Meaningful Development of Professionals – Doug Gleddie & Jodi Harding-Kuriger

The following guest blog is from our series highlighting chapters from our recently published book Meaningful Physical Education: An Approach for Teaching and Learning.

Thank you for taking the time to read our blog post! We hope that you are choosing to read this piece as meaningful continued professional development (CPD) (Armour, Quennerstedt, Chambers, & Makopoulo, 2017). Although our chapter in the Meaningful Physical Education book was focused on pre-service teachers, it was really about professional development: “…for what is teacher education other than the development of professionals” (p. 88)? As such, this post focuses on our own professional development in relation to Meaningful PE. Throughout the production of the book and since its release, our use and understanding of the approach has continued to evolve. We ended the chapter with four thoughts on how we planned to optimize our understanding and implementation in the future. Well, it’s now the future so we figured it was time for an update! 😉

1. We want to move away from a reliance on the features of meaningful experiences to embrace personal constructions of meaningfulness.

Nothing is inherently meaningful, as the same experience may be meaningful or meaningless to different individuals (Metheny, 1968). The distinction lies in our interest in the experience (Metheny, 1968). As professionals, in order to teach PE with the goal of meaningful learning, we need to first begin to know our students and understand their experiences with PE and movement experience in general. Prior to beginning PE lessons, it is well worth creating the space and time for students to articulate movement experiences that get them excited and those that are fear or anxiety-inducing. These conversations will further shape our understanding of Meaningful PE for the students we work and play with.

2. We seek to focus on experiences (Dewey, 1938) while harnessing the power of reflection.

Opportunities to assess learning through a meaningful lens may require less consideration of things like standardized fitness testing (e.g. BEEP test) and more consideration of the feeling of accomplishment when a goal is set and achieved. PE journals are a wonderful reflective tool to use as communication between teachers and students as well as an assessment opportunity for meaningful learning. Guiding questions could include: ‘One thing I learned or improved upon during this unit was…’; ‘How can you use something you learned during the unit, outside of class?’; and/or ‘Describe an experience during the unit that was more meaningful or less meaningful for you and explain why’. The identification of both educative and mis-educative (Dewey, 1938) experiences through reflective practice gives students the autonomy and wisdom to pursue movement activities that bring them joy and delight (Kretchmar, 2008).

3. We want to make Meaningful PE more explicit while also creating space for the implicit emergence of meaningfulness.

As developing professionals, we can all benefit from making Meaningful PE more explicit. This can included developing a shared vocabulary, planning reflection time and using conversations with students to inspire lesson planning and assessment. For example, if students express that PE is meaningful to them when they feel their voices have been heard; we could co-create assessments and ensure that the learning activities are reflective of student ideas and experiences. However, we also have to leave space for meaningfulness to emerge organically. Being open to creativity and imagination – creating rich learning opportunities for students to explore and play in – enables personal connection, choice and freedom to define meaningfulness for themselves.  

4. We want to develop implementation strategies for Meaningful PE that are contextual and student focused.

As professionals, our commitment to growth (Dewey, 1938) can be evidenced in the way we plan and implement MPE concepts with our students and in our reflexive practice afterwards. Reflexive activities may include maintaining an MPE teaching journal and/or becoming a member of a community of practice (CoP) (Parker & Patton, 2017). These processes keep us accountable and help to ensure that we continue to focus on OUR students and OUR contexts. The focus of a Meaningful PE CoP would be to discuss, develop, implement and evaluate teaching strategies within a variety of contexts – together – with the goal of providing all learners with educative experiences.

Growth, by its very nature, cannot be static. Engaging in reflective practice – continuously learning and adapting – allows professionals to stay current and goes a long way in ensuring the creation and support of Meaningful PE for our students.

Douglas Gleddie is Professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta, Canada. He teaches physical education curriculum and pedagogy to undergraduate students. He also teaches graduate courses in health and physical education, reflective practice, physical literacy and research methods.

Jodi Harding-Kuriger is a health and physical educator for the joy and love of movement. She is dedicated to lifelong learning through the University of Alberta, Canada, and HPEC.

References

Armour, K., Quennerstedt, M., Chambers, F., & Makopoulo, K. (2017). What is ‘effective’ CPD for contemporary physical education teachers? A Deweyan framework. Sport, Education and Society, 22, 799–811.

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience in education. New York, NY: Collier MacMillan Publishers.

Kretchmar, R. S. (2008). The increasing utility of elementary school physical edu- cation: A mixed blessing and unique challenge. The Elementary School Journal, 108(3), 161–170.

