Reinventing the Game – RtG

Top 40 PE Blog –

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


Learners creating movements or Movements creating learners – in Physical Education


The purpose of physical education is to enable students to demonstrate individually and with others, the physical skills, practices and values to enjoy a lifetime of active, healthy living.

– Ministry of Education, Singapore PE Curriculum

Physical Education is “education through the physical”. It aims to develop students’ physical competence and knowledge of movement and safety, and their ability to use these to perform in a wide range of activities associated with the development of an active and healthy lifestyle. It also develops students’ confidence and generic skills, especially those of collaboration, communication, creativity, critical thinking and aesthetic appreciation. These, together with the nurturing of positive values and attitudes in PE, provide a good foundation for students’ lifelong and life-wide learning.

– Education Bureau, Hong Kong

To pursue a lifetime of healthful physical activity, a physically literate individual:

  • Has learned the skills necessary to participate in a variety of physical activities.
  • Knows the implications and the benefits of involvement in various types of physical activities.
  • Participates regularly in physical activity.
  • Is physically active.
  • Values physical activity and its contributions to a healthful lifestyle

– SHAPE America

All the above requires a full reading at the cited sites to comprehend full expectations of the various bodies.

Sporticus Role of PE

Table 1 – A perspective by @Sporticus citing prominent academics  (shared on Twitter)

Movement creating LearnersTable 2

What sits the heaviest with me at the moment is the role we play as a teacher to students of various abilities, interest, motivation, etc. to health, fitness and interest through physical activities. To add to this quandary, I have been reading a lot of views recently on what exactly are we, as Physical Education (PE) teachers, responsible for and what exactly does PE do for learners (see above)? The latter is very enthusiastically looked into by academics and the former is implicitly embedded in pedagogical discussions. I feel there is an implicit belief that settling either one will sort out both and that the link between them need to be stronger and more explicit.

In my last article, I shared an observation of a little kid and his mother toe-kicking a ball between themselves. I see often in my mixed classes, students manipulating balls (round and oval) differently with their hands or feet that reflects their experience with ball handling. What I am interested in is what exactly is our role if all the above are expecting an intervention from an educational professional like us? If there is this clarity in our roles somehow, does it help in the age-old issues of do we teach, instruct, present, etc.? Does this clarity comes explicitly from the role of PE for learners?

Games are one (a big one!) part of what we do in PE. Is the offering of games a secondary responsibility for us that many times feel like our main job? You can observe this when you have very competent sports individuals coming into PE teaching very naturally as an extension to their playing experience. You can observe this when stakeholders expectations of effective PE are students being active and with game playing as the preferred activity. You can observe this when assessment revolving around game play takes on the main focus for PE.  You can observe this when games teaching focuses on the need to display correct movement without looping it back to learner understanding.

Recently, I was observing a group of kids being taught the back pass in rugby. Cones were laid out in neat rows and as the kids run down the line, they pass the ball to the next person as they move up the practise lane. The back pass involves a very counter intuitive throwing direction for beginners. The big question for me now is do we want ‘learners creating movements’ or ‘movements creating learners’, i.e. do we want potential learners to develop through appropriate movements or do we want the context, and its appropriate movements, to create that willing learner?

As I continue my observation of the young ruggers, it was evident that the passing drill was not a highlight of their morning but taken very seriously by the coaches. The next drill they went through was passes within a square as kids wait in line at the corners for their turn to run across to receive and pass a ball. Disclaimer: It so much easier to comment and critic then being in the trenches with kids!

The traditional teacher will say to correct all non-template movements to optimum ones. Optimum being what is common among top performers, with very narrow margin for variation. These optimum movements are readily available through teachers’ own experience and the multitude available resources on the area. The teacher as a facilitator for movement creating learners might not be so direct but rather find out first what makes a learner want to perform in any specific context. Therefore, if a learner’s desire of needing to pass a ball is more wanting to be a useful contributor to the group they are in, as oppose to wanting to make a perfect throw, focus can be on encouraging that. This may involve strategies to create more such opportunities. If a learner’s motivation moves from useful contributor to an efficient one, technique instructions may come in. I agree that many times, I just want efficient movers before useful contributors! The preceding sentences are over simplified but is attempting to show possibilities on what we PE teachers might endeavour for in activity design, coming from different role perspectives.

