Reading this paper again and considering, for the umpteenth time, the journey towards pedagogical change I started nearly two decades ago, I’m left to ponder some of the enduring takeaways. I’ve heard myself, and so many others, saying “I’m on a learning journey”, or “I’m never going to be the finished article” and thought absolutely. I’ve also wondered both at the sincerity of my own words and at the ways in which we’ve constructed learning in teaching as lifelong. How would I be treated (or any teacher for that matter) if instead of confirming my learning journey I simply shrugged my shoulders and said, “I’m done” and simply stopped trying to do things differently? Perhaps like Forrest Gump who, after running from coast to coast and from north to south, I could suddenly stop and say “I'm pretty tired… I think I'll go home now.” Is that acceptable as a teacher? Do I have to be journeying even if I’m not?
And yet, in revisiting this paper [and, in writing, the same paper revisiting my PhD data and in writing my PhD] I re-live those experiences again and again. In this week’s paper, and in my re-telling of my pedagogical change journey, I had the company of Ann MacPhail. In the past, and during other retellings, I had others such as Lee Schaefer and Tim Fletcher journey with me and help me to explore my experiences anew. On each occasion I’ve leant something new, and I’ve learnt something new today in writing this blog. In acknowledging that change I reaffirm my faith in my lifelong journey. It may not always be noticeable, but I’m changing the pedagogue that I am each time I facing and re-live my past experiences.
When Lee and I worked together we drew on the idea of living, telling, re-living and re-telling to frame our stories. This idea serves me here in positioning this paper and exploring its provenance. Firstly, I ‘lived’ these experiences as a secondary school physical education teacher in 2005 and in 2006. For two academic years I gathered data for my PhD and ‘told’ my diaries and eventually the readers of my thesis about my efforts to move my practice from a multi-activity, sport technique-based approach and towards a Models-based Practice approach. I say towards because I don’t believe I fully achieved that goal. Still, I feel I got close but there were a number of inhibitors and constraints that got in the way [I can’t go into here, but David Kirk and I do so in our new book].
When Ann and I set out to reanalyse my PhD data for this paper, it [the data] re-told its story and, in doing so, we re-lived it. At least I relived it. In many ways Ann encountered this story for first time and, in doing so, she lived it and then re-told it in the paper. From here the reader gets to read and then re-live those experiences, each in their own way and each taking something different from the journey. In hearing this story and then in re-living it, the reader gets to connect to their own experiences, to re-live those and extract their own meaning. And so the process of change continues.
Casey and MacPhail [It seems strange to write this but I’m trying to distance myself a little from my own work], explore the idea of Models-based Practice [MbP] through the only empirical example currently published. They set out to “present to the reader with the realistic and nuanced challenges that arise in striving towards, engaging with, planning for, and enacting a broader, multimodel motion of MbP.”
They begin by arguing that while there is a critical mass of research in MbP, the popularised notion of this approach has focused on the delivery of a single model. Furthermore, they hold that while the research clearly shows that the use of single models, such as sport education and teaching games for understanding, works there is no research, to date, that explores the use of multiple models in one curriculum. In making a case for such an approach in structuring physical education, the authors explore the need for significant reform in the subject and position MbP as one possible future.
In their re-examination of Casey’s PhD data, the authors discussed four strong themes: teacher and student prior learning, working toward facilitating a change in practice, sufficient time to consider changes in practice, and changing philosophies and practices.
Teacher and student prior learning: Perhaps as a result of the rigours of the PhD process, the teacher (Casey) gave “a strong impression that he is continually striving for high fidelity in his use of a MbP approach in his teaching.” This drive for fidelity was aided by the students’ knowledge of and involvement in his pedagogical change journey. This transparency of process, coupled with the ongoing nature of change, were important facets in adopting a MbP approach. Growing up in models together helped the teacher to plan for different units with the students and their classes. As he got to know them, and as they got to understand what a MbP approach required of them they all moved to towards a degree of pedagogical fluency with different models used i.e., cooperative learning, sport education and teaching games for understanding.
Working toward facilitating a change in practice: Casey and MacPhail acknowledged the tensions inherent in being a teacher who is implementing change (and the control and work that required) and the aspiration of the individual models to focus more on student-centred learning. They also recognised the difficulties the teacher experienced in changing from the dominant figure in the class to the facilitator/activator of learning. Over time, the teacher was able create “more space in lessons for student involvement” but this didn’t occur without consequence. Increasingly he felt like “a passenger, an observer, someone who had facilitated this process but now had very little to do with it.” This sense of separation increased (although increasingly in a good way) as the teacher educated the students as to the roles they were “expected to undertake in pedagogical change and providing them with the language and physical skills they would need to enact their roles effectively as well as communicate with their peers and teacher.”
Sufficient time to consider changes in practice: In the initial period of change “time was a constant reference point in the teacher’s reflections.” He wanted to squeeze every drop of time from a lesson and backed himself into a corner where he was trying to achieve too much in the time he had. He wanted learning in every domain and failed to prioritize. Eventually, he has to choose between academic learning [i.e., the knowledge of physical education] and social learning [e.g., interpersonal and small group skills] and decide which was more important at a given time.
Changing philosophies and practices: In order to change the teacher felt he had to change more than just his teaching. That change came first, but in the end it required a deeper philosophical change: “In many ways my whole pedagogy has changed and I view the pupils very differently (…) rather than products that I produce they are more like co-authors of their own works.” He extended this student-centred belief when he suggested in his reflective diary that ‘real learning’ (i.e., what students take away with them after a lesson) and not ‘real teaching’ should be the core criteria of successful learning.
In conclusion, change is not easy and, as Casey and MacPhail reported, the teacher made what he saw as ‘rookie mistakes’ and tried to transfer his old classroom practices to worksheets while “simultaneously inviting students to play a more central role in his classrooms. There simply was not enough space (in any of his lesson or units) for both the teacher and the student to have a significant voice in the pedagogical process.” The truth is learning to teach, or on this case re-learning to teach, takes time and effort with each new cohort of young learnings. As such, it is a lifelong process but one that should be embraced and enjoyed because it is this process of change that new ideas and deeper understanding emerge. There is no chance to stop and state that you’re “pretty tired… I think I'll go home now” because there’s another group of young people who deserve the very best you can give them and who require you to keep learning and developing.
What’s next? As part of this series of blogs I propose the following as a way of considering the implications of this research on your teaching - Think, Act, Change (or TAC for short).
Think about findings of the paper – do they resonate with you? Use Twitter (@DrAshCasey) to ask a question, seek clarification, maybe challenge the findings.
Act on what you’ve read. What do you believe? Is it your responsibility to make changes or is this just something else that I’ve 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? If you want to do something, or are looking for help, then 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.
Casey, A. & MacPhail, A. (2018). Adopting a models-based approach to teaching physical education. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 23 (3): 294-310.