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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Movement Led Approaches (MLAs) in Physical Education (PE)

MLA Pic

Movement Led Approaches (MLAs) – My theoretical description of the efforts of different fields involve in the area of skill acquisition that attempts to look deeper into the systems within the body as it interacts with the context (environment and task) to execute an action that goes beyond the intended outcome as a success factor for learning. While we are tempted to embrace popular social constructivist insights (i.e. learning is about doing and experiencing), more attention is now placed also into considering a more scientific approach that recognises role of the human-task-environment complex systems (most probably non-linear) vis-à-vis more linear central command (e.g. skill acquisition needs to be preceded by a mental representation).

I can’t help but use antagonising acronyms (for those who have enough of clever ideas known by their acronyms and for those who feel such approaches are for the intellectual/experts only) as I reflect all that is wonderful and frustrating in Physical Education (PE) for me. Especially so as I reflect on my reflective journey via social media as a PE teacher. There is an incredible amount of excitement that surrounds PE for schools now (not enough in schools though!). It was not always so progressive or even present before. I am talking about the delivery of a curriculum that works towards the pursuit of health and fitness competencies in the young through movement. The progressive sciences behind popular pedagogical thoughts may have been around for some time but the recent push to want to know more and connect it to practises seems to be very forthcoming. Of course, this is very subjective to my own experience and awareness. It could be I was just late boarding this professional enlightenment train but this reality is also scary as it is possible to actually miss it and not realise!

To a practicing teacher who have yet to be tainted (said in partial jest) with the scientific need to make sense of everything via clear to articulate scientific rules, Teaching Games for Understanding, TGfU, is the mother of them all. This is so for me because it makes the most teaching sense from the easy to embrace social-cultural point of view, i.e. understanding as corner stone of learning.

TGfU – am glad that the founders use a four-letter acronym to reflect its wonderful overarching importance amongst all the three letter ones!

Chronologically, it is not the first or only attempt at consolidating some kind of direction in teaching action skills but it came at the right time when PE is struggling to not just be physical activity sessions that relies on teacher-centred instructions and the believe that exposure is enough to create learning in an educational setting. Now, there is a movement-led revolution in the area skill acquisition. I am not sure how long it has been around or how prevalent it is but this re-envisioning focuses on movement outcomes as secondary and the varied movement actions, including intention, leading to the outcome as primary concern. For many, this is not a consideration, i.e. it is not a major concern to explore what happens between teacher inputs and student outcomes. To be fair, many of us assume we know what happens and that it is a linear computational type programming for movement to occur. Strategies are thus created based on this and not taking into consideration the possibility of a more complex process taking place between teacher inputs and student outcomes. This have the potential to make obsolete many practises that we have. In the spirit of branding everything, I will say that what is very contemporary now are the Movement Led Approaches (MLAs) that really want to explore better the perception and action coupling and its influence on teaching strategies. The wonderful thing of the learning process which I am very sure of is that it is possible to come in at any point of the hypothetical ideal teaching to learning process due to the our human ability to adapt when put in an unstable state. This means that learning always takes place despite and because of us!

I understand TGfU by its almost philosophical premises, after leaving it too long a time to remain almost dormant in my teaching life. It comes also from the social-cultural angle that learning make sense only if it means something to the learner, be it for survival, maintenance or refinement in their everyday existence. These are not explicit scenarios, i.e. survival, maintenance and refinement that occur daily in modern life, nor is it easily replicated, let alone easy to connect to our field of PE. Therefore, it requires some level of movement-led interpretation for learning activity design to bring out those needs and the follow on learning adaptations in some way.

Without a movement-led awareness, comprehending a social-cultural-philosophical under-pinned teaching approach cannot be easily achieved at teacher training but needs a learning experience for the teacher also. It makes more sense to connect social-cultural-philosophical variables to processes we go through, i.e. movement-led as described above, rather than just outcomes.

At times, it is easier to put faith in a scientific underpinned approach represented by cyclical schematics that helps in implementation. This possibly might create a teacher understanding of a pedagogy like TGfU as merely a multi step teaching strategy that is in competition with all the different acronym driven ones available. Inevitably, the need of a comprehensive background understanding is overshadowed by the easier preference to focus on cyclical schematics. It does not help that the academics and practitioners driving each field of research/practise may perpetuate this behaviour by contributing to a versus discourse. Concepts such as approaches, strategies, pedagogies, theories, etc. are intertwined and their true meanings gets conflated, as sincere folks try to compare and contrast without a deeper understanding.

In trying to win the war of consensus, the battle of understanding usually losses. This versus war is an exercise that generates much excitement and discourse that is sometimes also totally ignored by many practitioners on the ground who are usually identified as nuts and bolts people who just do not have the energy, time or inclination to follow such discussions, other than proven and ready-to-use strategies that comes without the academic rift-raft.

