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

Purposeful Teaching – My Philosophy

BioPic_drawing
1997 ‘Me’ as drawn by a student   : )

Twice in the past few years, I have had to develop and refine a teaching philosophy statement (required for a tenure application and an award nomination). I struggled a bit with trying to define how and why I teach the way I do. However, I very much enjoyed the struggle and feel it is an important process for educators to go through. For what it’s worth – I thought I’d share my final product with you!

I have always believed in the importance of physical education (PE).  Movement and physical activity have been an integral part of my own life since I was a child.  As I grew up, went to school, tried to figure out my life and eventually settled on a career in education, PE was always at the forefront.  The year 2017 marks my 24th year in the field and after nine career “adjustments” over this time span (new positions, new schools, new degrees), two constants have emerged: PE and working with children and youth.  Over the length of my career, I have developed a fundamental belief in the absolute, critical, elemental, life changing and life giving need for human movement. This belief guides my teaching and provides the foundation of how I choose to support pre-service teachers in their journey towards becoming teachers of PE. ­­­­­­As well, my philosophy of teaching is rooted in my own experiences as a K-12 teacher. I pride myself on being a teacher first and have had a very diverse career. My practice in K-12 education has ranged far and wide including: a school in Peru, a Hutterite Colony in Southern Alberta, several different schools in Alberta and a school for disadvantaged children in Ecuador. These experiences have enabled me to grow and develop as an educator, refine my management and assessment skills, gain valuable insight into the social and cultural influences affecting students, families and communities and finally, helped to define my identity as a teacher. Throughout those experiences, I can see the threads of joyful, essential movement being woven into the fabric of my teaching identity. Those threads also form the basis of my relationships with students and encourage me to meet students where they are. The following quote is from an email a parent sent to me in 2002 (the name has been changed):

Thanks for making PE fun and enjoyable for Katie this year. She always comes home with good comments about gym and I am thankful, because PE was not my favourite subject. In those days, you were ridiculed if you couldn’t do the skill well. I have many scars from that experience and so I appreciate your approach. You have taught Katie the importance of trying and not to be afraid of failing. Thank you!

I share this email because it speaks to the creation of a safe learning environment, where students feel free to challenge themselves and support those around them to do the same. Sometimes PE can be a scary place – everything you do, including your body itself, can be seen to be on display. As I did in my K-12 teaching, I also strive to create a PE culture with my university students that is inclusive, safe, caring and joyful. Finally, my teaching philosophy draws heavily on John Dewey’s theories of experience and education. I base the nature of my classes at the University of Alberta, undergraduate and graduate, on this premise:

Experience and education cannot be directly equated to each other. For some experiences are mis-educative. Any experience is mis-educative that has the effect of arresting or distorting the growth of further experience. An experience may be such as to engender callousness; it may produce lack of sensitivity and of responsiveness. Then the possibilities of having richer experience in the future are restricted” (Dewey, 1938, p. 25-26).

In every class I teach, we dig into past experience and strive to learn from both the educative and mis-educative. My students come to PE with their own individual experiences and contexts. We take the time to explore their past as it impacts their teaching: present and future. We search for instances of joyful movement wherever they may be found and then we build on those experiences and extend them to our teaching and learning. As a teacher, I have engaged in this process as well and feel that my students reap the benefits of my own reflective practice. Therefore, I strive to ensure that each and every class I teach provides students with a truly educative experience enabling their growth, learning and understanding as pre-service teachers. Quite often, students will approach me and express their apprehension about taking a class on PE pedagogy. Their fears may be grounded in a negative experience, a misguided perception or a stereotype – it really doesn’t matter. My teaching philosophy allows me meet them where they are, provide joyful movement experiences and, help them establish an identity as a teacher of PE.

“I was really dreading the idea of having to teach PE. All of that changed this semester! The things you taught us were real life, things we can actually use and it was so much fun (so different from past classes)”

(Student letter, Winter 2014)

What the Health?

Today, on  World Health Day, I submitted this letter (but as a more abbreviated essay version) to the Edmonton Journal (I’ll let you know if and when it gets published…) regarding the place of HEALTH in our Education curriculum. Until then, enjoy it here! It is Alberta, Canada focused but hopefully the content and references can be useful in your jurisdiction as well! Onward and upward.

