A semi-fictional narrative between two Physical Education (PE) teachers on the possibilities of novel insights to movement learning (skill acquisition).
Scene: In a gym during a teaching break, working on the usual glamour muscles, in between sets.
Teacher Popular Styles (TPA):
I used to take psychology in university and will really like to pick it up again to help in my teaching.
Teacher Novel Insights (TNI):
Me too. I used to spend a lot of time looking at traditional psychology via sports psychology. Now, I am amazed at how Ecological Psychology sort of give a new perspective to how we think and behave. The traditional cognitivist idea of psychology gave a lot of credit to the brain for its role as central command to all decision making and planning. So now I am re-looking at much of my teaching practises to see what sense it makes if I were to shift my base understanding of the traditional neuro programming version of our decision making process towards one where we tend to learn rather independently of front-loading attempts and really more dependent on perception and action between the environment and learner. I see this as very important to beginner learners especially.
So what you saying? Can you summarize it in few words? Surely if it is so complicated, it is probably not feasible for us teachers. I understand using the game as a learning platform, putting the learner at the centre of teaching strategies but most importantly providing good, relevant information to students so that they know what to do.
It seems that there may be a need for a mind-shift about providing explicit information or emergent experience first. Definitely can’t say it in a few words as it seems there might be an alternative to how we think we think. This is big! There is stuff out there that just need more time to digest to reflect the complexity of it. For example, now as teachers, we probably imagine that our students store information like a library and we endeavour to build up that library in the head. Our lessons are designed with this role, putting importance to this version of information storage as a means to good learning, meaning if we store it well, we can retrieve it latter for use, i.e. very straight forward information processing via replication. This creates a cognitive and physical duality that we acknowledge impacts each other but unfortunately also creates expectations that the cognitive and the physical can be planned for separately. Added to this is the liberal sprinkling of a third affective component that can be observed at outcome and inadvertently planned for rather independently at times also. All this points to how we think we store and process information in the brain.
What if this is not exactly accurate? By the way, it is difficult to conclude exactly how our cognitive system translate information (past and present) to action at the moment. Depending on what you are looking for, you will probably find evidence for the angle you are biased towards. What if the key to reproducing past information or experience is in the interactive environment we exist and act in?
For example, if we want to teach hitting a pitched ball with a bat, instead of focusing on receiving and storing correct sequential instructions through direct means, we focus on achieving suitable range of movement solutions in practise directly through facilitation by a constraint designed activity that presents the movement problem of interest (hitting a pitched ball) and then trust that the body stores it appropriately for future use.
I am not referring to the higher level of advance holding and action techniques which have a bit more room of frontloading for advance learners due to them already having a solution manifold that allows them to incorporate such instruction affordances (what the instructions are suggesting) when needed.
What do you mean by trust? You mean storing that successful experience in the brain and therefore it will be produced well again? Isn’t that the brain-as-a-library story all over again?
Well, if you think along the traditional cognitive view, you can’t help but say that. Everything seems to start and end at the brain. I am trying to say just forget about that. Trust in the body’s processes to react appropriately in action selection (deciding what to do) and thereafter in action movement (executing that action). Imagine that these body processes come to life when needed to act in a situation. However, this situation needs to give visual, auditory and kinematic information to the body via all the senses. The body perceives all this information (they call it affordance) and reacts appropriately. If it is the first time the body experiences it, it is novel and that experience is kept, not in its entirety, in its component parts in the form of ability to react appropriately to different sub-perceptions in the overall movement created perception. Then at subsequent times, this stored ability is leveraged on to decide if it is needed again in its many combined possible forms (sub-perceptions coming together to solve the overall movement perception problem) or even if it is not needed if the situation is deemed as completely not what experience has ingrained into the body.
Ok but I still see that the experience you talking about as being stored in the brains like a library. Nothing has changed. So the popular good instructions (e.g. explicit and deliberate experience) approach may still be important??!! I understand the need to allow not so explicit solutions to always be the main focus and let them be very adaptable and flexible to the movement problems. But I still see the brain as we know it to be playing an important part and anyway, I don’t see how all this will impact the way I have been teaching. I just need to focus on providing a good experience for the students and it doesn’t really matter to me where that experience is kept and how.
