Reinventing the Game – RtG

As a teacher of Physical Education, being able to teach a game effectively is an obvious part of the job. The big question that dominates my professional thought processes is “What is effective teaching of a game?”. Do we want a student to replicate and mimic successful sports actions/movements and consider that effective? (I will use the word ‘Game’ and ‘Sport’ interchangeably at times). Or does good teaching allows the student to appreciate and adhere to that game even after the PE lesson is over? Contemporary education practices suggest that a deeper level of learning that goes further than just reproduction of actions is necessary. Personal understanding of the role of physical education in our lives tells me that skills learnt in PE classes need to embrace a part of the human psyche that allows a life-long contribution to that individual. It cannot be a once-off series of lessons in predetermined action movements that we require to meet our system’s short term objective.

Reinventing The Game (RtG) is about creating that environment of ‘reinvention’ for the students as they explore the Playability of games while they embark on the understanding journey to learning games.

In RtG, I explore ideas of Technical Concepts and Tactical Concepts. I look at games as a complex system and the solutions to solving problems in games (ie. learning in games) requiring complex system adaptation. Excellent work has been done in this areas by many and I find that pulling it all together is the work of us teachers. I once attended an international conference and sat in 3 concurrent sessions on learning. One was from a neuroscience perspective, the other from a cognitive learning specialist and the last from a pedagogy point of view. All 3 could have achieved more comprehensive pragmatic outcomes if they had come together to leverage on each other’s specialties when looking at the common point of how students learn. One of the big problem I see clearly (at least to me) is the lack of connection in research to the everyday on-goings of a classroom. Without doubt, the work done at the academia level does concerns the teacher and is vital information to lesson development in PE but I feel the need to also have good bottom-up initiatives from teachers on the ground to put together leanings from controlled environment research with their real day-to-day experience in a seemingly uncontrollable environment.

Follow me on twitter @ReInventTheGame

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“Use whatever teaching style that is suitable for you. There is no one teaching style that is right.” – Does this sounds the death knell for better pedagogical understanding?

Top Down, Bottom Up

Fig 1

I am reminded of my inadequacies recently. I struggle to deliver in class what I want. I took over a class from a sick colleague and thought I will be very effective with all the questioning, game invention, constraint controls, etc. It turned out semi disastrous because I believe I neglected knowing the learners’ needs, their previous exposure to teaching and their expectations. The class turned out just a bit better towards the end and only because I stepped away and started looking and learning myself before I tweaked my activities. The scary thing is that for some of the students, my bad start might have left an impression that will last if I do not correct it. At a following lesson with different kids who were also affected by the same colleague’s absence, it went much better as I balanced my approach with what the learners expected together what I feel they need given my approximation of how they will react to a constraint based activity.

Many a times, I wish that I had more energy and time to study the teacher-student process more in-depth, as I plod through the day with admin, meetings and decisions, etc. As I observe my esteem colleagues who do have the student-teacher interaction time, I realised that sometimes they have the opposite problem of being overwhelmed with teaching to the point of it being merely a routine task, as much as I feel I have the same for the administrative bits of my role. In a recent tweet, I declared my main strength as my mediocrity in on-the-ground teaching that probably makes me want to want find out more. Guess that I am lucky that I have at least one area of self-actualisation still possible after more than two decades of teaching. I know of many who have moved their focus of making a difference to outside their field of profession, which only means we are losing potentially valuable progression in our field with the loss of interest from experience teachers. Are we creating zombie Physical Education (PE) teachers?

Our job must still carry on, as our students go through PE classes that sometimes become mainly opportunities for them to take a break from classroom based subjects and enjoy the play that they deserve. This usually only provides the physical with the loss of the education. Any learning that takes place in such cases are incidental and in spite of teachers intervention, or lack of in this case. Here is where I will bring in the analogy of building ourselves up as warehouses of ready-made teaching repertoires that eventually get old and jaded. The flip side is a much leaner sophisticated producer of strategies that creates the repertoire based on students’ needs and abilities, i.e. an advance tool shed full of tools of the trade. I am sure such a model will resist having the same redundancy effect after some time and perhaps only get more and more exciting as the teacher gets more effective in the field as a learning-opportunity designer.

It is about creating the full spectrum pedagogy understanding. I feel one of the biggest killer of teachers’ pedagogical thought processes for better understanding is the statement “Use whatever teaching style that is suitable for you. There is no one teaching style that is right.” This is almost a mantra at many professional development opportunities that I attend that looks into teaching styles, approaches and pedagogies. It is usually followed by “We don’t want teachers to be pressured into any one style.” Well-meaning comfort statements that may inadvertently halt the teacher’s own discovery process. These statements are very apt to the practitioner who is clear about their teaching philosophy, the theoretical frameworks underpinning their philosophy and lastly the implementation strategies. Without the philosophy and theories, implementation takes precedence and we start storing strategies like warehouses. Coupled with this is the implicit permission that such statements gives to a teacher to just proceed with what they are comfortable with, glossing over potentially important learner centred needs. These needs are not only their affective and physical needs, e.g. social-cultural influenced self-expectations and observable abilities in carrying out movements, but also the more universal physiological and affective on-goings within the body that dictates how they behave, think and therefore react. The other issue is the use of words like style, approach and pedagogy and how their true meaning may have been conflated for convenience.

A statement/thought like the above needs to be qualified with, “Use the appropriate teaching approach that is aligned to (i) how we want students to learn, (ii) the content being taught, and (iii) the processes within the body reacting to context and content we want to set.” Therefore, with this qualification, it is no more about what the teacher is comfortable with but rather what is appropriate for the learner, given the immediate and beyond circumstances. Point (i) is something that is often overlooked as our modern education system move focus on learning objectives to how we want students to learn, not settling for just what to learn anymore. With all this said, I will bring attention to Mosston-Ashworth’s teaching spectrum as an example of a well thought out teaching style spectrum that connects on the intention of teaching for the moment and for the whole learning experience. They may differ but ultimately we work towards the approach of overall learning that we desire for the learners, e.g. production style learning (as opposed to replication/reproduction type of learner outcome).

This is where Fig 1 gives me some clarity on the whole learning ecosystem, for me, that surrounds the learner as they negotiate the learning path facilitated by their teachers and also occasions when they are on their own. Many times, we think we are totally in tuned with the influences of the top-down task and environment, i.e. within the immediate teaching environment and even the bigger one that we live in. These top-down influences are fairly accurate on a correlational level but without a clear causal-effect understanding when bottom-up influences, both affective and physiological, are not considered. What I mean is the realisation that something does happen between teacher input and student outcome. Without this consideration, we rely on a constant experimentation of input-output two-step process to decided what works rather than being more targeted by understanding the in-between.

I started using the phrases bottom-up and top-down recently as I noticed much good discourse seems to encapsulate learning and teaching factors within these two easy to understand phrases. However, I am also reminded of my own rule to not fall into categorization trappings of organic processes that goes too deep into practise also. There is no doubt that both top-down and bottom-up influences are intertwined, i.e. our social-cultural and external impact only occurs because of how we perceived it and how we perceived it has been brought about by our evolutionary existence in this world. There is no clear line that divides the two and we not looking for that anyway.

Such separation are very good for deeper academic understanding but needs to be handled differently for application and that is where our professional decision-making comes into play. In education, we are sometimes at a danger of associating professionalism with the business of supporting a system and not the science-art of creating learning designs and culture, e.g. we create opportunities because the system needs that number/type of PE related ones and not because we think that is how learners learn best. Physical Activities vs Physical Education!

To be fair, I believe many of us do have this understanding but it is very implicit and maybe not coming to the foreground in teaching related decision-making. At times, we don’t realised we are considering the holistic factors and can afford to leverage more explicitly on it. We inadvertently create intention paradoxes. Examples of this are when we use external cues for beginners (reducing cognitive stress/load) but yet very quickly switch to communicating internal diagnostic cues when doing movement correction which might mean very little to a beginner trying to explore movement, when we differentiate teaching yet provide the same time-runway and assessment, when we customised intervention for better learning but worry about fairness to others, etc.

This implicitness also prevents us from building up our knowledge base in the area. Decision-making relating to teaching is complicated (not meaning difficult but rather multi-layered) and it is a challenge if we ever only want to rely on our own experience or quick few minute explanations to important knowledge, in the spirit of teachers being mainly nuts and bolts people.

Why does a learner want to learn (or will learn) what I think should be taught in Physical Education?

This reflection looks at the following questions and relating it to experience.

  • “Why does a learner want to learn (or will learn) what I think should be taught?”
  • “What am I supposed to teach?”
  • “How do I teach what I want to teach in a way that is meaningful to the learner?”

PSIM July 2019

Table 1

If push comes to shove and I am forced to come out with a question that pops up in my mind as I approach teaching, it will be “What am I supposed to teach?” After this, it will be easy to understand that an appropriate follow up question will be “How do I teach what I want to teach?” Both these questions have the ability to focus much attention away from the learner. Recently, I realised a question keep appearing for me, “Why does a learner want to learn (or will learn) what I think should be taught?” This immediately brings focus back to the learner in many ways, e.g. educationally, culturally, socially, physiologically, etc. This milestone question may not be asked everyday but definitely at important junctures of our teaching journey to keep us on the right path.

If taken seriously at any level, this important focus will force us to start looking at the purpose of Physical Education (PE) and our role in it. Recently I have observed yet again the articulation of PE primarily as an outlet for physical activities (PA). This is coupled with almost a frenzy of teaching strategies sharing in the name of professional development that goes no deeper than implementation. Unfortunately, you don’t need a teaching qualification for PA provision. (PA is very important and it is the right of every young person to be provided the opportunity to be involve in voluntary PA.) With this beginning question for me, I started looking more closely into the role of the lesson in encouraging that learning which is meaningful and as far as possible, not just merely what I think it should be or how it should be. So the question “How do I teach what I want to teach?” becomes “How do I teach what I want to teach in a way that is meaningful to the learner?” So, with the a big shove, these three questions seems to be guiding me in lesson design;

  1. “Why does a learner want to learn (or will learn) what I think should be taught?”
  2. Thus, “What am I supposed to teach?”
  3. And, “How do I teach what I want to teach in a way that is meaningful to the learner?”

The questions indicated above operate at different levels, from the overarching perspective of why we do what we do in our existence, all the way to the micro level of implementation. Holistic understanding of pedagogy that starts from philosophy, theory and ending with implementation comes to importance here. I realised now that my initial PSIM, see Table 1, attempt was answering questions at level somewhere in the middle, more towards implementation than answering the existence question. My thinking about teaching as a whole in recent years has moved me more towards this overarching perspective, making question 1 more vital as it sorts of fix the direction for the rest.