An Open Letter to our Premier and Ministers of Education and Health

Dear Honourable Premier Notley and Honourable Ministers Eggen and Hoffman,

As you well know, Alberta Education is currently revising the K-12 curriculum for all subject areas. According to the website[1]:

We are looking ahead to the future and working to ensure that provincial curriculum continues to give all students the best possible start in life and meet the demands of living in the 21st century. …placing a greater emphasis on 21st century competencies and literacy and numeracy across subjects and grades. This approach will help build an even stronger foundation for student success in a dynamic, global society and economy.

While literacy and numeracy are fundamental elements of any education system there is another element that is glaringly missing. Health. If we truly desire ‘student success in a dynamic, global society and economy’ we cannot afford to ignore the foundational role of health in today’s increasingly sedentary, inactive and unhealthy society. I am writing to all three of you because we should be long past the days of segregating education and health. Therefore, from both a health and education perspective, here are five reasons to re-imagine the value and purpose of health and physical education in schools.

  1. In 2002, the United Nations stated[2]: “Literacy is crucial to the acquisition, by every child, youth and adult, of essential life skills that enable them to address the challenges they can face in life, and represents an essential step in basic education, which is an indispensable means for effective participation in the societies and economies of the 21st century.” What this means is that literacy is no longer limited to ‘reading and writing’. Physical literacy and health literacy are critical elements of education that help address societal challenges and teach essential life skills for effective citizenship.
  2. Therefore, physical and health literacy are just as important for the development of contributing citizens as ‘traditional’ literacy and numeracy. While Alberta students consistently score well among developed nations in PISA[3] tests (2nd in Sciences, 3rd in Reading and 14th in Math) where we’re falling down is health. Canada was ranked 17th out of 29 ‘rich nations’ for overall child wellbeing in a 2013 UNICEF report[4]. We need to pay more attention to health in our curriculum and give it equal priority with literacy and numeracy.
  3. Our kids aren’t healthy. The 2017 ParticipAction Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth[5] found that of children aged 5-17: only 9% get 60 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous physical activity; only 24% meet the guidelines of no more than 2 hours of recreational screen-time per day and 33% have trouble falling asleep. Add to this what we know about deteriorating mental health (which physical activity also addresses) and decreased nutrition for kids and we are in trouble. Big trouble. Still want to marginalize health and physical education?
  4. Health and education are inextricably linked. The more educated you are, the healthier you are. And, the healthier you are the more educated you’ll be! Over and over again, the data says that if you add more physical education in the day it won’t lower your academic scores[6]. As an example, girls who had physical education for 70 or more minutes per week attained significantly higher reading and mathematics scores than did girls with 35 or fewer minutes per week[7]. Alberta has surpassed the $20 billion mark – almost 40% of our provincial budget – in health spending[8]. Now more than ever, we need to invest in our future – a healthy future. Investing NOW in healthy schools, including prioritizing health and physical education, can save millions in future health costs[9].
  5. The whole child. In health and physical education we teach students to understand and take care of their own bodies, to make informed decisions and lead healthy active lives. This knowledge and application is essential to becoming a contributing citizen of Alberta and the world. In physical education, we teach students to move with confidence and competence in a variety of environments. As well, movement is essential to who we are as human beings; it is absolutely critical to growth and development across the lifespan. The health and academic benefits of physical education are important, but are truly just an extension of how movement is part of our human identity and helps us negotiate the diverse terrain of life. Therefore, education should not be considered “whole-child” unless it includes education of the physical. “…physical education is important because movement is joyful, pleasurable, provides intrinsic satisfaction, and can be personally meaningful and central to the human experience”[10].

Premier Notley, Minister Eggen and Minister Hoffman, as we continue down the road of curriculum re-design, I challenge you to follow the evidence and prioritize health. Implementation of a quality health and physical education curriculum is the BEST way to ensure that ALL students have the opportunity to be well: now and for the future.

[1] https://education.alberta.ca/curriculum-development/why-change-curriculum/

[2] http://www.unesco.org/new/en/education/themes/education-building-blocks/literacy/un-literacy-decade/un-resolutions-and-other-related-documents/

[3] http://www.cmec.ca/508/Programs-and-Initiatives/Assessment/Programme-for-International-Student-Assessment-(PISA)/PISA-2015/index.html

[4] https://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/pdf/rc11_eng.pdf

[5] https://www.participaction.com/en-ca/thought-leadership/report-card/2016

[6] Sallis, J.F., McKenzie, T.L., Kolody, B., Lewis, M., Marshall, S., & Rosengard, P. (1999). Effects  of health related physical education on academic achievement: Project SPARK. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 70(2),127-134.

