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.

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Is Physical Education (PE) Universal?

So recently, it has been crazy. The amount of administration to support teaching seems to have almost overwhelm actual direct teaching matters. It is almost seems that because there is less direct focus on teaching but nonetheless an incredible amount of very genuine and sincere efforts to prep for eventual teaching scenarios, we drop the metaphorical ball of ensuring learning takes place. The preceding words do sound like a tired teacher rather than reality. However, encouraging events that happened recently was one sharing at an ASEAN (Association of South East Asia Nations) sharing opportunity. Another, was a request by a committed teacher-training establishment from a infighting suffering country requesting for help in wanting to implement a more comprehensive physical education (PE) training programme and lastly, a local nation-wide sharing opportunity that is yet to take place (at point of writing this paragraph). Do we need more space and time to think of teaching and learning?

All the mentioned recent events for me are encouraging because these are stuff that drives me but still overwhelming because of the need to carve out time to have the motivation and energy to want to embark on being better at it. Something I realised recently that enforced a long held belief, we need time to think about teaching, time that is not indicated in some scheduled weekly slots labelled “Professional Development Time”. It is space and time that comes with joy and satisfaction in teaching and learning for teachers. There is no amount of scheduling that will provide this time.  Rather there is a need for a whole village of teaching support, inspiration and motivation that will spark these spontaneous occasions of thought and reflective inspiring moments. My recent class experiences may be telling me that I desperately need this time.

There needs to be a very strong belief in our attempts to educate physically and this means much more than ensuring physical fitness and teaching a certain number of games. Many a times we unfairly relegate our efforts to merely ensuring physical fitness and the teaching of X number of games. We do not need teachers trained over multiple years to do that, honestly. Our roles are more complicated than what we give ourselves credit for.

The request for help from the small foreign teacher-training centre was eye opening. I have long believe in the idea of physical literacy that is connected very closely to existing cultural social environment. The needs of that country are very different from what I was brought up in. The centre’s main administrator (a Singaporean) was sharing how she introduced long distance running and the reactions her trainee teachers faced when back in their villagers doing long runs. It made almost no sense for a rural village deep in the outback wanting their residents spent precious energy running for recreation. The concept of running for fitness appeals to the individual trainees but rejected by their village culture. For many in the developed world, we might spent time on running as a vital part of PE. So is PE even necessary for such movement-for-survival culture? Can we transplant a PE training programme that is probably heavy in consistent outcomes across individuals to a culture that have very different concept of movement for recreation and living well? What is evergreen and overlapping in our needs and theirs? Definitely not fitness and optimum movement solutions I think. The preceding questions are good for anyone trying to figure out what they spending their entire professional life doing as PE teachers.

Corbin (Corbin C. B., 2021), in a very recent exploration cited historian Roberta Park, in the late 1980s, as predicting PE to be the renaissance field of the 21st Century, just like medicine that blossomed in the 20th century after being in the shadows before that. This is a very lofty ambition to pin to a subject which started out as mainly movement replication that was heavily influenced by gymnastics and athletics, described in the paper as originating from European countries. In the 20th century, Park suggested that PE morphed into sports-dominated PE. Park made the renaissance  comment in the believe that as we research deeper into the needs and wants of PE, without doubt it will have to take on a more complex layer for individual development.

Corbin went on to mention the emergence of Conceptual Physical Education (CPE) as means to deliver knowledge, especially higher-order thinking. CPE is delivering physical skills together with the knowledge of what and why. This was initially also referred to as Fitness Education (FE). Corbin tracked the history of these PE approach in the United States of America and mentioned programmes that attempted to implement this push to leverage on PE more than what it was. In the USA, such attempts have been on-going for many decades and includes college level PE offering. They are ahead of many in terms of exploring longitudinally and living through the growth of PE. Incredibly, the Society of Health and Physical Educators (more known as SHAPE) was founded in the 1880s.

Corbin went on to recognised the recent emphasise on Physical Literacy (PL) as being aligned to the direction on CPE in the area of developing knowledge that allows the correct decision making when it comes to personal wellness. This is an interesting paper, long and probably not too attention grabbing to those not on a mission to connect the past to present for reflection. My purpose in delving into it very superficially is to really part of figuring out where we are at the moment. Sometimes it scares me to think that I have merely been babysitting play without a clear educative purpose. Just like a classroom teacher who works towards a topic at any one time, what are our directions? Just like a classroom teacher, we also have the dilemma of how to ensure deep learning and replicating desired solutions. Unlike a classroom teacher, our broad yet differentiated aims means that every student has a different outcome. What we can try to do is to deliver a consistent enacting and thinking process for students to develop in expected areas, albeit in their own directions.

I relooked at some data that I collected from my cohorts some time back on what PE means to them. Bit worrying for myself, I see nothing explicit or directly aligned to where I think PE should be via the students’ perspective. The data suggest a big emphasis on fitness activities expectations (externally regulated), on wanting to be with friends (relatedness), on wanting to play games of own choice (autonomy), etc.

I was probably not asking the right questions for my expected findings and even if the questions were more valid to my concerns, I expect responses will still be similar, i.e. away from explicit awareness of learning taking place. I don’t expect learners to be clear of the learning processes they going through at first, focusing only on their final successes in skill and knowledge acquisition. Teachers are the ones who should be clearly aware of learning processes taking place. Without teacher awareness, final movement outcomes may not directly point to most effective intervention. Successful teacher intervention in predetermined direction requires deliberate emphasis on learning and this takes time. Quick outcomes are usually preferred due to time constraints with short term learning taking place probably in spite of our efforts.

Works Cited

Corbin, C. B. (2021). Invited Commentary: Conceptual physical education: A course for the future. Journal of Sport and Health Science(10), 308 -322. doi:

Redundancy and Degeneracy in Teaching for Physical Education (PE)

I find these two words, Redundancy and Degeneracy, keep cropping up in my mind as I explore and delve further into how people adapt to the world they live in to hopefully get a better idea of learning. The words sort of represent a short cut for me to understand much of what is sometimes said about skill acquisition and learning in PE. Probably without giving justice to a proper definition, Redundancy refers to the fail-safes we have in systems to prevent too much reliance on any one process. This is vital in artificial systems and seems to be likewise in us too as complex systems. Degeneracy is a characteristic description borrowed from other sciences and suggest that different structures within a system can perform the same function or yield the same output.

These pair of words may sound simplistic and maybe even having negative literal connotations at first, especially if you have never encountered it with relation to learning and probably off-putting to someone who wants to teach better and got no appetite for seemingly obscure concepts. To me, these words points to the reason for thriving and successful ecological (living things and PE for us) and artificial systems (the wonderful technology out there). I do not claim to understand it fully but I realised my impression of these words are heightened continuously as I explore more of why learners do what they do. In an analogous way, I feel that we also need to build in Redundancy and Degeneracy within our approaches to teaching.