In seeking clarity in this, I believe we also are inadvertently on the road to better understand the overall concept of the need for Physical Literacy, the role of student and movement centred teaching approaches, the role of the environment and task we live in engaging us in our outcomes, the role of the learner in perceiving all these, etc. All these are topics of reflections that have taken up quite a bit of my time recently.

 The next big question for me, are the above accepted for a teacher on the ground to spend time reflecting on? On the contrary, is it more prudent that more effort needs to be put into discovering new implementation strategies, exploring tools, getting students to better meet standardised fitness testing, etc.? I have encountered many comments on needing to be very direct in sharing teaching strategies and not be too overtly “academic” in developing them, i.e. nuts and bolts over thinking about what makes things works.

My simple conclusion is that all the above is needed and that is incredible difficult for any single teacher to be this broad in teaching readiness or even awareness.

Just recently, I took over a class for a colleague for a day. It was raining and indoor venues were lacking. I decided to show the class of 18 year olds who don’t know me too well a video on the 2 hour marathon attempt by Eliud Kipchoge. My intention was the lofty aim to discuss energy systems and physical possibilities of the human body. It started out terribly, expected on hindsight – only a very specific group of running aficionados can appreciate lengthy constant running by crazed super-humans. I carried on with the video watching session by interjecting about the pacing system, the hi-tech laser lights on the ground to follow, controversial performance enhancing running shoes, choosing a flat route in a cool climate, equating the running pace to the timings expected for the students’ own 2.4 km fitness testing expectations, etc.  What happen next was incredible to me. The kids was watching a very unfamiliar movement with snippets of information relating to them at some level. They started being drawn in to the video as I fast-forwarded it to the end. They were caught up by what they were watching, aided by the simple story I was providing for it. That short session ended with all being excited as Eliud celebrated on the video after hitting the end just short of two hours. After the video, it was a breeze to add the bits I intended about the energy systems and I finished it off while I was ahead. I now need to think how to better capture the need to learn with appropriate movements next lesson for my own class!

Coming back to ‘learners creating movements’ or ‘movements creating learners’, it is more than semantics if we consider it just a bit deeper (see Table 2). One needs specificity and the other, variation. One skill centred and the other learner centred. One motivates teachers to design strategies and tools mechanically (considering pre-determined optimum solutions first) and the other uses research like strategies for innovations (looking at why the problem occurs first).  Here, it is worth bringing attention to the considerable difference in considering a problem at face value and considering why a problem occurs. Both are necessary and feeds off each. Read for a fairly easy to read article of the toe-drag in sprinting and the role of considering a problem identification cue by looking at the reason behind a it. Sometimes we use problem identification cues as teaching cues.

One is for quick-fix consideration and the other looks into more layered problem solving. Of course, then there is also the non-facilitated movement that hopes to create implicit learning that many may also subscribe to, i.e. movement is learning. In some quarters, this is the ideal learning design, a Zen moment when everything is one. Movement is learning and learning is movement! In the current home based learning environment, a lot has been said how movement at home impacts Physical Education when only uni-directional movement replication strategies are used. Suddenly, with an environmental constraint that prevents socialising and reducing space considerably, we need to re-visit the relationship between physical activity and physical education. Fodder for next discussion!


Physical Literacy and Physical Education

PL and PE

“According to Whitehead (2013), physical literacy can be described as a disposition to capitalize on the human embodied capability wherein the individual has the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge, and understanding to value and take responsibility for maintaining purposeful physical pursuits/activities throughout the life course.” (Whitehead & Capel, 2013)

At a playground, I observed a mother and child kicking a ball to each other. They both are using their front of foot, i.e. a toe kick. I see the ball not always moving in intended direction. The teacher in me was tempted to suggest a correction. Then I assume that the toe pointing kicking movement is probably an automatic response to wanting the ball go the pointed direction. It will probably take a bit more expertise for the child or inexperienced mother to do a lateral positioning of the leg in order to use the side of the foot, probably an uncomfortable changing of body and leg position away from intended ball direction for a child and a beginner. It was just a natural movement to use the toes. It was ok! What happened next was quite a revelation. The mother rolled the ball back with the toes (toes always leading in ball manipulation this afternoon) and tried to balanced ball on top of her foot. The child followed suite! It was an act that I usually associate with much more proficient players but it happened here very naturally within a pure moment of play between mother and child. Physical literacy in progress?

