A Primary Classroom Teacher’s Perspective on Implementing Meaningful PE

Lauren is a generalist, primary classroom teacher. In the following post, she briefly describes her experience implementing Meaningful PE into her physical education classes. 

I believe that students succeed when they feel a strong sense of community. This approach allowed me to carry the sense of community and rapport I had built with my students in the classroom down to the gym. Here are 3 reasons why I feel I had a positive experience implementing the approach with my students:

Reason 1

I do frequent wellness check-ins and check-ins for understanding with my class during subjects like math, language science, etc. but I had never incorporated those check-ins into physical education. Meaningful PE allowed me to narrow in on a specific feature and check-in with my students around it (e.g., social interaction). I think it helped our phys ed classes because it made time for discussions which allowed students’ voices to steer our future classes. The students often had many suggestions on how to make activities more inclusive, more engaging, more fair, more fun, etc. and I allowed them to make these changes and try their suggestions to see if they really did make the activities better.

Reason 2  

I think it is extremely important for students to learn about the world in which they live, so the feature of personally relevant learning in Meaningful PE was huge for my class. Linking experiences in the gym to everyday life was a part of this approach that my students really enjoyed. Even during activities where I struggled to come up with a connection, my students shocked me by coming up with so many! I think they really enjoyed the reflection time and being able to share how what we were doing in the gym related to their life outside of school and how it related to things they wanted to do/be in their future.

Reason 3

This approach allowed our class to come together, which isn’t always easy to do in a primary physical education class. I really felt the students enjoyed talking about their phys ed class and benefited from it. If we were talking about the feature of social interaction one day, for example, and a student brought up why they might not have been happy with the activity we were doing (e.g., maybe they felt left out), I saw students consciously trying to not let that happen the next time we did the same activity. I think no matter how small a timeframe you have, students just want to be heard and have their thoughts validated; this approach helped me do that in our physical education classes.

I am definitely not an expert yet and feel it will take a lot more time to get anywhere close. As a teacher, it is so hard to make time for everything in a school day. My goal for next year is to be conscious of time during phys ed classes so I can allow for these small, but important, conversations to take place.

Expanding on delight – Mel Hamada

Mel Hamada is a physical educator currently working in China at the International School of Beijing. She also runs her own website and blog, which can be found at www.melhamada.comIn the following post, Mel outlines how she has come to appreciate the journey of trying to guide her students toward the experience of delight.

One of the big conversations I have enjoyed as I have unpacked LAMPE‘s Meaningful PE and the features they have shared is to try and explain what is meant by Delight. Delight is not the same as joy or fun and it is important to try and distinguish between the differences as we create experiences in our classrooms.

Scott Kretchmar’s writings mention fun regularly. This is how he has explained fun:

“Things that are fun are often temporary, and they are usually not meaningful. Fun can be used like a band-aid, something that covers over a sore but doesn’t affect a lasting cure. Fun is used by physical educators to mask what could be a distasteful experience. One involving effort, sore muscles, exercise, and sweating.” Dr. Scott Kretchmar – Why Useless Play is so Useful in Educational Settings.

What we see a lot of is busy, happy students who must be having fun – and they may well be. Polling of our MS students often leads them to tell us that the activity or class was fun, but what I want to find out is how we can grow that ‘fun’ into ‘delight’. Kretchmar suggests that “growing movement playgrounds requires different approaches than providing exercise that is fun.” He suggests that to build meaningful relationships with movement we must establish opportunities for people to engage with movement over long periods of time so that the movement becomes part of our being and selves.

PE Teachers have usually tasted and experienced the depths of delight through movement. They know what it feels like, that time can disappear, that we are physically and mentally challenged and won’t always succeed or feel that it is ‘fun’ but that we always come back for more. Movement is part of our lives and souls and the collective experiences run deep. PE Teacher staff rooms can be full of sports results, training gear or workout plans, reflections of failed adventures or wish-list activities as we share experiences and results – almost in another language to students who pop in to say hello. Kretchmar often refers to this depth as the movement subculture, the place where others will wonder what you are talking about and not have the experience, language or ability to join in.