So recently, I did the usual, after a long while, and type out my topics of interest (i.e. ecological, physical education) into a journal search site and came across a paper by Rudd ret al, An ecological dynamics conceptualisation of physical ‘education’: Where we have been and where we could go next. (Rudd, Woods, Correira, Seifert, & Davids, 2021). It was a paper published in a respected Physical Education (PE) practise journal, Association for Physical Education (AfPE) of the United Kingdom (UK). I mentioned the journal to emphasise the mainstream acceptance to wanting to explore a perspective of PE that might be uncomfortable. This paper explore the ecological perspective to the complexity existence that skills learning takes place in, i.e. why and how movement emerges. This is perhaps opposed to the more palatable perspective of skills learning as solely mechanical and existing in a ‘simple’ environment of learner and teacher, i.e. how movement is created. This paper identifies the scientific areas of ecological psychology, dynamical system theory, complexity sciences and evolutionary biology as contributing knowledge in developing a theoretical scaffold, i.e. ecological dynamics, to understanding the phenomenon of emerging actions, grounded in comprehensive research. In easy to understand terms for me, it can be about education through the physical interacting with the world, when considering implications to PE.

Why this paper appeals to me at this point of my own professional journey? It is because it summarises in an understandable way of where we potentially need to explore much more of, as we ourselves expand on allowing our learners to explore their potential. This further exploration as teachers is nothing new and something we seem to always endeavour to in paper exercises but always not having the time to in reality. This Rudd paper (no pun intended) is worth spending some time on as a reflective way to look at what we have been doing and how to improve. However, as much satisfaction I get from this paper, I also realised the possibility of colleagues reading it going on defensive mode that is quite the usual in much academic sharing situations where there is a hint of  ‘either this or that’ implication.

It was good to be led to very interesting summaries of our reliance on Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) (internal, external and germane cognitive load) and Fitts and Posner’s (cognitive, associative and automaticity stages) skill acquisition model. This has been a big influence on how we have been practise teaching whether we know it or not, at least for me it still is to some extent. Basically, a lot of the responsibility for handling knowledge, and therefore skill acquisition, is placed on how our brains, the anatomical structure within our skull, seemingly manages it. In PE, there is even the added conundrum where we as teachers may work on this cognitivist view while our fellow stakeholders sees PE as strictly a physical only endeavour to occupy students when their ‘cognitive load’ reaches breaking point from the class-based subjects.

What this paper examines is a re-envisioning of how we can involve the learner in a teaching situation, to re-balance better the traditional way of creating learning that is based mainly on what is happening within the learner. This re-balancing also needs to involve the world in which the learner is attempting to be better in. It is more a journey taken together with the teacher through carefully thought out lesson designs that consider task-learner-environment.

The concept of non-linear development comes in. It suggest the not so direct path that a learner takes in acquiring skills. While the planning and implementation strategy of a teaching approach is orderly and perhaps even be considered linear, the development of the learner within that structure may have to cope with non-linearity within the learner, between learners and all the time considering the relationship with task and environment. An example for this is when different students develop at different pace and they might not always mimic established, teacher-led techniques at their initial learning phase as their most natural progression. In addition, skills being taught means very little to the learner without focusing on a purpose that makes sense to the learner. This purpose connects to the role a task plays in creating meaning to the life of an individual, represented by a collective perspective to some extent (for practicality, we need to normalise for groups of learners at times). For example, we understand the role of play creating joy. How do we illicit the same feeling joy through play in crafting a purposeful task, if our intent in the learning process is as such?

We are also aware that understanding a concept creates the motivation to want to ‘learn’ more and thus will do well to offer it in our lesson designs. The ecological approached espoused in the papers, above and below, try to hypothesise the way we create movement, emerging solutions, as a result of needing to meet the requirements of what is meaningful to our learners.

I believe that not considering all the intricacies mentioned will still develop the learner but it happens in spite of our attempts in encouraging learning. After all, learning is an adaptation and overcoming mechanism. The difference is the effectiveness of deliberate facilitation of learners’ adaptation and learning (a causal-effect approach) as compared to one that occurs almost incidentally but credited to our practises (correlational).

Some of the authors above, together with Rob Gray – a very active practitioner/academic in perception-action work (ecological dynamics approach to skill acquisition), also published another paper that borrowed from the Social Anthropology based concept of Enskilment from Ingold (as cited in the paper). This paper suggest an Ecological-Anthropological Worldview of Skill, Learning and Education in Sport (Woods, Rudd, Gray, & Davids, 2021). Enskilment cuts through the usual division of mind, body and the world we operate in. The three components of Enskilment are Taskcape (the task environment and its intricacies), Wayfinding (discovery via the whole person interacting with context) and Guided Attention (the expert/teacher guiding). The two papers above have a similar message, as similar as two different scientific perspectives can be, written by mainly the same people. The former paper considers processes within the body to make sense of context interactions while the latter starts off with looking at interactions first to make sense.

Both papers may not be so well received by practitioners (teachers on the ground) not used to the related domains of studies cited to bring out the ideas, even though I feel the ‘story-telling’ approach of Social Anthology connects to us better. This brings to my mind the shame of having to miss so much valuable insights if we do not take risk with our professional development broadening.

Will looking at a behaviour, adaptation, learning, etc. with a wider view something we are comfortable with as practitioners? In the spirit of degeneracy, can we accept that being open to the complexity of even the processes that govern complex systems will help in our teaching mission. Not specifically looking for alternative structures but rather parallel structures working in tandem to accomplish purposeful movement. Perhaps with such thinking, we can better build in redundancies into our teaching, to meet ever changing learner needs within stable and unstable context.


Rudd, J. R., Woods, C., Correira, V., Seifert, L., & Davids, K. (2021). An ecological dynamics conceptualisation of physical ‘education’: Where we have been and where we could go next. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 293 -306. doi:

Woods, C. T., Rudd, J., Gray, R., & Davids, K. (2021). Enskilment: an Ecological-Anthropological Worldview of Skill, Learning and Education in Sport. doi:

So what now in Physical Education (PE)? A personal reflection.

Physical Education and Physically Educate

Recently, a few encounters got me revisiting a few problematic themes for me.

In a student-led and designed activity for a leadership programme, a group of student leaders introduced the touch-rugby pass as “you can only pass the ball backwards”.

  • These are students who went through our Physical Education (PE) system and the cue/rule they used was a direct observable expectation of a pass which they conveyed without modification to their peers. Quite a few of the students were throwing the ball by first turning around and passing it backwards, still toward their opponent’s end-zone, meeting the given cue exactly.  I have been lamenting on this for our practise for some time, i.e. how we introduce movement evaluation cues directly as teaching cues to our learners. Much of the cues we derive from ideal movement solution may mean little to novices who are still exploring their own range of movement adaptations.