Shephard, R.J. (1996). Habitual physical activity and academic performance. Nutrition Reviews,   54(4), S32-S36.

Trudeau, F., & Shephard, R. J. (2008). Physical education, school physical activity, school sports and academic performance. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 5(1), 1.

[7] Carlson, S.A., Fulton, J.E., Lee, S.M., Maynard, M., Brown, D.R., Kohl, III, H.W, & Dietz, W.H. (2008). Physical education and academic achievement in elementary school: Data from the early childhood longitudinal study. American Journal of Public Health, 98(4), 721-727

[8] http://edmontonjournal.com/news/politics/alberta-health-spending-rises-over-20-billion-even-as-province-tries-to-bend-the-cost-curve

[9] Tran BX, Ohinmaa A, Kuhle S, Johnson JA, Veugelers PJ (2014) Life Course Impact of School-Based Promotion of Healthy Eating and Active Living to Prevent Childhood Obesity. PLoS ONE 9(7): e102242. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0102242

[10] Blankenship, B.T. & Ayers, S.F. (2010). The role of PETE in developing joy-oriented physical educators. Quest, 60, 171-183.

 

An Introduction to Physical Literacy Praxis

We join our hero as he realizes it has been over 3 months since his last post…

Speaking of Physical Literacy Part 3: An Introduction to Physical Literacy Praxis

Right. So suddenly it is 2016. MARCH 2016! I am not sure how so much time went by since my last post – oh wait, I know – life! Life got in the way. And work.  Definitely work. Anywho…

What follows is a lead in to a rough framework that explores the implementation side of physical literacy. The post is loosely based on a talk I gave on October 22, 2015 at the Manitoba Physical Literacy Summit ‘Moving it Forward’. As well, I am working with an exceptional graduate student to design and implement a research project that will use a similar framework in high school physical education (more on that later!). Here goes.

If you recall, the last post in this series was about experiences and stories. So, please consider this story of an experience (brilliant segue, what?)…

PE, recess and lunch were always my favourite subjects in school. Perhaps it was a connection to my life running around on the farm but I found it tough to adjust to school and sedentary life. Opportunities to be active during the school day were not only my favourite times, they were critical to who I was as a person. My problem on this particular school day began with the excitement of heading to the local church basement for PE and ended with a frightening experience no grade two-er should have. I never forgot my PE clothes and shoes. NEVER. This day was no different. I had my shorts. I had my t-shirt. I had my shoes. As we were changing in the tiny bathroom of the church basement, however, I realized I had forgotten something. My regular underwear. I had neglected to put briefs on under my long johns…

 

longjohns

EDITORS NOTE: for those from more southerly climes, long johns are full coverage thermal underwear and completely necessary for about 8 months of the year where I live. Thank you.

…and was therefore in a bit of a conundrum. I couldn’t wear my shorts with my long johns, I couldn’t wear my shorts without my regular underwear. I agonized about it until everyone else left the change room and decided to just head out in my jeans and t-shirt so no one would know of my problem. Surely the PE teacher would understand? As I headed over to try and quietly explain my embarrassing dilemma to the enormous ex-football player who was my teacher, he stopped everyone and singled me out. “Doug, you forgot your gym clothes! Come over here!” I sheepishly slunk over to the centre of the basement and was ready to explain my situation when suddenly I was swept off my feet, lifted high into the air and pinned against the ceiling. “Why do you not have your gym clothes?!?” Three quick, relevant facts. Number one, there was no way I was explaining myself in front of the whole class. Number two, I could barely keep myself from peeing my pants, much less actually talk. Number three, I stutter badly when forced to respond verbally under pressure. Therefore, I said nothing except for a few stuttered grunts. After a little more uplifted condemnation fornot being changed, I was forced to sit out for the rest of the class. Although I kept a brave face for my friends, (“That was so cool how he lifted me up so high”) inside I was embarrassed, frustrated, mad and ultimately – helpless. (Gleddie & Schaefer, 2014, p. 9-10)

Now that you’ve read my story (thanks!) answer me this: Why would someone who underwent that sort of humiliation and embarassment go on to have a career in physical education? Why wouldn’t that experience have turned me off of physical education for life? John Dewey, the renowned education philosopher, would probably have answered the question somewhat like this:

 

Experience and education cannot be directly equated to each other. For some experiences are mis-educative. Any experience is mis-educative that has the effect of arresting or distorting the growth of further experience. (1938, p. 25)

 

I think that I had been ‘inoculated’ or ‘vaccinated’ with WAY too much educative experiences of movement and play to be turned off by one mis-educative experience – no matter how humiliating. Dewey went on to say that there are two key aspects to experience. The first is the immediate:

“Yes, this was good.” OR “No, this was not.”

