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  • Writer's pictureSue Fletcher

Effective Teaching in Physical Education

Updated: Dec 26, 2022

My First Blog

Sue Fletcher, December 2022

Effective Teaching in Physical Education

Curious about current research in best practice physical education teaching, I hit up ResearchGate to find some papers. I read quite a few and was struck most by the two I detail here. My interest was because one of the papers held there were three very important phases a successful physical education teacher must attend to, whilst the other posited the view that even with the three critical competencies (subject knowledge, pedagogical subject knowledge, and general pedagogical knowledge) you can still be a poor teacher if you don’t possess the necessary personality. Well, it isn’t quite as simple as that. But he does say factors such as motivational orientations, self-regulation, beliefs and values, aims, and aspects of fitness (endurance, muscular strength, flexibility, etc.), collaboration, caring, supporting diversity and equity, and many more competencies are equally important factors in assessing a successful PE teacher. In my summary, I outline the work done, and my opinions of the conclusions. If you want to skip the research jump straight to page 9 (I won’t mind ).

The two studies I summarise here are Fishburne & Hickson (2004) and Baumgartner (2022).

Fishburne & Hickson (2004) researched a tiny sample of three female Elementary School PE teachers, the youngest in her third year and the oldest in her nineteenth, to determine effective teaching practices that result in positive learning outcomes (Borich, 1996). They write in the abstract that prior research on PE teachers had demonstrated teachers regarded their lessons as successful if the students were busy, happy, and good (Placek, 1983). They hypothesized that student learning was a low priority. The methods they used for the collection of data were recorded lessons, interviews, and observations of student behaviour. After collecting initial data, the three teachers were placed in a teacher development program. A total of 5.5 hours of individual sessions was provided for each teacher. They all received the same topics in the same order. The topics were:

· The role of physical education for children

· The importance and understanding of developmental appropriateness

· Putting theory into practice

· Effective Teaching

· Instructional Strategy

· The effective teaching model, the theoretical framework, and its implementation

· The importance of reflection

I note the research was completed in the years before 2004, which dates its conclusions. For example, the three methods of data collection are effectively pencil-and-paper, where researchers watched lessons and studied the behaviour of 51% of the class (of 25) with a flock-like mentality.

During the 1980s, when I was studying for my bachelor’s degree in Physical Education, the research tried to identify the facets of classroom teaching that promoted an effective learning environment for children. Much of what we do know about effective teaching comes from this research base. These well-conducted classroom research studies attempted to identify what teachers do to produce student learning (Brophy & Good, 1986). However, it doesn’t stand up in 2022.

In a review of research studies that showed an impact on student achievement and learning, Borich (1996) summarized effective teaching methods and outlined five key teaching behaviours that were supported by research: lesson clarity; instructional variety; teacher task orientation; engagement in the learning process; and student success rate. I can confirm these behaviours were drilled into us at university. Borich also found that five other behaviours seem to be related to effective teaching. He identified this second group of teaching behaviours as helping behaviours. However, the research identifying these helping behaviours is not as extensive as the research support for the original five key behaviours, and so the findings are not as conclusive.

Research on Teaching in Physical Education

As most of the research on effective teaching has been concentrated in traditional academic subject areas such as mathematics and language arts, physical educators were left to develop their own parallel research studies that were specific to their context. Hence, compared to most school subjects, physical education was a late arrival on the teacher effectiveness scene (Mawer, 1995), by which time I had been teaching for six years. The major research studies involving effectiveness in physical education have studied such areas as student engagement, curriculum time allocation, teaching methods, teacher behaviour, and teacher perceptions, (there’s a pattern here, of nothing staying the same. Different research provides different language, different conclusions) but have not applied the classroom research findings identified by researchers such as Borich (1996).

Regarding effective teaching in the realm of physical education, studies indicate that many teachers believe they are teaching effectively (Romar & Siedentop, 1995 as cited in Siedentop, 1998). This conclusion is based primarily on the teacher’s own perception of important teaching criteria: such as explanation, feedback, demonstration, and student enjoyment (and so in a ten-year period, we have a number of different reasons to explain successful effective physical education teaching). According to Siedentop, for the most part, these perceptions could be considered accurate. Teachers do include explanations, feedback, and demonstration in their lessons, and students do enjoy classes. However, it could be suggested, from the definitions of effective teaching provided by Berliner (1987), Brophy (1979), Gage (1978), Harris (1999), and Rosenshine (1987), that such teacher perceptions are not accurate measures of effectiveness since student learning is not considered.

