What Meaningful PE is…and is not: Part One

By: Stephanie Beni

Sometimes the best way to understand what a concept or innovation is begins with understanding what it is not. My recent work with Canadian teachers learning to implement Meaningful PE in their classrooms highlighted for me the need to clarify some key points about the Meaningful PE approach. In order to do so, I decided to create an infographic designed to clarify what I considered to be perhaps some common misconceptions about the Meaningful PE approach. In this two-part blog post series, I share seven ideas about what Meaningful PE is by beginning with what Meaningful is not. We will share a full infographic in the second post.

1. Meaningful PE is NOT designed to be a checklist of prescribed steps that teachers should use to teach toward meaningful experiences.

While a checklist can be convenient, and these types of benchmarks can have their place in models-based practice, Meaningful PE was not designed toward this end. Given that students often experience meaningfulness in different ways in relation to their previous experiences and through interactions in the environment, the ideas presented in Meaningful PE are not intended to ultimately be used in a prescribed way. Rather, Meaningful PE is designed to be used as a framework that can help guide teachers’ pedagogical decision-making in order to prioritize meaningful experiences. This framework affords teachers some flexibility to apply ideas about meaningfulness in a way that is contextually appropriate and meets the needs of their students (collectively and individually) while still providing research-informed guiding principles that are likely to help promote meaningful experiences for students.

2. Meaningful PE is NOT a set of six features of meaningful PE experiences.

While six specific features of meaningful PE experiences are identified within the approach (i.e. social interaction, fun, motor competence, challenge, personally relevant learning, and delight), there are a couple of primary reasons why the Meaningful PE approach should not be equated exclusively with these features. First, Meaningful PE is more than just a list of features. The use of democratic and reflective pedagogies to support students’ learning and experiences in PE deserves consideration and may make it more likely that students might experience features that can help foster meaningful experiences. Second, the list of features shared through Meaningful PE should be thought of as provisional – providing a starting rather than end point to the types of features that may influence the meaningfulness of students’ experiences. It can also provide a foundation to work upon when developing a shared language about meaningfulness. Certainly, teachers and especially students themselves may identify other features to be considered. Thus, Meaningful PE is a collection of ideas about the types of features that influence ways students experience meaningfulness and about how teachers might promote these.

3. Meaningful PE is NOT a stand-alone model or approach for delivery of a PE program.

Meaningful PE is not a model; neither is it designed to function in competition with models and other approaches. Indeed, much of our research to date has demonstrated the use of Meaningful PE alongside models such as Sport Education, TGfU, Cooperative Learning, and TPSR. Further, ideas about meaningfulness are not designed to replace curricula/policies that dictate what should be taught in PE. Rather, Meaningful PE is designed to be integrated with local curricular and policy objectives and used in concert with other pedagogical models/approaches where appropriate. In this way, we see Meaningful PE as fulfilling broader objectives and purposes. My recent research with teachers in Canada has shown the need to help teachers draw connections between Meaningful PE and local curriculum/policy documents and other approaches to PE instruction.

So, in summary so far…

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