Many years ago, before I started going deeper into what is happening during learning processes within the learner, I came up with a framework to help me with lesson design. I called it Reinventing the Game (RtG) because the big push of this framework is to get learners to look at a game from a game design point of view, i.e. they are creating a new game. When creating a game, understanding comes in better and easier, an assumption of course. In this capacity, I get them to explore what makes a game playable, playability. The assumption is that playability is what makes games the attractive choice of voluntary recreational movement and therefore an important teaching objective in Physical Education (PE) classes.

Using this RtG framework, I envision a more systematic facilitation of learning/teaching and understanding of established games that potentially allows knowledge transfer to other games. In coming up with the four categories of Passing, Movement, Interception and Scoring, I used back terms that I found myself frequently using across games to describe lesson objectives or concepts. As I delved deeper, I realised that these seemingly common themes for teaching planning also represent characteristics of affordances, attunement, rules, specific skills, etc. Now, after much words, experience and discourses with others, I find it prudent to re-look at how I came to build up this scaffold which I thought helped me immensely in the teaching of games. My attempt now is to re-look, re-define and re-word where necessary to ensure validity and relevance within my own and observed experience.

So, I propose that any game with both opposing teams competing at the same time can be looked at similarly. The premise here is that any game can be divided for teaching focus into four major areas of action behaviour: Passing, Scoring, Movement and Interception (PSIM). My original hope was that learners are engage in similar language, experiences, awareness, etc. as they move from game to game. I hope that this allows the appreciation of their learning that is not specific to just the game being leveraged on for teaching.

In any learning activity, there is a good chance that a minimum of two of these areas are worked on, e.g. movement as related to moving to an advantageous position will come closely with any activity that provides focus of passing, interception or scoring. The simplest relevant design might just involve one of these categories but it is arguable that perhaps it may be just a focused technique learning and should move on to more complex authentic experiences when initial learning of target skill has matured.

Original, I was much taken by a top down approach, where I encourage a desired behaviour by manipulating the context, i.e. my original first teacher-centred question of “What am I supposed to teach?” This is the way that really most people understand best when it comes to teaching a physical skill, a very traditional technique based teaching approach. My teaching for understanding belief however made me want to always be able to show the need for learning through a relevant experience. These four categories were original looked at as mere physical constraints primarily, with the addition of space. When I first described them this way, it is because of me attempting to control the constraints as I seek the behaviour needed. I looked at it from the perspective of how I will design a learning activity by manipulating the constraints associated with passing, scoring, interception, movement and space. I found much congruency with ideas of complex learning theories and found a great insight by Storey and Butler (Storey & Joy, 2013) in scaffolding lesson designs by controlling constraints of most relevance to achieve learning equilibrium before starting the whole cycle again. To help me in prioritising constraints for learning, I looked at action behaviours that I am seeking along the four areas of PSIM. In doing so, I also categorise instructions as activity rules along the four areas of PSIM. So, I may start off a Movement-Passing activity explaining what the Movement and Passing rule is. These rules may overlap with actual rules or adapted for constraint control.

All lesson designs must be relevant as far as possible. Lately, I will prefer advocating the idea of relevance rather than authenticity, even though the latter is a subset of the former and is something we always work towards. The reason for this is the disruptive vibe of word authenticity as a teacher tries to isolate skills for learning in designs that may not totally be obvious as being part of the real game!

The big influence in my thinking in the last many years is the idea of non-linear processes being vital part of the way we process information for learning, i.e. “How do I teach what I want to teach in a way that is meaningful to the learner?” The physiological perspective of this question for me can be seen in many established works in the areas of 4E cognition, non-linear pedagogy, perception-action related areas, etc. Precisely because of the different silos of very good work taking place, it was a challenge for me to pick and choose what matters to me and I am sure this is also a dilemma for many practitioners needing to apply these progressive sciences. Teaching is a difficult profession to align to any one body of research. We are jacks of all trade and fortunately masters of none or we will never get work done, said tongue in cheek but to a large extent my truth also! So, this insight in how cognition might be behaving is a way of looking at design from a bottom up approach, where we try our best to understand how the human body learns to adapt to its context.

The concept of affordance is heavy in my approach now. Providing that learning opportunity (attunement) through lesson design that is specific to the family of skills in question. I say family of skills because of the importance I place on degrees of needed freedom while controlling for the redundant ones. These ideas come from ecological psychology and dynamic systems theory, ecological dynamics! Again, my resolution to be an expert in these areas is weak but I really am attracted to the working end of what these sciences say. Main reason for this is the game-centred approach background that was heavy in my teacher training and my own experiences in teaching and learning for myself. The last point is probably the biggest influence for me strangely, my own learning experience of games as a teacher trying to be adept at games, a life-long metacognition journey of a teacher being a student with a mind of a teacher! So now the four area of PSIM are also quick to understand descriptors that looks at the different affordances needed to give that meaningful learning design. The intent is not decomposition, i.e. breaking up a skill for separate learning with eventual expectation of putting it back together, but rather generating, i.e. using understanding of important affects of affordances that with correct introduction and manipulation will generate the desired movement in its full or partial relevancy. So, I will say that Table 1 represents question 2 and it is up to me to ensure question 1 and 3 is sorted also for good design of learning opportunities.

The affective is another aspect that I have yet to piece together in this bottom up approach, i.e. emotions, motivation, etc. At the moment, I make a big assumption that embodied cognition is also a good proxy for embodied enactment of affective competencies. This probably has a further tremendous impact on the question “Why does a learner want to learn what I think should be taught?” from an overarching existence perspective.

Reference

Storey, B., & Joy, B. (2013). Complexity thinking in PE: game-centred approaches, games as complex adaptive systems, and ecological values. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 18(2), 133-149. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17408989.2011.649721

Mind versus Body: Are we bothered about it in Physical Education?

4E Cogniton

In this reflection, I come back again questioning the need to worry about how cognition really works and being a PE teacher. The answer to my worry is probably a big fat NOT NECESSARY! We can easily carry on in our profession being just focus on the input-output approach, where we just keep tweaking the inputs till we get the outputs we want, without being overly concern of what happens between lesson implementation and learners’ outcome. However, I feel that the way we approach teaching have a profound process impact (growth mindset) on learners also, not just the lesson outcomes, i.e. learners can attain important cross-domain process competencies if exposed to a more exploratory path in learning. We try lessen learning in spite of us and ensure it is mainly because of us! 4E cognition is mentioned in relation to above.

The mind and body duality was probably made most known by Descarte’s mind and body conundrum since the 1600s. To some extent, 400 odd years later, we are still very aligned to this idea of separation when it come to thinking about the person, like it or not. In physical education, it is not unusual to talk about outcomes in terms of the affective, cognitive and the physical. This distinction alludes to different aspects of our behaviour residing and initiating from different parts of our whole. Contemporary approaches to learning have to a large degree deviated from this duality and acknowledges the importance of a more holistic approach to learning. As teachers endeavouring to teach for clarity and understanding, we take this rather comfortably. We often use the term ‘a learning/teaching moment’ to describe how we will inculcate and teach outcomes like character competencies, concepts and even aspects of PE that requires theoretical inputs, rather than explicitly teaching it separately. It is a bit of a paradox, i.e. we know holistic is the way to go but we still identify our strategies based on the mind or the body, theory or practical, in the classroom or out of the classroom, etc. In the education system I come from, our overall school’s strategic thrust also makes sense of student development via the distinction of affective, cognitive and the physical for clarity. While I see value in planning processes to be quite clear of different aspects of development, we must not let slip its true connections as we approach closer to implementation.

We are driven by the terms the mind and the body. When relating it to skills and competencies, this usually refers to the workings of the brain, within our head, as oppose to anything that is physical movement. Of course, this is a very literal interpretation. In an article by Light and Kentel (Richard L. Light, 2015), they described very nicely and in easy to understand terms a perspective of how duality can move to what it should be more like, the body as a whole. Their focus was on the learnings from eastern culture, specifically from Japanese martial arts, and connecting it to complex learning. They shared emphasis on the mind and body acting as one in a complex environment and therefore needing that consideration in learning design. Light’s article also looks into how this monism (oneness) can work for supposedly technique intensive sports like running and swimming. These is a flavour that I felt, but never truly embrace until recently, way back during teacher training in Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU) with the founders of this popular movement at Loughborough. While Light’s article brought reference to an eastern spiritual connection, I am sure many of us are also very cognisant of times in our own teaching and learning experience where the need to not think during skill execution was suggested and even enforced! The term muscle memory is also a common expression used to describe an ideal body part movement through repetitive drills that seemingly is an attempt to circumnavigate the brain or be one with the mind. All these points to our own subtle acceptance of the importance of the mind and body working together but perhaps not quite ready to consider them as one!

Let me try make sense of all these. Do we even need to consider the above? I wrote much earlier on the role of cognition in PE but it was meant more to convince myself than the reflections of someone living it to some extent. Embodied cognition has moved the whole body into the mind (and the mind does not refer to just the brain) or the body is the mind. So for one way, the better term use to describe target for development should be just the thinking body or when talking about learning and its more easily understood manifestation in cognition, Embodied Cognition. Largely, for all working purposes, the idea of embodied cognition as a philosophical position has tremendous practical influence and application. Much work is being put in out there to also support its more scientific support, i.e. in the areas of perception-action, direct perception, non-linear pedagogy, etc. I have low steadfastness as a practitioner to pursue nor have the capacity to understand fully this scientific direction that is still in progress but very strong perseverance to ensure its philosophical influence in my beliefs. Google 4E cognition (Embodied, Embedded, Extend and Enact Cognition) (try this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7ghXdujfLE) and you will find very easy to understand perspectives on the development and relooking at cognition away from the classical view of it being just in the brain and the central governor to the idea of cognition being Embodied, Enacted, Extended and Embedded. 4E research is an incredible large and progressive body of work that looks into alternatives to traditional ideas of cognition. It represents cognition as being heavily influenced, which relates directly to learning for us teachers, by the interplay between context (environment and task) and the person. The importance and existence of any necessary information needed for action to take place exist within this interplay, i.e. we don’t need to add information to context cues within the brain but instead react to information already available in the cues as a whole body. The body does the cognition in some information laden processing mechanism (skill selection and skill action) that is unlike the usual in the brain processing perspective. It is a sometimes controversial, splitting-of-hair perspective that gets proponents of neuromuscular exactness of information processing up in articles and discourse against each other! All this probably because we are still in a mind (brain) and the body mind-set and not willing to let go of that duality, i.e. we need to know exactly what each does!

While always a bit vary of processes represented by convenient acronyms, I have to confess that the 4E cognition angle serves as a good fit for me to what we have always being trying to do at the working end of contemporary physical education approaches, i.e. getting students to deepen their learning through understanding, largely through the experience of going through a skill. For my limited capacity and purpose, it is about creating learning opportunities through extended scenarios that have vital information embedded, that represents enactments of learning objectives that is an embodied approach! Yes, a cheesy statement that may hold some very valuable guide to lesson designs. This embodied view also suggest the development within the learner of a structured adaptive habit that encourages the seeking of movement solutions in situ rather than relying on the loading of back-end solutions to anticipated mechanically exact scenarios, i.e. we teach them to fish rather than give them the fish!