If student learning is a goal of teaching, then teachers should view student learning as being of prime importance. However, in the area of physical education, there is research evidence to suggest that this is not necessarily the case (Borys & Fishburne, 1986; Fishburne & Borys, 1987; Hickson & Fishburne, 2002; Placek, 1983; Schempp, 1983, 1985). Placek (1982 as cited in Placek 1983) investigated teacher planning in physical education. She noted that student behaviour and environmental unpredictability had the greatest impact on a teacher’s planning (is it raining? Is the gym free? Who has the tennis courts? Am I teaching William today? Or Noah? Or Annie?) Placek noted that successful physical education teaching was often defined by the teachers as keeping students participating (busy), with minimal misbehaviour (good), while providing enjoyment (happy). Placek concluded that the teachers she studied were more concerned about student behaviour than the transmission of knowledge. To further understand physical education teaching, Placek (1983) investigated student teachers’ perceptions of successful and unsuccessful physical education teaching. Like experienced teachers, Placek reported that student teachers regarded successful teaching when their students were being busy, happy, and good.

Fishburne and Hickson (2004) conclude that after their research they developed the best model for effective PE teaching. The model was developed from the review of related research to provide a focus for the teacher’s further development. The model incorporated the teacher characteristics that are associated with effective instruction in physical education. The model consisted of three 7 distinct phases: a thought and planning phase, a decision-making and action phase, and a reflection phase. The structure and content of the teaching model are illustrated in Figure 1.

The three-phase model was explained and discussed so that teachers could understand the various components associated with the model and the theoretical framework upon which it is based. The three phases were discussed in the research, and attention was drawn to important features. For example, in Phase I, the thought and planning phase of the model, the teacher needs to consider two important features: the determination of student needs (Silverman, 1991) and the planning for student learning (Mawer, 1995; Rink, 1993; Silverman, 1991). This requires the teacher to decide upon the needs of the students in the class about the choice of activity, the developmental appropriateness of the activity, and the curricular relevance. When planning for student learning, the teacher determines exactly what is the learning outcome for the lesson and how it might best be achieved. This phase would occur prior to the lesson being taught and comparisons were made between the present practice of the teacher and what was aimed for.

In Phase II, the decision-making and action phase of the model considers what needs to occur during the lesson. It was explained that the teacher needed to consistently consider and assess what is occurring in the lesson and how it serves the learning needs of the students. The teaching style and method, clarity of presentation, the provision of positive and well-managed environment in order to support and optimize the learning situation, and the need to ensure that there is a high level of student engagement were all brought to the teacher’s attention and discussed.

Phase III of the model consists of post-lesson reflection (Carson, 1997; Jagger, 1989) and the evaluation of effectiveness (Borich, 1996; Rink, 1993). It was discussed with the teachers that in this phase, the teacher needed to reflect upon the choices, decisions, and actions made during the first two phases of the model. The teacher also needed to evaluate the lesson content and what student learning occurred. From this reflection and evaluation of the effectiveness of what occurred prior to and during the lesson, decisions could be made for future lesson planning, content, and direction.

The things I notice about then and now are the disconnect between the physical education program, the physical education teacher, the student, the Vision Mission, and the Values of the school. Throughout the paper, there is no mention of how these things interact with the program. It’s like PE sits on its own little island in the middle of some institution. There is no mention of student safeguarding, diversity, equality, justice, inclusivity, or global awareness. The research is so dated. When I compare it to Baumgartner’s (2022) paper the difference is night and day.

I found this excerpt from (dated 1983)

It is a study of the history of Physical Education at the University of North Dakota. In it, I found the essential subjects for graduation listed. I imagine a ‘job description’ for a PE teacher in 1983 would make some reference to these valued areas of knowledge, traits,

and abilities.

(I note with interest health is offered as an optional minor in physical education. These days it’s a stand-alone course.)

Compare this to a 2022 synopsis of the physical education undergraduate course at Loughborough, UK:

That shows the long road physical education has come. From its 1980s heartland of predominantly science courses to a ‘multi-disciplinary and practically based’ course drawn on a ‘range of disciplines’ that will assist you with ‘real world scenarios’ and ‘critical social and health perspectives’.

