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Professional Growth – articulating what makes activity Meaningful – conversations w Ss

Three Wise Monkeys by Victor Wong CC BY NC SA

This year I am on a quest around deriving Meaning from PE and using the pillars of Meaningful PE as posed by… Kretchmar, Tim Fletcher, Beni from LAMPE.

I read Justen O’Connor’s blog post around Exploring Meaningful Movement in Physical Education and I loved the activity that he has shared that came from a recent article also from O’Connor.


The idea in this task is that we are trying to help our students to draw a rich vocabulary when they think, describe and share the meaning that they are drawing from a previous Physical Activity.   This vocabulary draws on the five senses that we experience as we create memories and so begin a deeper framework of terms for students.

So What?

I work at a school that is made up of mostly bilingual students.  It is all of our job’s to be language teachers and it is my role to help students to develop Physical Education vocabulary and this generally is made up of Rules or specific equipment or gameplay strategies or markings or equipment.  I realised in reading Justen’s work that I do not talk to my students about all the other aspects that make movement meaningful – what it feels like when you are in deep flow, what it can sound like when you are working in a different environment or with your team or in the ocean or on the court, what it tastes like when you are in salt water or sweat pours off your head into your eyes!  I would love to have more meaningful conversations with my students about how their experiences are challenging them as well – and grow this into a richer fabric of how their PE lives transect their home and community lives.

Justen asks us to consider “follow[ing] a sequence that involves: (a) scaffolded models of rich narrative with enthusiastic expression; (b) a period of silent reflection; (c) a process of vivid recollection; (d) embodied narrative writing (poem or paragraphs); (e) the safe sharing of rich narratives; (f) the production of a word cloud from the combined narratives; and (g) ongoing reflection and links back to the value of movement attached to meaning.”

What next?

I decided that I would draw on Justen’s work and begin some conversations just to see what my students would say when I asked them about how different things we do ‘felt’ – and see how they went as they described this experience.  I was aware that students might find this a little weird as I have never really had these conversations before, and I thought a bit about what I might say or ask.  I chose to talk to my Grade 8 students as they were in the midst of a longer Aquatics unit and so there was more time to chat (12 lessons rather than our usual 6-8) and we were more than halfway into the activity so this gave them more time to have a considered voice.  Many of my students in this unit, are also very strong swimmers and spend a lot of time in training both in and outside of our school pool.

I asked students how they felt when they came to the pool and then what it was like to be in the water.  The responses were varied, and if I asked students when they were not with a group of classmates, they responded more thoughtfully.  One of my students had her face light up, she told me that she felt so alive in the water and discussed this with me. I was fascinated.  I had never had this sort of chat with my students before.  With this particular student, we have had some further conversations and now stop to chat if we cross paths in the corridor outside of PE.  This has been a big shift for us as I have always appreciated her athleticism but now she is keen to chat with me about how she is feeling and how her athletic life is going – some great conversations to enjoy!

Other students found this conversation very challenging.  They had not even considered this as part of their movement or swimming experience and did not have the vocabulary to share it with me.  It bothered me more that they didn’t seem to really care that this activity had meaning or could be more meaningful.  It was like swimming was removed from their feelings beyond hanging out with their friends or just getting the session done that the coach had set.

I asked each of them to write a few sentences at the end of our unit to blog (there are two blog posts requested, see the Summative one) about this experience for them and I asked them to draw on their senses to give their narrative some meaning.   The girls in my class were the most creative and expressive and I was really emotional about some of the things that they wrote.   Below is one of the most detailed examples, and not from the student that I have been chatting to:

When I come to swim class, through the hallways, I can hear the sounds of my classmates talking and discussing about the class. I would always feel incredibly excited since we get to plan our own class time. Most of the time, we got to practice the turnings and the freestyle swimming practice. When I enter the swimming pool area, I can smell the Chlorine in the air. The area is always very humid and warmer than the other places in the school, so I really like it there. In there as well, the pool is very brightly illuminated by the lights and the sun. You can hear the echoey sound of many coaches’ voices and the sound of the pool, the splashes of the swimmers around you and also the footsteps of others. When swimming, you will sometimes taste the water in the pool, the water taste like Chlorine and water. I always felt very excited and cold whenever I get into the pool, the water is cold at first but will always turn warmer as we swam more. Sometimes, I will feel tired whenever we do the HIIT exercises and others where we need to use all of our speed. Whenever I come out of the pool, I would feel a bit disappointed because the class went by too fast and this is the last lesson.

And now What NEXT?

I have been messaging with Justen about how to make this an even richer experience, as based on this first experience and experiment, I need to do more of this work to connect my students to their experiences and to make this more meaningful to them.  I am hoping that by doing this work I can help students to better understand how activity makes them feel and that they will be able to articulate this more clearly and internalize what they do and how this makes them feel and so hopefully see them return to this feeling!

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