Metheny, E. (1968). Movement and meaning. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Patton, K., & Parker, M. (2017). Teacher education communities of practice: More than a culture of collaboration. Teaching and Teacher Education67, 351-360.

Where Next for Meaningful PE? – Stephanie Beni & Alex Beckey

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.

Introduction

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.

References:

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 Education17(3), 285-306.

Kretchmar, S. (2021). Large Questions, Small Questions, and Leaky Ones Too. Kinesiology Review, 10(2), 111-118. Chicago

Learning to teach generalist primary teachers about Meaningful PE – Maura Coulter, Richard Bowles & Tony Sweeney

The following guest blog is from our series highlighting chapters from our recently published book Meaningful Physical Education: An Approach for Teaching and Learning.

In this chapter we looked at our experience of delivering our physical education modules using the Meaningful Physical Education (MPE) approach during one semester. Although we teach in three separate universities in Ireland, our students were all generalist primary (elementary) student teachers. Previous experience gained by Maura and Richard in using MPE meant there was a certain confidence in our understanding of the features of meaningful physical education (the ‘what’) (Beni, Fletcher and Ní Chróinín, 2017), so the focus of this project for the three of us was to explore how to improve our practice as teacher educators by utilising the pedagogical principles of MPE (the ‘how’) further (Ní Chróinín, Fletcher and O’Sullivan, 2018).

Our collaboration involved completing fortnightly reflections on our teaching, and sending them to one another as critical friends, where we would question and comment on one another’s reflections (Schuck & Russell 2005). Our goal was to shape and support our teaching about teaching for meaningful experiences in physical education through this reflective practice. In the chapter, we outlined how we used case studies and readings on the LAMPE website to scaffold discussion and encourage student engagement with academic literature. We also shared how we explored a range of curricular content utilising the MPE approach during the semester.

Our initial objective was to introduce the features of meaningful physical education (Beni, Fletcher, and Ní Chróinín, 2017) in the modules we were teaching and establish how best we could frame learning activities for student teachers within our individual contexts. The next objective was to examine our pedagogies of teacher education to develop a fuller understanding of the pedagogical principles of MPE to foster student engagement. Discussions with PSTs at the end of each lecture allowed us to reflect on meaningfulness from their perspectives. The sharing of reflections, feedback, and dialogue amongst the three of us impacted positively on the short-term planning of subsequent lessons we taught.

We started to include the pedagogical principles of MPE into our teaching and continued to reflect and check-in to establish if PSTs not only understood the ‘what’ but also the ‘how’ of meaningful physical education. Therefore, while engaging with the pedagogical principles of MPE as teacher educators, we were also engaging with MPE as an approach for future teachers at the same time. 

The student response to the modelling of pedagogies was positive and insightful, and we felt that how we articulated the reasons for our pedagogical decisions regarding MPE encouraged the students to critically evaluate such choices in their own future practice as teachers. While the ‘checking in’ time was universally considered valuable, the need to cover module content in our limited PE contact hours (Tsangaridou & Kyriakides, 2018) was a significant challenge for us. Exploring MPE collaboratively provided us with a lens through which to interrogate our practice as we engaged in learning with our students. In our future practice, we will continue to connect the ‘what’ (content knowledge) with the ‘how’ (pedagogical knowledge) of meaningful physical education.

Maura Coulter is based in the Institute of Education at Dublin City University, Ireland, and teaches at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

Richard Bowles works in the Department of Arts Education & Physical Education at Mary Immaculate College, Ireland, and teaches physical education in undergraduate and postgraduate primary/elementary teacher education programs.

Tony Sweeney is a lecturer with the Froebel Department of Primary and Early Childhood Education at Maynooth University, Ireland and teaches PE at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels at Maynooth University.

References 

Beni, S., Fletcher, T. & Ní Chróinín, D. (2018). Using features of meaningful experiences to guide primary physical education practice. European Physical Education Review, 25, 599-615.

Ní Chróinín, D., Fletcher, T. & O’Sullivan, M. (2018) Pedagogical principles of learning to teach meaningful physical education, Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 23:2, 117-133.

Schuck, S. & Russell, T. (2005). Self-Study, Critical Friendship, and the Complexities of Teacher Education. Studying Teacher Education, 1, 107-121.

Tsangaridou, N. & Kyriakides, L. (2018). Pre-service primary physical education. In G. Griggs & K. Petrie, (Eds.) Handbook of Primary Physical Education. Routledge

Creating Meaningful Experiences for All Students – Tomaz Pereira

Tomaz Pereira is an elementary physical education teacher working at the American International School of Budapest, Hungary (HU). In the following post he briefly reflects on how the Meaningful PE approach has helped him to deliver a Parkour unit to upper elementary students. Tomaz tweets from @tomazfaria1.