I ended the student leaders’ session by taking over and asking the students the following questions as a simple experiment on cues for learning for me;

  • Do they know what and where their end-lines were?
    • Can they differentiate where their own end-lines were and that of their opponent’s?
    • Will they understand if I say “you can only pass the ball parallel to the end-lines and towards their own end-lines”?
    • How does the ball move towards opponent’s end-line if they need to heed the previous passing advice?

I stopped at that and will have liked to follow up on this at the next possible session. My take and hope is that such an approach actually makes more sense to novices even though it seems like a lot of effort just to explain the passing-back rule. It makes more sense because we are connecting clear guides that connects to the overall game by putting in true (not relative) directional words in the communication. (I also wont suggest using negative cue, e.g. Do not throw the ball forward.)

Our cognition probably adapts better if we relate a cue that connects to some layer of an action that relates to an external outcome, e.g. move towards the side-lines, go to space that is not defended, pass ball over opponents, target the side that your team-mate is waiting, etc. Reason for this being learners need to understand the consequence of a needed action to the task and environment. These are opposed to cues that are internal to the learner only, e.g. backwards, above your head, below your waist, bend your hands, lift your stick, etc. You will notice the latter cues are usually what you will use to evaluate a technically ideal movement solution for your own evaluation of learning success of the learners. This is an extremely popular way of teaching for many.

  • This brings to the forefront for me the role of cognition and its influence on how we teach. Without making this paragraph a whole chapter on cognitive models, I still strongly support the idea of cognition as embedded in what we do. This may point to the possibility that our understanding of learning (a cognitive process) does not embrace enough the internal processes that happens. For example, direct teaching sometimes involves introducing a learning objective based on an external need of someone else that has little to do with what the learner needs to comprehend and therefore enact what is needed in relation to task, environment and learner’s value proposition, i.e. task makes sense only because its realised as an activity that adds value to the learner’s life at that point. This happens usually as a consequence of separating cognition and the physical to the detriment of their real existence.

When discussing a touch-rugby (this game seems to always awaken in me much thoughts!) session with a colleague, I asked about a drill that he used which I developed for myself as a result of much effort in figuring out what works best for the learners.

  • It was a reverse interception game where the team with the ball attempts to tag the team without the ball. I used it to encourage effective passing of the ball primarily. So, instead of being under pressure of interception while passing, they are now in a position to have more time to plan a passing strategy to tag their opponents.

My colleague told me that it was an established drill that he picked up from his own rugby training and he found it very useful.  This is where I lamented the long route which I took in figuring it out for myself as oppose to being able to just picking it up from an expert course or book much earlier. On reflection, I realised that I probably just wasn’t in the right frame of professional development when I was younger and probably had little interest in looking at teaching further than breaking skills down exactly into bits for teaching. The value of learning from understanding is true even for us teachers except that we are expected to expedite this for the benefit of effective teaching the soonest.

Someone commented online that I mentioned once that “Fun is not learning but a by-product of it…”

  • This added an impetus to my own recent reflection on what has changed or happened for me all these years. Ever since I first had the realisation while teaching of the common recurring themes of Passing, Scoring, Interception and Positioning (use to call this Movement) that keep cropping up for me, I have gone through much realisation. I started out using these labels as rule modification guides, adding in action behaviours a bit later and finally connecting these categories to the science and art of overall development and learning that may not be so linear.

Back then, movement was a simple straightforward action leading to an expected solution and now it is a whole philosophy and science of why, what and how we move in life. In the same vein, I think I need to reflect what has changed for me as a teacher on the ground. I realised my shifting from a technical aspect of Physical Education (PE) to a philosophical one. Being a philosophically guided teacher is not a popular choice in a busy school environment. Many of us are driven by the explicit love of selected sports with an unclear jump to needing to teach movement as a broad life skill, resulting in PE teachers finding joy in teaching only certain games. This is often enough for a PE teaching career but I see changes arising where more depth is needed from us.

My well-meaning colleagues yet again commented that they find it difficult to understand what I am trying to share.

  • I am not sure if this is a result of a nuts and bolts culture where we want instantly workable solutions or not towards early principle understanding of why things work. I realised my deficiency in providing the former and lack of clarity when sharing the latter. It is not a case of wanting to be academic but rather just a very deep-set belief that it is important to understand the whys of behaviour. My ideal situation is to able to work with an expert practitioner who believes in the whys as much as I lack focus in the whats and hows. I believe our professional development climate also need to reach this balance of expertise awareness and practise. It is a struggle to find this in a busy school culture heavy with admin and short of time.

One drawback in my Professional Development is that I had a very technical one as a personal choice. It was all about technical qualifications from bodies that are run with very little or no reference to pedagogical consideration, usually by non-teachers or specific activity experts. It was qualification courses that are usually attended by very motivated and proficient people who absorb technical knowledge like sponges, very unlike what our learners experience in schools. They were more appropriate for after-school activities than PE lessons I realised, unless there is some conversion process that we use with our pedagogical understanding of learning processes.

Teaching has started out for me as a natural transition of someone who had an active physical experience and wanting to carry on that lifestyle, without any clear explicit thoughts on wanting to nurture others. In my work environment back then, I tried charting a path on wanting to be a good administrator rather than a good teacher, realising on hindsight. I have yet to reach either but clearer now on how important the latter is, years later but I guess never too late.

For a long time, I felt it is important to be scientific, driven by a sense of awe of scientific work rather than learner needs. Later on, I realised how much more the science makes sense when the philosophical backing is strong, e.g. a student learning how to run into position to receive a moving leather projectile technically and scientifically seems very simplistic and unnecessary until we present it together with the beautiful game. The game is such only when we realised its contribution to an individual’s life. We make a big assumption when we assume this is a given or that just going through the motion of a technical lesson, movement appreciation automatically takes place. A philosophical position for me represents a powerful force that influences internal personal and professional compasses in whatever we do.

Recently in a sharing, the issue of dealing with students who do not meet specific technical outcomes, i.e. not able to execute a skill, was brought up. If we are focused on content and assessment as a 2-part process, the struggle to find the best strategy to teach a specific skill will keep cropping up as we go through learners with very varied abilities and expectations that are beyond needing to show an action because the teacher says so. If we throw in pedagogy into the ring with content and assessment as a continuous cycle (not a linear one starting from one of the components) of equal partners, then we will have more aligned teaching practises to what we want to assess, perhaps lessening the issues of how to teach a specific skill. If we developed pedagogy closely with the sciences of learning and the role of the individual in a developing society/environment, then we might not have such specific technical outcomes as primary but rather as secondary indicators only, second to the more important demonstration of understanding why any selected technical expectations are deemed as milestones.