How do we guide our young apprentices (students) into this depth of movement and cultural understanding when they haven’t ever experienced it before? It is not feasible to plan a lesson around Delight; that is the Fun talking.  Delight is a project that will take time. Just like eating a new vegetable for the first time, you may not like it but with more time and attention to the way it is cooked and served, you may well grow to love it. This may take a week, or a month or even longer depending on how often you eat it, who is cooking it, how adventurous you are and the engagement you have with knowledge and experience of cooking. But we don’t choose to refuse eating vegetables because of that initial encounter.

PE teachers need to plan and create long term partnerships with students to build learning experiences, by having them follow ideas and listen to conversations, we need to engage them by fully immersing them into the experiences of Movement and work hard to make whatever brings them delight a part of their life fabric.

I didn’t fall in love with Running on Day 1. I would say I didn’t really love it until I had done a full season with the MS team I trained with. The daily training, the camaraderie, the challenge of interval training and racing, the hardship of injury and learning how to look after my body and the support of my coach and teammates, helped me to see myself as a runner and through that newfound identity, I was hooked and have spent a whole life in the language of running. In the song ‘Shallow’ – there is a moment, where Lady’ Gaga’s character takes a deep breath and walks to the stage to sing. Of course, she is amazing – but all the work that happened before that moment has led to her jumping further into that deep delight – her face is priceless as she finds her confidence and then she just sings it out “I’m off the deep end, watch as I dive in” – it makes my skin tingle with Goosebumps. So powerful, I have had this song on repeat for a few weeks now – it isn’t just fun, it is delightful and I lose myself every time I listen to it.

Fun can be a lesson’s work but Delight is a deep cavernous space that takes time to fill with knowledge, engagement and experience in order to understand just how powerful Movement can be.

Click here to check out the expanded version of this post on Mel’s blog.

Meaningful #HPEatHome

We are heartened and inspired to see the enthusiasm and innovation shown by many teachers who aim to provide their students with support through these challenging times – what a remarkable community! We have some thoughts (rather than advice) about how #HPEatHome can be made meaningful for students, so they might engage with movement in their homes and communities and return to school looking forward to PE.

  • Reflection is vital for students to be made aware of and understand their experiences; however, many teachers are conflicted between taking time for reflection and taking time away from movement. You might be able to use this time to facilitate student reflection on PE. For example, you might ask what they enjoy or don’t enjoy about movement. What do they look forward to most or least? What was one memorable experience in PE from this year and what made it memorable? What they are most looking forward to doing in terms of their ‘usual’ movement once things return? This may offer some hope and something to look forward to. Students might also reflect on how movement can be helpful during potentially stressful situations such as they are currently facing. Taking the opportunity to ask students to connect with you in this way might provide you with some important (virtual) 1-1 time that can be challenging in a typical PE class. This may also come in handy for planning and instructional decisions when you return…
  • Embrace goal-setting: For some students a realistic and worthy goal might simply to be active for some part of the day; for others it might be more specific depending on what they can access in their homes. Some apps can be used to facilitate goal-setting in relation to specific skills (e.g., Hudl) if students want to get better, no matter what their current level. Goal-setting can also help students create and/or navigate a daily schedule while they are out of school.
  • Context is important but can be challenging: In newspapers we have seen lots of advice about taking hikes and getting into nature. This is wonderful if you have access to it and should be encouraged, but many students simply don’t have this kind of access and we imagine it might lead to frustration, resentment, and so on. This is why knowing the types of situations your students might be facing in terms of #HPEatHome is crucial. If students don’t have access to the outdoors, what can be done inside? Perhaps ask students to send you a clip (a dance, ultimate trick shot set up, favourite bike circuit/route), link or set of instructions for their favourite activity to do indoors. Depending on your mode of contact with students, these could be compiled and shared with the class for peers to try for themselves and comment on, fostering some type of positive interactions. It might also give them a bank of new activities to suggest upon returning to school.
  • Encourage alternative ways to be active with others. This can be done with siblings and other family members in the home, or with friends through various forms of technology and social media (e.g., Tic Toc). They could set challenges for friends.
  • Encourage students to try something new while no one’s watching. One of the inescapable challenges of PE is the public nature of students’ participation and performance. Students might find they enjoy or thrive in something they felt too self-conscious to embrace under the gaze of others. The apps mentioned may support this, and Youtube offers instruction for almost anything you can imagine. Who knows, you might find that someone has found their passion for Capoeira, Parkour, Darts, Mini Putt or Floor Curling while at home!
  • This is an opportunity for students to make some personally relevant connections between how their actions can affect others, which is so important in many aspects of PE, school and life in general. If your curriculum has expectations or outcomes for personal safety (e.g., social distancing, telling someone when you’re not feeling well, thinking about others), tasks that engage students in understanding the current situation will be highly relevant to them. They might not be ‘peak’ or delightful experiences but they could see clearly why they are learning things in PE.
  • As teachers of health and physical education, one of our main goals is to have students take ownership of their learning. In fact, most PE curricula have an explicitly stated aim of becoming ‘active for life’ (or similar). In these unique and challenging times, supporting the autonomy of our students has never been more important! Allowing time for reflection, facilitating goal setting, encouraging new pursuits and recognizing contextual differences are all strategies that are highly autonomy supportive. Providing ways for students to have and improve voice and choice in their daily activity decisions NOW has the potential to improve their PE experience when they get back to their school setting.

