Writing this blog is tough. Not the PEPRN blog in general but this one in particular. It is about change and change is rightly or wrongly an emotive issue at present. Race. There I said it. Because that’s the issue I’m skirting around. Race should either always have been or never have been an issue. But that’s not the case. It has been. It is. Just not for me, I guess. I didn’t know. Not really. What I do know though is I’m conflicted. I realised a while ago that I have surrounded myself with white voices. On twitter and other social media platforms. So, I started to slowly make changes there. I listen but I didn’t and still don’t fully understand. I also downloaded a book on racism, but I didn’t read it. I think I was scared to understand and realise my compliance. I’m reading it now and I’m beginning to get it.
I’m beginning to see white privilege. It’s not something I’ve created. It’s not obvious and it’s not simple but I am beginning to see the edges of it. That’s all I have though. The edges. A silhouette perhaps. But I can see it. It’s like finding Wally. It’s always been there but I couldn’t, or chose not to, or lacked the wherewithal to see my privilege. I can now. And now I see it everywhere. In some of the posts I see on social media and via retweets or replies. I don’t know what I’ll. Not yet. What I normally do, I guess. I’ll listen and learn and read and write and I’ll try and understand it. I won’t dismiss it. I won’t forget about it and I’ll try and become a better person. I hope you’ll help.
One thing that repeatedly baffles me of late is the romanticized notion that traditions are always good things. That is not to say that I’ve always felt this way but more recently it is increasingly becoming the case. Tried and tested does not always equate to best but nor does it always equate to worse. Instead it equates to what we currently know and in innumerable cases we often have a difference of opinion.
The mathematician and philosopher Karl Popper went some way to explaining this with his theory of falsifiability. Popper argued that current thinking is not bounded by truth but by what, as yet, hasn’t been proven false. He used the example of swans, but we could easily replace this with pedagogies, atoms or legs. Popper asks what we would believe if, throughout our lives, we only ever saw white swans? Surely, we’d believe that all swans are white. Why would we believe otherwise? What would our reaction be if we saw a black swan? Would it be unreasonable to suggest that we might take the sudden appearance of a black swan as a joke? Might we look around for the hidden camera or the friend with a can of black paint? How many black swans would it take before our firmly held belief about swans was altered and our previously, and firmly, held belief was proven false?
Why, when we encounter new ways of teaching, do we revert to established truths? In the UK we’ve suffered under the caretakership of Michael Gove whose answer to everything seemed to be that standards had slipped, and we need to return to the roots of teaching and the role of teacher-as-teller. Progressive pedagogies were rebutted and a return to the past was called for. Years of progress might have been lost if not for the honesty and integrity of teachers who knew him to be misguided at best and plain wrong at worst.
Reinventing the wheel is often seen as a bad thing and yet how many times has it been reinvented? If it hadn’t then we’d still have wooden wheels (ones without the metal band even that was used to increase their longevity). Education needs to be reinvented a little at a time so as to take advantage of the development in our thinking and understanding about how children learn. It is not a case of allowing the wheel to turn full circle (as Gove insisted) but ensuring that ideas and practices continue to move forwards.
To me, and you might disagree, Models-based Practice (pedagogical approaches such as teaching games for understanding, cooperative learning, sport education, and teaching personal and social responsibility) is a possible (and better) future for physical education. These approaches have been decades in the making and are built on evidence that they work. They are developments in the pedagogy of physical education, and they have been shown ‘to work’ in many diverse settings and with huge numbers of the students. Yes, we are still learning how these approaches can be used, but no they’re not gimmicks or fads. As Hastie and Buchanan argue they offer opportunities for coalition and a chance to engage all students in their own learning.
So have you been brave enough to use one? How has this worked? Where has it worked and where hasn’t it? Often I worry that the ‘hasn’t’ is more significant than the ‘has’ and yet how many times has the traditional approach to teaching PE let us down? We seem content to look beyond the ‘hasn’t’ when it comes to tradition. Isn’t it time we look beyond the ‘hasn’t a little more readily when it comes to enhancing the learning of those in our care?
Hastie and Buchanan argue that sport is a “significant social phenomenon” - one that constitutes a “multibillion-dollar venture” – and yet it often represents both the best and the worst of human culture. Despite the place of sport in our social lives (you don’t even have to like sports like football (soccer, Aussie Rules and/or American) to recognise the place it has in society) what occurs in schools is not sport as we know it. While it is beyond the limits of this week’s blog to discuss the various merits and flaws of physical education-as-sport it seems wrong that what children get in PE doesn’t even resemble the “essential characteristics of formalized sport”.
As I have suggested previously there are many aspects of sport – immoral aspects - that PE doesn’t want to teach. The ideas of respect and teamwork, of leadership and responsibility, and of cooperation and meaningful competition, however, are areas that many pedagogical models set out to foreground. Hastie and Buchanan argue that both sport education (SE) – with its foregrounding of the concepts of fair play and good sportsmanship – and teaching personal and social responsibility (TPSR) – with its aim of “helping students take personal and social responsibility…[through] sharing power with students and shifting decision making to them” – set out to teach the best aspects of sports.
It is the similar aims of SE and TPSR i.e. to teach social responsibility through fair play and equal competition, which drew Hastie and Buchanan to form a coalition between the two models. Yet there were a number of fundamental differences in the ‘outlook’ of the two models that needed to be resolved before they could be used together. Fundamentally these revolved around the role of the individual and the use of games. SE advocates for a team approach to success in which the team cannot succeed within the contribution of each individual. In contrast TPSR holds that self-awareness and personal well-being are central. Similarly, while SE formalises the rituals of games TPSR advocates against formalised games because the “presence of authority figures such as referees and coaches might absolve players of responsibility for their actions.”
Hastie and Buchanan recognised the “rapport of strength” that existed between players on both the same and opposing teams. It was this rapport that allowed the authors to conjoin the two models and use SE and TPSR to help, in this case boys, reconcile and overcome the differences they felt in PE.
What Hastie and Buchanan found was that the hybrid model produced “a very positive response [where none had existed previously] toward the problem tasks presented at the beginning of the class.” These problems were in turn “treated seriously, and the students were willing to give opinions about how things would work.” Where, in previous units of SE, the boys had “struggled with the fair play requirements” of the model, the use of TPSR alongside SE helped the teacher to overcome these concerns. Indeed, the use of “awareness talks” and brief preludes before matches helped to “settle players down from any problems they may have had coming into the game.” Furthermore, the use of TPSR allowed students the opportunity, where none existed before, to take themselves out of the game to “get themselves under control”. These self-regulated and imposed ‘time-outs’ would have been shunned previously but now they served to reduce the potential for conflict during games.
Hastie and Buchanan concluded that the combination of SE and TPSR helped to facilitate personal responsibility, empowered students to solve their own problems, helped the students to develop (through the use of empowerment and responsibility), and used sport as a vehicle for change. However, in creating a conjoined approach Hastie and Buchanan acknowledged that neither SE nor TPSR were used in their entirety. Instead a hybrid model – empowering sport – was developed that combined “some distinguished featured of Sport Education (e.g. formal competition and the persisting team) together with facilitating personal responsibility from TPSR to present a model of game play.” Such a model, Hastie and Buchanan concluded, served as a “powerful vehicle for presenting games to students while addressing three major goals of physical education: Skill development goals, social responsibility goals, and personal empowerment goals.”
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.
Hastie, P.A., & Buchanan, A.M (2000). Teaching responsibility through sport education: Prospects of a coalition. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 71:1, 25-35.