Then, there might be a push away from counting attempts, mimicking model movement answers, etc. and a bigger focus on the possibilities of the human body learning a necessary life-skill. This does not mean that we have a bunch of learners who can only recite verses of understanding but useless in play. The two are not dichotomies and we need realisation that it can easily mutually complementing. This issue parallels attempts we see in education when we try to separate the mind/cognition and the body. The mind is not an anatomical structure but a function that exist through whole body action.  

I have long subsume game under the bigger umbrella of recreational movement. I have to almost agree that this may not be necessary as a condition for an effective lesson designer. However, I do strongly believe that there needs to be a physical activity – game – movement philosophical/social/scientific approach (is this Physical Literacy that clarifies the value proposition mentioned in earlier paragraph?) that needs to appear in every teachers’ training or early experience in PE.

We need to move PE away from it being considered as just an opportunity to keep students busy and help them meet the necessary movement quota for healthy living. In the preceding sentences, it reflects a common issue of equating physical education to physical activities, daily exercise requirements, keeping student physically active as an attempt to recuperate the cognitive, etc. These all should be secondary indicators of desired outcome that are useful but do not define or prescribe the intervention. This happens when we want quick results in observable proxies of healthy living, which are not valid, it does not cause healthy living habits, or reliable, it changes at every measure depending on what behaviour you are orchestrating at the moment.

Are internal learning mechanisms (not observable learner output) influenced significantly by environment, task and teacher in Physical education (PE)?

I was watching a semi-pro football team training recently. They definitely spent a fair amount of time building up their capacity in various developmental aspects through different drills and activities. Especially in the area of set pieces and fitness from the short time I manage to observe. Different people were leading different groups. I can sort of make out who the coach, the physical trainer, the assistants, etc. were. They were working with the different groups with different expectations with eventual outcomes probably about contributing to overall play. Picking out any one activity, I try to consider if I will use it for my own students during Physical Education (PE) and the conclusion was probably not exactly but modified to meet an objective that probably wasn’t the original intention of the football team’s. This is also always a thought when I observe my peers at work. I try looking closer at our differences in the way we handle teaching. That got me thinking about how we always seemingly manage to do the job regardless of approach. If we assume that internal learning process effectiveness and outcome quality is related in the same direction, not a realistic assumption, the question arises of how are learners adapting to different approaches.  I am not referring purely to the obvious learning outcomes of what and when but also the why in teaching strategies. 

The next understanding that I wanted was what if the same group of learners pass through different teachers at any one learning phase of their life, e.g. in a term. This also happened to me quite a bit recently as I took classes of colleagues who could not be around. How is it possible that if learners use very specific learning mechanism within themselves, they still manage to get through different teaching environments rather seamlessly despite the different learning landscapes? (Learning mechanisms here refer to the detailed functional and mechanical processes within the body that allows learning to be recognized and locked-in. This is represented by ideas from ecological dynamics, cognition theories, fMRI (functional MRI) studies, etc. – everything that I am not well versed in but trying to know more of at a practitioner level. It does not refer to differentiated learner needs and popular teaching implementation styles that shows learning taking place from an input-output perspective.)

Of course, one probable answer is that learning mechanisms have the ability to adapt to reach an objective that is desired, in spite of what we do as teachers. What influences this adaptation? If we know this, can we better facilitate intentional facilitative constraints, as oppose to creating unintended barriers to learning?

  • For example, if internal learning mechanism work by the process of generating an outcome, what happens when we forward-feed a decomposed (deconstructed) action of a desire skill or objective?
  • At the one extreme of forward-feeding, does the learning mechanisms change fundamentally or is there ability in the mechanism where the learner will adapt inputs to fit into its original need to generate a response.

This may suggest a teacher connection that can create learning pathways that are not the expected, as opposed to learners learning only in a way dictated by strict scientific laws. Can the teacher in the learner-task-environment action landscape manipulate the learning mechanisms in a big way? The teacher constraint is a directly active one that is different from the task and environment passive constraint, i.e. they exist in the way the lesson is construed by teacher. Can this teacher constraint go as far as changing internal learning mechanisms?

All these seem awfully like inconsequential insights but the interest for me on this came when I keep observing how different teachers can create similar outcomes via very different ways. The jury is out on the efficiency in terms of quality and time needed of such similar outcomes. These different ways are not usually analysed in relation to necessary internal learning mechanisms other than there is a successful outcome and therefore the strategy is effective.

We sometimes see this in the teacher who seem to have successful outcomes in unique ways that we may not all understand and therefore put it to their personality, charisma or just plain old experience.

This is a significant shift in my own personal journey to understand learning, where I spent a lot of time looking at internal (to the learner) learning processes that do not consider teacher personality, charisma or experience as much as perhaps it could. Recently a colleague shared an article that suggest the X-factor that we observe from successful teachers cannot be separated from the fundamentals of good teaching, i.e. pedagogy, self-awareness, knowledge of content, passion for content, etc. We do tend to isolate the more obvious teacher behaviour of personality, charisma and experience from the fundamentals of good teaching. One drawback to this is writing off teachers without it and on the flipside, suggesting that it is needed for teachers to succeed.  

My extended thoughts on these are the extent that these holistic combination of qualities able to shape the internal learning processes of learners. For example;

  • Can embedded cognition elements also exist effectively when considered as external and facilitated that way, i.e. assuming it’s external influence in lesson design regardless of its actual mechanics,
  • Can observable decomposed component skills be just as effective in teaching offerings as generating skills from fundamental needs and movements, and
  • Can affective/physical/cognitive education be taught as a stand-alone understanding before being embedded in an authentic or represenattive context (similar to first point)?

If physical/cognitive/affective responses to an affordance allows the learner to fulfil a need to accomplish an objective provided for by that affordance which was designed and put in place by a teacher, will it be reasonable to say that teacher expectations can also significantly influence how a response come about? This might suggest we can get similar learning outcomes from different learning scenarios, i.e. the learning process of reacting to an affordance may or may not be universal but different circumstances can deliver similar outcomes. This can also suggest the existence of multiple internal pathways that might indicate differences in the way learning takes place with different teachers. Are the two-way arrows depicted in Diagram 1 manipulating internal learning mechanisms in the learner possible?

The above may seem reasonable and popular perspectives for practitioners but may not be thought of together with internal learning mechanisms, i.e. a bottom-up approach. Much more effort is usually put into top-down perspectives, i.e. looking at implementation strategies that work and replicating. As a practising teacher, all these are important to me as a person who looks probably a bit too much into the whys (sometimes I feel like that) of learning in a very time-starved profession where lots needs to be done within a class and even more so out of it. I am also seeking out understanding to validate what I have been doing for over two decades, towards both extremes of right and wrong. The later will be a scary thought but necessary to move forward.