 

Using the MPE framework as a vision for teaching (Part 2) – How study participants found meaningful PE to be an appropriate vision.

In our previous post, we briefly discussed the value of adopting a vision for teaching and how it can serve as a useful tool to guide both professional practice and decision-making. We also touched briefly on the idea of using the features of meaningful PE as a vision to guide our  respective practices because it aligned with our individual and collective beliefs, as well as our values for school-based physical education. In this post we will provide a general overview of some of the ways that the participants in one of our most recent studies found MPE to be an appropriate vision.

There were five members of our research team who participated in the study (Déirdre, Steph, Tim, Caitlin and Ciara). Because of that, it is probably not strange to assume that we all came with an initial level of interest and affinity towards meaningful physical education. As a common starting point, a vision of prioritizing meaningful experiences provided us with a clear focus for what we hoped to achieve through our practice. It also provided us the opportunity to incorporate the vision as a reflection tool and ‘measure’ of practice. Caitlin referred to the features of Meaningful PE as a continual filter for making decisions (p. 609). Tim described that in certain instances his practice helped refine his vision and vice-versa, describing how the relationship between vision and practice was not always one way (p. 609).

Some of us also found that the features of Meaningful PE aligned with many aspects of what we were already doing in our respective practices. For some, this led to the realization of a small distance between practice and vision, suggesting the need for small tweaks and adjustments to our current practices. For Stephanie, this led to uncertainties and questions about how exactly this vision could be achieved, as the actions to reflect the vision seemed to be less clear. However, as we continued to fine-tune our practice and become more committed to the vision, the distance between practice and vision gradually became smaller and smaller. As a result, this led some of us to expand the range of our vision to include other contexts as the visions became firmly embedded in who we were and how we identified as educators. For example, for Déirdre, Tim, and Caitlin, their work as teacher educators meant they could see the vision expanding beyond their individual practices in PETE and into schools and communities.

A vision based on Meaningful PE also afforded us the flexibility to emphasize different aspects of the framework to better suit both our immediate teaching contexts and the needs and interests of the students we were teaching. Déirdre explained how enacting this vision allowed her to place boundaries around the things that were important to her teaching (p. 608). For Ciara, this was realized through adjusting the level of competition so that all students would enjoy themselves more (p. 609). Each of these instances demonstrate how we were able to be both intentional and purposeful with the adjustments we made to our practices in ways that reflected the ideals of our individual and collective vision.

We hope that these posts have provided you with more information on the value of establishing a vision for teaching based on your own beliefs. If you are someone who has found that the features of meaningful PE align with your personal views on physical education, we would also like to encourage you to experiment with using this vision as a guide for your practice. We would love to hear any feedback or insights you might have!

Using the MPE framework as a vision for teaching (Part 1) – What is a vision for teaching?

In one of our most recent publications, we’ve highlighted how the features of Meaningful PE can be used as a vision for teaching, which can inform teachers’ decision-making. A vision may bring to mind something far off or ethereal, but we think it can offer something strongly grounded in your own reality. So what is a vision for teaching?