I almost agree on your last sentence. Let the experts figure out where and how the brains store information for use. However, I do believe that an understanding of the cognitive mechanism (not the details) can potentially affect how we design and carry out lessons. If I stop thinking of the brain as a library and give credit to the whole body and its ability to respond and learn from its reactions to environmental conditions, I will put more emphasis on allowing the body to learn by itself. Some call it self-organisation. It is when teachers create problem samples of an eventual learning condition and allow the body to explore solutions. These problems can either have clear outcomes (e.g. I need the ball to eventually end up in this exact spot) with variable roads to it or variable outcomes (e.g. I need to ball to move towards the goal line in no fix trajectory or final placement) with likewise variable roads to it. Anyway, much of our teaching for understanding strategies fits in nicely at the implementation part of the above suggested cognitive direction which I really like!
And the way you think experience is kept for use later does impact the way you design lessons, even if you think it doesn’t.
I don’t think so. My approach is very clear. I present to the learner what is right and correct what is wrong when it is produced. I trust that all that is good is kept for future use by the mind or body or whatever. The longer and the more often you repeat a good behaviour, the more ingrained it is somewhere. Where exactly and how, I don’t really need to worry about. Teacher training never talk to me about it and I hardly hear about this when I attend or engage in professional development. In fact, if you think it is so important, why don’t you come out with a lesson package that is ready made for others to try!
Any lesson packages don’t mean anything if you don’t understand where it is coming from. This is the difference between following implementation strategies blindly and understanding how to create your own strategies. So, the best will be understanding AND trying out strategies. Like I already said, much of our practice is in the right direction. The big question for me is if learning can take place better with a more targeted understanding of the neuromuscular happenings when we carry out our lessons.
I mentioned earlier bit about how if you stop thinking of experiences in the mind as video clips or pictures (cognitivist call this representations) stored in a repository, you might stop wanting to provide experiences that are ready-made picture perfect. What if we accept that we can only store knowledge of sub-actions of the whole movement problem (which is made up of many actions working together to respond to complex problem), not the exact set-piece we envision learners encountering during an actual game? Meaning if we want to build up a successful experience in a tennis backhand, we might go through the usual technical and conceptual understanding facilitation for successful execution by using cues, instructions, activity design, etc. in which learner gets to intercept ball coming in from various positional scenarios. Moving forward, we then expect the learner to produce that same family of backhand movements when needed. We will facilitate this by giving cues and instructions that assumes a movement problem solving perspective rather than replicating a set-piece past lesson (the picture-perfect storage problem mentioned above). E.g. if a learner misses a ball on the non-dominant side (where a backhand will do the job), the facilitative statement to bring out past learning will be, “What do you need to do to reach the ball across your body on the weaker side?”. This will be as oppose to, “Remember what you did for the backhand training last week? Can you use that please?” This can be said to assume that the body remembers a past problem and its possible solution in terms of how to react with an implement (racquet) when ball is coming from an uncomfortable weaker side rather than how a technique is executed regardless of where ball is.
Another example will be feeding balls from the side as a teacher corrects batting technique in a striking and fielding game. This can be seen as a teaching perspective of creating a cognitive scenario of a decomposed movement for storage and eventual use (central command perspective), i.e. batting the ball. The teacher here might be focusing on creating an authentic environment up to the point of ball contact, starting from bat swing without considering game relevant ball direction and its influence. This can be describe as decomposing a skill and working on the decomposed task separately for future expected reproduction. The teacher might move on to feeding ball from the front, a more game relevant ball delivery direction. This time the teacher might allow the learner to react to different ball speed and minute directional shifts. Here, it can be said that the teacher is trying to get the learner to store perception-(sub)action responses (through movement degeneracy) that can be eventually put together in eventual game situation, producing needed response to different pitching variables. Both are useful strategies when used as targeted.
