Stephanie Beni is a doctoral student studying physical education at Brock University in Canada. Alex Beckey is a participation specialist in PE at the Centre for PE, Sport and Activity at Kingston University, UK. The following post highlights some of the main ideas from their presentation at the pre-conference on Meaningful PE at AIESEP, 2021.
This is not a post with good answers, but hopefully good questions. Meaning and meaningfulness in PE is not a new idea, however Meaningful PE (MPE) has clearly caught people’s interest. It resonates with academics, teacher educators and PE teachers, but how do we ensure a deeper appreciation and understanding of the framework, so it doesn’t become another fad or marketable pedagogy? Those who advocate for MPE must continue to ask questions, seek answers, and share those answers in ways that make them accessible to a variety of stakeholders. Where next for MPE? By posing better questions which can facilitate an ongoing dialogue to find better answers.
How can digital technology enhance (or detract) from meaningful experiences?
One of the many impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic is the move to online or blended learning to facilitate the teaching of PE. What does MPE look like within digital/online PE, and can the framework be used in a way to enhance practice? Beyond responding to the constraints of the pandemic, we are faced with the wider challenge of the digital age (Armour, Goodyear, and Sandford, 2020). What do we need to understand to support ‘online’ youth and what does this look like through a MPE lens? We need to develop our own digital literacy to allow us to harness the educative potential of digital technology and use it in a positive way to co-construct meaningful experiences with children and young people we teach. A key part of the MPE approach is the inclusion of pedagogical principles of democratic approaches and reflective practices; how might digital technology facilitate these in positive ways?
What might be some other critical features of interest for MPE?
The work carried out so far in MPE has found that student responses don’t fall outside the critical features already identified. However, this does not mean there might not be other features that have yet to be surfaced. We may need to draw upon fields outside our own or interrogate what we already know. Take fun for example, which is a critical feature of MPE. Is fun a euphemism for other things but the students lack the language to better describe their experiences in PE? By helping children to broaden their vocabulary, they might provide us more accurate details of their experiences, which might help us to find other critical features of MPE. If there are other critical features to be found, or critical features to be changed then prioritizing and supporting student voice will be essential for identifying them.
What might be the dangers or downsides of an MPE approach?
This is a key question for those who advocate for MPE to ponder. When we adopt an approach, we can often become blinded by its limits and the likelihood of negative unintended outcomes. Is MPE a double-edged sword for both students and teachers? In pursuit of prioritising meaningful experiences might we negatively impact those who are indifferent to meaningful experiences or those who have already found meaning in their movement? Are we trying to achieve an unachievable outcome within the constraints of PE? How do we ensure MPE doesn’t become another checklist to validate our practice rather than a framework to enhance our practice? Whatever the answers might be we need to embrace those who challenge the approach and ask difficult questions of it ourselves.
How can we communicate the MPE framework to the wider school community?
When teachers use a new approach, like MPE, they are often looking for student buy-in. Buy-in does not occur in a vacuum though. It is difficult to achieve without the support of key-stakeholders and decisions makers within the wider school community. Everyone has an opinion of what PE should be and how it is implemented. Without communicating MPEs vision and pedagogical practices those who want to use it might not ever be given the chance to do so. Unless we communicate coherently to key stakeholders such as school leaders and administrators, sustained change is unlikely to occur.
What does good professional development look like for MPE?
MPE offers the practitioner new ways of thinking, talking, and doing PE which need to be supported. Ongoing research with in-service teachers points towards communities of practice, modelling and peer observation as keyways of supporting development. Can this be scaled up effectively, within time and money constraints, and if so, what does it look like? Beyond in-service teachers, what about teacher and coach educators? How do we support them in better supporting teachers and coaches who wish to use the MPE framework in their context?
What impact does MPE have on other important factors such as health, physical activity levels, academic achievement, or wellbeing?