This brings me nicely to Baumgartner’s (2022) paper, titled ‘Professional competencies of physical education teachers: terms, traditions, modeling, and perspectives.’ Notably, Baumgartner’s sample group was 1,962 teachers (as compared to 3). The goal of the paper is to make a conceptual contribution with the following four aims: (a) clarify the concepts with regard to the terms within competence-oriented PE (teacher) research and generate a synthesis between the competence models of Baumert and Kunter (2013) and Blömeke et al. (2015); (b) present the different competence-oriented PE (teacher) research traditions; (c) generate a typology of relevant areas of performances that PE teachers need for good and effective teaching; (d) present a typology and topology model of professional Competence of Physical Education Teachers.

So, what is competency? What competencies does a competent PE teacher have? Aspects of competency are in this sense defined as “the knowledge, cognitive skills, and affective-motivational dispositions” (Blömeke et al., 2015, p. 4). Following Shulman (1986), the preferential aspect of competency is the professional knowledge of (PE) teachers, which can be divided into seven subdimensions. In PE research, the distinction between the three important subdimensions of content knowledge (Tsuda, Ward, & Goodway, 2021), pedagogical content knowledge (Backman & Barker, 2020; Ward & Ayvazo, 2016), and general pedagogical knowledge (Devís-Devís, Molina-Alventosa, Peiró-Velert, & Kirk, 2011) has become established. Other relevant aspects of competency for PE teachers include, for example, motivational orientations (Carson & Chase, 2009), self-regulation (Liu, Xiang, McBride, & Chen, 2020), beliefs and values (Adamakis & Zounhia, 2016; Harvey & O’Donovan, 2013), aims (Baumert & Kunter, 2013), or aspects of fitness (endurance, muscular strength, flexibility, etc.; McKenzie & Lounsbery, 2013).

What can I take away from that? I need to know a sport (content knowledge). I need to know the rules, the structure, the objectives, the strategy, the skills, the equipment, etc. I need to know pedagogical content knowledge. Pedagogical content knowledge is a form of knowledge that makes physical education teachers rather than athletes (although they may be an athlete, as I was, and this provided me with the motivation to do physical education in the first place). Teachers differ from athletes, not necessarily in the quality or quantity of their subject matter knowledge, but in how that knowledge is organized and used. In other words, an experienced physical education teacher's knowledge of sports is organized from a teaching perspective and is used as a basis for helping students to understand specific concepts and skills. An athlete's knowledge, on the other hand, is organized from a personal perspective and is used as a basis for delivering better results on the field.

General pedagogical knowledge is “the specialised knowledge of teachers for

creating effective teaching and learning environments for all students independent

of subject matter.” (Guerreiro (2017, p. 80)

This table summarises the importance of general pedagogical knowledge for good teachers to perform at a high level.

That sounds fair enough to me. Critical thinking in PE teaching has long been an essential component of a successful teacher. There is absolutely no question that a very good PE teacher has strong, enduring, positive relationships with her students. And nobody can teach in a classroom that is a mess. More crucially, nobody can learn from any teacher who lacks classroom management skills.

Research has increasingly identified teachers as the main contributors to student outcomes in schools (Burroughs et al., 2019[2]; Clinton, 2016[3]). After all, it is the teacher who orchestrates interactions with and between students in the classroom and is responsible for creating a classroom climate favourable for learning and personal growth. This in turn can have a major impact on students’ learning as well as their well-being and socio-emotional development.

Teachers also play a key role in educational equity and inclusion. They can provide

struggling students with the extra support needed to face educational or social challenges

in the classroom, helping them to catch up with their peers and integrate well (Schleicher,

A., 2016[4]; Mitchell, 2007[5]; Burns and Shadoian-Gersing, 2010[6]). The role of teachers

and instructors may change as students progress from primary to secondary and then

tertiary education but without a doubt, it will still be an important one (Schneider and

Preckel, 2017[7]). Irrespective of the subject taught and the educational setting (whether

schools, vocational colleges or universities), teachers need to be professionals of

pedagogy and base their everyday practice on a regularly updated, coherent, and integrated knowledge base to fulfill their roles as learning and equity agents (Baumert and Kunter, 2006[8]; Guerriero, 2017[9]).

