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Discovering Meaning in PE

This post is long overdue.  I have taken a hiatus from writing and this has been both good (giving me time for other focus) and bad ( I have genuinely missed writing about my thinking about and recording my work in PE).  This week I have been enjoying listening, reading and dialoguing about the Purpose of PE for me as a teacher but also in connection with student learning and the ultimate goal of every PE teacher – How do we make PE meaningful so that every student in our care wants to come back to our spaces and then in time wants to create their own meaningful movement journeys as they move on from our classes ?(whether that is to a game at lunchtime or weekends with their friends/family or coaching or beyond school altogether).

Models based practice

Over the last 10 years, I have been reading, learning and experimenting to try and be more specific in my use of different PE teaching models that are best practice in our field.  Shane Pill’s blog and books and his efforts to focus on Game Sense models with games that start on the tactical play as well as Ash Casey’s PEPRN blog, books and his recent series on Models of teaching in PE have greatly impacted me as a teacher.  I have been using the Sport Ed model and have worked with Rick Baldock on trying to unpack Don Hellison’s TPSR model and have had good conversations about the fidelity of teaching a model in its pure form as well as how we are seeing more blended use of models (ex. Sport Ed plus Game Sense models).

Ultimately I believe that we as practitioners are choosing teaching models that best fit our students and their needs in our subject.  The variety of models and learning opportunities arm us with lots of ways in which we can engage our students and focus on different pillars within these models.  I have found that if I have specific PE standards I am trying to cover, that this helps me to consider how best to choose a model that will work for that unit.  I have recently begun a Striking and Fielding unit with Grade 6 students, and have chosen a mixture of Direct instruction (as many students have not played Cricket type games before) and Game Sense models where I am focused on how S&F games are similar and using the tactical same-ness focus to play many different small-sided games to highlight the importance of these tactical developments.  I have also assigned students into mini-teams and am working to try and instill in them the idea that they will need to be taking responsibility for equipment and space, basic umpiring skills and celebration of successes within their game and so learning about social interaction and responsibilities within a game environment.

Meaningful Physical Education

I have been in discussion with a number of Physed people online as part of the #SlowChatPE series that Andy Vasily and Jorge Rodriguez have been facilitating on Twitter this week on Feedback and Coaching.  The article focused on the importance of Feedback and how receiving feedback can be very challenging for all of us.  I want to write a separate blog post on that conversation but a sideline of chat began around the focus on Meaningful PE and the work done by Tim Fletcher and Diedre Ní Chróinín which I found to be such a rich conversation.  Scott Kretchmar (listen to him talk to Andy Vasily here) advocates for deeper meaning in Physical Education and you can read a little about his work and reasoning in this article here.   Kretchmar lists the reasons that most of us would discuss if we were advocating for PE and more PE time in our program – I am sure you could rattle off 10 things if you needed to and I would guess you would discuss Health, Fitness, motor competency and whole child learning as part of your conversations.  But Kretchmar dives more deeply and offers 10 more ideas that are much bigger and more Meaningful and it is this list that Fletcher and the LAMPE group have taken and created a new evidence-based model about how important it is that we create Meaningful PE experiences for our students.

I like @imsporticus’s blog post on how he uses this model in his everyday teaching and have started to try and use it too – it is a wonderful discussion to have with the students.  If you have chosen your standards and your teaching model, then the Meaningful PE model slides perfectly in on top of this lesson for you to quickly reflect on how your lesson or activity provided meaning to your students.  I would say that some of these ideas already resonate with me, but it is how they work together to offer a framework that the magic is revealed.

Meaningful PE should be FUN!  Students should be seen to be having Fun, and although this might look different to each student, somewhere in that lesson everyone should be having fun.  The lesson should be challenging – and this means that your activities may need to be differentiated to allow everyone to be challenged at their own level but everyone should be challenged, not bored or hitting the panic zone because it is too challenging.  Our lessons should offer Social Interaction (really you as their teacher aren’t the reason the students are coming back – their peers or classmates should be!) We are striving to improve and promote Motor Competence and growth for all students in this – our activities should see a focus on development toward Mastery.  Our lessons should be Relevant – What are you doing?  Why are we doing it (how does it relate to previous learning or links to beyond PE?) and How will I know I have learnt it?  If we have the right balance of these then our lesson should be flowing into a delightful experience for our students.  Delight is such a wonderful way to describe the way in which your students are describing their experience in your class.

This month I am working to score my lessons and to use these six indicators as levels of success in my classes. They are somewhat interdependent on each other – if my lesson is not challenging than it may be boring and not relevant to my students.  If a new student can’t socially interact with her peers, then they may find it really hard to have fun and to take risks to try new motor competence skills or games.  I am talking to my students more about these concepts to gauge them in their learning and to also make them think harder about what they are doing and experiencing to find their Delight (or Flow state?).

Kretchmar writes “One of the greatest things about physical activity and play is that they make our lives go better, not just longer.  It is the quality of life, the joy of being alive, the things that we do with our good health, that matter to us as much or more than health itself.”  As a parent and teacher, I want the very best for my students and my own children.  This is not just about being healthy and maintaining a healthy life – but loving life to the fullest – happiness!  I want my kids to make choices that will challenge them and to make amazing friends who love them (and they love in return).  I want them to be successful – but that will look different for each of us (it will be relevant to them and their contexts and cultures) and I want them to have as many delightful and fun moments as they can.

I am looking forward to more conversations about Meaningful PE and more evidence and feedback from LAMPE and our community about how they use these concepts as they create learning for students.


One Comment

  • Tim Fletcher

    Thanks so much for your post Mel! I was interested to read about your use of existing models and how some of the ideas of Meaningful PE ‘map on’ to them (such as TGfU, Sport Ed, etc). This is what we’ve found too — that the features and some of the pedagogies tend to work as hybrid.
    Regarding your use of S&F unit, if you haven’t done so yet you might want to check out Steph Beni’s paper that is forthcoming in European Physical Education Review. You can access the full-text on our site:
    She used TGfU, Sport Ed and ideas from Meaningful PE in a S&F unit too…
    I am also interested to learn about how the scoring of the features goes. Would they then serve as your own assessment of student engagement in the lesson then?
    Best of luck with it all and I’m really happy you’ve found some resonance in the ideas of Meaningful PE. I’m looking forward to learning more about it from your work!

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