My understanding at this point in time is that descriptors like decomposition (deconstructing a skill), generacy (generating a skill from a need or a fundamental movement that represents a basic need), affordances (providing that possibility of a desired outcome), etc. get their significance from well-meaning science and ultimately demonstrate multi-faceted processes. The understanding we have of these descriptors are subjective to us and the learners for whom we offer the learning environment we are designing for. Conflicting processes can be at play in the designing of a lesson and within the learner in it. For example, the learner may face a deconstructed skill introduction (decomposition) but use a skill generating internal mechanism to make sense of it. It might even be the opposite if indeed theories of traditional cognitive sciences are reasonable. Can the way a teacher offers a lesson change the internal mechanism of learning for a learner, resulting in clear alignment between teacher approach and internal learning mechanisms? This question is probably too simplistic to capture what is really happening.

Currently, as teachers, we rely on our field’s current capacity and resource availability to accomplish what is needed in the required amount of time.

What to teach and Why in Physical Education (PE)

Illustration from

After about three years of formally putting personal thoughts to paper in order to expedite a more deliberate reflection habit within myself and hopefully growing it in the community, what are my outcomes? I must say that every one of my articles were written as a result of an observation, some experience, some reading and connecting it to what I think I need to do better as a Physical Education (PE) teacher. The role of a PE teacher beyond tangible specific outcomes within specific sports/fitness domains deliverables are seems vague to me, even now. When asked, which is often, what do we do in the department, I end up struggling with answers that are full of words that attempts to be all encompassing but ending up vague. This is especially so when compared to the academic subjects where results of test and exams are very popular indicators of success. In the same vein, I don’t hear these departments putting much emphasise on the need to have broad and holistic educational aims that are non-technical but they get some respite from it as tangible operational outcomes in the near future seems more popular than long term benefits as key performance indicators. However, the broad educational aims and needs are constantly being acknowledge at the policy and whole-school publicity level.

If the above sounds pessimistic, it probably is to some level as the energy I derived from probing is a result of a personal lack of understanding and wanting to overcome it. A deeper comprehension of Physical Literacy and the place of it in life is an approach that I took to make sense of what I am supposed to do as a teacher. It is difficult for me to accept that our main job is sending out pupils into the real world only with outcome-focused experiences in fitness, health and selected games, even though I accept that this could be sufficient after all.

This maybe an unfair oversimplification. I find outcome-focussed experiences occupying a lot of the discussion for PE planning. There is a lack of attention to why we do things. There is lack of depth in the underpinnings of why we do things. There is a lot of emphasis on the what and how of fitness, health and activities. I will go out on a limb to say we are expected to operate as instructors, train like instructors, do professional development like instructors and usually give up to that role. There is also intention and effort being put in by PE teachers in developing pupils holistically but this is usually assumed separated from the focus of PE, where technical clarity of established skills reigns supreme. There is a lack of leveraging on the role of voluntary non-survival movement and what this means in leading a better life. Is this Physical Literacy?

The above preceding paragraphs could very well be a result of misinformed expectations due to own lack of capacity to embrace PE as an activity driven subject. It is a vicious cycle where the more energy put into exploring the whys results in less time in the whats and hows, which potentially effects the interest level of pupils and external observers where the active robustness of a PE session is an important evaluation of success. Again, is this sufficient?

Recently again, I ponder on the role of a Physical Literacy (PL) position to help in our understanding and role as PE teachers. In whatever educational community we belong to, we have loads of clear directions of what needs to be done through subject syllabus, model scheme of work, model lesson plans and countless examples of activities. What we may not have is the clarity of why we do what we do.

For example, we are clear that we want PE to be effective in creating a generation of responsible citizens that can take care of themselves in health through a responsible lifestyle that includes physical activities and knowledge of health and fitness. If wanting to go deeper, a brief summarised thinking like this may not affect sufficiently the understanding of the role of physical movement in individual development. How has movement evolved from important survival needs (we use to move for survival) to just as important recreational needs (we move to improve quality of life beyond that for survival)? This understanding takes much effort from an individual teacher to encourage exploring and delving deeper but it needs institution support structures, i.e. training, professional development and practise. I imagine no amount of formal words and directives can create this type of personal teacher thinking. It is often that this is the furthest thing from the mind of a technically skilful teacher imparting specific skills to their pupils, e.g. a passing drill is just a passing drill for better game play.

It seems that the above paragraph is hinting on the necessary need to have a philosophical stance. Is it possible to understand physical literacy without a philosophical stance? If without an explicit and/or implicit study and understanding of movement and life philosophy, does literacy statements sound like repeats of syllabus statement? The understanding of philosophy and its role to teaching is part of any teacher training but how effective is its attempt to connect to everyday teaching practises and its long term application? Is it taken merely as a teacher-training subject with its uses only limited in that period of internship? In a life-skill subject like PE, where most teacher are successful exemplars of leading a physical life (see previous article on learning from failures of the physical life to understand PE better), it is sometimes difficult to see the role of PE as more than just expected physical movements. I feel that students also do not explicitly see the subject deeper than its current movement form, corresponding with teaching intervention experienced. It has a status of a seemingly dead-end subject where no future connection is necessary other than being expected to replicate learned movements and behaviour. However, PE activities are usually loved for its instant fun and play element.

  • What do we need to change and exactly why?
  • Is this even something that we want to explore further to teach better?

I also keep revisiting the notion of why we need to consider the learning process in PE at a level that is beyond the observable. For me, this is a major contributing factor to understanding physical literacy and strengthening a personal teaching philosophy, connecting it to the role of movement in life and how it came to be. This was compounded by a recent discussion amongst colleagues on how best to introduce the squat technique to students, representing the many discussions over close and open skills that takes up a lot of time in our fraternity. The textbook answer to the proper squat involves much technical specifications that are mainly internally focused. I see a difference in cues used by experts to identify and evaluate movement and the cues that are presented to novice learners that corresponds to how learning takes place.  

The Turing test, originally called the imitation game by Alan Turing in 1950, is a test of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human. Turing proposed that a human evaluator would judge natural language conversations between a human and a machine designed to generate human-like responses. The evaluator would be aware that one of the two partners in conversation is a machine, and all participants would be separated from one another. The conversation would be limited to a text-only channel such as a computer keyboard and screen so the result would not depend on the machine’s ability to render words as speech. If the evaluator cannot reliably tell the machine from the human, the machine is said to have passed the test. The test results do not depend on the machine’s ability to give correct answers to questions, only how closely its answers resemble those a human would give.

The Turing Test is an evaluation of artificial intelligence ability to think like a human. If this test is valid, an assumption will be that humans think and therefore learn much like an advance computer and therefore it is appropriate to test a computer for human thinking process by using parameters that are typical for it, i.e. inputting instructions that are binary, decomposed actions, etc. The Chinese Room argument is a retort to this test. A key point for me here is that cognition may be a multi-faceted process that is not merely be reverse engineering a desired outcome superficially and then putting it together to facilitate the cognitive process.