As I explore my thoughts, I am drawn to the continuous debate occurring with regards to the idea of Physical Literacy (PL). Where I come from, the focus at the moment is on Assessment Literacy. PL is not a mainstay explicitly and my own introduction to it as a concept was very late and very rudimentary. My self-understanding at the moment is that the concept of PL is ambiguous to Physical Education (PE) at the research level (more clear evidence is needed, e.g. how PL relates to PE) but makes a lot of sense at the research-practise level of understanding from those who are keen to look at it. As for the on-the-ground practitioner level, thoughts on PL may not even exist. For me, I wonder about the continuous emphasis on progressing sub-parts, e.g. assessment, content, pedagogy; with a much lower focus on overall literacy, e.g. relationship between existing well in this world and its implications on Physical Education (PE) content, pedagogy and assessment. This is not an operational question but rather making sense of what is our purpose in schools if it is not instructing and providing breaks for classroom lessons. Perhaps, hinting at a re-look of the Education in Physical Education. This could very well be what I have been seeking clarity on for a long time without knowing that there is a phrase for it and a whole bunch of work being done for the past two decades at least!

Mark O’Sullivan wrote a useful blog summary of where PL can head towards (read it also for a sense of what is happening in the world of PL discussions) and the view that perhaps we need to shift focus to an individual-environment relationship understanding. This will be less about common milestones and levels to be met and more about how an individual reacts to context when it comes to recreational movement and exploring PL through this relationship via a theoretical framework like ecological dynamics.

One thought that comes to mind with regards to definitions and thus understanding of these process layers, e.g. PL position statements, pedagogy, curriculum, etc., for us in teaching is the conflicting needs of the different stakeholders who drive the overall education scene. To teachers, we are keen on immediate needs clarity on processes like teaching strategies, lesson packages, immediate evaluation processes, clear categorisation of skills to teach, etc. Policy makers will prefer to look for definitions that are overarching influencers of outcome deliverables, e.g. number of activities delivered, obesity level, class sizes, etc. Researchers want ontological and epistemological backing (well researched) of why we need to do what we do, e.g. academic literacy descriptors, philosophical and scientific understanding of skill acquisition, movement needs, etc. All these create much exciting separate conversations that range from the very interesting to the non-existent amongst the various sub-groups of recreational movement stakeholders. It is a big challenge. At the ground level which I identify myself closest to, you might also have professional development entities and strategies that promotes programmes and products that is hugely based on the reproduction learning process, for whom a more elaborate understanding of why we need PL clarity may not be significant enough. Take for example the excitement that comes with data collection tools that supposed to aid students’ learning. Not all data may be appropriate data unless it reflects the way we want learning to take place, e.g. electronic gadgets, tallies of touches or hits may reflect an outcome based approach if it stops at that. Will this trend differ if there is clarity in PL that is picked up by the curriculum? Will our content and assessment behaviour change with PL statements? Last but not least, how much will our pedagogical approach (not just teaching strategies but also how we want learners to learn) change if we have clear PL position statements?

By the way, PL positions are meant for society as a whole and shouldn’t just be about what happens in schools. The lack of accepted PL position statements may result in a potential gap when we strive for an outcome in school but somewhat incongruent with what happens outside school.