I will say that for us teachers, we tend to swing to both extremes of the duality in planning but tend to focus on the body (mere physical) more in practise. I say this because as lesson implementer, the impact of neuromuscular cognitive insights that underpins classical and contemporary thoughts in the area, is not high on our agenda. We want to see action and manage that through an implicit hodgepodge of philosophy, theory, experience, etc. This is partially because of the complexity of our environment which have very little congruency to research/academic conditions which hinders direct guidance. (See https://www.tes.com/news/dylan-wiliam-teaching-not-research-based-profession for a really interesting realisation why we are what we are!)

Let’s look at the example of practice in skill acquisition. There is interesting debate on the pros and cons of deliberate, block, random, etc. practices that we frequently use in lessons. One of my frustration is the value we still put to practical definitions of such terms and how we let that be a hurdle to embracing its practical effectiveness. The researchers and academics are very clear on their exact meanings. The practitioners are pulled apart trying to be true to the popular definitions while trying to manage reality on the ground. For me, this also reflects the battle between wanting to take care of the mind and the body separately as a dichotomy, i.e. sometimes the approach in academic definition, rather than realising any potential nuances in its oneness along a spectrum! (Yes, I beginning to feel that the spectrum realisation seems to be the answer to all my PE challenges!). This bias towards the body can be seen clearly in the concepts of repetitions and sets in strength training, where literally the exact body part is worked on with exact mechanical movements (however, the functional training movement has much to say about this!). Even individual pursuits and target games face this decomposition and building up for development. When it comes to supposedly more complex skills, the debate on the need to allow ecologically aligned degrees of freedom comes in, where we allow the mind-body to influence movements that are person-viable solutions to a movement problem. This is where block and deliberate practise takes on a negative vibe as they suggest a lack of mind (cognitive) involvement. (Note: To me, all skills are complex and complex does not mean difficult but rather needing interplay between context and learner. This realisation allows us to consider better, learning processes for lesson design. It is not just replicate and learn.)

I find the key here is not what is right or wrong but rather do we agree that we may possible need to accept the oneness of the mind and body. If this happens, then even a heavily controlled block or deliberate practise will allow that narrow bandwidth variation (degree of freedom) that comes together with a unique mind-body working together in a context. So, when you see a professional basketballer doing continuous free throws from a certain distance away, you may want to also notice the athlete making subtle variations in his demeanour, attention-focus, mechanical movement, pre and post shot routines, etc. Then a deliberate, block practise becomes a session of mastering necessary emergent degrees of freedom for important milestone dynamic scenarios (as opposed to a fixed rigid set piece) – repetition without repetition.

Resources cited

Richard L. Light, J. A. (2015). Mushin: learning in technique-intensive sports as a process of uniting mind and body through complex learning theory. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 20(15), 381-396. doi:0.1080/17408989.2013.868873

https://www.tes.com/news/dylan-wiliam-teaching-not-research-based-profession

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7ghXdujfLE

Top down, Bottom up, It depends…..Lesson design in Physical Education (PE)

This reflection rehashes past reflection themes to make sense of comments recently came across on learning/teaching strategies that are labelled Top down, Bottom up and It depends…These phrases are often thrown up to support a certain point of view in learning design and this is a personal perspective.

I ended off my last reflection with this thought – End of day, do we want to create big warehouses of ready-made implementation strategies or much leaner experts of learning processes that is able to produce strategies on demand?

From my microsphere of influence and the larger sphere I have some access to, e.g. through social media platforms, discussions with colleagues, there are many either-or debates taking place that pits one practice against another, one theory against another. We can see this in research as different schools of thoughts try to present theories and evidences, representing different epistemology opinion on what to us teachers should be very straight forward processes. At times, these schools of thoughts even try to counter or contradict another in order to present itself as the more lawful one. I see a bit the hand of research processes influencing this need to counter or contradict, i.e. along the lines of hypothesis testing and needing to draw a conclusion. I also observe the strong influence of the presenter’s own experience acculturation influencing these differences.

Over the past year, much of my reflections begin with this versus positioning and trying to make sense of it. In most cases, my personal conclusion is mostly that the dichotomies we put so much energy to build up actually represents very similar implementation processes and expectations which leads me to put much faith in that the actual eventual truth, if that is that is something we haven’t achieved yet, is multi-layered and contextual, underpinned probably by foundational laws. Universal basic laws on the way inputs are turned to learning does not necessarily means that learner experience and outcomes are straight forward and outcomes highly predictable. On the contrary, the complexity of learning needs probably allows only the most foundational underpinning to be set in stone while the various layers of physiological mechanisms (or follow up laws) after this being very organic and dependent on what is needed. In a way it depends.

This it depends perspective is one view that troubles many believers of pure laws of sciences being able to aligned and be articulated for all circumstances. The argument is that if a particular underpinning theory is robust then the pedagogical practise it supports will be demonstrating very similar influence for any activity design, almost seemingly regardless of learner needs or learners needs are all approached the same lawful way. I can imagine what a daily practising practitioner like a teacher will have to say about this! The social constructivist (to me roughly meaning learning through living it) educational influence that we teachers seem to rely on resonates with the infinite life experiences we suppose to teach going together with an infinite equivalent of strategies. The million dollar question for me is, are all these strategies girded by basic foundational laws, i.e. aligned to some common theory. Or rather, should we as teachers operate this way, from the bottom up via understanding how information is used in learning? Or do we take cue from outcomes, top down, to build up our lessons, e.g. to teach a throw, we demonstrate and articulate a throw and expect students to follow? Of course, as in every dichotomy that is usually suggested in theory, chances are that its practical existence is a continuum.

I believe we tend to focus alot on an outcome based planning process, top down (it depends), while underestimating the need for a bottom up approach in physiological learning understanding. I will add that it really depends on what stage of the teaching-learning continuum that we are alluding to before it is ok to say it depends (top down). I reiterate here my believe that the physiological learning process exist in a narrow band of aligned processes (bottom up/it does not depends) and the implementation strategies as a result of it is varied and broad in its existence, commensurating with the varied outcomes needed (top down/it depends). Closely related to this is the role of embodied cognition with the body-context inter-play in learning and the ideas of classical cognition where the context provides the primary fodder for learning.

Top down Bottom up

Example what PE lessons might look like with different emphasis. Caveat: Most of us take the vast middle ground!

So, what is the big deal if we just ignore the above and carry on as usual with a very clear view of outcomes and working towards it? Then, again reiterating a previous view, do we want to create a big warehouse of ready-made implementation strategies or a much leaner expert of learning processes that is able to produce strategies on demand (for the learner). I will add that it is always good to aim for both.

This brings to mind an interesting blog posting by @ImSporticus, creator of the much appreciated PE Playbook, where he explored the role of the different phases a teacher might go through (from apprentice, journeyman and finally mastery – Robert Green from his book Mastery) and the notion of the bricoleur – a French word that means a handyperson who makes use of the tools available to complete a task. @ImSporticus also shared on the metaphorical view of the Hedgehog’s single lens view, as opposed to the Fox’s wide variety of experience (read https://drowningintheshallow.wordpress.com/2019/05/12/the-path-to-expertise/). One of the suggested view here is that we don’t be fixated by one approach but rather be very cognisant of the need to meet student needs with a repertoire of approaches. The conversation here becomes complex if we don’t differentiate what “approaches” means or rather not acknowledge the different layers of expertise and knowledge that goes into a teaching approach. This will include my frequent rant about pedagogy beginning with philosophy and ending with strategies, with a big dose of theoretical underpinning and its influence in the middle! It should be more convergent at the beginning philosophy level and much more divergent at the strategies level. So, while we do use different tools, we need to not stray from stable philosophy and theories.

The representations above tempt me to equate it to the warehouse metaphor and I will add that even the expert craftsmen, the fox or the bricoleur builds their experiences up successfully based on basic fundamental laws that allows teacher capacity building and not just replicating novel strategies at every new experience. The fundamentals used can be true and basic but the eventual strategies incredibly varied and adaptable. Guess the clear lesson for me is that there is a varied journey with fixed milestones from the apprentice to mastery level and it is a professionally required journey that negates the possibility of a short cut by just replicating mastery level strategies, i.e. not realising the philosophical and theoretical underpinnings behind the strategies. These fixed milestones in a varied journey is sometimes overlooked as the curse of knowledge (forgetting one’s own journey to expertise in favour of more emotional acculturation memories) tends to effect even the master!

In a way, the it depends mentality reflects the fraternity’s much favoured approach of always on the look out for novel teaching strategies that works for others. This possible mentality even for professional development also results in cases where schools adopt flavour-of-the-moment commercial implementation strategies (sometimes packaged as pedagogy or proven educational process) that leaves many teachers wondering how to fit it into their own existing capacity and practises. I can see this it depends approach as being attractive as it connects to our education systems mantra of meeting the changing needs of what is happening at the moment. It is easy then to forget the it-does-not-depends foundational laws and philosophies that underpins the various established approaches that we see in teaching and learning.

Let’s look at a possible example of this conflating of different aspects of the teaching-learning cycle to the detriment of neglecting the understanding of learning processes within the learner. Recently on social media, or more likely because I was looking for it, I see very frequent sharing of lists of good to know strategies/ways of formative assessments, questions to ask, checking-out activities, things to look out for in teaching/learning, etc. These sharing are highly attractive as teachers pour through them to build up their own knowledge repository. A big possible spanner that needs to be thrown into this habit is the importance of the pedagogy associated with each of these share strategies. Can you embrace any strategy without understanding the pedagogy behind it (think pedagogy, content and assessment being the building blocks of curriculum)? Does this mean that all teaching strategies for implementation are only useful if there is a clear understanding of the learning approach, and thus also the understanding of the pedagogy developed as a result of, behind that strategy? If there is no underlying understanding, does it explain the incredible friction that seems to exist between supporters of different strategies as they struggle to comprehend each other?

All the above have incredible possible ramifications to professional development approaches, making sense of shared practises, building up of individual and department capacity, etc. I have met many who insist that our job is a straightforward job. We take what works and we use it. That we are only concern with the nuts and bolts of sciences (a paradox as it is not possible to know a science merely from its implementation strategies). While our existing pressure cooker working environment seems to favour this nuts and bolts mentality, I also sense a deeper longing to really make sense of our profession and not wanting it to be just an instructing, top down, it depends job but with a good dose of bottom up understanding!

To speak or not to speak, Teaching in Physical Education (PE)

To speak or not to

Original mage from https://www.juneauempire.com/sports

This reflection explores partly the role of information provided in a learning activity design, with special reference to verbal instructions and such. I ponder on the practicality of such mode of information giving and also the need to perhaps consider more quality than quantity.

I go on further to connect this to the idea of teachers as a repository of strategies or experts in learning processes. This is can be further exasperated when the role of the teacher’s experience exerts a big influence in expecting learning to take place.  