Searle’s thought experiment begins with this hypothetical premise: suppose that artificial intelligence research has succeeded in constructing a computer that behaves as if it understands Chinese. It takes Chinese characters as input and, by following the instructions of a computer program, produces other Chinese characters, which it presents as output. Suppose, says Searle, that this computer performs its task so convincingly that it comfortably passes the Turing test: it convinces a human Chinese speaker that the program is itself a live Chinese speaker. To all of the questions that the person asks, it makes appropriate responses, such that any Chinese speaker would be convinced that they are talking to another Chinese-speaking human being.

The Chinese Room argument points to the fact that we place values on symbols as part of a thinking ‘machine’, to make sense of it or to be able to respond because we are expected to for survival or otherwise. It suggest that we can have absolutely no idea what a symbol means but can fully respond to it by some conversion process that is not the ‘learning’ cognition that is expected. This conversion process is behind closed doors (embedded somewhat) and may not be obvious to an external observer of outcomes. The teacher may be feeding symbols, e.g. cues and commands, thinking that learning is being facilitated intimately when in fact a conversion process is taking place that is just coping with the teachers expected outcomes.

The question I pondered for a while is what if this is acceptable for us as teachers. Meaning, it may not be our business as teachers to intervene at detailed processes behind closed doors but just focus on the effective feeding of information. Of course, my gut feel is that if we are thinking about this then it ought to be our business also. If we are not thinking about it, it is no surprise when some of us do not explicitly seek out processes deeper than teacher input – learner output level, i.e. we spent a lot of time at being masters of implementation strategies.

I liked the perspective offered behind these two simple illustrations to my lay mind. It got me thinking deeper even if not in the best possible direction as intended. My conclusion at this stage is that as teachers, we balance what we feed under the door with the need to also make a deliberate attempt to facilitate what is happening behind that door. We may not have the time, the expertise nor in the right fields to be overtly concern with theoretical sound combinations of cues that directly and indirectly facilitate learning. We also have to consider the holistic development of the child that involves the affective and the different domains involvement of daily school life that have its own influences to learning processes.

The Perfect Storm of Learning Conditions in Physical Education (PE)

A bit of a long ramble here as I end the year much learned and probably just as confused, if not more, on what are our intentions, objectives, directions, etc. Looking forward to a good rest and a better 2021.

As usual, I try spent time skimming through the world of skill acquisition as best as I can via social media. It is not easy to strike up a face-to-face conversation in this area if you try to do it outside of formal professional development time where even then, it needs strong encouragement to get conversations going. The big assumption I made here (not the best assumption for a holistic picture of PE but adequate for what I want to share here) is that skill acquisition is a big part of our job as PE teachers and it is necessary for us to think about it in order to do better. For us, skills also mean dealing with life competencies, character development, etc. I believe it is important for us to be aware to some extent our role as teachers in general and teachers of skill. The education climate needs to ensure student personal development and sometimes it is easy to take sole responsibility for this in subjects where outcomes are also life affecting, i.e. PE. It is a challenge to see this in perspective. More so in professional development attempts at working towards being a better teacher. Do we spent time on the science and art of skill acquisition (which is broad and also includes affective influencers) or focus more on exploring affective education implementation. Shall we focus on these two broad areas separately? This is  an issue that has been debated for long time, died down and sometimes appearing again as objectives of PE become loosely unraveled. When this happens, instant activities are desired for its affective outcome, i.e. giving fun. Being active is relegated as a proxy to healthy living. It seems like stopgap measures. Times like this, we provide PE that is activity focused, as we work towards learners’ immediate well-being, having fun, getting a break, etc. I won’t be surprised that many education scheduling of programmes in this disruptive COVID times include PE for this specific purpose.

As we head towards the end of the academic year from where I am from, we have an awkward two weeks period where PE resumes before school closes for the holiday. There is some concern on my part as to how we approach this and reflecting my insecurities about how we delivering PE. The main questions for me are;

  • Is it possible to work towards an explicit education aim and an implicit immediate aim to send students off on a play high at the end of an academic year (or module, term, etc.)?
  • Why is there a tension in needing to choose between these hypothetical extremes when there is the claim that explicit skill acquisition via understanding will build up that fun in learning naturally? Our students differentiate very explicitly play and learning. Why? Where did we go wrong?
  • Is this tension between the expectations of instant gratification of play that gets in the way of the longer runway of deliberate learning a good tension or are we barking up the wrong tree totally?

I believe a possible missing link to the above questions is the lack of realisation that sometimes we are forcing direct input-output expectations (I want A from introducing B) with learning processes (In order to achieve B, I need to consider process C which requires specific inputs) and there is a mismatch in expectations. I do believe is possible to have both but it requires a balancing act.

My header suggest a fixation of the perfect condition, or rather a hint to the frustrations of models, theories and everything else laying down their claims that seems difficult to fit in to practise. That is exactly what that got me re-looking at my own issues with the field. Inevitably, I spent a lot of time looking into the mechanics of delivering successful skill acquisition experiences. Much of these involve the sciences of the body in context. I am inspired to go further and try to understand the role of movement within our world. This requires some acknowledgement of the importance of philosophy of existence, i.e. how and why do we behave for survival and recreation. It is a lot to think about in wanting to teach in schools but not surprising when at times we are also expected to take care of the affective.

In a recent PE conference I attended, there was a panel discussion session with successful individuals in the area of coaching, sports administration and academia. As much as I listen and take in to their thoughts of movement provision and education, I also wonder what it will be like to deliberately also listen to failures of our attempts to provide good PE in schools. This will allow us to know better the problems that we want to fix. Then almost immediately I realised that our efforts in fixing generalised problems of others (or even emulating successes of others) results is our own generalisation biasedness. It becomes a potentially flawed inductive process of generalising from specific outcomes, especially when there is not a strong physical literacy consensus.

While at policy and broad decision-making level, it is normal to suss out issues and solutions by first identifying problems of others or common ones, this process at the student-teacher level might result in non-learner centred expectations. Learners do not want to know what they do not know. Therefore, any attempts to force a non-learner problem realisation on them is unidirectional. The concept of decomposing a skill seems to be to about providing a solution for the learner based on a problem they have not experienced. These activities may be decontextualized but are solutions to problems that are yet to be experienced by the learner. There are contemporary approaches that attempts to put some responsibility on the individual learner to create learning by generating an action to overcome an immediate scenario where realisation of what is happening is as important as the next step to overcoming it.

