A couple of week's ago I wrote a blog call "game on (for everyone)" in which I explored a paper by Holt and colleagues that revisited and tried to rethink the idea of Teaching Games for Understanding. Since then Professor Len Almond (one of the original members of the team behind TGfU) having read the blog and met with me at Loughborough undertook to reread the Holt et al. paper and has provided the following notes that he asked me to share. I would welcome (as would he) any comments and discussions that might be forthcoming on these observations.

How do they fit in with conceptions of TGfU and the future for the model as a field of critical debate and future action in the field.



Len Almond's respose re: Holt et al  Expanding the Teaching Games for Understanding Model. 

Their discussion highlights a number of ley issues but also a number of errors. 

163   The authors refer to the introduction of TGFU in the 60s which is incorrect. It was the early 1980s when the ideas behind TGFU were developed in practice underpinned by a number of key theoretical concepts.  However, it was 1978 when the idea of a game centred approach emerged following Len Almond’s observation of Rod Thorpe’s practical session with students on badminton.  In essence the discussions following were focused on the relevance of these ideas to tennis. 

Holt’s point about the comparison between technical and tactical approaches to games teaching is correct because this was a major handicap to the development of TGFU.  It created a debate that forced peoples’ thinking in the wrong direction and held back discussion on more important aspects of TGFU – like the theoretical underpinning of the approach.

Yes, TGFU was concerned with the problems of a technique-drill focus in isolation and out of a game context.  However, the solution we were after was a game-centred approach and an attempt to see playing as problem solving (this was influenced by Suits book – Grasshopper).  Players present their opposition with problems (and vice-versa) that need to be addressed, understanding tactics based on principles of play became another focus.

Holt and colleagues make the point that for TGFU a tactical game understanding should be introduced first.  This is a slight misunderstanding.  The point is really about how you represent the complex game in appropriate game forms and provide a simply problem to be solved.  Holt and his colleagues are correct the four fundamental pedagogical principles have been neglected.  They identify the 1986 Oregon Olympic Congress paper in which they were outlined and the more detailed paper that Rod Thorpe and David Bunker wrote in Physical Education in Schools (p52-80) which is a more detailed practical illustration of these principles (this paper deserves a more careful analysis). 

I don’t believe that the theoretical aspects of TGFU have been discussed in enough detail or taken seriously.  One recent reviewer of an article on TGFU even claimed that there was no theoretical base to TGFU.  This is simply incorrect – Bernard Suits, Jerome Bruner and Lawrence Stenhouse were central to the emerging thinking in the 1980s.  Rod Thorpe’s 1992 paper on psychology and Piggot’s earlier paper in the 1983 Bulletin of Physical Education were just a few.

Primary and secondary rules and a classification of games together with games making are a case in point. 

The learner is at the centre of the TGFU but this hasn’t been at the centre of the academic debate but nor the practice debate.  PE has always been content focused (and this remains the same problem today) and has been the biggest barrier to change. 

Holt and colleagues provide an interesting figure on page 166 in which they combine what they call a curriculum model with pedagogical principles.  This is an interesting point and worthy of more consideration.  I would suggest that the curriculum model is more of an analysis of games, whereas their idea of a pedagogical model is clearly a curriculum model (or framework).  What is missing is a pedagogical stance that underpins the curriculum model.  The curriculum model provides the enabling environment but it needs an enabling attitude (part of pedagogy) to generate positive activities that bring about  an understanding of the game.  I would like to see a much more stronger focus on what sort of pedagogical stance is needed together with an outline of what kind of pedagogical skills are required for TGFU. 

The figure needs also an additional feature – shaping the game forms.  This is a key point that needs more attention.  In the 1980s Margaret Ellis, when she was at Loughborough, used the term ‘shaping’ but this was glossed over at the time.  It was left to Alan Launder in Play Practice to highlight its relevance. 

Later in the paper Holt (page 167) suggests that Bunker and Thorpe (1982) used Maulden and Redfern’s appraisal of  games teaching as a starting point for developing the four pedagogical principles.  This is an error that has been cited a number of times.  Let me correct it. Following a spell at Loughborough College I spent sometime (1978) at I.M. Marsh College in Liverpool (where Maulden and Redfern were based) where the games team were developing ideas about how to teach games to students training to be teachers.  They based their ideas on the similarity of invasion games and what techniques were common.   I can recall numerous debates about the strengths and weaknesses of game-centred ideas and what they saw as the primary role of techniques.  Thorpe never made a “move away from skill-based teaching towards a more technical-cognitive approach” because he was never in this position.  The I.M. Marsh approach did not influence the development of TGFU except the idea of a similarity in games was in my mind when I developed the idea of a classification of game.  However, the focus was not on technical grounds but a similarity in the problems presented. 

The date of Bunker’s involvement in TGFU was in 1980 when the TGFU team was formed and we moved from net games to invasion and field games.  David Bunker gave a completely different focus to fielding games which at the time were very radical and innovative. 

Holt and colleagues identify understanding as a major element in TGFU but the discussion fails to highlight its importance. Kirk’s article was important but it was stimulated by Entwistle’s paper and McNamee’ s paper is not mentioned.  It attributes Wade’s ideas to the development of principles of play and this true because his ideas did form the basis for discussion  and he was able to comment on the TGFU ideas as they unfolded. 

However, I do not believe that the idea of understanding has been given sufficient attention.  There is a great more to be discussed here because it forms the basis for the revised curriculum and pedagogical (that I discussed earlier). 

Overall it is very useful article that can stimulate discussion on a wealth of concepts