This concept of the ideal discovery environment for learning being one that is silent, or close to, of the teacher’s voice is an interesting semi-mythical, urban legendary, etc. sort of idea that has been constantly doing the rounds in discussions when the latest contemporary methodologies and teaching approaches in Physical Education (PE) are spoken of. Of course, the silence here usually refers to the level of information giving through instructions, for example, that is precedent to or during learning taking place. In discussions at some academic level, this learning design scenario of information coming mainly from the environment, self and task makes reasonable sense and possible implementation scenarios includes a hint of minimal and calculated direct teacher intervention. In fact, this academic direct perception view (information comes direct from contect) is probably misunderstood and really gets in the way of many young and progressive teachers who are out to explore more contemporary, e.g. non-linear, approaches in teaching. I wrote quite a bit about on it earlier when I described the fear of not being competent enough in specific game skill sets that seems to precede the ability to be silent. It doesn’t help that the hugely popular Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU) approach hinted at this when one of its founders suggested that the best teaching scenario is one with minimal teacher talking, something that I believe was not meant to be literally taken and that it refers metaphorically to needing to think carefully about activity design!

In fact, talking to task ratios can even be found in some teaching guides which puts pressure on needing to find the optimal teacher talk and student superficial behavioural outcome balance of either listening to teacher or being busy in a task. This causes a significant alienation of the need to be aware of teaching and learning processes, by-passing it to go directly to what can be observed by an observer only. In fact, I will hazard that this whole a teacher/coach should talk during teaching/coaching dilemma is very much also, contributed by stakeholders wanting accountability in service providers like teachers and coaches. In an interview with a Netball coach I did, this was a key issue that crops up when wanting to pursue a non-linear approach that might seem also like a hands-off approach.

Interestingly, amongst very experienced and well-known coaches who share thoughts on social platforms that I have come across, this idea of minimal teacher/coach involvement has the opposite connotation, i.e. that teachers/coaches who don’t have enough knowledge and competence tend to be minimal in direct involvement when it comes to facilitating learning. Contributing to this importance of the coach’s ability, is the acculturation of own experience. Every athlete or coach will remember vivid memories of being given long and detailed instructions or lectures that made them what they are today.  The significant persona recollections probably points to just that, a memory connection of very implicit effective learning processes that has been tagged on to very explicit influential personas from the past. Great teachers are like that. I personally have credited my own passion for PE to past teachers and their personalities and I realised it is more the experiences they put me through rather than anything else. Can you imagine the impact this makes to a teaching environment if the believe is that it is the personality of the significant adult that makes good learning and no emphasis on the processes that the said adult puts the learner through?

So, is there something deeper that we need to be concern with when it comes to this debate over this metaphorical and literal debate over to speak or not to? I can align this to the discourse between linearity and non-linearity in learning processes and its associated lesson designs. I also see this as a struggle between the need to leverage on the experience of the teacher/coach and the learner’s physiological experience needed for learning processes to take place. It is a struggle as many times dichotomous perception creates uneasiness that does not take accurate consideration of the role of the context (outside that of the teacher and surrounding the learner). Recently in a discussion with a young intern, I seek her opinion on a recent activity we did where we told students to do a squat while ensuring the knees do not go beyond the knees. This advice that goes with the squatting action is a very popular one that comes direct from the gym-going fraternity and is especially important when progressing to heavy weights in order to isolate specific muscles for training effect and also to prevent injuries, e.g. strain on back and knees. When it comes to our young learners doing own body weight squats, what does “do not allow the knee to go beyond the knees” mean? Upon further discussion with my young colleague, she suggested that this could be a way to get use to the eventual biomechanical need from carrying external weights, i.e. a decomposed technique focus. I doubt if knee placement in a PE classroom context will create much issue under own body weight other than its repetitive contraindicative effects. At this point, it is the teacher trying to create the learning without the involvement of the eventual environmental, task or athlete constraints. Is this knee placement advice even task relevant for current practice in own body weight work-outs? Possible alternatives will be facilitation that allow learners to do such squats with different configuration of limb placements and then referring to aspects of biomechanics like lever system, keeping spine in safe position and so on. All these will put focus on the context and theoretically create deeper understanding. It takes time but might go further than the sole ‘injury’ advise to influence movement which probably comes when teacher assumes the role of a repository of experience and thus the provider of appropriate outcome cues, independent of experience. The discovery flavour is hinted here.

This to-speak-or-not-to (quantity) dilemma (closely followed by the what-to-speak! (quality) dilemma) can also be eased with consideration and differentiating of factors like the role of implementation strategies and learning processes. An example will be a recent sharing by a peer that states the role of non-linearity in teaching as part of an arsenal of teaching strategies, a view very popularly shared. Should learning processes like non-linearity be a strategy or a lawful fact? my opinion – a lawful fact. Can you influence how a learner learns physiologically at different points in teaching and thus be strategic about it? my opinion – to some extent within a narrow and aligned range. Or is it more the strategies based on lawful facts like physiological learning processes that is variable? my opinion – strategies are much broader and varied.

Of course, here it is important to differentiate between what we mean when we say strategies, tools, etc. and actual physiological learning processes. There are many strategies and tools for different contexts and probably just a narrower and more aligned range for the processes involved in how learners learn which then should be our over-arching direction. It is good to have an arsenal of tools but perhaps more important to have a clear unified philosophy (back by understanding of learning processes) for learning and teaching.

Again, I will hazard a guess that we are very focused on implementation strategies, the hows, without much worry on the whys of such strategies. Based on our very inductive like evaluation cycle (i.e. we test different evidences and assumes it contributes to the ultimate conclusion) of the tools and strategies we used, it is very likely that our lack of depth into the physiological whys of learning makes little impact on outcomes because we only replicate tools and strategies that works. Our implicit understanding of how our the body operates in a learning environment may differ but I believe that it all feeds into the same ultimate lawful processes, i.e. whether it is linear, non-linear, a hybrid, etc. and that is why we all seem to be achieving the same learning despite differing  perspectives. We can improve if we carry on developing our arsenal of tools and strategies but an emphasis on a constant reflective process that strives to connect a narrow band of lawful processes to that of a much wider band of strategies will do much better. End of day, do we want to be like a big warehouse of ready-made implementation strategies or much leaner experts of learning processes that is able to produce strategies on demand? Both works!

If it ain’t broken, why break it? Breaking down skills in Physical Education (PE)

This reflection takes a glancing, conflated and confused probably, overview of what it means to break up a skill into its visible component parts for teaching. Memories comes back of my teacher training in areas of motor schemas and general motor programmes that seems to emphasis on the learner himself being able to create, initiate and maintain such schemas and motor programmes, with the direct help of the all-important Teacher! This reflection relates to the influence of the context in aiding learning.  

Largely, we Physical Education (PE) teachers spent a lot of time figuring out how to break down a physical skill into appropriate bit pieces for our students. For the learner experience, the teacher present it from a desired teaching style within a pedagogical approach. These teaching styles ranges from direct learning and all the way to a discovery based, self-learning expectation, for example. Skill acquisition or learning is then an outcome that is expected to occur. Depending on what we decided our pedagogical direction is, the way we break down a physical skill to suit the approach will differ. When you look at Mosston-Ashworth’s spectrum of teaching styles as an example of how we can approach teaching and thus the way a learner learn, it is interesting to compare how much content for the different teaching styles look like for learner consumption at the various points of the spectrum. The main theme of these contents can be similar or connected in some flow, whatever teaching style you take, as we all want to reach the same outcome within say a module or syllabus for example.

Earlier in my work, I lamented on this freedom of ‘different teaching approaches’ as needing to be rather ‘different teaching styles’ as the approach we take as an expectation of the system and contemporary needs are actually very aligned for everyone within the system or it should be. Sometimes a teaching spectrum like that mentioned above can be taken as a spectrum of a) teaching styles with different approaches or b) different teaching styles working towards a common approach.

So while we may present reproductive (a possible overall teaching approach) teaching experiences via different teaching styles for our students, we can either decide to plateau at this level of approach or use the learning here to eventually accomplish a productive approach (production, understanding, etc.) levels of learning. Teaching styles allows differentiating the needs of learners while still keeping to the education systems expected approach of how we want students to learn.

Let’s come back to the initial comment on the breaking down of skills to offer in manageable pieces for student learning. I have spent much effort in looking at the ideas of linear decomposition (breaking down of a skill to parts exactly as it is observed to happen as a whole, usually without taking into consideration context) of skill and non-linear (generating skills in specially designed contexts that uses constraints manipulation in leading up to full actual context experience) skill degeneration. The possible fact is that even in the more popular standpoint of non-linearity in learning, it is hard to separate or ignore linear processes. Non-linearity in physiological processes does not mean non-linearity in implementation strategies. Implementation strategies can still be logical, ordered, planned, etc. It should be completely different perspectives when we look at the structure of processes between physiological and implementation processes. I believe the possible difference in how we understand these may have created comprehension tensions that we do not need between how learning occurs and how we implement strategies for it.

Recently the workings of what makes a sprint relay team work well and effective (fast) came into my scope of interest. Here, I am  attempting to envision what it takes to break it down for beginners and perhaps making sense of it for any levels of performance. I spent a lot of time thinking of team games (my own work direction focuses more on team games than individual pursuits) and I was thinking what it will be like to treat a supposedly more open-loop motor task (where an action execution is decided without need of continuous external stimuli). In a way, this may be considered a close skill by some, where the movement solution is fixed and not very dependent on external factors.

Note the differences in terminology when talking about an open or close skill, as compared to open loop and close loop cognitive processes for skill activation and maintenance. Open skills refers more to skills that could have possibly multiple responses as compared to specific responses all the time, resulting in open skills using close loop cognitive processes that requires feedback for continuous adjustment. Close skills will be the opposite using open loop controls (more commonly mentioned for discrete rather than continuous skill) – confusing! See Table 1 for some areas to look at to understand this further in relation to motor control theories that emphasizes the loop ideas.

Schemas and Programmes Table

Table 1

In sprint relays, the incoming runner is the stimulus for decision making for the outgoing runner and vice versa, e.g. giving the ‘UP’ command and taking off by the respective runners mentioned. I wonder if many of the drills we have for it assumes an open loop decision-making process that ignores the need of dynamic information processing by both runners. Does the incoming runner merely signifies the start of an exchange of baton process by his/her command or can the incoming runner also provide multiple levels of information for the outgoing runner? If we assume the later, this important aspect of baton passing goes from a close skill to more of an open skill, where necessary changes in response is needed depending on how much information is received, e.g. information like closeness to outgoing runner, acceleration, opponents’ position, etc., for both runners. All these results in complex close loop cognitive processes taking place where body reaction acts accordingly based on needs of environment, task and self.