The second aspect emerges when we consider the influence of the current experience on future experiences. Quite simply – I knew deep down in my soul that the one mis-educative experience with my long johns did not have the power to impact the future already set up by my countless educative experiences with movement and physical education. This idea is enormously important – now put it away for a moment and keep reading… Hopefully, you are already familiar with at least the definition of physical literacy if not the whole set of philosophical underpinnings (here’s a hint… It’s so much more than fundamental movement skills!). What I want to focus on, however, is physical literacy praxis. And no, I did not spell ‘practice’ wrong…

Etymology: From Ancient Greek πρᾶξις ‎(prâxis, “action, activity, practice”)

Noun: praxis ‎(plural praxes or praxises)

  1. The practical application of any branch of learning.

  2. (philosophy) The synthesis of theory and practice, without presuming the primacy of either. (en.wiktionary.org)

 

 

 

Love it! Take a closer look: the synthesis of theory and practice, without presuming the primacy of either. If you remember way back in the Travel Agents post, I quoted Margaret Whitehead as saying:

“Our mission or challenge is to do all we can to enable ALL to make progress on their individual physical literacy journey. (Whitehead, 2013)

This is PRAXIS! This is what physical educators can do with the theory! Or, as John Dewey put it,

“…upon them devolves the responsibility for instituting the conditions for the kind of present experience which has a favourable effect upon the future.” (Dewey, 1938, p. 50)

 

 

 

 

This is where my rough framework for physical literacy praxis fits in. Here is a visual to get you started.

Slide5

 

We leave our hero as he realizes that this post is getting way too long…  Hopefully, he doesn’t wait 3 months before the next one and leave us all hanging…

TO BE CONTINUED!

Rebranding

Rebranding

As some of you may know, I had the distinct pleasure of co-chairing the recent joint conference2015_CMYKHealth and Physical Education Council / Physical and Health Education Canada, National Health and Physical Education Conference – A Physical Literacy Uprising, in beautiful Banff, Alberta, Canada (let’s just go w #Banff2015 from now on though…). I could share a lot about #Banff2015: the 867 passionate delegates, the crazy and fun socials, the variety and diversity of sessions, and much more. In fact, for an overview of the conference, presenters and presentations, check out http://www.phecanada.ca/events/conference2015/program/workshops.

However, it is really hard to replicate a conference on a blog page. I would say impossible. Fortunately, with some collaborative effort from Brent at PHE Canada and one of our keynotes, I can share a video that I hope will make you think about the way you think about exercise and physical activity (read it twice, it makes sense, really, it does). We were privileged to have Dr. Yoni Freedhoff (@YoniFreedhoff) speak to us on Friday morning on the topic of:

Rebranding Exercise: Why Exercise is the World’s Best Drug, Just Not a Weight Loss Drug

The premise of the talk is as follows: By preventing cancers, improving blood pressure, cholesterol and sugar, bolstering sleep, attention, energy and mood, and doing so much more, exercise has indisputably proven itself to be the world’s best drug – better than any pharmaceutical product any physician could ever prescribe. Sadly though, exercise is not a weight loss drug, and so long as we continue to push exercise in the name of preventing or treating adult or childhood obesity, we’ll also continue to short-change the public about the genuinely incredible health benefits of exercise, and simultaneously misinform them about the realities of long term weight management. We need to REBRAND.

Please take a moment and view the video.

I would encourage you to watch the whole 39:13, however, if you want to skip all the research evidence, jump in at about 28 minutes or so for some key points and the summary.

You may wonder why we asked someone who mostly writes about nutrition and weight management (http://www.weightymatters.ca/ – highly recommended!) and is an obesity medicine doctor to keynote a conference called A Physical Literacy Uprising. The reason lies with the way we sometimes rationalize our work as PE teachers and Physical Activity professionals: childhood obesity.

“We need more PE to combat childhood obesity.”

“We need more PA to combat childhood obesity.”

I have even heard colleagues’ state that the obesity epidemic finally makes our jobs relevant and necessary – finally we will get the respect we deserve as a profession because we can FIX this. I couldn’t disagree more.