Your teaching vision is what attaches you and your accompanying beliefs to your teaching practice. It can encompass everything from decisions related to how and what you choose to teach, to more broad considerations such as what you hope to see from the schools, communities, and the societies of tomorrow. If you were to refer to your own personal philosophy and how it relates to ‘the bigger picture’ of what you are trying to accomplish, you would likely be referring to your vision for teaching. But why is developing this vision so critical to our practice as physical educators?

Developing a clear vision can help shift your practice towards being more intentional and informed with regard to the decisions that you make every day, while lack of a clear vision may lead to adverse outcomes for students. To illustrate how a vision has consequences for your day-to-day actions, think about the following. You may have attended a professional development workshop last month and are now deciding how to incorporate some of the activities into your lessons. It is through continually referring back to your vision that you are able to assess and effectively incorporate these activities into your programme in a way that best reflects its focus and direction. If you were to simply use the ideas without identifying how they relate to your purposes, the end result may be something that is incoherent to both you and your students – there is nothing that connects the dots. Having a clear vision can serve as a means to navigate the gap between your current practice and intentions and also help you to find ways to fill that gap. It will likely never be completely filled, and so a vision can be sustained over time as you continue to change as a person and professional.

According to Hammerness (1999, 2001), a teacher’s vision may vary across three dimensions. Each of these dimensions can lead us to a question that can help us to learn more about our own respective visions:

  • Focus: Is my vision blurry or clearly defined?
  • Distance: How far away is my vision from my current practice?
  • Range: Is my vision narrow and specific or broad and panoramic?

In our most recent publication, we are by no means suggesting that there is one best vision for physical education. Rather, an MPE-based framework for decision-making has resonated with our beliefs and values about the design and delivery of school-based physical education and has provided us with what we feel is a clear vision that we can aspire to. In the following blog post, we will share how some of the participants in our study also found MPE to be an appropriate vision to guide their professional practice.

Norwegian Students’ Experiences of Physical Education

One of our pedagogical cases showcases the Norwegian approach to youth sports. We identified ways in which some of the features of meaningful experiences are present in that system’s approach to youth sport participation. Tim recently met Lars Bjorke (@larsbjorke) from Inland Norway University. Lars mentioned a national study he was involved in, which is the largest that has focused on Norwegian students’ experiences of physical education. This provides the focus for this guest post:

We are a Norwegian research group in PE at Inland Norway University. Last year we conducted a national representative survey on how 3226 5th to 10th grade students (aged 10-16) experience Norwegian PE. This study was the first National study on PE in Norway and provides a useful overall picture of students’ experiences. In this blog post we will present some of our key findings, and discuss how teachers could address these by reflecting on their own practice, and providing a starting point for conversations with students.

First, a short glimpse into the Norwegian PE context. PE in Norway is a compulsory subject, taught in mixed-sex classes. It is the third largest subject measured in allocated teaching hours, and our curriculum is competence based, regulated by the national law of education.

So, over to some of our key findings. We provide a short summary of three key findings in our study and attach some questions as a starting point for reflection.

Finding 1

Overall, the study shows that PE is a subject that most students like a lot. However, the proportion of students that like the subject declines with increasing age. Furthermore, we found that boys like PE better than girls.

Reflective questions

How do these findings apply to your class? If they are similar, why might that be the case? And if they are different, what are the reasons for that? How can you as a teacher meet the needs of both boys and girls in PE? Or to take one step back; is it really the biological sex that matters or is it more relevant to see each student as an individual in their own right?

Finding 2

The content of PE tends to focus on ball games and fitness training. Dance, outdoor education and modern activities receive little attention.

Reflective questions

Is this representative of what you teach in your classes or do you have more variation? What is the rationale behind your practice – is it based on activities or learning objectives? What consequences do your choices about practice have for each individual in your class?

Finding 3

Traditional instructional methods dominate the subject. However, at the same time we found that the students call for more variation in both content and methods.

Reflective questions

What approaches do you use when delivering the subject? How can students’ voices be can heard when they call for more variation? Maybe you as a teacher are in the best position to decide choice of methods?