Why am I complicating a simple baton passing action as demonstrated by the numerous straightforward command initiated, as oppose to information guided, drills available that seems to work very well for many? I am curious to look a bit deeper on the role of information from environment influencing actions and to what extent our teaching strategies acknowledge that, especially when looking at experienced coaches and their methods. As already mentioned, the role of information from the context can be more easily seen in team games or what we can understand as open skills. My next big question is if there is even such a thing as a close skill if indeed all actions are influenced by the context, e.g. is shooting a completely close skill? While the outcome after a close skill execution seems a done deal, its initial preparation does require quite a bit of contextual information. Yes, this may be considered as splitting hairs at the practitioner level but I think it is a worthwhile path to understand better skill acquisition processes. If we are convinced of the role of the context as being primary to effective skill action, then much of our reliance on standalone command-initiated drills will be relegated to secondary purposes and more focus on drills that mimics task relevant actions that are heavy with information laden cues, i.e. affordances. Both serve different purposes that overlaps and this reflection also queries the level of awareness that teachers/coaches have on this association of different types of activities to different aspects of learning.

Information-light cues and associated activity Information-heavy cues and associated activity
‘UP’ command while doing stationary or slow jog drills ‘UP’ command at speed
Focusing solely on ground markings to decide on take-off at predetermined speed and acceleration Guided by ground markings and in-coming command to regulate speed and acceleration
Focusing solely on ground markings to give ‘UP’ command to receiving runner Guided by ground markings to give ‘UP’ command to receiving runner based on incoming speed, acceleration, opponents’ perceived metrics, etc.
Drills to build up mental representation devoid of context stimuli Drills to build up action experience schemas that include representation of context stimuli

Table 2

Table 2 might potentially represent an unnecessary dichotomy of activity type expectation that is either very consciously done or more likely, not really considered. In task decomposition mode, we are usually very satisfied to see a broken up skill being executed at a regressed sub-maximal level with the expectation that it will remain the same at a maximal level. For many, action skills is like a jigsaw puzzle, taking it apart, working the different pieces and putting it all together without thought on the physiological adaptation of the body to task and environment that may not be linear. This jigsaw method has served me very well as a teacher in the past. It looks especially good in verbal, written plans for reporting and even for demonstrations.

The above is definitely just a deliberate attempt at cherry picking, for the sake of reflection, of a much wider learning and teaching experience that any learner or teacher will go through. I am still a believer of much learning taking place in spite of us, for better or for worse. I am not surprise that the unique nature of our ability to be very good at adapting, compensating and eventually performing might perhaps point to our ability to overcome learning friction, deliberate or otherwise,  and maybe even thrive in such environment. In providing such ‘misconstrued’ activity designs, do we inevitably create problems that allows that good movement solution we eventually observe and apportion to our teaching? What if we are more deliberate and knowledgeable about this problem-solution process and can better match our activities to exactly what we want?

This is where I will bring attention again to the idea of where we want our learners to get information from when in an activity. Is it from the teacher solely, via an associated cue, or from the activity itself, with the help of cues that are information heavy, e.g. an incoming runner learning to give an ‘UP’ command upon appropriate distance away (considering information of outgoing runner take off speed and acceleration for example) and guided by markings as opposed to relying on markings alone. You can probably tell that while I am emphasising on activity design here, that it is also closely related to teaching styles, e.g. from command, discovery, etc. This in turn, which is probably quite neglected or misunderstood (or rather lack of full understating), is how learners acquire skill physiologically, i.e. does information from a problem (understanding a problem before a solution) facilitates learning or understanding solutions first (teaching by providing solution first) is the best.

In summary, it seems that we are very taken by our own version of the ideas of schemas and general motor programmes that is heavily influenced by technique driven methodologies. One consequence of this is we rely heavily on direct transfers for teachers who have experienced the skill to transfer the skill! This brings to mind the idea of the joysticking coach or teacher, a euphemism used often in sports when the coach wants to control behaviour from the sideline.

We PE teachers who are jacks of all trades (games) but master of few or none are in a good position to explore ‘learning-starts-from-the-activity-design’ ideas. This will be learner centrism that is driven by the learner’s physiological processes in learning or acquiring skills. This in turn, have been shown to be very closely interwoven with needs of environment and task, i.e. the overall task, and thus the idea of the teacher being a learning activity designer!

Skill Acquisition and Learning: Are they the same thing?

This reflection explores the following;

  • Do we think of acquiring new skills as learning (referring to the very generic layman term that is closely associated with the act of teaching) or skill acquisition (referring to the phrase usually use by scientific theories)?
  • Do we even think of the above?
  • Does it matter?
  • How does our practices differ if we make the big assumption that the two perspectives above does have a significant implicit associative impact in the way we go about our teaching practices?

This reflection came about as I keep using the term skill acquisition and learning interchangeably, both in its meaning and associated practices. With these mentioned processes, the significant adult present, in a school context, that makes it happen is usually the coach, instructor or teacher. These teaching roles that I have just mentioned also got me thinking of any noteworthy baggage (either historically, culturally, semantically, metaphorically, etc.) that have accompanied the use of these descriptors, i.e. skill acquisition and learning, when looking at how they carry out their teaching practices and thus the way students are expected to learn. I am beginning to notice the presence of very implicit assumptions that comes together with the way we expect the attaining of skills to occur and therefore our strategies for it.

Let me offer the below;

Skill acquisition: The acquiring of skills comes primarily from the context – from environment-task, supported by internal physiological process (including cognitive processes) – within the learner. The teacher is facilitative to the acquiring of skill (includes knowledge, ability to move effectively, etc. – movement solution) that happens in the context of interest (movement problem which includes the context). This has an ecological perspective (interaction between person and environment). This approach hinges also on the environmental and sociocultural influences of the needed skill and requires the interactive behaviour of the learner to the mentioned influences in order for learning to manifest.

Learning: The learning of skills is influenced primarily by the teacher with the context being secondary as it supports the teaching strategies and thus the teacher. The teacher is the creator of knowledge. The act of teaching as we commonly know takes a strong influence from this perspective. Knowledge is present within the teacher and the offering of this knowledge in the appropriate way creates that learning. This has a strong teacher led constructivist perspective, where the teacher creates the learning context necessary with emphasis on transferring knowledge from teacher to student, usually linearly (decomposing a skill with the objective of putting it together eventually).

(Both the word Learning and the phrase Skill Acquisition have far more comprehensive meaning than mentioned above. For the purpose of the discussion here, the above are offered.)

The above is probably not the best attempt at trying to use very established, and difficult to delink with traditional meanings, words to describe two different views of skill/knowledge building processes that is often mentioned in the realm of Physical Education (PE), explicitly or otherwise. These words include learn, teach, create, acquiring, etc. To a large extent, we have always look at attaining new skills from a cognitive point of view, and this is where the word learning takes its strongest meaning, and much emphasis is given to what is happening in the mind, e.g. motor schemas, programmes, creating an illusion, etc. These are considered vital and the prime mover to expecting anything happening physically. Thus, a lot of effort is put into influencing the ideal situation in the mind. We are happy with this and we do not differentiate our perspectives of learning (i.e. “How do we learn a skill?”), as we do not have any real impetus to do that. We are implicitly confident we know what learning is, based on a student outcome evaluation, and we work on strategies based on this. The above descriptors of skill acquisition and learning serves little purpose in reflection or activity design. It is a very natural viewpoint as we tend to be strongly supported with the view that we create understanding, i.e. learning, in learners by influencing the right learner mind-set via effective known movement solutions to known problems. .

When considering the ecological skill acquisition perspective, it takes a slightly different tone. This is where there is hardly a mental and physical duality in skill acquiring processes. In fact, the mental-physical whole only exist because of the environment. We can say that over here, we use the individual physiological processes, movement problem and solution space as propping each other up in successful teaching outcome. The teacher here understands the whole task-environment-learner interaction and design an effective skill acquisition session. This approach is a realization that skill acquisition processes crosses the boundaries of biophysical and social-cultural sciences. You notice that in the above, there is no explicit mention of the teacher as a primary contributor to the skill acquisition processes other than the need to being aware of it and thus able to take advantage of it in activity design.

Again, I will bring forth the possible said counter that the above are all semantics that are in the realm of the key-board warriors and researchers and does little to help the practitioner on the ground. I will think that it is important to re-look our processes that have given possible skewed interpretation because of fixed association with semantics that we have been using for both our teaching and how our students learn. We do what we speak/think and we place a lot of fixed importance to descriptors in our practice realm that may limit the actual physiological processes and its influence needed within the learner, e.g. the learning and skill acquisition expectations mentioned above. Just like when we conveniently express processes serially, when it may not be, when trying to comprehend it, the descriptors and implicit meaning we attached to it may also compromise the true integrity of the processes we hope for in what we are trying to achieve as learning or skill acquisition from our students.

Even in the way we communicate with learners, descriptors have the potential to affect response. There is an incredibly area of motor learning science, not known enough in my opinion, that looks at the motor learning process within us and the words we use to encourage action, e.g. ‘return the serve – teacher creating knowledge’ as compared to ‘just touch the shuttle with your racket – teacher facilitating a learning experience’ for a young beginner who can hardly connect with the shuttle in badminton. (See Harjiv Singh’s blog, https://rebelmovement.org for some stuff on this from point of view). We might recognise it as external and internal cue focuses influencing cognitive loading and maybe even motivational elements at play. I see it as a complex body coming up with solutions via contributions from various paths and this includes cognitive-physical-environment concurrent inter-play that might suffer from sequential and decomposed (breaking it up to cognitive and physical) interpretation. Could this simple badminton example above be another part of the Learning – Skill acquisition false separation that I am alluding to? False because there should not be just one way in which learning happens best and dichotomy because it is taken by some quarters as two camps of teaching.

Let me come back to the two possible common differentiated perspectives offered at the beginning on the possible friction between Learning and Skill Acquisition and how it might distract us from true processes. Recently I started a short series of lessons on Floorball for my students, a newish teaching sport for me that I do play at a very beginner level. With a typical technique-focused concern, I was worried about getting the most basic thing right, teaching the Floorball stick hold the way it is supposed to be, i.e. the established way as decided by experts in the field. About a year before this, I was shocked (more like embarrassed!) when told by a colleague that I have been holding the stick wrongly for a right-hander and the curve on my blade was not suitable for a righty. I have been holding it like in Field Hockey, with my right dominant hand lower than my left one, with the stick jutting out of my open side (to the right side of my body). As such, my preferred blade curve was towards the left. I was told by the colleague, who confirmed it with a Floorball coach, that a right-hander should have the dominant hand at the top of stick, with the left hand lower and the curve of the blade towards the right. Even a very well versed player concurred on that.

This to me could be an example of teaching and learning from a teacher as the creator of knowledge perspective. The teacher knows, from whatever means, and introduces the facts to the learner. This can be a powerful source of learning but can inevitably get in the way of being true to the solution manifold (a range of solutions to meet the needs of the a problem that is never totally fixed in its manifestation) that is necessary for an effective movement solution.

