What Meaningful PE is…and is not: Part Two

Stephanie Beni

In the previous post, I shared the first three of seven ideas about what Meaningful PE is by beginning with what Meaningful is not. In this post I offer four more ideas and access to a full infographic to summarize these clarifying points.

4. Meaningful PE is NOT aimed at maximizing students’ moderate-to-vigorous physical activity within PE class.

In light of the focus in Meaningful PE on reflective pedagogies, which may include, for example, providing students opportunities to engage in a paired discussion, write in a PE journal, or record and reflect on some specific goals in PE, some of the feedback we have received from teachers has centred around the idea that engaging students in reflective activities ‘steals’ their movement time. This tends to be a concern for both teachers, who want to maximize their students’ MVPA, and students, who would often rather be playing than talking. Certainly, we believe in the value of providing many, high-quality opportunities for movement in PE class (and would argue that there are many ways to engage students in reflection without compromising movement time). However, Meaningful PE is designed to promote the types of experiences that will draw students back to movement both within and beyond PE. Generally speaking, the time we have with students in PE each week is far from sufficient to provide them with the physical activity time they need in order to be healthy. If we can use PE time to help them find their personal playgrounds – the places they find joy and desire to return to – then perhaps they will invest in their own physical activity beyond their 50 or so minutes a week of PE.

5. Meaningful PE is NOT a free-for-all PE experience allowing students to do whatever will be enjoyable in the moment.

The inclusion of democratic pedagogies, such as allowing students to make some choices for themselves and engaging students in decision-making processes, has led to questions around feasibility and whether or not students are capable of making decisions for themselves, particularly in the primary grades. I recall when I first started using the approach in my classroom, I wondered if allowing students opportunities to make choices concerning their level of challenge in PE would lead many of them to choose the path of least resistance over and over again. However, I quickly discovered that this was not the case; my students were far more capable of being involved in decision-making than I first thought. Of course, this is not to say that a degree of developmental appropriateness is not needed. Certainly, students still require guidance and there will usually be some negotiation necessary between teachers and students. Thus, Meaningful PE is a way to involve students more in age-appropriate decision-making to promote active learning. In some cases, teachers may do this, for example, by providing a few options from which students may choose. At other times, it may be appropriate to involve students in determining the types of activities in which they will engage in their PE program. In either case, the idea is to provide appropriate opportunities to allow students to be actively involved in their own learning.

6. Meaningful PE is NOT the golden ticket to meaningful experiences in PE.

One of the most profound, yet oh-so-simple things I have learned as a teacher implementing Meaningful PE in my classroom is that providing meaningful experiences is not something I can do for my students. There is simply no formula, no product, no approach that leads straight to meaningful experiences for every student in every situation. On the contrary, Meaningful PE is built on the premise that meaningfulness is experienced in subjective ways in transaction with others in a social environment which necessitates regular reflection and adjustment. There are so many unique and dynamic factors in any PE classroom – students, their histories and previous experiences, the class culture, the broader culture, what they have access to, and so on – all of which with the potential to contribute to ways students make sense of and find meaningfulness in PE. In order to account for these, it is critical to facilitate meaningful experiences with, rather than for, students in PE. As a result, this may look different from classroom to classroom and day to day.  

7. Meaningful PE is NOT a completed project.

The ideas shared through the Meaningful PE approach are not intended to be complete or absolute, and we certainly don’t pretend to know everything about this. On the contrary, Meaningful PE is very much a work in progress. In fact, our own perceptions of meaningfulness in PE continue to be challenged and changed, particularly as we have opportunities to work with others. This is why we love hearing from teachers, students, researchers, teacher educators, coaches, and so on about other thoughts, ideas, strategies, and questions around meaningfulness in PE. This list of 7 things about what Meaningful PE is and is not should also be thought of as partial and incomplete, and we think it is very likely that the list will change in time and in different contexts.

Thanks for reading and learning along with us. Help us keep the dialogue going as we continue to learn more about meaningful physical education!

One thought on “What Meaningful PE is…and is not: Part Two

  1. At Ziyyara, we feel that it is essential for students to be physically fit so that their overall mental and social health also gets enhanced. Students who opt for physical education in class 12 are required to appear for a practical as well as a written examination and are able to score very well in their board exams. Health and Physical Education focuses on students enhancing their own and others’ health.

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