For those who are interested you can find a link to the article here.

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