How do I create a meaningful experience for all students?

In my opinion, the answer to this question begins with our WHY: our teaching philosophy. What vision do we have for our students that complete our program? What is our aim that justifies all our decisions as teachers?

At this point, my first aim is not to teach skills and dispositions, but to inspire students to be motivated to learn them. It is my view that if they feel motivated, they will be more likely to use their free time to learn and know more about what interests them. This is where I think the Meaningful PE framework fits really well into my program. Are the kids having fun? Is this interesting for them to practice outside school? Is this challenging for them? Do they feel they are getting better and more confident at their skills? Is this something that will become memorable for them?

My teaching partner and I decided to create a Parkour unit for the following reasons: to expose students to an individual pursuit activity that could assure social distancing, to introduce a movement subculture that contains a lot of things that young people tend to value (e.g. music, clothing, cool moves, language, etc), to expose students to Body Control skills, to invite boys to the benefits of gymnastics without calling it gymnastics and, based on informal conversations with students, to try new activities that allowed them to express themselves at their own pace.

The feature of Challenge helped us to design skill instruction. For each skill, we presented students with at least 6 options to engage in. The non-negotiable instruction was to start with less challenging options and leveling up according to their confidence. The concept of Just Right Challenge (JRC) was also unpacked as a self-management skill. How do I find a JRC for me? When do I level up? Obstacles were constantly changed based on students’ suggestions.

The feature of Motor Competence helped us to create a rubric posted in our whiteboard with 4 JEDI levels: Youngling, Padawan, Knight and Master. They would assess their current level of competence in each skill and set 2 goals to start working straight away. In each lesson, 5-7 students were interviewed and set out to work on the skills that were meaningful for them. For example, being able to reach a master level at the Tic Tac (climbing a high obstacle by bouncing off the wall) and reach the knight level in the parkour roll. We noticed that, sometimes, their goals did not coincide with the skills they perceived as needed for improvement.

The feature of Social Interaction helped us to create the warm-ups. As students arrived to the class from the changing rooms, they were asked to choose 1 out of 3 warm-up cards we had available for them and to start warming up with a partner, group of 3, or alone if they preferred. The last 10 min of the lesson was dedicated to obstacle exploration with their friends or partnering up with others with similar goals. Final performances were also allowed to be carried out in groups of 2 or 3. 


This looked really cool to us. However, would this unit be a memorable experience to students? And if so, was it memorable to all of them? In order to capture the feature of Delight, we decided to attach a reflection piece to the final performance: “What I liked the most about my performance was”, “It would be even better if”, “How would you describe your growth in Parkour?” and “I would rate this unit with a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5”. While we felt the unit was quite successful in that many students demonstrated strong engagement, reported having fun, learning some new skills, and having some memorable experiences, we also feel that we didn’t prioritize the students’ perspectives as much as we would have liked at the beginning of the unit. My question now is “How can I intentionally prioritize students’ perspectives in order to design a meaningful experience for all students?”

Why Meaningful PE for my Students? – Milena Trojanovic

The following guest blog is from our series highlighting chapters from our recently published book Meaningful Physical Education: An Approach for Teaching and Learning.

A little over a year ago I was asked to consider contributing a chapter to a book about Meaningful Physical Education. I didn’t know where to start. I am certainly not an author nor do I consider myself an academic that could be capable of writing something engaging for an audience. However, after a little reflection, I realized that I had a story to tell: the story of MPE for my students and the benefits that have come from my own learning journey about this approach in physical education. 

Meaningful PE and student thinking

My own approach to teaching physical education is to provide multiple opportunities for engagement for all students both physically as well as socially. The lessons, and the questions that I ask, pave the way for students to think about how movement can enrich their lives beyond the gym walls. Using the MPE approach enables me to refine my own planning and teaching strategies in order to better support students in their thinking and learning about lifelong physical activity participation.  Here are a few samples of student generated responses for success criteria for MPE. These responses have become our anchor charts in the gym:

The chapter: Meaningful PE with Immigrant Newcomers

My students’ story lies within this chapter in the book. What I thought was a simple unit to help develop stability through educational gymnastics, turned into a non-traditional opportunity that gave my students a wonderful chance to interact with others in creative and challenging new ways, (fun, social interaction, challenge) and explore while problem solving and increasing their confidence and physical abilities. They used the activities to set goals for themselves (goal setting) and reflected after class about the ways in which these skills and activities could help them in the future (personally relevant learning). You might want to check out the chapter for yourself! 