For good and effective teaching, PE teachers need different types of performances. The question arises as to whether these can be categorized into a typology of ‘areas of performances’ of PE teachers in the sense of the differentiation of the professional knowledge of teachers according to Shulman (1986). Considering the current research findings, it can be assumed that PE teachers should have three different areas of performance for good and effective PE teaching (Baumgartner, 2022). Because the subject of PE has the specificity of movement (Kirk, 2010), PE teachers first need to exhibit performances that refer to the ‘movement-related area’ (e.g., a PE teacher can realize an underarm forehand clear in badminton). Movement-related performances (or psychomotor skills) arise from movement-related professional competency (e.g., knowledge about the movement-related criteria of an underarm forehand clear in badminton). The research findings on the relevance of movement-related performances in relation to good and effective PE teaching are inconsistent (e.g., Asún-Dieste, Romero-Martín, Aparicio-Herguedas, & Fraile-Aranda, 2020; Backman & Pearson, 2016; Tinning, 1992).

I want to agree wholeheartedly with Baumgartner here. One cannot know all sports. For instance, at the end of a swimming unit with some year 9s, a fairly intense program of strokes and water safety, they wanted to have a couple of lessons of ‘fun’. Just for fun. We talked about it, and someone came up with the idea of doing a synchronised swimming dance. I thought that was a great idea, so I put the students into groups of 4 (it was a day-boarding school with an onsite pool so practice after school was easily arranged) and told them to research synchronised swimming (as none of us had any idea about it). I said 2 minutes sounds like a reasonable time for a dance, so let’s go for that. Now, I’m a PE teacher in this instance with absolutely no clue about the subject and no pedagogical knowledge. So, my goals were not related to the level of their swim dance. It was about the group. How good was their research? How did they attempt to get to the beginner level with the skills they uncovered? How did they work together? How did they handle conflict? Did they have swimmers of different abilities, and if so, how were they going to cater to that in their dance? (One student was born with only one arm, so I was wondering how they would meaningfully include her). How well would they research this? (Additionally, I would also have to research it). Post-research, how would they construct the dance? What would their reflections be on the process? Were there celebrations, and regrets?

Our combined research identified the following abilities necessary for successful synchronised swimming:

* An ability to work with breath retention. Sometimes it is necessary to hold your breath for 20-40 seconds. Athletes should have healthy laryngological organs: ears, throat, and nose, as they spend a long time underwater.

* artists should be able to easily hold on and lie on the water without much effort. They must be able to perform various figures and elements of synchronized swimming techniques, focusing all their attention on high-quality performance, disclosure of the musical theme, and image. In this regard, one of the primary qualities is high buoyancy.

* artists must be able to move in the water without support under their feet, rotating around different axes of the body, which require synchronists to navigate perfectly, and they must have a high level of coordination abilities.

* to perform the figures of the mandatory program, synchronists must hold complex static poses. Such main qualities as endurance and flexibility are needed here.

Turns out, synchronised swimming is HARD. The girls must hold their breath for a long time. And, to get your legs up and out of the water requires outstanding sculling skills. And let’s not even go into how they all keep their hair and makeup perfect. 2 minutes was more than enough! My point, though, is just because you don’t have subject knowledge at the required level, you can still teach a course. You just make new learning objectives.

But in general, PE teachers should have movement-related performances in order to better understand the criteria of a movement or a technique (Iserbyt et al., 2017; Nyberg, Backman, & Larsson, 2020). On the other hand, it has been shown that a high quality of movement-related performance by PE teachers is an insufficient factor for good and effective PE (Herold & Waring, 2009; Tinning, 1992) because a high quality of movement-related performance does not mean that PE teachers are good at teaching it to students (Backman & Pearson, 2016). Accordingly, high-quality movement-related performance is desirable, but not necessary for good and effective PE teaching (Tinning, 1992).

Second, PE teachers need ability with the ‘subject-specific area’ of performances (e.g., a PE teacher can appropriately teach students an underarm forehand clear in badminton). For example, implementing the concept of Teaching Games for Understanding (Oslin & Mitchell, 2006) or transforming the concept of Sport Education (Siedentop, 1994) in one’s own teaching practice are performances that relate to the subject-specific area of performance.

Third, PE teachers need performances in the ‘general-pedagogical area’ of performances (e.g., giving effective feedback; realization of good classroom management; Cothran & Kulinna, 2015; Kulinna, Silverman, & Keating, 2000; Lavay, Henderson, French, & Guthrie, 2012). The available research findings show that this general-pedagogical area of performance is rarely mentioned in PETE (Lavay et al., 2012), but is a significant factor in classroom practice (Baumgartner, Oesterhelt, & Reuker, 2020; Kulinna et al., 2000).