As Yoni states in his presentation, when we tie exercise to weight loss/control/management etc. we are committing:

A dis-service to exercise – we box exercise in as weight loss instead of highlighting all the other benefits of physical activity: sleep, co-morbidities, mental health, well-being, academics, joy, etc. This aligns with my own thoughts about WHY we need to move. Movement is worth so much more than the box(es) we often place it in.

A dis-service to quality weight management – people will try stupid things when they feel exercise has “failed” them in their goals (ie. Biggest Loser. To read one of Yoni’s scathing critique of that show, click here). Incidentally, this aspect is also linked with the fallacious idea that we need to be “fit” (or at least look that way) to be effective teachers of PE (more on that here!).

From a physical literacy perspective, we need only return to the original definition:

In short, as appropriate to each individual’s endowment, physical literacy can be described as a disposition in which individuals have: the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for maintaining purposeful physical pursuits/activities throughout the lifecourse. (Whitehead, 2010)

I have read this and other definitions of physical literacy over and over and have yet to see weight loss, weight control, weight maintenance or any other iteration therein.47158_150773548281336_8366218_n-1

Quite simply – weight loss is not the motivational piece we are looking for to get kids (or adults) active, healthy and joy-full.

Let’s REBRAND EXERCISE and get it right*.

*My apologies to those who already “get it” and therefore do not need to rebrand. Please keep on being and doing awesomeness.

Not in My Gym

I recently tweeted a link to a story from slate.com and ignited a bit of a tweet-storm amongst the #physed crowd.  Jessica Olien (@jessicaolien), a writer and illustrator, wrote about her personal physical education experience (PE) in an article entitled, “Dodgeball Should Not Be Part of Any Curriculum, Ever: Making kids play team sports in PE is neither healthy nor educational.”  Although I would pretty much agree with this title and many of the points that the writer makes, I will admit that some aspects of the article rubbed me the wrong way – but this post is not really about those points.

Essentially, Jessica’s article described her journey through sport as experienced in her PE classes as a kid.  She wanted to be good at sports but described every new sport as a “fresh hell” as her self-confidence was annihilated.  For 12 years, with the exception of 1 week of archery in high school, Jessica described her experience as “agony”.    She felt that her personal failure at sport was perceived by her peers as an expectation for failure in other subjects, and/or life.

Calling the class “physical education” was a joke. The lesson I was learning about my physical body was that it was useless, inferior, and quite possibly infected with a cootie-like virus. We should have been learning about how complicated and capable our bodies were and how to make them healthier. Instead we were playing dodgeball.

From here on, Jessica makes a number of points / declarations:

1. Team sports (all other team sports are lumped in with dodgeball) are useless, do not develop life-skills, a sense of team and in fact, led Jessica to be a loner.

NOTE! The picture that accompanied the article actually seemed to be of a modified volleyball-type lesson using shorter, portable nets and beach balls for maximum engagement and skill development…

2. PE is traumatic and turns women away from fitness for life – Jessica did not improve her fitness, developed a poor self-image and does not play sports as an adult.

NOTE! The article references a British study that supposedly says PE “can be so traumatic that it turns women away from physical fitness for the rest of their lives”.  This is false.  I have the study.  The full report, not the media summary from The Telegraph. Although the research findings are certainly critical of many traditional PE practices (as am I), the authors make no claim to girls being turned off “for life” (especially being that the study was not longitudinal and lasted 11 months).   In fact, one of the ways the findings from the study are being used is to provide resources for teachers to improve the experience of girls (and hopefully boys too!) in their PE classes.

3. PE needs reform.  Classes are for everyone and not just “the athletes”. Fitness should be individual, not competitive.  PE should keep kids moving, not sitting around.  “Show them (students) their bodies can be a key to future happiness, not an obstacle to it”. (Hear, hear!)

Comments shared on slate.com in reaction to the article are, for the most part, quite vitriolic and some are even malicious.  A few folks deny the validity of Jessica’s story with commentators saying that “this happens in all subjects, should we get rid of those too?”  Others are very supportive and chime in about the negativity and humiliation they too, suffered in PE.  By contrast, the comments from my #physed twitter contacts were of a much different flavour.

@joeyfeith wrote an insightful response on branch.com that includes this statement, So is the author’s article completely wrong? No, I think that, sadly, some students still have to deal with those types of experiences in PE (and in classroom subjects too). However, I think her article’s title is way off, and spending some time chatting with the members of the #physed community might show her why.” Check out The Physical Educator for more of Joey’s brand of excellence.