An uncomfortable and challenging question for those who advocate for MPE. To be able to measure these outcomes directly in relation to MPE, there needs to be a scale that allows us to ‘measure’ meaningfulness in a quantitative way. How do we do that in a way that is true to MPE? However, it is one that needs to be explored albeit in an ethical manner. For MPE to gain influence with policy and decision makers, a quantitative approach would allow us to ask different questions than are currently being asked. It may allow us to see whether a MPE approach has any positive impact of meaningfulness. This is important as if it does, then is it correlated in any way to outcomes that governments and agencies care about, such as physical activity levels?
Can development in all the learning domains be fostered through the MPE framework?
Exploratory research in this area would suggest that learning in all domains is enhanced by a MPE approach, especially social and emotional learning, but there are challenges to measuring this. The domain that MPE most likely prioritises for learning is the affective domain. At the heart of MPE is children and young people learning about and reflecting on what movement experiences they like, dislike, want more or less of. This is a legitimate learning outcome of a good PE programme, although not often articulated. If we prioritize the learning in the affective domain, through an MPE approach, what impact might we have on learning in the other domains?
What are the lived experiences of children and young people who are taught through the MPE framework?
A vital question that needs to be investigated and answered, but fraught with challenges around ethical and definitional considerations. Those who advocate for MPE do not truly know for sure what impact it is having on children and young people and whether it transfers beyond the classroom. We might be heading up a dead-end or a wrong turn, so it would be good to know the time and effort we are making actually enhances the experience of PE, sport and physical activity for the children and young people we teach.
Does meaningfulness change and how does it change?
As teachers and teacher educators, if we reflect on our own relationship with movement and its place within our lives, it is clearly a dynamic relationship. Exploring this and understanding how it changes over the life span and in different contexts is important if we want to facilitate meaningful experiences not just to children and young people but the wider population. Related to that it is crucial to understand what are the socio-cultural factors that might shape and influence meaningful experiences. Chen’s (1998) work with high school students found their conceptions of meaningfulness were differentiated based on their socioeconomic status, gender, and grade level. A deeper understanding of these factors will inform us to make better pedagogical judgements and decisions for the individuals we work with.
What does meaningfulness look like in other contexts and environments?
Schools are an incredibly important site for inducting people into movement culture. Not just because PE is the one guaranteed time for this for all children, but also what the school can contribute in addition to our subject. Active transport, physically active learning, school sport, intramural sport, informal sport and school based physical activity all have their role to play, but what role could MPE have on enhancing their impact? What would an extra-curricular programme look like if it was built on the vision of meaningful experiences rather than the tradition of competitive team sport? How might current physical activity initiatives, such as the daily Mile, be transformed by MPE? Beyond PE and school there are critical questions being asked of the stewardship of both youth and professional sport. Does MPE have a role to play in ensuring good governance of both?
Answering leaky questions together
In a recent paper by Kretchmar (2021), he categorises questions as large, small and leaky. Large questions are defined by others as important and are big in scope. Small questions are limited in scope and are usually asked by sub-specialists. Leaky questions are those that cross boundaries because they cannot be effectively answered by those residing in any one area or at any one level. Kretchmar argues that leaky questions generate humility, mutual respect, and incentives for collaboration. When we ask questions about meaning and what is meaningful these are leaky questions. If we individually try to answer the questions MPE is raising, we will end up with impoverished answers. It needs all of us to come together as a community of practice to work with each other rather than working in silos. If you are interested in joining our MPE community of practice, then please fill in this form https://forms.gle/rcip9kJEtHdjSE1Z7 and we will send details out to you in the near future.
Armour, K. M., Goodyear, V. A., & Sandford, R. (2020). The digital age challenge: preparing physical and health educators to understand and support “online” youth. In School Physical Education and Teacher Education (pp. 92-102). Routledge.
Chen, A. (1998). Meaningfulness in physical education: A description of high school students’ conceptions. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 17(3), 285-306.
Kretchmar, S. (2021). Large Questions, Small Questions, and Leaky Ones Too. Kinesiology Review, 10(2), 111-118. Chicago