The world is a smaller place with electronic connections (e.g. social media, internet, etc.) that makes the search and discussion of knowledge easily accessible. This means that we get expose very easily to the experience of practitioners, academics and everyone else in between who ply their interest in the area via these electronic means. This also means the advent of the fickle practise as much as the in-depth, evidence based ones. Added to this are the proliferation of pedagogical ideas represented by easy to remember acronyms with no encouragement to focus on underpinnings and their complexity.

Part of this revolution is happening on social media. Social media has demonstrated to be one place where experts who are practitioners, academics and the practitioner-researchers interact with each other because of the convenience. It is not a perfect platform as the theory-practise-gap habitus of all still exist within such interactions, but a good one nonetheless. Much has been said about the lack a review process on social media platforms that results in the abundance of self-declared experts who try their best to share their thoughts and experience. This particular criticism may be misguided as live (or close to live) electronic interactions are just not academic journals and therefore do not need academic level standards for discourse. It is a completely different type of information repository that arises with the increase use of social media platforms. These platforms probably serves as a potentially valuable free space for information to be shared that is far superior in its reach than the “50 free copies” of journal sites that are important for the publish or perish culture of academia. I am beginning to see in this movement revolution the existence of a group of academics who embrace social media as a viable source of contemporary practitioner ideologies to support their acadeTeacher Philosophy, Ideology, Values and Beliefs in Physical Education (PE).mic work.

Teacher Philosophy, Ideology, Values and Beliefs in Physical Education (PE).

Curriculum Balancing Act

Recently the role of a personal teaching and learning philosophy came to my fore thoughts again. This elusive philosophy, especially so when I try to make sense of it for myself, is difficult to envision and therefore more symbolic than practical in everyday habits at times. For a long while, I have been reiterating the importance of philosophy in the broader meaning of pedagogy and I realised many times it easier to say than actually realising it to some level of pragmatic understanding.

As usual of a weekend coffee shop blogger, I seek assistance from Dr Google and came across a thought provoking (for me) article by Green (Green, 2000) from almost two decades ago. The field of philosophy and such is not an easy field for me to understand from the perspective of an academic exploration of the nature of knowledge, reality and existence, i.e. ontological and epistemological. Its literal meaning takes a big short cut and makes better understanding for me. Nonetheless, I appreciate this article as it opens up my thoughts bit deeper as I explore the forces behind teaching a bit deeper.

Green’s article explores how philosophical are teachers’ philosophies. Green presented a view of teachers having more of an ideology when practising their craft daily, bounded by the influence of society and culture, something that is shaped largely by being in a community. This is opposed to the concept of philosophy being more of how an individual sees the world in pursuit of their goals. There is a lot more said but I will need time and more knowledge to really get my teeth into this very academic paper, for me at least.

Green went on to describe the findings of a structured interview with teachers and that got me a bit more excited as I digest the findings more easily. He identified the following themes from the interviews: sport, health, academic value, education for leisure and ‘sport for all’. This a very limited study of a small sample of teachers (35) from a specific country but still offered very familiar outcomes. My own very simple survey I did with teachers on thoughts of philosophy makes better sense now as the idea of ideology influences in our routines is considered.

I quote a some points from Green’s conclusion below.

  • Indeed, their ‘philosophies’ appeared more like justicatory ideologies; that is to say, ideologies that served to vindicate teachers’ preferred conceptions of PE.
  • Rather, and for the most part, they appeared an amalgam or complex of teachers’ subconscious predispositions (what, in sociological terms, might be called ‘habitus’) and the practical situations in which teachers found themselves.
  • In this sense, it appeared that teachers’ ‘philosophies’ were more likely to follow practice than precede it in the manner of conventional explanations of the relationship between theory and practice.
  • A third aspect of their ‘philosophies’ was the manner in which the overt emphasis upon enjoyment, the unusual justification for activity choice, and the emphasis upon sports performance (presumably one of the things which discourages some pupils), amongst other things, suggested that teachers perceived PE as somehow different from the rest of the curriculum.

The kind of themes that I will envision when I think of a teaching philosophy are those that puts the learner in a world where learning well is necessary for survival in general, e.g. “learning in a way that allows more self-learning to take place as a survival need”, “learning for understanding as a way to prepare for life”, etc. Green’s observations makes sense, as modern education has become a field that tries to meet the needs of the expected future climate that is closely related to what is brewing now. In that sense, ideologies will play an important part but I hope very carefully guided by strong philosophy. Added to this is the role of values and beliefs. All these are very abstract terms describing our build up self-rules that guides all that we do, explicitly or implicitly. I have no interest or ability in dissecting these terms now but recognize their importance in how we think as PE teachers. As I explore my own teacher existence and how it is impacted by my own background thoughts, I try to at least understand why I have certain strong opinions and find it difficult move away from them, for better or worse.