So now what, how, & why?

Well, to say that this past year has been rather “different” is an understatement! With the Covid-19 protocols that are in place in the school setting, it has been a challenging year to navigate and deliver what I would say are “best practices” in teaching physical education. Having said that, despite these very real, and often trying, times, I have been able to continue to connect the dots for my students using the MPE approach. I know the ‘what’ and ‘how’ I am teaching is driven by the rules to which we must adhere, but I also know that the ‘why’ is being made by the students in the most remarkable ways. Their thoughtful and reflective responses to why we are doing certain things is providing me with “delight” in knowing that we will come out of this soon and we will be able to continue with our learning in the best way possible! 

Milena Trojanovic has been a physical educator in Ontario, Canada, for 28 years, teaching students from Kindergarten through Grade 8.

Squirrels and the need to know – Greg Dryer

Greg Dryer is the Co-founder of miMove app. He’s based in London, UK but the app is being used in over 200 schools around the world. Greg can be contacted at greg@mimoveapp.com or @greg_dryer / @mimoveapp.

Squirrels.

In the literature about meaning-making, squirrels do not feature particularly prominently.  However, for one 11-year-old student in Washington DC, squirrels are clearly central to his engagement with physical activity (PA). This young man, let’s call him Sam, attends a school that is one of over 200 schools using miMove.

miMove is a digital tool designed to ‘close the loop’ – for decades, everyone in physical education has acknowledged that the mission is to help every young person (YP) find a place for physical activity (PA) in their lives. However, until now, we have never had the capacity to easily access information that indicates if and how students are engaging in physical activity both inside and outside of the school.  

It is built on the premise that it is no longer good enough for us, as a field and a society, to be ignorant of activity/inactivity amongst YP. Being ignorant makes it easy to turn a blind eye and/or apportion blame. Ignorance indicates that we do not care enough. When we value something, we know about it, we measure and track it, and miMove allows us to do just that.

It’s really straight forward – students record all the PA they take part in and teachers can access this data via the webapp. By so doing miMove creates a supportive, digital ecosystem around every student and it provides unprecedented, real time insight data about how young people are seeking and finding meaning in their PA.

Each miMove user logs the type of activity completed, the duration and the setting (in or out of school). However, the real magic lies not in this quantitative data but the qualitative, affective data that the app captures. Students have to record how each activity session made them feel and they then have the option to free write and/or upload a photo. In the hands of skilled practitioners who are working towards creating more meaningful experiences, this is proving invaluable. Some are beginning to go further and are using the app to help students to develop deeper reflective practices. Via words and/or photos students are encouraged to explore their movement preferences.

This brings us back to Sam. Here are a few of his posts:

  • Playing ball in the garden and a squirrel almost stole it!
  • Cycling – I saw an albino squirrel.
  • Walking – I saw a lot of squirrels.
  • Walking – I saw baby squirrels. I’m so happy!

As physical educators, how would we make sense of this and how would it help us work with Sam? Using the MPE features, Sam is clearly finding some personal relevance and delight in nature. How would you capture this in conversations in order to better connect with Sam?

miMove makes it easier than ever before to consistently capture student voice and feedback. It is also being used to develop students’ ability to reflect as they think more deeply about their activity experiences. Many students have reported that the mere act of journaling is itself validating and the upload photo feature can serve as photo album that triggers memories, feelings, and other sensory associations.

We are learning so much about young people’s experiences via the app. Apart from squirrels the most commonly referred to feature is social interactions. The social domain really matters as can be seen from these comments from other students in Sam’s school:

  • I got to talk to my sister whilst doing this!
  • I went running with my mum and she made it so much better. She really motivated and energised me.
  • I’ve started playing squash with my dad. I think it’s a really fun sport where you don’t only have to be athletic, you also have to be smart. I also get to spend more time with my dad which is super fun.

If you would like to be part of the journey, come onboard. After all, it all starts with knowing.

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.

The why, what, and how of Meaningful Physical Education: PART 2

In this post we turn our attention to the ‘what’ of Meaningful PE: what is it about and what does a meaningful experience tend to consist of? As we mentioned in the previous post, in finding an experience meaningful, attention is drawn to its quality, which influences the likelihood of individuals seeking the experience again or avoiding it. Although meaningfulness is highly subjective (that is, what an individual finds meaningful will be different to others), it involves a complex mix of individual cognitive and affective elements as well as relational, social, and cultural dimensions.