Back to my dilemma and I have not even faced the class yet. My own limited playing experience sees me very often also moving my dominant hand to the top of the stick, i.e. one hand on stick only, as I move with the ball away from my body for fast breaks. This reinforced to some extent the advice I received above that a righty like me should have that said holding position, albeit with two hands. Further exploration told me that the hands could assume various positions base on where the ball is and what needs to be done with the ball. This is what I will say is an example of a skill acquisition perspective (as described above). My big dilemma is not a dilemma! Depending on where the ball position is, the stick holding changes. Admittedly, for each holding position in association with ball location, there are mechanically ideal solutions that can serve as good guides, i.e. not stick your fingers out, shoulder width apart, maintaining a more consistent stick hold pattern, etc. This is especially so for the more advance game where the solution manifold reduces in possibilities to a particular point in a problem spectrum (which widens as you are offered a bigger range of problems from better players). I like to think that the problems offered by movement should be the primary focus, not the expected solutions we teachers think should be offered first.

Learning vs Skill Acquisation

As I am writing my concluding paragraph at my usual neighbourhood coffee shop, I reflected on the nearby group of tertiary level students having their weekly Ultimate Frisbee training led by very able and enthusiastic coaches leading their peers. I captured a picture snapshot of a common drill I see them using very frequently (see picture attached). This snapshot by no means reflect the overall theme and effectiveness of the session, which I have observed as being quite tremendous in depth and progression. I will not comment on the usual opinions of on-task and task relevance issues that such a drill might suggest (i.e. limited on-task individuals and the relevance of such drills to actual play). Rather, I will like to offer the possibly perspective of the coach/teacher here wanting strongly to create knowledge in the pursuit of such technique and outcome-led activity designs. Is this also an example of how the teachers/coaches can strongly be influenced (albeit very implicitly) by their own assumed clarity on what it takes to acquire new skills, i.e. a learning or skill acquisition process?

So, with my classes already starting, what I will do is to be very aware of both perspectives and not get overtly engross with either. In fact, good learning happens when we are aware of all aspects of skill acquisition. I can’t run away from the fact that students do want information presented to them at times (solution before problem) and that I am seen as a creator and presenter of knowledge, but I also see the joy when they discover such information as solving problems at the same time as when presented with the solutions, i.e. teaching for understanding. I think the key here is not to be pressured to be able to create knowledge and instead provide the opportunity to almost discover solutions together with learners in creatively designed environment.

Some readings that were influential (fleeting or otherwise) in the above.

Uehara, L., Button, C., Falcous, M., & Davids, K. (2016). Contextualised skill acquisition research: a new framework to study the development of sport expertise. Physical Education & Sport Pedagogy, 21(2), 153–168. Retrieved from https://search-ebscohost-com.proxy.lib.sg/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,url,uid&db=s3h&AN=112376570&site=ehost-live

https://rebelmovement.org

Dummy’s Guide to Physical Education (PE) – NOT!

This reflection mentions the struggles between….

  • Simplicity and Complexity in PE
  • The different stakeholders in PE
  • Evidence and Experience in PE

This particular reflection started off as an attempt to put into some context or overview of all my written reflections so far. It has always been sort of an ultimate aim to put to words a reasonable resemblance of a possible journey for a PE teacher hoping to seek an alternative view of a fellow teacher, almost like a Dummy’s guide to PE teaching (Not!). My journey took me to looking at the various factors to the teaching-learning cycle of a young learner. My reflection title rather cheekily suggest that anyone can be involve in PE teaching but it reflects for me, the frustrations of a possible perception that PE is about exposure rather than it really needing to be educational, relegating it to the realms of excessive simplism. I would not want to inadvertently also imply complexity just for the sake of it. All this was further exasperated recently when well-meaning friends and colleagues suggested various perspectives of PE ranging from its seemingly ease of acquiring skills for and its implementation to the need to really dumb down materials for professional development due to PE teaching being a ‘practical’ skill and therefore benefiting from directly usable information rather than multi-layered theories and analysis. My recent take on this is that there is an inductive and compartmentalise thinking, from the various stakeholders, of what it takes to be able to educate physically and thus what it takes to maintain as a good teacher.

Inductive reasoning is a method of reasoning in which the premises are viewed as supplying some evidence for the truth of the conclusion. While the conclusion of a deductive argument is certain, the truth of the conclusion of an inductive argument may be probable, based upon the evidence given. (Wikipedia)

I use the concept of inductive reasoning to try making sense of what could be happening to me and around me. This trend is when a teacher feels that there is a specific strategy that works for a particular objective, than it must be a good teaching strategy for all teaching, e.g. straight forward decomposition of a movement and putting it back together for teaching, a linear process. The teaching strategy is usually regressed (or extrapolated) to some level of conceptual understanding, not comprehensive enough at times, for the teacher and then reused when needed. This can indeed be a powerful approach to good teaching but may be limited by the inductiveness of it, which does not guarantee the desired depth and adherence of learning. This can be manifested by context specific replication strategy when a teacher feels that teaching new skills are independent of each other and thus require multiple independent processes for corresponding skills. How often have we felt incompetent to introduce an unfamiliar game and thinking we need to be more specifically trained in that sport before being able to teach? My only objection to this is if it is done so because we feel that all games are mutually exclusive with non-related conceptual learning opportunities. Very often also, we rely heavily on replicative sharing of professional development materials as perhaps a sign of our comfort of taking individual learning experiences (both for ourselves and for our students) as mutually exclusive without the need to understand general physiological learning processes within the body as it interacts with the context.

I feel an over reliance of it prevents the seeking out of needed deductive rational for important concepts and ideas of skill acquisition that may ease this tension of relying only on replicative teaching practices. Chances are we need a big dose of both inductive and deductive habits of thinking that will level up the way we do things. Too much of either might create the extreme views mentioned earlier of the replicative and direct teaching nature of our profession or the disjointed views of those trying to apply the sciences to a bigger extent in our habits.

The compartmentalising of PE teaching to me reflects the serial sequencing (linear) influence of mechanical structures that is also influencing our understanding of physiological learning processes. Imagine our well-ingrained serial teaching processes forcefully being made to align to the very real non-linear physiological processes of our body. Both the mentioned linear and non-linear sequences of teaching strategies and learning processes are very reasonably to me, with the caveat that sandwich between them is the understanding of what happens within the learner at the onset of teaching cues from the teacher to the learners’ learning outcome, i.e. the physiological leaning process and not relying on the short teacher input-learner output cycle.

So, is it worth seeking a more pragmatic balance in our practises that will better what we are trying to do in teaching PE? I see our practises sort of cluster around three groups of influence. We have the practitioners, practitioner-researchers and the researchers.  The first two groups of influence plays a big part for us on the ground, with the third, many times, being an optional (sometimes incidental) inspiration to us. The irony is that much work from the researchers revolves around the practitioner in its directions and implication. The middle group, the practitioner-researcher, perhaps have the not enviable task of ensuring that there is a good balance in the fraternity in ensuring the art and science of Physical Education (PE) is closely aligned to our praxis. Is there a problem in such a teaching ecosystem where it seems that everything is pigeon holed at the expense of a universal effort? Yes, if there is a big disjoint between the knowledge capital and practise habits of the three groups (borrowing terminology from the Bourdiesian lenses). For example, one particular strong opinion I frequently noticed and face is the heistancy towards practitioner attempts to delve into areas of further research and use ideas that are seemingly distant from daily teacher practise. These includes the use of academic/research language, seeking out research type professional development, uneasiness in referencing first source academic information, etc. I believe this is to a large part due to the individual sports and teacher training/experience acculturation that many of us hold on to rather dearly that may not consider early professional development structures (e.g. during teacher training) so consciously. This partly results in a pronounced Curse of Knowledge cognitive bias (when we assume others have the necessary background information that we referring to, e.g. resulting in us overlooking the learning processes we ourselves took) that inflicts both purveyor and user of information. To some extent, I describe this as the battle between Evidence and Experience! How often I have heard closing statements from different groups of experts as they utter the lack of Evidence (empirical, controlled for the researchers) or Experience (‘real life’, every day for the practitioners) as the end all and be all of any idea conflicts! Exciting but it is starting to get frustrating for the information seeker in me.

Curse of Knowledge

Curse of Knowledge

Why do we need to look further if what we are already doing works well? This is especially in a culture of competitive sports where the successful sport-person who is a teacher have to be doing it the right and only  way (e.g. the best coach for the sports team is the ex-player with the most playing accolades – inductive reasoning). The preceding statements use very teacher centric descriptors, which is a good hint that it may not be best for learner centric practises.

In fact, even the learner centric focus need to reconsider the role of the environment and task in learner behaviour, which might be inadvertently deemphasise when discussing teaching strategies that revolves around the universal learner and not the individualised learner who reacts differently to task and environmental constraints.

If indeed there are interactive gaps between the practices of the fields in the three areas of practitioners, practitioner-researchers and researchers, then it supports also the lack of possible alignment where the groups work independently. Seems that the false maxim “If you can’t do, you teach and if you can’t teach, you lecture!” holds too much sway in the background causes of some of this differentiation. Even within a particular group, it is sometimes obviously segregated as experts separate themselves in expectations between those who have varying experience in physical education and its provision, e.g. ex-athlete vs non-athlete teachers, those who support different schools of thoughts, those who publish in exclusive journals vs inclusive platforms, etc.

An interesting point that caught my attention recently was a discussion on Twitter looking at the authenticity and validity of practitioners given research-influenced (and even real practise experience) advice on easy to access social media platforms where intellectual property and experience are loosely structured. Of course, this discussion acknowledges the richness of such sharing but there is a hint of the place of members of each theoretical group mentioned earlier and the expectation of how much they should stick to their areas of expertise. Over here, I will like to offer the role of good reflections to go beyond needing to worry about research level standards and structures, even though the awareness of the principles and content of science and research adds to its depth.

This brings up interesting thoughts on personality/group driven expertise/knowledge (if any school of thought is represented so strongly to the extent that its practical connection loses some importance) influencing on-the-ground skill acquisition (learning) needs and how valid is this. In an interesting post (twitter) put up recently by a well-regarded skill acquisition specialist in the NFL (National Football League), Shawn Myszka (he presents himself as a learning environment designer) mentioned a very basic wish for his sports fraternity to understand the difference between Agility and Change of Direction Speed (CODS), and therefore its training needs. To me, this is a good example of a theoretically strong idea connecting directly to practise application, i.e. a practitioner-researcher at work in my simple categorization. I can imagine any attempts to bring such thoughts to a school level (e.g. school PE or beginner sports groups) may be met with some doubt as to the need to split hairs to such fine differentiation in definitions and perhaps seen as merely an exercise in semantics or wanting to present in an intellectual/complex light when simplicity works. So, how much balance do we need in this big see-saw? One thing I am sure of is that we cannot neglect science and its contemporary interpretation (yes, even its interpretation evolves, as we understand better its impact on the human body).