One big question for practise in schools may be why the need for such clarity when we are already guided by curriculum. Do we need literacy clarity as an enabler, as a central tenet, for better processes and is it enough to consider it as an outcome only, which means it is already alluded to by the various objectives of a PE programme via its curriculum. This alone probably reflects the big differences in the way we treat PL amongst the different stakeholders. I believe in the need to use PL clarity as an enabler for us to do better. In the PE syllabus in my own professional context, the intend of an effective PE programme is clearly laid out. It suggest a common expectation for all, e.g. movement competencies, health awareness, movement appreciation, lifestyle choices, etc. The expectation of all these will be the acquisition of fundamental competencies which is expected to lead to more complex competencies that will snowball to the expected outcomes of a healthy present and future life aided by recreation movement or physical activities. Whilst all these make good guides to where we should eventually be at, it may not tell us much about how we should arrive at our goals that is person centred, i.e. considering the way we are as individuals and what will makes us move towards these goals. The curriculum can play this role if indeed it is guided by overarching clarity on the need to do so, i.e. maybe via a clear PL position statement. Otherwise, it is back to nuts and bolts of instant gratification.

If you look at the often used definition of PL from Whitehead above, it reflects competencies that are person dependent (different people experience it differently) and this might suggest a need to understand fully the internal rules (scientific, social-cultural, philosophical, etc.) that explains the build-up of such competencies in a person. This might mean that a position statement on PL can only at best describe the what of how we operate in this world in relation to recreation movement. The why and how might need the understanding of theoretical underpinnings of the different mechanisms within us interacting with our context, something which can be easily ignored if we develop statements (PL, PE, Curriculum, etc) literally as prescriptive guides.

Take for example the role of Fundamental Movement Skills (FMS) or any set of sub-needs believed as significant for PL to guide PE programmes. If we focus too much at specific universal milestones for all, a lot of effort will be put into introducing such sub programmes in isolation, given that it is supposed to be building blocks for better outcome eventually. If we consider learner-environment interaction as important (not separating us from our environment), sub-parts will then be considered as active and organic parts of more complex needs. On its own, it is just independent efforts with little impact. In the same vein, my previous post explore primary abilities in movement skills as very much ingrained in context. It is only much later in matured movement education should more isolated practises (something that is merely theoretical due to the nature of being in an environment; you can never be isolated) make an appearance. I will go as far as to say that otherwise literacy takes place in spite of the teacher, a constraint that is literal rather than facilitative.

Consider the position statement recently put out by Sports Australia ( or from Canada ( These are valuable pieces of direction that movement related stakeholders in that country can seek some kind of clarity by. These are also commitments written down formally to ensure that aspects of living well is always in consideration when moving forward in areas relating to access to recreational movement, its impact and healthy living for all.

If I need to re-look my PE role based on a literacy statement like those mentioned above, I will want to know the bigger picture of how, what and why of the key attributes described, e.g. psychological, social and cognitive health; well-being benefits; movement skills, fitness, attitudes, etc. It is important that we realise that such competencies need an experience and that there cannot be too distinct from each other, i.e. that each competency occurs in seclusion. It may seem a like a no-brainer reminder but I feel we do have a tendency to want to always put faith in working on the small bits in isolation before building up the whole picture. This sounds very much like how we sometimes unfortunately also breakdown a complex skill for teaching in isolated small parts. Experience can either be dictated or generated. We either present an experience via replication or deliberately allow responses to stimulus to start off the generating of a learner dependent experience. This will bring into the discussion the differences in our beliefs of movement or competency acquisition. Perhaps that is why it is important to have some theoretical underpinning influence at all stages of recreational movement offering, starting from PL statements and all the way to implementation strategies.


Whitehead, M. E., & Capel, S. (2013). What is physical literacy and how does it impact on physical education? (Routledge, Ed.) Debates in Physical Education, 37 – 52.

Not all skills are equal in Physical Education (PE) – Primary and Secondary Skills

Check this blog out in

Pri and Sec Skills

This reflection is my own attempt at organizing my thoughts amidst the incredible information out there with regards to the sciences in PE, within my own capacity.

The term skill acquisition is a very heavily loaded academic term that leads to a whole interesting area of science and also much contrasting discourse in relation to what we on the ground are comfortable with. At the moment, the aspect of it that catches my attention and impacts my day job is the role of isolated practises versus authentic or relevant context practise sessions. The former is the comfortable teachers-as-experts demonstrating a particular decomposed aspect of movement and working on it until a level that allows putting it together with other sub-skills to make up a whole skill. You notice the impact of the context is absent or assumed ingrained already in the way a skill is suppose to be executed. The latter is with the intention of working on a movement in the presence of the accompanying perception, i.e. the affordance that creates the need of that particular action.

