Volume 1: The Nature and Purposes of Physical Education 

In the previous blog I explored the idea that activities should not be the sun around which physical education revolves. Yet that notion seems to reflect the public and political perception of our field. In advocating for a new approach to physical education the authors suggested that a critical pedagogy of social justice should be positioned in our schools in place of the current agenda of elite performance. Importantly, we need to consider how we educate the whole child and how we continue to advocate for high quality experiences and justify what high quality is and does.

This week’s blog explores the key issue that face us as we seek to understand more about physical education and physical activity. It suggests that social justice and prejudices are still key reasons why students don’t get the physical education experiences that they want, need and deserve. It argues that we are all responsible in the development of teachers (be it ourselves or those who come under our care), and that only together can we ask the hard questions, for example, that need asking and then answering.


Paper 18:

Rovegno, I. (2008/2012). Learning and instruction in social, cultural environments: Promising research agendas. In D. Kirk (ed.) Physical Education. (pp. 307-330) London: Routledge.


My ‘take home’ message – the implications of the research on practice

The intended audience for this paper was originally the academic community, and much of what Rovegno writes could be seen as a challenge to researchers to undertake meaningful research, to find out new things, and above all expand our knowledge base. Yet, in reading the paper I was drawn to the importance of these messages and the significance they could have on the practice of others. In particular I felt that those who read this blog, and who are regularly seeking to improve their practice pushing against the real or imagined barriers that stand in the way of innovative practices in physical education, would benefit from reading a synopsis of this paper.

Rovegno charges herself to explore and discuss the challenges and significant research questions for pedagogy over the next ten years. She does this under two broad areas of study; (1) research on curriculum, teaching and learning (RCTL), and (2) research on teacher education (RTE). However, while she positions these areas of study in two contexts  - i.e. RCTL focuses on schools, youth, collegiate, and professional sport; after-school, community or camp programmes; and university physical activity settings, while RTE focuses on university undergraduate programmes and in-service programmes within the context of school, university and other practitioner agencies - I think that both are interrelated enough to talk about them in the single context of physical education.

Drawing on the field of reflective practice, Rovegno argues that the days of trust in teachers as professionals has all but gone and has been replaced with a “crisis of confidence” in their professional knowledge. This is best shown through the repeated interventions that stem from governments and other organisations in an effort to repair what they see as the ‘problems in education’ through quantitative measurable outputs. Rovegno highlights the irony of these top down interventions given the rapidly growing and increasing strong knowledge base about teaching and learning that now exists about how to teach and enhance learning in multiple contexts.

However, that is not to say that change is not desperately needed in some areas. Rovegno argues that the biggest challenge we will face will come under the topic of inequity and social justice. In all of the setting listed above - schools, communities and universities - children and adults continue to learn in inequitable and inadequate situations - and many are deprived the opportunity to engage in “safe, meaningful, health-enhancing physical activity”. While some engage in a rich programme of activity others spend all their time at home inside as their neighbourhoods are unsafe. Social class, disability, race and gender are still key determinants of learning and participation in physical activities. Those who can, do. Those who can’t, don’t.

This creates what Rovegno called “a participation gap” where, for example, boys are more active than girls in and out of school and White children are more active than African American or Hispanic children. For many teachers the reality is that physical education lessons are the only opportunity that children have to “learn and participate in physical activity”. Yet, school is a contested space where subjects are still hierarchically positioned in the timetable and where the opportunity to employ physical education teachers is avoided in favour of Maths and English teachers. Therefore these decreasing periods of time become filled with increasingly large numbers of students, and some teachers turn to ROBbery (Roll of the Ball tactics) as a form of survival as a way to keep the children “busy, happy and good”. Yet, Rovegno argues that until schools are held accountable for the quality and quantity of their provision then time and resources will not be diverted to physical education programmes. Therefore, it is vital that the very best teachers are put in front of our children and that we find ways of improving the quality of teachers and programmes especially for those children who “feel alienated and disengaged from physical education and physical activity”.

So what have you done today (in the words of Heather Small) to make you feel proud? Have you consider why certain people like or dislike your programme and why they don’t fully engage? I remember a boy in the first year I taught who walked into my lessons, sat down and watched and then walked out at the end. I never stopped to consider why and the blame always fell on him. What could I have done differently to engage him? These are the hardest questions to ask and find answers to but these are the questions that need to be asked. So what would your question be to yourself?


The Paper

Delving down into the paper Rovegno sets a number of research challenges. As teacher educators - and by that I mean myself and my colleagues who work in universities and those teachers who act as mentors to aspiring teachers - we need to find ways of teaching pre-service teachers the subject matter they need to make a difference in young people’s lives. It is easy to discredit the knowledge of new teachers and suggest that “this isn’t the way we do things here” but it is important that we work with the next generation of teachers and help them marry the old with the new. We need to challenge and modify the beliefs of those undergraduates who take “a sexist, racist and homophobic stance; are biased against overweight people; and are interested only in working with good athletes in programs that benefit able-bodied students”.

Rovegno argues that in order to respond to these challenges we need to design and research a variety of curriculum programmes that are aimed at different age groups, cultural settings, subject matter and curriculum goals. We need to understand student’s perspectives around what they find motivating and meaningful and also disengaging and alienating. We also need to understand how misconceptions and naive concepts emerge through the media, popular culture and/or peer culture and go on to do harm. Ideas like thin means fit and sit-ups burn off abdominal fat are worrying facets if this misinformation culture. This is more relevant when these cultures continue to be stronger than the lesson learnt in schools.

When we find things that work in schools we also need to find ways of scaling up these studies to allow us to better understand their effect in multiple contexts and where different enablers and constraints exist. We need to move beyond our own pre-conceptions and try and get to the bottom of why different populations respond to physical education in different ways and help them find ways of articulating this. We need to challenge antifat attitudes and the very idea that “normal-weight children have better physical skills, reasoning abilities, and social interaction skills”  This means working alongside our students and not just advocating for them. It is beyond the scope of this blog to explore all of Rovegno’s arguments but I would recommend it as a starting point for anyone looking to start some research into physical education and/or physical activity.


What’s next? As part of this series of blogs I propose the following as a way of considering the implications of this research- Think, Act, Change (or TAC for short).


Think about findings of the paper – do they resonate? Use the comment box below to ask question, seek clarification, may be challenge the findings.?

Act on what you’ve read. What do you believe? Is this your responsibility or just something else to be put on your plate? Is there action to take? If so, what might it be.

Change what you do in response to your thoughts and actions? Is this a personal undertaking? Please let the community know about it.


I wouldn’t expect every paper to get beyond the T or even the A of TAC but if one paper resonates enough to get to C then hopefully all this is worthwhile. Good luck.

Originally Published 3rd May 2013