My simple view is that we all play a part in this lack of (or otherwise) alliance between the knowledge capital and habits of the various groups of people from teachers to academics and even policy makers. This is probably expected given the inadvertent social and organisational hierarchies that are mutually exclusive, to a some extent, that such groups of different fields of experts exist in, and frequently left to the different fraternities to make the best of it. It is a professional differentiation that exist as a fragile consensus. This fragility needs some firming up in the area of knowledge cross-over.  I am cognisant that even my attempt to write my reflections may be a sign of wanting to pigeonhole myself into a sub-group that might seem more desirable and counter to facilitating on the ground practises. I have to add that my imperfect experience of digging deeper into the routines of reflective practises and sharing of different groups have brought for myself much insights into the work of many who are very successful in working across the theorised practise gaps mentioned above (e.g. see the references shared below).

 

Some readings that were influential (fleeting or otherwise) in the above.

Harvey, Stephen & Hyndman, Brendon. (2018). How and Why Physical Educators Use Twitter. 10.13140/RG.2.2.21551.84640.

https://player.fm/series/playing-with-research-in-health-and-physical-education/episode-15-twitter-use-in-pe-with-dr-stephen-harvey

Young, Warren. (2015). Agility and change of direction speed are independent skills: Implications for agility in invasion sports.

What happens in between teaching and learning during PE?

This reflection attempts to expand the definition and understanding of;

  • Teaching practises and learning outcomes. I can see the teacher input, I can see the learning outcomes but how is learning taking place?
  • Is the pursuit of questioning skills clouding effective teaching and learning?
  • Does non-linear physiological learning processes mean non-linear teacher implementation processes?

Between Teaching and Learning

I spent a lot of time by a swimming pool when doing my reflections. At the pool, I constantly observe kids being taught swimming by obviously experienced coaches that will probably suggest very effective lesson designs that still keep them in the business. From afar, it is difficult to hear the conversations that take place between coach and student. What I do see quite consistently are the coaches mimicking arm movements for their young chargers to follow. I guess for a lot us, this is how we were first introduced to techniques and skills, reproducing recommended patterns of movement. One common skill these coaches at the pool try to teach is the standing dive from the side of the pool. One particular popular reproduction method used consistently by many swim coaches is putting the learner at the side of the pool and positioning their body in a dive arc, replicating a snapshot of an ideal position before push-off. These learners are then either push into the water or asked to push off themselves. From afar, I still think it is not fair to evaluate a short session without talking to the coach, it almost seems like the expectation of a movement objective is expected merely by replicating the ideal biomechanical movement observed from more skilled performers. In recent postings on social media that caught my attention, this reproduction expectation seems to be suggested when being awed by snapshots of sportsmen doing impossible manoeuvres.

This brings to the forefront, for me, the debate between deliberate and emerging movement solutions all over again in my reflections. I wonder if the magic potion of good Physical Education (PE) lesson design is this recognition of how students learn, not just the when. To some extent, this may relate closely to what we want from active learners, for them to hold on to learning for life or at least over subsequent lessons, as oppose to short term replication. I remembered my own self-taught swimming experience where all the hand and leg mimicking (as a result of following popular available instructions on how to swim via reproductive methods) only made sense when I finally tried it out at sea where the buoyant water allowed me the vertical lift while I have the lesser focus of realising only the horizontal propulsion opportunities of the leg and hand movements. It all then made sense, and thus successfully executed, only when I realised the reasons for the suggested limb movement. Therefore, the successful external action outcome made internal biomechanical instructions meaningful.

Which one needs to come first?

Can they come together through clever lesson design?

And, most importantly for this reflection, what is happening within the learner when this teaching-learning cycle happens?

It seems that deliberate teaching might suggest bringing in technique before understanding for success. This is where a large part of what is suggest in pedagogies like Teaching Games for Understating (TGfU) and Constraints Led Approach (CLA) seems to indicate on the contrary. At times, this is where the expected linearity of teaching processes is debate on in line with contemporary awareness that learning may not be linear.

I will like to suggest that there may be a potential consolidation, when it should not, of the idea of non-linearity in learning functions and teaching processes. The teaching process may well look linear in its mechanistic outlook, i.e. teacher uses a tried and tested fix process to tackle known problems while keeping in mind the non-linearity of internal learning processes. It is this understanding of the non-linearity in internal processes that may shed light in the title of this reflection.

Now, it brings me to my main intended point of this reflection, does our teachings have a causal-effect impact or is it more correlational, to learning? Lately, I am beginning to think that much of the game related movement learnings taking place has probably not everything to do with physical education (PE) classes or at most have only a correlational effect with each other, not the causal-effect that we very implicitly think may be happening. This thought of mine was compounded on recently playing basketball with my son and realising he picked up a tremendous amount from Youtube (very appropriately named ‘The Professor’ taking the credit here) and his peers, with probably very little coming from his PE class or father! There is a whole field of motivational science that could explain phenomenon like this but what got me really to sit up and reflect was the possibility of something lacking when we automatically think we, as teachers, are influencing learning from a causal-effect viewpoint when we are not. In my school’s recent games day where we got the students to compete against each other, I also very sheepishly have to accept that the high level of play may not have come from our lessons but from their own over enthusiastic peers and learning sources! At the best, I, as a PE teacher, may probably take credit in pointing them in the right direction. Of course, I accept that part of our job is this discovery process we want to ingrain into our learners and accept our role in that while boosting and fine-tuning that self-learning that may happen. Encouragingly for my ‘teacher of the universe’ self-esteem, I know not every learner has that motivation to want to learn more and rely much on effective teaching to nudge them in the correct direction. Nonetheless, this realisation does take away quite a bit from this teacher who have for a long while made the very implicit assumption that most teacher initiated strategies are the causal-effect start of good learning.

In a recent discussion with a teacher, we were exploring what we think as visible (or the lack of) learning taking place. The conversation met a wall when I started exploring what it takes for a person to be considered as learning from a micro, ecological perspective. My teacher friend believes learning outcomes are sufficient as visible learning taking place. My simple thinking tells me that if I can nail this perspective to some depth, any depth actually, my teaching design process can benefit tremendously via validation or even changing mind-sets. My colleague reminded me that this micro view is too distant and most teachers will not be interested in it. For many, the proxy indicator of desired outcome is sufficient to connect teacher practise to learning. My view is exactly that, it is a proxy and learning could potentially be taking place in spite of us. I wrote about this when exploring possible cognitive processes when learning is occurring. If this is in any way a reasonable perspective, much of our visible learning realisation is just visible outcomes that is correlational and not causal-effect from our practises that we may very inadvertently think is.

Doing a quick article search, I also realised the importance the fraternity places on exploring correlational relationship between teaching behaviour (e.g. informing, structuring, observing, feedback, etc.) and outcomes (e.g. motor and cognitive engagement, etc.). This is understandable, as you probably have to dig much deeper to see overlaps, if any, into the fields of direct/indirect perception cognitive sciences and good old teaching pedagogies. I can see elements of this taking place in the areas of ecological dynamics, Non-linear Pedagogy (NLP) and retrospective (to some degree) connections in Constraints Led Approach (CLA). Therefore, what happens between teaching and learning is really highly theorised for those who are critical or highly irrelevant for those who just too busy implementing.

I also appreciate the fact that in teaching, we are very behaviour-outcome based, doing our best as the main bastion of responsible citizens entering the world. Our whole teacher training and professional development cycles also favours to some degree this input to outcome short cycle that may inadvertently lessen the importance of needing to know physiological learning processes that occur in between teaching input and student learning. You will find plenty of implementation importance in our professional life as to a large extent we expected to be masters of strategy implementation.

This brings me to my next point. In Games Centred Approaches (GCAs), the role of questioning seems to take on, at times, the definitive role of a GCA. I am concerned about this, as questioning is a secondary facilitative tool, amongst many other feedback-acquiring strategies, to the primary movement solution exploration process of the learner. Could this possibly be a sign of an input to outcome mentality that looks at correlational success of an input, i.e. questioning, to a proxy learning output, i.e. visible outcome?

Creating an independent importance in good questioning techniques for teachers makes implicit assumptions that I will suggest might go against the key impact of the intent and beliefs of a GCA. These implicit and potentially detrimental assumptions includes:

  • A good question is one with a good answer, with the latter potentially being learning proxy outcomes only,
  • Creating a good question-building ability is independent of the whole learning process cycle, and
  • Working on questioning techniques first before exploring the theories and philosophy of the whole game and learner centred teaching cycle.

I say the above after many years of observing convenient breaking down of GCA teaching schematics that unfortunately singles out the questioning aspect of the visual depiction. If ever you have heard that being game and learner centred is difficult because of the need to master potentially time wasting questioning mastery, chances are you are witnessing a prioritising of questioning ability above that of understanding the whole teaching process. The key here is not ‘questioning’ but perhaps it should be ‘getting feedback’. I wrote about it very early on when constantly been told that Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU) requires much time for questions and that only very experience teachers have that ability. Every teacher is able to gather feedback and that alone settles the basic GCA need to know your learner and what your teaching impact is at any point in time. Feedback also benefits the learner, through self-learning and instruction realisation, if structured accordingly and this is what we often refer to when we emphasise the importance of questioning for teaching cycles. Without doubt, the ability to get feedback through using questions, is necessary but it should be appreciated for in its role as part of a bigger picture.

Much ado about Discovery!……in PE

Making sense of pedagogical strategies

This personal exploration looks at;

  • Teaching methodologies and wanting to find common ground amongst them for better understanding and implementation.

My writing for this article was interrupted by this interest in my professional learning network that seems to be often at odds to the value of Discovery Style teaching/coaching. Almost everything and anything has been put forward as going against this style of teaching that had me thinking with great interest. I even had an educator telling me that Non-Linear Pedagogy (NLP) is basically discovery based and therefore it will be good to let teachers either “…embraced it or allow them the choice to choose another approach…(paraphrased)”. To me, this is a potential inaccurate mixing and interchanging of different ideas and believes in the teaching field that does not scratched the surface of the true workings of what is needed in a comprehensive teaching flow from philosophy and theoretical underpinnings to implementation. Take the above example of the well-known teaching strategy of discovery/guided-discovery that has drawn a bit of flak from researchers, well regarded by progressive educators and blamed on by fans of failing sports clubs! In fact, all the different strategies will have its fair share of enthusiasm and critics. The point is, do we really look at a methodology deeply enough before we critic it? Are all such strategies so distinct in their workings and on their impact when all of them focus on the same learning process? Is there multiple distinct skill acquisition and retaining processes within the body that can explain the use of one over the other?

