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What is physical literacy and how is this affecting my curriculum thinking?

yoda snowboard

Surfing Jedi by Pedro Vezini CC BY NC SA

As I enjoy doing, a fabulous conversation emerged on twitter the other day between a group of us in the South East Asia/Australian region.  The start of the conversation was an ongoing chat we’ve been having about looking closely at what we do with our ELC or ECC or Early Childhood aged PE students and what colleagues are doing in their classrooms.  The focus has been looking at a Perceptual Motor Program (PMP) and I was learning a little from others in this field who are implementing programs to support students and working with professionals outside of teaching to help set up specific programs after pre-assessing students.  There is a Google Hangout on this on Wednesday between Ross Halliday, Mark Williams, Andy Dutton and possibly Ashlea Mills and Nathan Horne .  I will ask Ross for the link after so people can watch if they want to, I think this will be a great discussion to see how PMP is addressed in our younger students and how PE can assist them to catch up if they are behind developmentally (which has to be such a contributing factor to students lack of gross and fine motor skills in ES and beyond).

However, what came out of this 5-min discussion was a new term for me, Physical Literacy.  I have been having some good chats with my YIS PE department as well as with me #PEPLC group about curriculum and planning and how to pin down so many layers for students.  There is always the need to ensure that students are able to grow throughout the K-G12 curriculum but what does this look like?  There are so many things that we have to consider and we can also be limited by our school facilities, budgets, curriculum and more!

Amanda Stanec has written a very detailed post about what Physical Literacy is and its origin, and I recommend you take the time to read this, and it has some knock on thinking for me.  Physical Literacy has four main questions/components to consider when planning for your curriculum:

  1. Do you support the development of a physical literate student by helping them develop competence in choosing to perform skills on different surfaces (ie water, ice, land, court, inside, outside etc)
  2. Do you support the development of a physical literate student by assisting them to develop the confidence to perform skills on these different surfaces?
  3. Do you support the development of a physical literate student by assisting them to make healthy choices with their skills in a variety of settings (game sense, fair play, coaching, performance factors like drugs, etc)
  4. Do you support the development of a physical literate student by teaching them to fall, navigate and make decisions in a variety of environments and settings?

As I start to think through these things, I come up with these types of answers:

  1. Different surfaces – YIS has a synthetic turf, basketball court and dance studio.  We have four seasons, so we have to work with these surfaces in humidity and heat and dry cold.  We do take students to the park and we run around our neighbourhood.  We use Gym equipment, nets, bats, balls (many sizes) and we are looking at ensuring we have invasion, net games, dance/gym and striking units for each year level. We don’t have access to a pool and this is a major issue for us, and we are continuing to keep up our search!
  2. I believe that we do work on this, that we are looking very carefully at the scaffolding that takes students through – the focus for this year is invasion games (inside and outside) and how this progression supports using skills (my interpretation of skills includes game specific skills like dribbling a basketball, but also game sense skills such as tactics, or knowing to pass to a space rather than a person, and how that can change based on game/surface/team/etc).
  3. The IBO PYP and MYP do a good job of this as it is a requirement for PE, and I feel that our school does a good job here of focusing on coaching, preparation and discussion about fitness components and principles and we are looking closely at how we teach training principles and working towards training goals/performances.
  4. This is an area where I think we could be stronger.  I would be interested to talk to Amanda and others about how you teach people to fall or to look after themselves.  I imagine in volleyball it would be great to put on knee pads, get some mats out and teach to fall, this might make going for the ball easier for students if they knew how to roll out of the movement again, I am keen to do some more reading and research here.

I read a Field Hockey drill book recently (my quest for new learning has taken me out to coach hockey, it is hard going but I am learning a lot) says that the major importance for players to to have them be involved in other sports.  It is vital that they build up their skills, knowledge, game sense but also new muscle strength/flexibility and to learn from new coaches and team mates.  If they want to be masters at a sport, they will learn from being involved in others too.   I would call myself a runner, but I know that I am a much better runner when I am also swimming, riding and cross training to build up strength, lung capacity, flexibility and giving my body time to rest from just running.  I know that our PE students will gain from this – even if they are amazing soccer athletes, it is important that we are offering them variety and challenges so that if soccer is not offered at their next school or university, they can dive on into something else that they have tried and found success at and take their soccer skills with them.

So where am I going with this?  I am not sure yet, but I did find Nathan’s visual posters and resources useful.  I like to think that our ES program should be very varied with lots of opportunities for learning as many different things as possible to create a wide base of play and practice.  I think upper ES should start to look at skill building within these and this continue more strongly into MS – focus on game sense (tactics, strategies), skills, coaching (to assist with observation of skills, tactics, strategies and communication) and teamwork.  Activities should also allow room for curiosity and dance/gymnastics for flexibility, strength and collaboration.  Health should be tailored so that students are discussing their own bodies as they are in ES and upper ES more focus on body change and how their bodies work.  MS is about fitness components and health vs. skill related concepts and then HS the focus be quite specific so that students are learning about detailed tactics, strategies, teamwork as well as health concepts, coaching and feedback concepts and putting these together such as HR monitors, GPS for distance, specific training for different players positions on the court, video feedback for coaching and analysis of skills.

PE isn’t going to create elite athletes.  This should not be our focus.  We need to focus on all students, but I believe the curriculum should be aimed at our average PE skilled students with differentiation for the more skilful and challenged students.  Physical Literacy has made me think more about our surfaces and how we use them, building confidence and competence on surfaces but also across sports/units/games and how we teach kids to fall and the importance of this skill.

As always I would love to know what you think and if I have interpreted this topic the same as you!  Please share your ideas about Physical Literacy or curriculum building, it is always good to hear from others.

One Comment

  • Tyler Mills

    Hey Mrs. Hamada! Sorry about the last comment. I saw the picture of the just dance and I just assumed that you were using the Wii game. I really enjoyed reading this post. The four questions of physical literacy are all great skills to teach. Exposing children to different surfaces can benefit them in a number of ways. All children are different, introducing a new surface such as ice to a student may suit them more than the other surfaces. It may become a sport that they will love like hockey or ice skating. Teaching a student how to fall in a sport is another important skill to teach. Falling the correct way can prevent injury.

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