Scrolling the various social media feeds I manage leaves me with both a sense of struggle and uncertainty and also of hope. Originally, I wrote overwhelming in that opening sentence but then deleted it because I don’t see it, or feel it, as overwhelming. That said, I do wonder if ‘we’ (as a collective and a field) have been approaching physical education in the pandemic from an outdated perspective.
In England, we have entered our third national lockdown and the same solutions, it seems, are being offered to the young people of today. The self-proclaimed “nations PE Teacher” is back with his engaging and well-choreographed physical activity sessions and teachers are scrambling around for skills practices, rule books and performance analysis videos they can use to engage their students. I’m left to ponder if knowledge about physical education is overriding wellness in physical education in these days of uncertainty and isolation.
Let me explain my thinking (which I must acknowledge is not original as is gleaned from ideas and arguments I have seen on the same social media feeds).
When the third national lockdown was announced last week, I immediately saw requests for ideas on how to teach the planned curriculum during lockdown: “We’re starting our rotation of Hockey this week. Any ideas on how to teach hockey remotely.” My immediate response was self-made materials – get the students to make a hockey stick and a ball and use this self-made equipment in the unit. This would teach them about sustainability, design, construction etc. Those skills which are broader than physical education and yet which are so important. Then, in reading this week’s paper, I thought why not teach those life skills instead of sport techniques. Why not reach out and ensure the kids are safe and well. That they are looking after themselves. That they know how to engage with healthy life choices in a pandemic and what to do if they can’t.
By focusing on the affective domain and valuing learning that serves to prompt positive feelings and emotions and manage any sense of acceptance or rejection, we might better support the young people in our care. If we listen to colleagues and students and highlight examples of their support for others and themselves then we can, perhaps, empower them to look after themselves and others. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter if they learn to play hockey or learn about its rules and positions (sorry Hockey but the same applies to any sport). What matters is the young person behind the screen. There are, of course, situations where a focus on qualifications (and the knowledge built into the syllabus) is important and the best way we can support our students is to help them to do the very best they can. But this is not always the case.
This is an opportunity to dismantle the individual blocks of Lego that make up our curriculum and reimagine what it might look like. This is an opportunity to find a new form of physical education and come up with something new. A number of years ago I was part of an audience who were each given the same six pieces of Lego and asked to make a duck. Mathematically there are 915,103,765 ways to combine six, eight-stud LEGO bricks. That’s a lot of ways of putting the duck together and yet we seem to have stumbled across a prominent way and stuck to it. My challenge to us is “how can we go about re-Lego(ing) the curriculum?”
Lynch and Curtner-Smith ground their paper on the sustained argument by a growing number of critical sports pedagogists that the standardized curriculum in physical education “privileges some students and discriminates against others.” Specifically they argue that when sporting performance is the key goal, “both the formal and hidden curriculum are elitist, sexist, racist, classist and ableist.”
In seeking an alternative construction of physical education as a way to counter inequality and ensure the subject is relevant for the youth of today, the authors propose the use of transformative pedagogy (TP). They argue, with the help of others, that implementing TP helps teachers to “embrace a sociocultural perspective” which, in turn, helps them to see (perhaps for the first time), the potential impact their existing pedagogy (i.e. their teaching, learning, curriculum and assessment) might be having on their students.
Lynch and Curtner-Smith advocate “a more democratic society” and argue that this can be better achieved when “teachers critically examined systems of power, privilege, oppression, and unequal distribution of resourses with their students.” Specifically, they focused on six principles for Social Justice education (SJE) and argued that teachers should:
1. Recognise that students form communities of learners and are thoughtful consumers of knowledge;
2. Build on students’ prior knowledge by using indirect student-centred teaching styles;
3. Teach skills and bridge gaps to new knowledge by making links to students’ prior knowledge;
4. Strive to understand students’ cultural, social, and historical heritage as a prerequisite for working with students, their families, and communities;
5. Employ a range of individualized assessment and evaluation techniques which go against standardized hierarchical assessment processes; and
6. Make inequity, power, and activism explicit parts of the curriculum so that students are encouraged to question the status quo.
Focusing on the work of Harry – Everytown Elementary School’s only PE teacher – this paper explored his efforts to employ TP in his teaching.
Harry’s focus was, first and foremost, on ensuring that a “community of learners was created before engaging in intellectual PE.” He did this through the use of sharing circles or circle up time and he encouraged contact (in the form of “a hug, a high five, a handshake, or nothing”) between his students to show they cared for one another. He also encouraged his students to be involved in the design of lessons and the organization of class. He wanted them to own the curriculum not just engage in it. To achieve these goals, Harry valued student voice and encourage older students to support and peer-teach younger students in PE.
At the heart of Harry’s approach to teaching was his focus on the affective domain. Whilst acting like a “big kid” himself he prioritised “trustworthiness, mindfulness, sportsmanship, communication, teamwork, cooperation, personal responsibility, relationships, student similarities, friendships and having fun” in his teaching. He wanted his students to be critical and reflective thinkers and used puzzles, case studies, discussions, role play and advocacy projects in PE.
It is beyond the scope of this blog to consider the breadth of Harry’s investment in TP and his students’ affective learning and I would encourage you to read the paper. That said, it is clear that Harry was deliberate and conscientious in his use of this approach. He may have sought fun but there was a dedication to TP that speaks volumes of his lived choices regarding teaching and learning in physical education. His work serves as an example of what can be achieved when we build physical education up to be transformative. Like many of the arguments made in this blog (and the hundreds of papers it has now considered) we need to go all out to achieve what is important and if that means breaking the existing curriculum and building it up again then so be it. I, for one, wholeheartedly support such a move.
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.
Lynch, S. & Curtner-Smith, M. (2019). ‘You have to find your slant, your groove:’ one physical education teacher's efforts to employ transformative pedagogy, Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 24:4, 359-372