There are many opinions on why relevant practise context is deemed necessary but the main crux being the idea that we are driven to action by our ecology, i.e. our person-environment-task interaction, as that is the mainstay of our perception of the world.

Isolated practises however, relies on our ability to create representations, i.e. we can conjure up in our mind exactly what we plan to do, within our cognitive system. This is something that is well ingrained in the way we think about teaching in any domains. We see ourselves as experts and we provide the necessary information to learners so that they can build up that representation. Many times, we trust that such representations can also be created after successful movements are reproduced in isolation. As teachers, we are well versed in always concluding with an overview that reflects the day’s learning objectives. Recently in school, we debated on the effectiveness of pulling learning points together after an activity as opposed to before or during it. What makes the best learning condition in-situ? My money has always been on the learner needing to be at all times, where feasible and possible, to be aware of the reasons for needing to do something, i.e. a rather teaching for understanding, ecological stance.

This is where conflicting ideas on memory and cognition rears its sometimes confusing head for some. We all know we are capable of thinking and creating all kinds of interesting thoughts and it is not far fetched to extend this to the learning of physical skills. After all, this is the basic fundamental basis for reproduction teaching where we introduce linear information for learners to take in and hopefully reproduce at will, an instruction-centric popular teaching technique for so many domains. So, what is the problem here? Is it not obvious that we can rely on teaching strategies that is mainly front loading of knowledge before execution? For isolated practises, isn’t it sufficient to paint context picture mentally and allow vital skill execution be practised without actual context?

For me, as a practitioner, I consider the above tension as being put together too simplistically. Not all skills (or movements) are equal. This will suggest that it is difficult to generalise how movements are learned if all of them are initiated and produced for different purposes. Again, is it even worth looking into this when it seems that it is just stating the obvious? I think it is important or we fall into this trap where we associate a lot of successful learning to us when learners are progressing despite us. Organic and adaptive learning potentially can happen better when a teacher takes into consideration deeper learning insights in their intervention.

One perspective for me is to look at movements as primary or secondary. I found one reasonable definition (not related to PE) for me online that describes primary skills as skills that without which, an action cannot take place. Think Fundamental Movement Skills (FMS), which I will consider as pre-primary the way I was sold on it. Secondary skills are those that allows an enhancement of an action to adapt more effectively to a context. Primary skills will require the strong influence of context and thus relevancy to achieve a high level of stabilisation (learning to use it as it is meant to). It is difficult to front load information or choreograph primary skills for learning without context. It can be done, e.g. for technique focus, but it may mean little to a learner when expecting secondary skill convergence, e.g. dribbling a ball on a fixed course in 1 v 0 activity and hoping it contributes to actual game. I will reckon that for highly skilful learners, more isolated secondary skills activities helps but not for beginners who need good execution of primary skills, a point of view that my go contrary to traditional cognitive based views, i.e. beginners need to have more isolated activities.

Secondary skills enhances the use of primary skills in the different context necessary, e.g. dribbling a ball on a dynamic course with an end objective (scoring) in a minimum 1 v 1 activity. For such skills, we tend to rely on the traditional part of our cognition called memory. We try build up successful representations by loading information through cues, instructions, demonstrations, activity design, etc. This last statement on building up a representation may be ecologically controversial but reasonable stated for practical purposes. I conclude for myself that movements are never purely just primary or secondary and thus we rely on a spectrum for learning designs.

I believe that if we do not decompose desired movements too much in our teaching consideration, i.e. keeping in mind that primary and secondary need to co-exist to some degree in learning (also in its practical existence), we will always end up with lessons that are never totally isolated and always having that bit of relevancy to an authentic context, i.e. primary and secondary skills. This might sound obvious again but a more serious consideration of this can result in many of our current practises being much richer in the appropriate learning information (not just any information), e.g. uni dimensional drills, lengthy cues, quantitative based assessment (how many times can I touch a ball), etc.

