Teaching for Meaning in Physical Education

Why do I have to learn..?P2.1

As a kid, I asked this type of question in regards to math class (like, all. the. time.) and certainly about the study of Shakespeare in English class… My wonder is – do you ever hear this type of question from your #physed students?

Why are we doing basketball… AGAIN?

What possible purpose will the ‘beep test’ serve me after I leave high school (or this PE class…)?

Why do we have to learn how to waltz? Does anyone waltz anymore? (seriously, does anyone?)

When students ask these types of questions, I believe what they are really searching for is – meaning.

noun: meaning

  1. What is meant by a word, text, concept, or action.

1.1 Implied or explicit significance.

1.2 Important or worthwhile quality; purpose

 

The key definitions for the question above are 1.1 and 1.2 – in other words, what’s the point of physical education (or at minimum, certain activities done in PhysEd)?

I wrote a previous post for the crew over at Learning About Meaningful Physical Education (LAMPE – @meaningfulPE) back in March. Since then, I have been privileged to be involved with the team on a project studying meaning in PETE (Physical Education Teacher Education… are you tired of acronyms yet?). Go figure, the LAMPE team’s purpose is to focus “…on ways to prepare future physical education teachers and coaches to foster meaningful engagement in physical activity through PE and youth sport.” COOL!

As I was prepping for the project and my role in it, I read LAMPE’s recently published open-access article (Beni, Fletcher, & Ní Chróinín, 2016) that examined 50 studies about students’ experiences of meaning in physical education and youth sport. Their meta-analysis identified five features that young people identified as contributing to meaningful experiences in physical education. For the rest of this post, I want to look briefly at these features and begin to explore how PE teachers might create a program culture in which meaningful experiences (for students and teachers!) can flourish.

1) Social interaction: Students find meaning in the relationships created and sustained in PE. Take time to consider how your students interact with their peers – use your observations to create purposeful groupings. Take time to identify and meet the social needs of individual students. Might there be gender bias in your class? From you or your students? That type of bias inhibits relationships and can be damaging for lifelong physical activity choices (not to mention hurtful at the time). As a teacher, how do you sustain the social aspect? By all means, interact meaningfully with your students but also consider your own PE teacher social networks – who can you connect with?

2) Fun: Delight, joy, fun – all different (we don’t have the time to go into it here…) but the important thing to remember is that fun is an important motivator for us all. Learning (especially in PE!) should be fun! If you take time to observe the level of fun and enjoyment in your class, notice that learning often follows close behind. Think about your own levels of fun as you teach – are you enjoying yourself? If so, the kids probably are too! Pay attention to this feature for sure – but not at the expense of the other ones!

3) Challenge: Another important motivator that can be linked to autonomy and competence. Incidentally, the other key aspect of self determination theory is relatedness…  (http://selfdeterminationtheory.org/). Opportunities for students to set their own goals and work towards personal competence are motivational (and fun…). Observe the students in your class to ensure appropriate levels of challenge – modify tasks as needed to ensure flow. Don’t forget to challenge yourself! Teach something new – take a risk on a formative assessment – set a new teaching goal. Flow theory (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) suggests that when the challenge is slightly above our skill level we perform at our best.

4) Motor competence: Sometimes it seems like this part gets left out of PE… Remember, it’s pretty tough to find meaning in movement when you can’t even play the game! Create a culture of seeking personal competence where it is OK to try, fail and try again (hey look, there’s challenge again!). Consider the skill levels of ALL students, remember that each kid has their own story and prior relationship with physical activity (educative, mis-educative). When students feel ‘skilled’ they are more engaged and can find meaning in movement. When’s the last time you tried to learn a new physical activity? Your new physical activity journey has the potential to impact and influence the journey’s of your students (plus, it’s fun!).

5) Personally relevant learning: This feature at first glance seems like one of those ‘well d’uh’ moments. OF COURSE learning has to be personally relevant. As we dig a little deeper though, this can be a tough one. Try connecting the learning in physical education to the individual student. What do they bring to the table from their past experiences – good, bad and indifferent? Take some time to get to know your students both inside and outside of class. Not every single aspect of your class will be personally relevant to every single kid. However, connections of relevance in one area can transfer to another. As for you, what makes PE relevant for you? Each of our stories are unique – don’t be afraid to share!

I’ll wrap this up with one final thought. These five features do not exist in isolation.

“For example, although fun and social interaction were each identified separately as criteria that led to meaningful experiences in physical education settings, it was possible for one to either hinder or enhance the other” (p. 15).

Consider not only the features themselves, but also the interactions BETWEEN them. In other words, fun without learning can be less of a meaningful experience for students. Challenge with opportunities for social interaction may increase levels of meaning in your PE class.

Paying attention to meaning-making in purposeful (see what I did there?), intentional ways (pedagogy, content, assessment, etc.) will help to create a culture of learning and growth in your PE class. In this way,  your students AND you can foster meaningful experiences together.

Reference: Beni, S., Fletcher, T. & Ní Chróinín, D. (2016): Meaningful Experiences in Physical Education and Youth Sport: A Review of the Literature, Quest 69(3), 291-312. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00336297.2016.1224192

4 thoughts on “Teaching for Meaning in Physical Education

  1. Great, as always, Doug. Love how you juxtaposed the meaning making for the educator as well as the student with each of your points. Meaning making for students and for educators – each important separately in their own right, but inexplicably linked also.

Come on, MOVE me!

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