The why, what, and how of Meaningful Physical Education: PART 3

How do I teach using Meaningful PE?

In our early experimentation with Meaningful PE, we and others relied largely on using the features of meaningful physical education (both those described above and those identified by students independently) to facilitate a shared language with students. Alongside these features, the retrospective and personal characteristics of meaningfulness and our view of the purpose of physical education as residing in its transformative potential point to the value of reflective and democratic pedagogies as being central to Meaningful PE.

Meaningful PE is offered as a flexible set of ideas that can help teachers and students make decisions about how to facilitate meaningful experiences in physical education. Meaningful PE can be applied across all physical education content and linked to the outcomes and expectations of official curriculum and policy documents across various contexts. While we see Meaningful PE as having characteristics that make it distinct from other approaches (i.e., prioritizing meaningful experiences), we also position it in such a way that it may bring together other ideas and models in physical education, thus reducing fragmentation and improving coherence in the field (O’Connor & Jess, 2020). Therefore, we see Meaningful PE as an overarching framework, informing how models and approaches are selected and implemented.

Meaningful PE is democratic

Meaningful experiences require personal investment, ownership of learning, and personal relevance in ways that demand a democratic approach. Meaningful PE is, at its core, inclusive and supports a variety of learning needs and interests. Teachers and students work together as learning collaborators to set goals and agree on activities within a flexible curriculum.

Teachers should aim to be student-centred in much of their decision-making, providing students with more autonomy and control of their experience to engage with tasks that have personal relevance and carry out activities they find meaningful in their own right. This requires the teacher to be intentional about how they promote both student-student and student-teacher relationships. In addition to offering opportunities to make choices and be involved in decision-making, other characteristics of autonomy-supportive classrooms include listening to children and providing time for independent work, acknowledging others’ perspectives and feelings, and praising improvement and effort (Mandigo & Holt, 2006). Strategies that support students in making autonomous decisions about their engagement include: selecting specific tasks based on personal level of interest or challenge; contributing to group composition decisions (Koekoek & Knoppers, 2015); modifying tasks to tailor the level of challenge to individual skill levels; and identifying tasks to be assessed in culminating activities (Beni et al., 2019).

Meaningful PE is reflective

Opportunities to set goals, and to reflect on their achievement is central to identification of experiences as meaningful. Of course, it is possible to have meaningful experiences without a formal scaffolded period of reflection. I am sure you can all think of examples, but maybe we were lucky to identify the meaningfulness of these experiences in our movement journeys. Planned, structured reflection time can ensure that children get opportunities to identify the value of their experiences and that it is not left to chance. Reflection in and on experience is therefore crucial in order for both teachers and students to identify and become aware of the meaningfulness of certain situations (Dewey, 1916). Reflective processes are important for students to engage in so they may become aware of the ways they experience meaningfulness in physical education. Beyond their personal experience in a task or activity, attention can also be drawn to discussions about physical activity participation in the wider community, through asking: Who has access? Who benefits? and Who is disadvantaged? These discussions can help individuals make sense of their own experiences as well as promote actions towards a more socially just world.

In order to engage students in reflective processes, a teacher might use goal-setting, introduce a PE Diary, or use paired, small and large group discussions during and after participation. Goal-setting can also facilitate personally relevant learning for students where opportunities to transfer learning to their lives outside of school can be identified.

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