@andyvasily blogged the following, Jessica, rest assured in knowing that what you say above (see point #3 above) is happening in a number of PE programs nowadays. Personally and professionally, my life is about making a positive difference in young people’s lives. There are a vast number of passionate and very caring PE practitioners out there doing the very same thing on a daily basis. Thank you for sharing your opinion and I sincerely hope you take the time to look at the websites above and to consider, with an open-mind, that physical education has taken on big change over the last several years. It is wrong that you were made to feel this way in school.”

So why are these PE teachers not ranting and raving to the world about the generalizations, over-simplifications and errors in Jessica’s article?  I think there are three reasons applicable to those who “get it” about PE.

  1. Relationships.  These people care about kids.  All kids.  Sizes. Shapes. Abilities. Disabilities. Races. Religions. Kids being the operating word here.  If Jessica had Andy or Joey as her teacher, I am confident her perception of PE (and adult competence) would be different.  The goal is thinking, feeling, moving individuals being successful (maintaining strengths AND improving weaknesses).  Confidence and competence are like the circle of life for kids in PE.
  2. Professionalism. These people care about teaching.  They are educators, pedagogues and master teachers who know when to step forward and when to step back.  They never “throw out a ball” and don’t value a class according to “busy, happy and good.”  They realize that PE doesn’t just happen, but needs an educated, motivated, informed, caring professional to be done right.
  3. Advocacy. These people care about PE.  They value its intrinsic and extrinsic worth.  They want to make the profession and the subject better.  They willingly seek and accept critique, judgement and accountability for the sake of quality PE.

Please note that both Andy and Joey acknowledge and are saddened by Jessica’s story.  There is no denial of her experience.  Story is powerful.  As my last post detailed, active positive stories are impactful and memorable. Apparently, so are active negative stories (See Strean, W.B. (2009).  Remembering instructors: play, pain and pedagogy.)   John Dewey once stated, ““We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.”  One of the ways in which I deal with the issue of negative PE experiences like Jessica’s is to provide the pre-service teachers in my classes (essentially, “How to Teach PE”) with a framework for reflection on practice and consideration of the personal stories being created through their teaching.  Essentially, I provide one profoundly negative PE experience followed by many and frequent positive ones.

Let me explain…  The first class of my course begins with the most stereotypical, “old-school” PE class (much like the one I imagine Jessica had) that I can handle without throwing up.  For a detailed description, check out “Gym Class with ED Fizz”.  The purpose is to create a shared experience for us to reflect on, interact with and discuss.  Interestingly enough, a few students are comfortable with this experience.  A few just steel themselves for more of the type of PE they had in grade 10.  Most, however, are horrified.  In fact, the more times I do this exercise, the more students I have in my class who have NOT had a PE teacher like that.  This makes me happy!  The rest of my class focuses on creating positive experiences that lead students to value PE, develop an identity as a PE teacher and begin to explore appropriate pedagogy.

One of the best student papers I ever received was on the topic of media stereotypes and myths surrounding PE (check out @movelivelearn’s blog that includes this topic).  I had asked pre-service teachers to reflect on how negative media portrayals of PE might impact their own future students perceptions of PE and PE teachers.  Daniel (may or may not be a pseudonym…) not only had an excellent summary and analysis of these stereotypes, he had a very unique and wonderful way of responding.  In his conclusion he wrote (rough paraphrase from my memory):

In the end, it won’t matter what stereotypes or myths my students have seen and/or believe about PE.  Once they walk into my gym and experience my PE, they will know that is NOT me.  Humiliation? Not in my gym.  Athlete-centric? Not in my gym.  Gender biased? Not in my gym. Sports only? Not in my gym. Picked last? Not in my gym.

I believe that the very vibrant and pro-active #physed community on Twitter will also say, “NOT IN MY GYM” to experiences like Jessica’s and help to eradicate the poor practice that stubbornly hangs on.  We #physed folks need to adopt the challenge that Dr. Margaret Whitehead gave recently (IPLC, 2013):

Our mission or challenge

is to do all we can

to enable ALL to make progress

on their  individual

physical literacy journey

Please feel free to continue to share negative experiences of PE and to criticize and hold accountable those in our profession who are responsible for these horrific stories.  However, remember that not all PE teachers and PE classes are the same.  Please avoid painting us all with the same brush and perpetuating the stereotypes.  Also feel free to lift up those who are living the change and providing transformational movement stories with students in PE everyday.

Jessica, you are welcome in my gym any day.

Want to share your positive PE experiences?  Visit the Facebook page Transformational Experiences in Physical Education to share your story!