To conclude, we would like to offer two suggestions for how to approach our findings (with and without your students):

  • Based on democratic principles (which are central in Norwegian society and in most societies around the world) students’ voices deserve to be heard!
    • Think of ways that you can talk with your students about how they experience PE – e.g. orally, digitally or through written assignments
    • How can students’ voices inform your choice of both content and methods in the future?
  • At the same time, in order to have meaningful conversations with your students, a fundamental premise is for you to reflect upon how you experience and want to develop your own teaching. We believe that in reading this blog, you already show an ambition of developing yourself and your practice.

Norwegian Students’ Experiences of Physical Education: A Response

Many things come to mind from reading both the summary and report from Lars and the research group at Inland Norway University. One of the most impactful is that many students like physical education and this is to be celebrated. At the same time, the decrease in enjoyment that occurs as students get older is also perhaps cause for concern. Importantly, the report indicated that students themselves – not just teachers and other key stakeholders – would like more variety in both content and pedagogy. We don’t think this necessarily means cramming more activities or themes that are the same or similar to what is already being offered (e.g., more types of ball games) into often already crowded curricula, but changing what is offered and how it is offered based on what students find meaningful and relevant to their lives. For instance, in Justen O’Connor’s article, students spoke about the meaningfulness of surfing or even being in a mosh pit as being sources of meaning. If teachers are aware of what activities students want, that can provide a good platform from which to begin negotiations of the content of physical education.

When we reflect on how the findings from Norway can influence our understanding of the contexts we are working in, we come away feeling that things are more similar than different, despite the cultural, geographical, social, and political differences. It would seem that PE tends to be taught in much the same way in many places, with similar outcomes for children’s experiences of PE. The questions Lars posed for reflection are simple but very important and get to the heart of some of the major questions we should be asking ourselves and our students. They also highlight an inherent tension or dilemma: whose voice should be granted the loudest volume? Mine as the teacher (who makes decisions based on education, experience and professional judgment) or the students’? Teachers’ decisions are informed by education, experience and professional judgement but must ultimately be made in the contexts in which they teach, and particuarly with their students in mind. Students’ voices must be heard and responded to in authentic ways if physical education is to truly influence their lives beyond schools. Having an understanding of what a large sample of students want can give us some ideas about the types of experiences we should aim to be facilitating that would encourage ongoing engagement with physical education in ways that are meaningful to those whom we teach.

A Tribute to the 2019 SSHRC Storytellers

Hey everyone, Steph here.  This is a bit of a different post than what you might be used to for us, but I wanted to take a moment to share some insights from a project I’ve recently taken on. If you follow the @meaningfulpe team on Twitter, perhaps you’ve seen our tweets about my recent success in the SSHRC Storytellers competition, where I was named a finalist and will be competing for a place in the top 5 in Vancouver, British Columbia in June. If you haven’t already seen it, take a look at my three-minute video submission here.

The competition in a nut-shell: graduate students across Canada are invited to share a short submission outlining a research project that has been funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. While the submission can be any format you’d like (e.g. video, audio, written), it can be no more than 3 minutes or 300 words in length and must be presented in a creative format that is easily accessible and understandable by the general public (i.e. not in academic language). And let me tell you, this is not as easy as it might seem.

Last weekend I took the time to view all of the submissions from all 25 Finalists, and I wanted to share a couple things that struck me as I watched them. First, being a part of this competition and viewing the submissions from other Finalists has really opened my eyes to the potential of using diverse and creative research dissemination strategies. Journal articles and conference presentations undoubtedly have their place, but could we be more effective at sharing our research with our target audience if we go a step beyond that? I know for me at least, the answer at times is yes. A few examples from the Storytellers: writing a song that encapsulates the basis of your research project, creating a video that gives voice to the population your research is aimed at representing, or writing a poem that tells a story. Check out the 25 submissions here to see these ideas and more in action.

Second, I am amazed at how much I learned about a vast array of topics, each of which highlighted in only 300 words or 3 minutes. I had no idea how important (and valuable $$$) nightcrawlers can be, that incarcerated women in Canada are not being prepared with employment skills, that breast cancer rates are a staggering sixteen times higher for women working in areas with high pollution, or that Canadian filmmakers are starting to turn to crowd funding to be able to produce their films. Sometimes as researchers it can be very easy to get caught up in our silos and only pursue knowledge that relates to our own topic of study, but viewing my fellow finalists’ submissions made me realize the importance of broadening my horizons in this area.