I make sense of the role of representations as a cornerstone of our traditional understanding of cognition by comprehending better the ecological dynamic idea of affordance to include the role of experience (memory) when encountering a complex task. Believe it or not, the idea that we store our experience and simply pull it out when needed is being given much re-thinking now as the idea of cognition and how it seems to operate just like a computer is being challenged.

The interesting perspective of Skilled Intentionality Framework (SIF), (Research by Erik Rietveld, 2015) in the area of Embodied Cognition suggest an enriched notion of affordance to include the interplay between affordances at any one time to present an experienced based response to a known task, i.e. simultaneous coordination with multiple affordances. This seems similar to our traditional view of how memory and experience serve our present actions, i.e. you gain from experiencing primary skills and when a familiar secondary skill (context heavy) is needed, you put the appropriate primary skills together in the right combination. There is a continuum in the way primary skills are put together for any one complex skill. You can only successfully put it together if you have gone through relevant practises, i.e. experience. This will suggest not trying to practise every possible combination of skills in order to reproduce it when needed. One of the arguments against such representation in cognition is that it seems impossible to replicate every possible response by specific scenario practise alone.

The very simple key that impacts learning here is how you present that learning experience, i.e. solely teacher-centric design or via clearly thought out primary and secondary skills that are context-centric. My simple understanding of this area of study is that there is a whole lot more of potential ramifications to our business-as-usual modus operandi when it comes to equipping learners with the right context for learning! I look forward to more clarity in this area of work for myself.

What has all these got to do with teaching PE? I am guess that many of our practitioner colleagues in teaching and coaching will immediately raise an objection to the above as too theoretical or long winded for an experienced teacher/coach who knows exactly what to do without any academic interference. It is a professional development quandary facing many teachers.

The ‘curse’ of academic ‘interference’ does exist at times. I find myself spending a lot of time thinking of issues like the above away from the classroom without the full opportunity to test it out on the field, despite my job as a teacher. When I do head to a classroom, I sometimes, too often I think, catch myself thinking of teaching only along the corridor while sorting out teaching logistics just before a lesson. This behaviour is a common practise amongst teachers and something that is probably accepted when PE is meant only as physical activities provision sessions, not educational, and enough professional development already existed from past teacher experience. The moment we start to think about learning processes within a learner as a more intricate process and not just implementation strategies outside of the learner, then we start considering the qualitative response to our interventions as casual-effect relationship rather than correlational. It becomes “This happened because I activated a learning process within the learner which resulted in that outcome” vs “This happened because I did that”. The latter is a two layer understanding vs the former more comprehensive one. We have to then consider seriously that learning happens because of the direct relationship to the learning environment and that we facilitate that situation. This will change the slant of many of our interactions with the learner as we placed ourselves outside the immediate learning arena. Our job is still vital as we are the ones who design the whole learning experience and not be obstacles to learning.


Research by Erik Rietveld. (17 December, 2015). Retrieved from


Reinventing the Game for Teaching in Physical Education (PE)

RTG Revisited 1

Fig 1

RTG Revisited 2

Fig 2

As I took an overseas journey with one of our elite 17 year old football player to join his team in an international tournament, he shared his perspective on what is putting him off from PE. I paraphrase him, “I spent much time in PE doing drills…I play maybe one game in a period of about 5 weeks, with the rest of the time doing drills…I use to play volleyball happily with my schoolmates until they started teaching volleyball in PE, after which we only practise hitting the ball against the wall…in volleyball, the teacher introduce the one bounce rule but we are more than able to hit without the bounce and we don’t have a choice to take away the rule…” I can tell from his anecdotes that he has teachers who are trying their best to ensure teaching is happening but perhaps overlooking some aspects of being game and student centred. There is the need to maintain competence, autonomy and relatedness that allows for that internal motivation for students. I dread but have to admit that I might very well have skipped quite a bit of this few aspects for my classes. The need to balance between creating fun, joy, learning, etc. is so important and is a formula that is definitely organic and in the need of constant formulating for teachers. Most of our learners are much lower in competency and autonomy as compared to the above football player and will need much more innovation in teaching.