Reading all of this, one starts to get an idea of what a successful, effective, motivational, and positive PE teacher in 2022 looks like. In the 1980s it was all about science. In the early 2000s it was all about the 7 distinctive qualities (determining needs, planning, choosing a methodology, presenting, environment, engagement, reflection, and evaluation) outlined by Fishburne and Hickson (2004). In 2022, it is about way more than that. Some of the qualities have endured time, but many are completely new. Baumgartner’s research includes competencies such as:

· Teachers play a key role in educational equity and inclusion

· Teachers must have an affective-motivational disposition

· Teachers can, and do, self-regulate

· The beliefs and values a teacher hold matters

· Teachers should have visible learning objectives

· Teachers must be invested in safeguarding their students

· Teachers need to be professionals of pedagogy and base their everyday practice on a regularly updated, coherent, and integrated knowledge base to fulfill their roles as learning and equity agents

· Teachers must provide struggling students with effective social, emotional, and educational assistance

· Teachers orchestrate interactions with and between students in the classroom and are responsible for creating a classroom climate favourable for learning and personal growth

· Teachers have a major impact on students’ learning as well as their well-being and socio-emotional development

· Teachers must know their students in 2 critical ways: as an individual, and as a learner

· Teachers must value their students’ identity, and create a classroom sense of belonging

· Teachers care for each student and build relationships with them so they can be their best selves

· Teachers must have excellent interpersonal skills and collaborate with colleagues and divisional teams, sharing new learning and ideas, facilitating processes and discussions, and assuming leadership when necessary

· Teachers must create a learning environment that cultivates student enthusiasm, curiosity, risk-taking, voice, choice, and collaboration

· Teachers must model the values and behaviours stated in the school’s vision, mission, and explicit transdisciplinary global competencies

· Teachers, unable to predict the nature of the world we send our students into, must equip each learner with self-direction, open mindset, resilience, integrity, a global perspective, compassion, problem-solving, collaborative skills, voice, creativity, and critical thinking using deeper learning experiences

The Final Summary

That teaching is more complex now than ever before is obvious. The above list of competencies could be overwhelming. But they are necessary for teaching methodology, which is holistic and has the student placed firmly at the forefront. Physical Education often invokes discrimination as the emphasis on skill performance singles students out because of their lack of ability, strongly reinforcing for many students that they are failures. In order to counter this trend, and to utilize movement fundamentals in games instruction, a system of games teaching underpinned by the assumption ―that a game may be adequately played by discovering, experiencing, and experimenting with the many movement patterns and possibilities that occur in any game situation. This is known as Games Sense (Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU) in northern hemispheres).

The success of Games Sense differentiates the role of the teacher from the more traditional director to that of catalyst and stimulator of thinking about movement within the context of a game. Skill learning and game understanding are of equal value in the evaluation of student game learning. Progressive game experiences, initially learning how the concepts of movement (time, space, force, and flow) are applied and understood in sequences of play from the perspective of a particular sport, and this is before playing modified rules sport matched to the ability of participants.

Games Sense is essentially concept-based learning. Concept-based learning is programmed by 'big ideas' rather than subject-specific content. It is informed by context and the 'real world' meaning attached to the skills, knowledge, and understanding presented to students. Intellectual quality is a dimension of teaching for effective learning, otherwise sometimes referred to as quality teaching. Concept based learning places intellectual development at the forefront of the students learning and education experience. Students are involved in a 'three-dimensional' curriculum - concepts (understand), knowledge (know) and skills (do). This is how I teach. I plan the unit from a concept and use Games Sense to challenge the students. The planning looks like this:

Part of my philosophy of PE is centred on education through movement to develop personal and social skills, hence I am attracted to the concept of humanistic physical education and the Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility Model (TPSR) of Hellison to guide my design of student experience and my pedagogical choices. You can easily accomplish all 3: Games Sense, concept-based learning, and TPSR within your units. I note also that inquiry-based learning, critical thinking, visible learning, and UbD can all be included as they are not necessarily stand-alone pedagogy. One can mix and match over the course of the unit. This results in deeper learning and better understanding. To conclude, PE teaching is far more complex now than ever before. However, if you have done your research and understand the pros and cons of each teaching model, many pedagogical approaches can be used as appropriate in any course. It is true some schools prefer you to use one approach – whatever approach they have decided is best – but PE is, as I stated at the start of this blog, unlike other mainstream subjects.

Sue Fletcher, December 2022

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