Figure 1

While listening to the presenters and coming away with loads of information, I am very aware that my background understanding of my profession was probably giving me very different perspective than someone else that differs from my views. This contributes to inconsistency amongst us. A big reason for it are the different views of our expectations. The questions put in by attendees were mainly questions that begin with the word “How”. This most of the time points to a problem already identified by a listener or presented by the speaker and the need to find a solution for it. In a particular presentation that included an example of a video of a teacher using a learner centred strategy, one concern that was shared was the lack of proper technique shown. This concern on correct technique may point to a very specific concern in learning which differs from that of the presenter.

A popular view for learning is mechanical linearity, starting from the deconstructed parts and building it up to the whole. For example, technique shapes behaviour and not the other way. It is a challenge to accept that it is possible to be holistic without focusing on the specifics first. If so, we need to accept that not all successful techniques will end up looking exact when they are equally effective in achieving outcome. There is room for both approaches when considering the below.

Linearity in learning discussion seems to focus very much on movement and not so much on the motivation to do it that may not be clearly connected to task and environment. This brings to mind the learner’s emotional state what may contribute to this. Optimal Theory of Motor Learning (Wulf), Optimizing Performance Through Intrinsic Motivation and Attention for Learning, brings in this aspect. Cognitive Evaluation Theory, (Deci), looks into motivation in a comprehensive way when considering actions.  

One area of influence that is suggested above is the learner’s need to actualise the teacher’s expectations (see Fig 1). Chances are, when the teacher’s expectations are aligned to neurobiological and affective processes for learning at a particular point of learning, we can expect progress that is more efficient. The centre of Fig 1 suggest a scenario where learner’s in-situ movement problem meets the needs of the expected established movement solution and the teachers creating an environment that supports that solution.

If you look at the Venn diagram in Fig 1, I believe a teaching situation can be effectively initiated at different points on the diagram, reflecting different outcomes to teaching. The goal for some may be working from a mental representational model of cognition, i.e. creating different slices of experience to put together eventually, shifting eventually to the centre perfect storm area. The embodied cognition approach, i.e. authentic actions are about needing to accomplish a need of the moment in a representational (note difference in the use of the idea of representation in the mind and in physical lesson) design, usually begins from conditions represented by the centre of the diagram. Circle (b) represents what I think as very underrated, the learner overcoming the problem at hand. This may not be the textbook solution but a learner dependent adaptation.

There is an article by Raab and Araújo (Raab & Araújo, 2019) to get a background of embodied cognition with and without mental representation and their role in learning (different from discussions that pits embodied cognition vs stand-alone cognition). Embodied cognition assumes that cognition is built into action, as opposed to it being mainly stand alone. The great debate here is how information is arrived at for learning and how knowledge of past learning exist and effects this. It is a rather technical paper and the abstract, introduction and conclusion does well to give a reasonable brief if the whole paper prove too much (I struggle trying to figure out very good intentions written in academic style at times).

The theories behind the perspectives of using mental representation outside of embodied cognition are also vigorously debated and one view originates from how we believe our thoughts process works, direct vs indirect perception, and are seemingly at odds with each other. There is some discussion at the academic level to suggest that it is not possible to do well by combining the two school of thoughts. My take is that there is a difficulty in comparing perspectives from different aspects of the same area of interest. This alludes to the missing link comment I made above concerning my original reflective questions.

At research level, scientist are focusing on the processes, while teachers/coaches are making decisions based on input and their experiences in dealing with it to achieve intended outcomes. As a teacher, I may be at loss when research evidences of a process that meets my intended outcomes does not meet the input  specifications of learners I have to work with in my unique environment (Professional Judgementand Decision Making – PJDM gives some perspective to this). The extrapolations of very good theories for practise are just not getting enough practical attention. This is where we teachers need to be more explicit to complement research.

What do I mean by specifications of my learners in my unique context? Movement solutions are sometimes not all that we are after when we consider the other expectations in an education setting that goes beyond (circle (a) in  Fig 1).These includes administrative, affective, teacher-student rapport building, etc. This requires teacher-student relationship that relies largely on interaction, including communication. What many can agree with is what we do with the interaction is the key. This require an almost herculean task of balancing communication, interaction and pure skill acquisition needs.

Fig 1 also shows dashed arrows to suggest that there may be two broad teaching directions, i.e. moving outwards from the centre or inwards towards the centre. For the former, assumption is that learning must start from a perfect storm of task, environment and individual combination. The latter assumes the possibility that outcomes can be achieved from mutually exclusive individual abilities, task, environment and affective focus. While it is ok to believe that learning processes follow a general lawful route, it is also important to realise that learning also depends on what is the learning objective and the impact of social and teacher expectation to outcome.

Sometimes not being clear about outcomes tend to cloud confirming established learning processes, e.g. two teachers not clear on outcomes trying to compare learning processes that differ.  If I want to be very specific in a seemingly isolated drill, I could also implicitly want learners to be comfortable with a one to one teacher-student interaction to encourage better rapport or discipline or just wanting to create a relationship. The issue for many I believe is our conflating of outcomes, implicit to boot, that may create a mismatch of teaching approach used and it’s expected outcome. For example, I want to improve shot at goal accuracy while actually trying to improve student management issues. We end up accepting a highly controlled environment as an effective skill teaching scenario when it may do with more varied and organic type activities.

It takes much deliberate awareness by the educator, together with experience, to balance these understanding. I think is very difficult and maybe not even practical to have outcomes that area minutely dissected but rather we tend to work on baskets of expectations (combining affective and mechanics), mimicking the complexity of being in any living situation. It may be potentially detrimental to consider outcomes one at a time and on the flipside, just as worrying if we combine everything and not be too aware of this. This may sound like a cope out in needing to have a clear approach for very specific outcomes but my personal view is that it needs to be a broad approach many times.

Are the basics of an expert the same for the beginner, i.e. both having the same objectives? Does the basics of a beginner shift as they become experts? Are we generalising basic drills as similar for everyone?

For example, what works for a beginner in your context? Recently I noticed quite a popular clip of a well-known NBA player doing very specific and basic dribble and shooting drills, presumably for hours. This went viral with advice for beginners to emulate. It is quite common to see this kind of popular guidance for beginners and “Going back to the basics” is an extremely popular mantra. The key here is are the basics for the beginner and for the expert the same or serve a similar purpose? Can the basics of these two groups of expertise be very different, i.e. can it be something in the middle of the diagram in Fig 1 for beginners who need more specifying information to make sense of movement and is it in the outer edges for experts who can afford to spend more time on isolated opportunities? I will not criticise a beginner for emulating a professional in isolated drills and in fact see it as possible motivating. I will think very carefully if my intention is to improve game play.

Teaching approaches are always heading different directions from different starting points.  We are always tweaking them. The perfect storm is not always a fix set of conditions but is very organic and changing to the needs of the learner and almost as important, to that of the expectation of the education environment. The key here is as professionals, we consider learner centeredness and guided by science and art of teaching.