My last post talked about the hypothetical Movement Led Approaches (MLAs) in a tribute to all the wonderful theories that attempts to guide our practise. One belief I have is that even the best thought out theory needs a stamp of approval from its intended users. In our field, there are times that the seal of approval remains evasive, as we, the practitioners, are just too busy in our field to recognise the importance of being current in necessary knowledge. It is a tough battle that probably results in the theory-practise gap that we often talk about.

Recently, my professional learning network on social media (an ever-questioning Swedish professor!) pointed out the research area of phenomagraphy and the Variation Theory of Learning. Wright and Osman, (Wright & Osman, 2018) quoted Ference Marton (1981), describing phenomagraphy as a qualitative research specialisation which focused on “content-oriented and interpretative descriptions of the qualitatively different ways in which people perceive and understand their reality.” When compared to our more familiar constructivist paradigm, i.e. learners construct their knowledge from experience, phenomagraphy includes taking a step backward (or forward) to figure why the same content is understood differently, perhaps allowing us to understand social constructivism better. The concept of discernment and therefore being aware of a possible solution from a not as feasible one comes to mind. Therefore, discerning ability plays an important role in learning and it was disected further to explore what allows that better, i.e. through the Variation Theory of Learning. The paper being referenced here does not deal with Physical Education (PE) (the stretch to movement skill acquisition may or may not be significant possible) and is written from a social perspective that puts emphasis on the environment of the learner and not individual differences, which is enough for me put it to a PE context. It looks at the existence and meaning of awareness and thus possible learning.

Let me quote these lines from the Wright and Osman (2017) paper;

“According to Variation Theory the theory, a meaning always presupposes discernment and discernment presupposes variation (Marton & Pong, 2005). We can only discern a new meaning through the difference between meanings (Marton, 2015). “Every feature discerned corresponds to a certain dimension of variation in which the object is compared with other objects.” (Marton & Pong, 2005). Its central conjecture is that “meanings are acquired from experiencing differences against a background of sameness, rather than from experiencing sameness against a background of difference” (Marton & Pang, 2013). According to Marton (2015) “The secret of learning is to be found in the pattern of variation and invariance.” The pattern of variation and invariance in teaching does not guarantee learning but makes it possible. ”

The pattern variation and invariance mentioned above suggest that in order to learn, what is critical is first the ability to be aware that something needs to be learn via discernment in the learning design, i.e. what works well and what not so well in contrast. These discernment features are alternatives presented with activity design and does not support the fixed, one-solution learning activity where no alternatives are presented that allows for that discernment. This suggest an optimal learning environment that needs exploration of possible solutions in order for learning to be locked-in meaningfully. A simple outlier example given was that one could not understand colour if there was only one colour!

I am going to quote a few more lines from the paper again as it is very clear as it is;

The notion of the ‘object of learning’ is further specified by Pang and Marton (2005) as the 1) intended, 2) the enacted and 3) the lived object of learning. The intended object of learning, the capability that is intended for students to develop in relation to a subject matter content. The enacted object of learning refers to making the object of learning available to the students to learn in in the classroom. The lived object of learning refers to the ways in which the object appears to the learners.

The above screams to me our practitioner emphasis on the first two points and a big disregard or ignorance of the last point, the lived object of learning. Our teacher training and experience focuses a lot on being aware of what needs to be taught and presenting that to the students. Many of our formal structures in planning and evaluation are rather good in presenting this flow that is expected to allow learning. I call it the teacher input-student output flow of expected learning that may inadvertently ignore what happens between teaching cues and learning. While I use the word “between” which might suggest only teacher and learner variables, it is clear with the areas of expertise that I have been leveraging on for understanding that important information from context and internal processes comes together and even from further afield sometimes, i.e. social-cultural factors.