You might say that these are just examples of explicit instructions versus discovery ones. If you think about it, one assumes that perfect set-pieces are stored in a memory bank and the other assumes that your body needs a stimulus (affordance in ecology speak) to initiate a reaction that is problem solving in production, rather than solution reproduction on call. So the body seems to store reactions (problem solving reactions!) rather than the whole picture. Does it make sense?
Sigh, must we really consider so much? It sounds like you are splitting hairs. To me, it is either straight forward explicit teaching or letting students discover solutions by themselves for understanding, albeit facilitated by teachers. I don’t think I need to know more than that.
Anyway, I am very sure how my brain works. When I think about something, the whole image appears in my mind (sometimes in colour!) and it actually moves like I want it to. If I really want to teach well, I believe all I need to do is to build up this repository of images, ideas, movement scene, etc. as I need it to occur. All this is inherent in the lesson designs for learning that I plan for. It is very comfortable and well supported by practitioners to paint the exact picture you want to convey to the students in teaching activities.
I guess this is where we can consider if we want learners to replicate and reproduce or to create their own self-learning (self-organising), productive movement. For this, I believe we are all sort of convinced of already of the right way to go. I guess it is the need to connect this to how we process information coming at us (ecologist call it energy arrays from the environment) that might be a bit far fetch for many to want to consider as it seemingly might make a great impact on our practices and we are all creatures of familiarity.
Let me try explain more, for my own benefit also. About your imagery abilities that you just used as an example, what if I say that every imagery that you think of and its actual representation in your thoughts occur only when you think about it. Just before and after that thought, there is nothing there (or rather it dissolves to some other manifestation). So the act of thinking is the main crux! What happens then at the exact moment of thinking? Can we as teachers benefit by knowing details on it? How do we build up the representations that we can clearly see in our minds when needed, that is the thinking that we are most comfortable with and have for a very long time build up strategies for?
I suggested earlier that we are capable of storing perception-action scenarios, albeit only sub-actions of the bigger movement problem, which are based on the laws of what our body is capable of, existing in our environment. This laws are a mix of natural (physiological, physics, etc.) and artificially (social, cultural, etc.) created ones. I will think of these perception-(sub)action elements as the basic building blocks (reactions to single or limited affordances) of all possible reactions to a complex movement problem that is firmed up by experiences. So the moment we think about (in recollection) or are face with (in actual situation) a scenario, our body puts together all the perception influenced information available from our basic building block repository to put together a story and be able to execute an action, i.e. reactions to multiple affordances. After this situation has passed, the story is dismantled and the building blocks are stored back to whatever form and place it came from. So the full picture may never be stored in its entirety. If this is true, the whole idea of good instructions for good action behaviour reproduction goes out of the window and replaced by appropriate experiences for effective action behaviour production comes in via the building up of the basic building blocks of perception-(sub)action experiences mentioned above.
Do you see how teaching and assessment design might change ever so slightly if a teacher thinks along this way? I say slightly because I believe we are already doing well in wanting students to experience learning rather than be told! It is just understanding better what happens to these complex experiences within our body that allows its use again when needed.
If this was a storyline for a PE blog, I will say YES! But I guess what you saying also supports quite strongly the need to always get learners to explore the solution space, rather than just zero in on the exact reaction which mostly we teachers insist on. With this exact expectations, are the exact mass instructions and planning that very good teacher training and professional development may inadvertently suggest implicitly. Every learner is different and sometimes we do tend to forget that if that is the case, it is difficult to expect similar actions even though game outcomes may be exact. Guess the debate for explicit and emergent learning may need to be understood better and its connection to how we directly or indirectly process the environment can strengthen that balance. I think I inadvertently just DID give that perfect PE blog ending response!
*Bell rings and the brain processes that affordance as needing to be in the next class before mayhem occurs. That scenario picture disappears into its basic building blocks in the recesses of the mind the exact moment after it was put together. *