Conceptually, the personal and retrospective nature of identifying experiences as meaningful suggests that democratic and reflective approaches have the potential to form the foundation for a coherent set of pedagogical principles to help teachers intentionally and consistently prioritise meaningful experiences for pupils. From a pedagogical perspective, our approach is built upon a major review of literature we conducted on studies focused on meaningful experiences in physical education and youth sport since 1987. We drew from Kretchmar’s (2006) assertion that meaningful experiences in physical education tend to consist of several features: social interaction, challenge, fun, motor competence, and delight. We have written several blog posts about these features, which can be found here, here, here, here, and here!

While children often refer to one or more of these features as major contributors to how they experienced meaningful experiences in physical education (e.g., ‘I found it meaningful because I was challenged), the features typically work together and should therefore be thought of as integrated than isolated (e.g., ‘Today was fun because I got to be in a group with my friends and we spoke about playing the same game at the park this weekend’). Modifications to a task based on one of the features can therefore have an impact on the others (e.g., adjusting the level of challenge can have effects on fun and students’ engagement with motor competence). We are also very mindful that these features likely do not paint a complete picture of what might contribute to learners finding a physical education experience meaningful. For instance, we think that creativity and self-expression are but some of the other things that could contribute to how some students experience meaningfulness, and suggest to teachers that the features identified by Beni et al. (2017) are not used in a reductive sense but as a useful basis upon which to begin conversing with students about what they find meaningful in physical education.

We discuss more about the ‘what’ of Meaningful PE in our recent article in PESP, giving attention to its conceptual and practical basis. For those who are interested you can find a link to the article here.

The why, what, and how of Meaningful Physical Education: PART 1

Following the recent publication of our book Meaningful Physical Education: An Approach for Teaching and Learning  as part of the Routledge Focus on Sport Pedagogy series, we wanted to share a few posts from some of the contributors to the book. The posts over the coming weeks will give readers an overview of what might be found in the chapters. They will not necessarily be presented in the order they appear in the book and may feature some commentaries on chapters provided by readers rather than the authors themselves (much like a book review). In the next few posts, we provide a brief summary of the first chapter, ‘The why, what, and how of Meaningful Physical Education’.

In the first chapter of the book, we outline the main theoretical and pedagogical foundations of the Meaningful PE approach and points for clarification. We provide distinct characteristics of Meaningful PE and share appropriate teaching and learning principles and strategies, and the decision-making processes teachers might undertake. Since writing the chapter we have added some other thoughts about this in a recent open access publication in PESP: Pedagogical principles for prioritizing meaningful physical education: Conceptual and practical considerations; interested readers can find more detail about the approach in that article.  In this blog post we focus on the why of Meaningful PE, which will be followed by two more posts that address the what and the how, respectively.

Following an invitation to share some of these ideas with the Ontario Association for the Support of Physical and Health Educators (OASPHE) we are cross-posting this on their blog. Check it out if you have not yet done so!

Why Meaningful PE?

We agree with Kretchmar (2008) who suggests that when meaningfulness is prioritized, students’ experiences in physical education have the potential to enrich the quality of their lives. In this way, meaningful physical education places the quality and personal significance of students’ experiences at the forefront of a teacher’s pedagogical decision-making. A consideration of why to use Meaningful PE begins with questioning one’s overarching vision or philosophy for teaching. For us, prioritizing meaningful experiences is crucial if we want children to experience some of the things in and about movement culture that have been and are so central to the quality of our own lives. We want children to walk through the doors of a gym or dance studio or enter onto a field, hiking trail, bike path or body of water and be filled with a sense of excitement, joy, and adventure rather than dread, boredom, or fear. Beyond our personal beliefs and perspectives, however, there are some other broader reasons that support our position.

Prioritizing meaningful experiences also links to some of the major purposes of physical education, represented in policy documents and also in the beliefs and values of key stakeholders (such as teachers, students, parents, and administrators). Amongst a wide range of identified purposes of physical education, we align ourselves with the purpose of democratic transformation (Ennis, 2017), where ‘different ways of being in the world as somebody are both possible and encouraged’ (Quennerstedt, 2019, p. 611). In this way, education is viewed as a continual transforming of experience, with an aim of cultivating educative experiences that lead to the growth of further experience (Dewey, 1938). From this perspective, having learners seek and become aware of the personal meaning of movement through reflection becomes part of the core purpose of physical education, where it is understood as a ‘suitable learning context for initiation into a range of worthwhile social and cultural practices’ (Thorburn, 2018, p. 26).