Quoting again;

Teaching involves making judgements of what is to be learnt, identifying the necessary conditions for learning and organizing educational practices to support learning. (Marton, Tsui et al., 2004). If teaching is truly focused on improving student learning towards expanded awareness of different aspects of reality, the teacher needs to understand what their students understand about the content about which they are learning. What is critical for teaching is thus not their general subject knowledge or pedagogical knowledge, teaching style, methods, skills or competences in general, but what they intend their students to learn, what they understand their students’ need to learn so that can develop their understanding of the object of learning and how they see teaching can help their students’ learning. This requires understanding of different ways in which students make sense of the content prior to, during and after teaching. Furthermore, it requires continuous assessment of the different ways in which the content is understood by the learners in relation to the aims and continuous revision of plans to further improve students learning. (Marton & Booth, 1997; Marton et al., 2004)

All these are the latest in my pursuit of understanding the context better for learning. Long ago I created a framework to help deliver teaching strategies for the teaching of games, Reinventing the Game (RTG). This framework looks at games from four perspectives; Passing, Scoring, Interception and Positioning (Replacing the original word Movement as I realised the incredible overarching significance of this word in the world of PE! – see Fig 1) – PSIP. These perspectives in its offering to students can represent rules and/or desired action-behaviour. Of course, this needs to be presented via effective pedagogy. The overarching initial desire for me to categorize all learning consistently and conveniently is to allow a familiarity of common themes between games for students in their learning and for teachers in their teaching. Over time, I find that such categorisation also allows a systematic planning and implementation framework as I discover and learn more in the field of teaching and learning, even after two decades of service. The realisation came later but I realised that RTG was also a personal philosophy of teaching where I grappled with understanding the seemingly simple elements of a game and what it takes to make games, as part of physical activities, a vital part of any learners’ life. It is about learning for understanding and creating enough ability in a learner that skills are always being generated as a mainstay of teaching as opposed to decomposing movement as primary.

Another perspective are the actual descriptors used in PSIP. They are words that equates easier in the typical vocabulary for a learner and thus understanding, when it comes to games. They are easy descriptors that can be built on for necessary complexity depending on learning stage. At the moment much of our learning in games are usually categorised into the terms defensive and offensive. For me, these usually results in a technical perspective that may not seem game-like as opposed to passing, scoring, interception or positioning. Of course, we still built up all learning to these two important elements, i.e. defensive and offensive. The other thing I notice is that any learning that involves at least two of the PSIP elements becomes game-like and representative, albeit modified, of an actual game situation. It also sorts of keeps me in-check when I spent too much time on single element activity, i.e. isolated unidimensional drills, and neglect adding a purpose for understanding for the skill being taught. E.g. while I try understand action-behaviours in terms of the four perspective above, I absolutely do not expect responses in the four areas separately to gauge learning. It might end up not being relevant and too far off authenticity to effect good leaning progression.

A key point here is that order and linearity in teacher thinking and planning does not represent the non-linearity and complexity of actual learning and thus movement in learners. I endeavour to use RtG to allow me to progressively plan for needed variability in solution exploration presented through carefully thought out relevant problem scenarios. Order within the disorder. While my learning design may involve minimum two of the four perspectives of PSIP, attempting relevancy to game context, the focus of learning for the activity can be just one of the areas.

As I look deeper into concepts of affordances (what possibilities the context present to the learner), cognitive theories (traditional vs ecological/computational vs perception-action/indirect vs direct perception), social constructs in learning (learning for understanding via experience), etc., I realised that all these are part of the big picture and that a basic guiding framework helps in supporting implementation – see Fig 2. A framework is needed to help guide if you have a group of learners facing you for PE tomorrow, i.e.

  • Where (where in a learner’s journey is something needed),
  • What (what the learner needs at the above point in time),
  • How (how we delivering what the learner needs) and
  • Why (why is what we are doing effective and needed for the learner’s understanding).

While the where and what can be guided directly by a framework like my suggested RtG, the how and why are supported by our own professional expertise in matters of pedagogy and their underpinning sciences.


Wright, E., & Osman, R. (2018). What is critical for transforming higher education? The transformative potential of pedagogical framework of phenomenography and variation theory of learning for higher education. JOURNAL OF HUMAN BEHAVIOR IN THE SOCIAL ENVIRONMENT, 28, 257 – 270. doi:

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


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.


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.


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

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: 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 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

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 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!