Lastly, I just want to say how blown away I am by the high quality of work being produced by Canadian graduate students on a diverse range of topics. I may be biased, but I think we’re pretty amazing.  The 25 Finalists will be facing off at the Storytellers Showcase on June 3 at 9 am, Pacific time. The Showcase will be live streamed on Facebook via the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Facebook Page. If you’re in a time zone that has you up at that hour, check out our world-changing research!  See you in Vancouver, Storytellers!

Bildung – a student-focused approach to PE

Guest blog post by Jonas Wibowo & Claus Krieger

This blog entry has its origin in a meeting we had with Tim and Steph at the AERA conference in Toronto on April 5th 2019. We had the great opportunity to learn about our respective approaches to PE and found some similarities and links we would like to pursue and exchange. Specifically, we saw a lot of similarities in ideas about meaning and the German concept of Bildung. To possibly and hopefully enrich the discourse on Meaningful PE, we will try to introduce and outline the German concept of Bildung and briefly explain how it can be enacted in PE:

First of all, Bildung is an idea from the German epoche of idealism that refers to and draws from different theories such as anthropological philosophy, phenomenology, and others. Apart from the different theoretical approaches, there are some general assumptions that are crucial for the idea of Bildung: (1) Humans are open beings and not pre-determined; (2) Humans form their subject-world-relationship through cognitive, bodily and aesthetic processes; (3) Bildung describes a process that evolves from a situation of uncertainty and a lack of routine in a specific situation. By reflection and intentional action, it can lead to a change in the individual subject-world-relationship.

Movement and sports, seen as aesthetic processes, offer a unique way to form the individual subject-world-relationship. These processes require, however, space and time for students to find their own individual meaning in and through movement and sports. Physical education aims to provide these opportunities by designing educational settings in which it is likely that students‘ routines would be unsettled. If these unsettling moments are offered, PE teachers then need to give students responsibility and space for decision-making, e.g. by the use of open methods in cooperative or problem-oriented learning environments. Openness seems also necessary in terms of selecting content and areas of focus. Openness can be established, for example, by focusing the understanding of elementary movements in a certain sport rather than reproducing techniques. E. g. instead of teaching a gymnastic-style toe-stretching handstand, students could work collaboratively on the problem of how to stand stable on the hands or even walk on them. New and/or unknown or unusual sports, movements and activities may also be suitable for such Bildung experiences and processes.

Just as with the work done in Meaningful PE, we have been using pedagogical cases on the one hand and qualitative research of the subjective views of students and teachers on the other hand to substantiate and illustrate the concept of Bildung in PE – we would be happy to share further info – if interest exists – in  future posts.
Jonas Wibowo & Claus Krieger
jonas.wibowo@uni-wuppertal.de; claus.krieger@uni-hamburg.de

Bildung and/in Meaningful PE (response)

Quite often we come across ideas and concepts that have been around for a while in some places but take their time to reach our own worlds. Although we had heard the term Bildung before, we had not had the opportunity to engage with it or understand its nuances until we heard Jonas and Claus present on their research at the Research on Learning and Instruction in Physical Education SIG Invisible College at AERA in Toronto. It was clear to all of us that there were several areas – both realized and potential — of overlap and alignment with Bildung and Meaningful PE, as Jonas and Claus described in their post.

In their presentation, Jonas and Claus showed a video of a teacher working with primary students in a gymnastics lesson. Many of the students were highly engaged as they tried to determine ways to execute jumps off a box and onto a springboard. It appeared that the teacher was working very hard, even though it was not him that we saw or heard most of. That is, he was working very hard to be quiet, to stay out of the way of students, and to provide helpful ‘nudges’ to get them to think about the task and what they could do – not what they should do.