My personal conclusion of the above is how true it is that as practitioners in PE, we are driven by current needs, values, beliefs and perhaps not enough of original intention as ascertain by original personal and system philosophies. One outcome of this is the popular description of our practised PE curriculum (sometimes not the same as our written curriculum) being ‘a mile wide and an inch deep’. In a way, we do not give enough weightage to core (or gold standard) principles – very subjective also based on personal beliefs, both in theoretical underpinnings and original intention, but rather operate based on the last popular principle or practised experienced. This is tricky stuff. If too much time and energy is put into discovering or refining our philosophical approach to teaching, it may become contrived and impractical. If too little effort is put into it, then we become a profession guided by the flavour of the day. I try pin down my own philosophy, values, beliefs, ideologies (all sort of lump together for this reflection because I am just unsure of the correct description of this teacher affective influence in the background) by looking at recent circumstances and try to figure why I think the way I think. A very small effort to start a much bigger process of self-discovery and improvement.

In a recent discussion on social media, I posted a question on the merits of including e-gaming into a multi-sport event like the 2019 South East Asia (SEA) Games in the Philippines. One of the concerns I have is not only the inclusion but also the strong lobby for it to be called a sport. Like it or not, what we do in school in teaching elements of sports as part of Physical Education (PE) teaching that inculcates the content and practise of recreational movement will be impacted by decisions such as the e-gaming issue. Note: E-gaming is not the only activity that has interesting discussions abound as it seek to join a major multi-national sports event in the spirit of being a sport. For me, I have ingrained in my teaching beliefs the importance of voluntary recreational movements. I have convinced myself the importance of such movements as it seems to be the only kind that exist that does not support survival but rather quality maintenance of life, an important component of a PE curriculum. I also connect this importance to the field of Sports as part of recreational movement, also referred to as physical activities in PE. I definitely need to rework this background thinking if I am going to see novel non-movement activities also being considered in the same light. In the same vein, I am also considering direct strategies from the gaming industry to be used for movement teaching for relevance.

As we create our own self rules (guided by system’s expectation) that shape our approaches in teaching, the desired whys and whats of teaching is considered in tandem with the bigger picture of needs. This is what sets our implementation strategies direction. Recently, I came across quite a bit of discussion on learning development and its structure and order. One view point is the usual ‘old wine in new bottle’ view of some pedagogies in discussion, mainly in areas of emergent learning and strategies based on Ecological Dynamics. Could this ‘versus’ attempts at understanding learning processes be a result of a strong philosophical stance, driven also by present day field (area of expertise) ideologies? (As oppose to going back to core principles from our original intention and theoretical underpinnings.)

This stance for linearity in skill development (not in implementation and planning) or the lack of, non-linearity, can be seen in two ways from my perspective, if you use a philosophical emphasis behind the interpretation. For teaching with expectations in linear development, it is about production style teaching with the focus on showing learners how to achieve success via established and proven solution movements. On the other hand, in non-linear development, it can be interpreted from an organism-context interaction view, meaning the learner is allowed to explore the necessary degree of freedom of the movement solution of a deliberately set-up movement problem through appropriate facilitation. In the former, the teacher exist as direct knowledge creator and in the latter, the context is the knowledge initiator together with an internal coupling process with the important role of an opportunity designer for the teacher.

At first glance, the two scenarios might not show any difference at implementation and from the viewpoint of an observer from afar. I believe that at closer consideration, the two scenarios might potentially lead to very different approaches to lesson design as expected by different philosophical influence, i.e. do I as a teacher dictate the learning or do I as a teacher let you learn from your context? It is the latter philosophical consideration that made me realised that there could be a potentially overlooked considerations compared with the former, i.e. what happens between teacher input and learning? This is where I believe philosophy meets science. Sometimes a philosophical stance can initiate a scientific exploration and vice versa. Both views results in learning and the fact is, as evolutionary beings, we naturally thrive in overcoming ambiguity and quite amicable to imperfect learning scenarios. Both can be part of a deliberate teaching strategy!

When I first started teaching, I spent much time looking at learners’ responses and doing the appropriate teacher instruction correction when not satisfied. Then, I spent just as much time looking at the context, trying figure out what in the environment and task that is preventing the behaviour I am hoping for. Now, I try figure out how learners react to new information and try taking advantage of this to understand what is preventing good learning. In fact, more practical, direct teaching strategies has taken such a back seat for me that I am trying to better balance everything now. This happens not only in lesson design for me but also in my whole approach to seeing our existence and how we learn to exist.

References:

Green, K. (2000). Exploring the Everyday ‘Philosophies’ of Physical Education Teachers from a Sociological perspective. Sports, Education and Society, 109 – 129. doi:10.1080/713696029

 

“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.