Let’s come back to the above NLP and discovery comment that is probably lumping together the social constructivism idea of discovery to the emergent acquisition process of the human body. Discovery can be an acknowledgement of the self-organising nature of the human body adapting to a known problem (not unknown). A physiological discovery self-organising process taking place within a learner can be targeted and look precise to an observer (e.g. in NLP/perception-action and its underpinning for Constraints Led Approach, CLA). A social and cultural discovery self-organising process within and between learners acting in an environment can be premeditated and facilitated without the need for a high level of ambiguity for educational settings (e.g. in Discovery and Guided Discovery implementation strategies). In such cases, if we go deeper to explore original intent of ideas, such concepts will not be put together in versus statements. Furthermore, if we accept that the physiological and social processes of learning are universal and need to be understood together, then it cannot be ignored when discussing teaching strategies for comparison. A teaching or strategy spectrum cannot overlook how we learn and is in fact the common thread weaving through the different styles on the spectrum. So, for example, even a command style teaching experience can effectively involve understanding physiological self-organisation (the body discovering the best way to accomplish a very specific task).

Recently I have the privilege again to listen to Tim Hopper and his presentation of his 4R model (Hopper, 2003) to help students scan and take action. The Rs refers to Read, Respond, React and Recover, in a seemingly cyclical descriptor of the outcome manifestation of a perception and action process. As I sat through his very rich teaching experience, I begin my own making of sense of this 4R approach in conjunction to all the other strategies, approaches, models, pedagogies, etc. that play important roles in most professional development (PD) journey that we embark on. I have reflected a lot on PD lingos and its apparent possible confusion that might lead to alienation rather complementary interplay, i.e. a false dichotomy of pedagogies. My sharing of my own perspective of a functional framework, Reinventing The Game (RtG), created confusion that it is a fit-all solution that is lacking, rather than an understanding of which exact hole it is plugging in the complex learning journey starting from philosophy to theory to implementation. A fit-all mentality that potentially creates a lot of model fidelity frustration in implementation occurs when the learning process is whittled down to a short implementation-learning cycle.

We share our own teacher understanding of learning processes through very serially biased means of writing, talking and sometimes even demonstrating. This is seen in articles, speeches, demonstration videos, etc. We have at our disposal plenty of visual schematic articulations of how we can design the perfect class through step-by-step processes. Coupled with these, we have just as rich schematic depictions of how students learn. Basically, the formal and informal sharing communication platforms suggest sequential physiological mechanics when reality may not be so. I can imagine our organic processes as being almost parallel in its workings while we attempt to dissect its mechanics and put back together sequentially to explain (non-linearity vs linearity). Does this auger well on the practitioner who wants to understand better for implementation? Is this where the fundamental and universal truth mentioned earlier (at neuromuscular level) needs to be considered before any convenient follow-the-steps implementation?

How do our students to learn?

How do we want to teach knowing the above?

Are the two preceding statements talking about the same thing? Is it sufficient to not worry about the differences and focus on only one of them and trust that everything will fall into place? Current established models of pedagogies make a lot of implicit assumptions on the area of body and environment interactive process for information gathering, manipulation and its long term existence (learning). As teachers, we are very comfortable with the way we assume we build up knowledge and its action influence. We use this as an implicit underlying understanding of skill acquisition to support the processes and functions that are inherent in the various pedagogical approaches we encounter.

The above questions and quandaries are age old and have been dissected plenty of times and probably the world doesn’t need more perspectives on these, or do they? My reflection for this article comes back to this after a long time looking at how possibly we acquire skills, i.e. learning. I am not referring to using models, strategies, established Process Structures (cyclical or hierarchical) and Functional Structures, etc. (My structured mind uses the word structure here even though I am not sure if it is the best way to describe it.)  Rather I am referring to how exactly do the body takes in information and spit out action! In my opinion, teaching strategies need to have one thing in common, that is an awareness of the way the body acquires skill at a neuromuscular level. Is it possible that there are multiple systems involve when considering skill learning at a micro level? I am not sure but put faith that there might be but fundamentally using same physiological-environmental interactive processes.

I define functional structures, see fig 1, as our pulled apart understanding of what contributes to a complex system. These functions are visible actions/decisions taking place, e.g. in the 4Rs mentioned above; the passing, scoring, interception and movement mentioned in my Reinventing the Game (RtG) framework; the game-play, practise, appreciation, understanding, etc.  in Game Centred Approaches (GCAs). This structures tend to influence us to think of the body as acquiring skills linearly.

Teaching Process structures are what that is suggested by methodologies as roads to reaching the functional milestones of a skill as represented by the functional structure depiction of different approaches, e.g. step by step instructions/facilitation. So if I come back to the 4Rs again, the Rs may assume functional roles (functional structures) of the various aspects of a skill or movement decision making. However, for teaching, each of Rs need to go through a separate teaching cycle to enhance its awareness and usually in conjunction with another one, or series, of Rs. So, I see a problem here if a movement functional structure is confused totally for a teaching process structure. I am not trying to pigeon hole any established methodologies here as it as expected that there are comprehensive and consist of both functional and process structures working in tandem.

Functional Structures; our pulled apart understanding of what contributes to a complex system. They may not be cyclical nor hierarchical but definitely overlapping most of the time. Tend to be identified via task/game/functional process decomposition.

Process Structures (referring to teaching process structures from henceforth); are what that is depicted as a road to achieving functional structures. They are usually cyclical or hierarchical and embedded in teaching models and underpinned by theories.

So, the sequential-ness that is depicted in schematics of various GCAs is plausible for implementation but also needs the consideration of the parallel or non-linear nature and interplay of functional and process structures. This could possibly mean that an effective teaching scenario will be expected to have multiple series of consideration before any intervention that ensures functional structures are not always put together the exact same way as their decomposed sequential depiction for understanding. Sometimes parts of a functional structure do also represent a process, e.g. the game to game appreciation in Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU) when taken together sequential can also be a process to attain the latter. However, from game appreciation to tactical awareness and then to making appropriate decisions; they are more functional structures that need a pedagogical treatment at each step before it can be delivered to a learner. The pedagogical TGfU treatment (process structure) here is leveraging on modified game play and appropriate facilitation to create that decision making awareness. While skill acquisition and performance appears late in a TGfU model schematic, it does not necessarily need to appear late in the experience landscape of a learner. This two functional structures can also be incorporated in the process structures for game play, appreciation, tactical awareness and decision making. So indeed it is a complex non-linear system!

So, it is also possible that when we do use established process structures via models in pedagogical approaches, we may not take into consideration the non-cyclical nature of functional structures when connecting cyclical processes to them. I wrote a bit of this when describing the frustration of teachers who are road-blocked from using great ideas from Games Centred Approaches (GCA) due to not being able to meet assumed strict hierarchical functional structures in step by step depictions which seems to need an understanding and appreciation before actual technical and strategy conceptual learning.

Let’s take another example of the 4R mentioned above. From the perspective of a teacher breaking down a skill, this model gives a clear framework to consider what is needed for teacher hoping to leverage on this for lesson design. (In another article, I spoke a bit about cues used for problem identification and its possible shortcomings as teaching cues also.) The challenge for me is how to translate this problem/strength identification process to a teaching progression that aligns as best as possible to actual learning processes that may not be linear and therefore possibly at odds to a sequentially expected process. This sequentially expected process is enhanced by schematic descriptors and the tendency for practitioners to use what they see literally, even though detailed explanation by developers of such processes usually also demonstrate the need to adapt to the body’s non-sequential behaviour in learning. So, will a teaching scenario with 4R in mind inadvertently start off with a Read activity to improve Respond and then leading to Reaction and Recovery in a sequential order?

From an ecological point of view, I will put forward the possibility that Read may even occur after or during the Respond. It is the teachers job to understand the Read scenario for the Respond and create that environment. For the learner, the Read actually comes together or just after Respond (so difficult to be in exact temporal sync in descriptor language to actual body processes). In an ecological opinion piece by Orth et al (Orth, van de Kamp, Memmet, & J. P. Savelsberg, 2017), Creative Motor Actions as Emerging from Movement Variability, they spoke about “…creative solutions emerge in the act rather than before…”.  Creative motor actions here are defined as functional movement patterns that are new to the learner and that satisfy the constraints of the motor problem at hand. This paper challenges the idea of preliminary generation of an idea, i.e. reading a scenario before deciding on response in the mind before execution. It is a direct perception (sufficient information is present in the problem observation) belief that maybe at odds to the indirect perception that step by step instructions might suggest (information needs to be processed in the body first before execution). The Fosbury flop in high jump is used here as a classic example of how it first exists as a consequence of creative problem solving that took in the context of needing higher bar clearance that coincided with the introduction of high density foam landing mats that allowed more ingenious landings. So the creative solution of the flop may have been a result of parallel interactions with information from the environment. Guess we can say that a wider outcome of reading might have been to try a back-leading jump and the actual finer technique of responding and reacting occurring in the action itself. (Borrowing 4R terminology for this individual pursuit activity).

I will carry on to suggest that React is part of Respond if considering the parallel initiation of such cognitive functions that are pulled apart for better teacher understanding but which are very intertwined in actual workings. From a social constructivist point of view, Respond and Read may also occur at the same time as a consequence of knowing what is final objective and needing to React. For both physiological and social expectations, the Recovery process is an anticipatory phenomenon that only makes sense with the presence of the other Rs. So while it is easy to see the interplay between the Rs, the potential issue comes when we try to design lessons using the same sequential articulation as seen in a visual depiction of it on paper.

For me also, the language we use may potentially create biasness that does not favour actually body workings. For example, the literal word Read suggest taking in instructions before an action to build up knowledge, whereas the learning process of a body might be occurring best as the situation occurs. In the earlier paragraph on discovery teaching, it is obvious the literal meaning of discovery has unfortunately conjured images of lesson chaos that may be time wasting and ineffective and is used to simplify a lot of non-linear understanding of learning.

I guess my main point is that we as teachers need to be very aware of what we take in and to be careful to not fall into the Process /Functional Structures trap (look at Fig 1 and imagine what is consequence if function is confused with process). Looking on as an observer to action taking place gives a rich visual image of the functions of the movement that cannot be thrown back directly to learners (e.g. deliberate, explicit, etc.) without a pedagogical treatment that connects functional structures information to relevant process structures (using information of how learning takes place to create a teaching strategy). This dilemma is reflected well between decomposition, breaking down a task to functions, and degeneracy, a phenomenon of structural variation in achieving a task that can influence an organic process of building up a skill. Often this difference is ignored and attempts are made to teach via the direct introduction of a possibly ineffective sequential functional structure.

We need to be clear of important definitions and be able to place the many excellent ideas on models, approaches, strategies, pedagogies, etc. in their correct place and not dumb down everything in the pursuit of simplicity. This is where theoretical underpinnings lay their worth in the bigger picture of understanding and giving respect to the broad learning process that starts from philosophy to theory to implementation.

 

Readings for this article;

Hopper, T. (March, 2003). Four Rs for tactical awareness: Applying game performance assessment in net/wall games. Journal of Teaching Elementary Physical Education, March Issue, 2003., 1 – 12.

Orth, D., van de Kamp, J., Memmet, D., & J. P. Savelsberg, G. (Oct, 2017). Creative Motor Actions As Emerging from Movement Variability. Retrieved from Forntiers in Psychology: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01903/full