As we and others have written about elsewhere, ‘how’ to do meaningful PE is a bit murky. And this is where some of the ideas from Bildung strike us as being similar. So while many people might first associate the ideas of meaningful PE with the features (i.e., social interaction, challenge, fun, motor competence, personally relevant learning and delight) it is the pedagogies represented by Bildung that we see as being particularly resonant with ideas of Meaningful PE. For example, students are given appropriate degrees of autonomy to use their voices and make choices in their learning. The direction of lessons is quite open and based on how students are interacting with each other (and the teacher), with tasks, with equipment, and with their environments. Also, there is time provided for students to reflect on their experiences in order to identify what and how they are learning. In the video we watched, reflection was not provided as it typically is, in an end of lesson discussion forum. It was provided as students were moving in the forms of questions, prompts, and probes. Often this was quite brief, but importantly, it was effective in having students actively engage with what it was they were doing

Teachers who embrace the ideas of Bildung or of Meaningful PE seem to take on the role of activity-broker; a term used by Scott Kretchmar to describe what teachers can or should do to foster meaningful experiences for learners. Activity Broker stands in contrast to Activity Director and emphasizes teachers as negotiators in setting up movement opportunities for students that they find significant in their personal experience. Furthermore, the teacher needs to facilitate learning and Bildung actively and individualized in the sense of adapting and connecting to the students processes.

As we have said before, we have borrowed many of our ideas from other areas to try to create some coherent whole in the form of Meaningful PE. Our engagement with Jonas and Claus in learning about Bildung has added another layer to this. However, we have struggled to identify ways in which teachers can be intentional in providing meaningful experiences, and be forthright in prioritizing these experiences for learners. Bildung offers some promising avenues to explore as we seek to build more connections and capacity to provide young learners with meaningful experiences based on students’ own interests, needs, and lived realities.

Preliminary Principles of Meaningful Physical Education in Schools

Based on several pilot projects where we have experimented with pedagogies to support meaningful physical education, we have developed the following principles and ideas that might shape an approach to Meaningful PE. We are keen to point out that we don’t feel these are set in stone in any way: one of the main points of doing this work is to try them out so they can be refined based on teachers’ and students’ experiences and responses.

  • Ideas about meaningful PE align with social constructivist theories of learning, where learning is viewed as a social process grounded in active inquiry and exploration, with learners making sense of knowledge through reconciling new experiences with those from the past. Teachers and students should work together, sharing responsibility for choosing the content of PE. For example, outcomes from our pilot research lead us to recommend that teachers shift from the authoritarian role of “instructor” to a more liberal role of “activity broker” by providing students with autonomy in their learning (Beni, et al., 2018). This follows Kretchmar’s (2006) argument that teachers should help students discover their “personal playgrounds” through providing opportunities for deep play (extended engagement encounters) in learning environments conducive to exploration and experimentation. This means that the Meaningful PE is not limited to, for example, games content: it is appropriate across all PE subject matter (games, dance, gymnastics, aquatics) and can be linked to the particular outcomes and expectations described in official curriculum documents across a variety of contexts.
  • The features of meaningful PE identified in our major review of literature (Beni, et al., 2017) guide teachers’ decisions about planning and instruction: (1) social interaction, (2) optimal level of challenge, (3) fun, (4) improving motor competence, (5) personally relevant learning, and (6) delight. Tasks are selected and/or designed based on their potential to help students engage with or experience the features of meaningful PE. From our pilot research, we recommend that the features be thought of as integrated rather than as a checklist.
  • Teachers employ strategies that support students in exercising autonomy. For example, students collaborate with teachers to make decisions about the type and nature of tasks they will engage in (and for how long). Pilot testing showed that students highly valued experiences where they felt supported in making autonomous decisions about how they engaged with PE content, including: selecting specific tasks based on personal level of interest or challenge; contributing to group composition decisions; modifying tasks to tailor the level of challenge to individual skill levels, and; identifying tasks to be assessed in culminating activities (Ní Chróinín, et al., 2018). When students are allowed more control of their own PE experience it allows them to carry out activities they find meaningful in their own right, and engage with tasks that have relevance for their lived realities.
  • Students are encouraged to identify short- and long-term goals for their learning. Pilot testing showed that goal-setting facilitates personally relevant learning for students where they can identify ways to transfer learning to their lives outside of school.
  • Teachers engage students in reflective processes (e.g., journalling, probing questions) during and after PE lessons. Reflections allow students to identify the nature and extent of the meaning they make in PE and make sense of their experiences (O’Connor, 2018), while also serving as an assessment tool for teachers. Students who participated in pilot testing described the public posting of the features of meaningful PE (e.g., on a poster) as being particularly helpful to identify how they made meaning in PE.