Raab, M., & Araújo, D. (7 August, 2019). Embodied Cognition With and Without Mental Representations: The Case of Embodied Choices in Sports. Frontiers in Psychology. doi:

Reflection – Action coupling for teachers in Physical Education (PE)


Some noteworthy situations arise recently. I was taking the last couple of lessons for my classes before exams start and the end of year activities take over. This is usually the point where a whole year’s of effort culminates and everyone sort of wind down from an intense academic calendar. My intention with the class is to allow some autonomy for the students and connecting it to a learning process where I get students to contemplate what they are doing and connecting it to the bigger picture of why certain movements seem more attractive over others. The hope is that this creates more appreciation and understanding of what is happening. Now, the students have an altogether different expectation when involve in a fun physical activity of their choice. Their unpacking desire and abilities of what they are doing goes as far as the limit of their emotional connection for the moment, i.e. they want to have fun through play. It was a challenge. I was trying to facilitate a situation that the students may not be interested in at that moment, as much as I thought they needed it. My reflection questions for this was “What happened?” and “Why it happened?”.

I also happen to relief a couple of classes of my colleagues. For them, my attitude was to hear them out and present activities that was planned for by their original teacher. It was a much more pleasant experience as I tried matching their expectation without the pressure of having taught them a long time, as terrible as this thought sounds! These two experiences are identifiable for many teachers. How do we connect the need (is there really a need? I was reminded recently to stop over-analyzing) to be true to our approach and planned content with what students think they should do in Physical Education (PE) classes. A part of the teacher tension in approaching is exactly that, i.e. the tension created by teachers for themselves in wanting to ‘teach’ in PE and not just present experiences. I also know many who may not have this issue as much due to mainly being convinced that PE is about experiences and that experiences will take care of the learning inherently. I see value in both views.

At every point in a teaching scenario, including before and after, the ideal situation will be a constant questioning of what we doing. We call it reflection, analyzing, brainstorming, etc. Every word used to describe the act of contemplating and coming to a conclusion has probably very comprehensive breakdown of what it means by experts. You will find clever steps and schematics of the reflection process, the brainstorming process, etc. Despite this overwhelming information, we do tend to ignore much of it and use the literal meanings. Both extremes are probably not desirable and we need to find a balance.

We do all this because our main business as teachers seems to be behavior manipulation. In the old days, this is done as quickly as possible, without worrying about regulation, motivation, movement related sciences, etc. processes. The great thing about the learning process within a learner is that it evolved specifically to overcome problems, which means that even if we mess up in teaching approaches, the learners adapt and will learn nonetheless. Because of artificial chronological milestones, e.g. terms, semesters, and school years, we are externally pressured (a good/bad thing?) to be more efficient. Because of better insights to how the body behaves, we are professionally obliged (a good/bad thing?) to be more efficient.

Is the “What works and how to do it?” qualifying rubric sufficient for us to meet the above expectations? Those following will probably guess that the famous why will come next. I bring to attention a schematic I did very long ago on layering Bloom’s Taxanomy language to describe how we as teachers can measure over reflective stages.

Bloom's and Reflection

Fig 1

Below, I revisited a literature review by Standfel & Moe, (Standal & Moe, 2013) that keeps coming up in my simple searches. Coming clean, I started this article this before I realised that it was a revisit. It was interesting for myself to compare my feelings two years ago and now. Being a reader of convenient research, I am attracted to open sourced and easily available research that appears in my simple online searching. I usually am hooked on the first paper that engages me without going to first source like in academic writing. This paper was done almost a decade ago but still valid in its value. Let me list some of its obvious, but needing that pointing to, findings and quotes that I found extremely aligned to that is similar to my earlier article but with my current insights.

  • While everyone agrees on the importance of reflection, it does not have a common understanding amongst all. At research level, it is just as uneven.
    • Own note: We tend to use incredibly important processes like reflection generically, without much attention to what it means in different situations. This goes the same for descriptors like games, drills, discovery, understanding, constraints, pedagogy, etc.

  • van Manen (1977) suggested three levels of Technical, Practical and Politico-ethical (or Critical). This 3 levels includes 1) the means rather than the end, 2) the assumptions underpinning practical actions and 3) looking at the ends in light of wider social, political and ethical contexts.
    • Own note: One restriction to more comprehensive reflective practises is the focus on the outcome rather than the means, i.e. what and how it works. Outcomes are narrow and relatively easier to assume completion, as oppose to the broadness of the means, i.e. why it works, where learner centeredness is so vital. Over here, scientific underpinnings need to come in, to complement teacher experience.

  • Compare the two reflective statements below. How useful is deepening understanding (multi-level understanding) on behaviour for us teachers?
    • a) “The students seems to react badly (not listening, distracted, etc.) to this activity. Let’s change activity for the next class.
    • b) “The students seems to react badly to this activity. What about the activity that caused this reaction? Let me see if I can understand why and perhaps tweak it for the next class after considering.

  • Tsangaridou & O’Sullivan (1994) developed a framework called reflective framework for teaching in physical education (RFTPE). The RFTPE consists of two major categories; the first being the focus of reflection and the level of reflection, which is divided into technical, situational or sensitizing, mirroring van Manen’s (1977) model. The second category brings in the levels of description, justification and critique.
    • Own note: I believe for many of us, these levels are not deliberate but rather a consequence of tacit background of taken for granted assumption (see Wackerhausen’s quote below). To make it deliberate means to purposefully seek out knowledge that goes beyond implementation matters, i.e. routines – what and how it works (see Attard’s view below), only.

  • Tsangaridou & O’Sullivan also found that reflection research is usually often based on the philosophical and/or political orientation of the scholar.
    • Own note: The biased nature is what makes reflections incredibly rich to our context and needs of students, not necessarily bad. My reflections seems to me to be focus on a certain perspective that sometimes get in the way of my own teaching. This is where it is important to seek more and learn.

  • Wackerhausen’s (2008) “anatomical structure of reflection” suggest two levels in the way reflection takes place. There is the foregrounded concepts in which we actively employ and that are explicitly present in our reflections. “ These foreground concepts operate on a tacit background of taken for granted assumptions and knowledge, but the background assumptions implicitly delimit the conceptual boundaries within which the foreground concepts can be unfolded in our reflections…” He also suggest that the reflector is biased by context, interest, motivation, value, etc.
    • Own note: I believe we all engage in reflective practises, whether we are aware of it or not. The moment we delve deeper to professional development knowledge, our awareness of what we do goes up and we start creating our own reflective practises that works for us. The big push for departments is to see consistency in this practises and to benefit from this awareness collectively, as well as the initial individual purpose. Formalised reflective practises potentially creates loads of data and the challenge is to leverage on this systematically within a workable reflective structure for self and department. The “taken for granted” comment is a very real situation where we potentially stop learning as teachers and operate on surface knowledge. This is where the different levels of reflections occur like mentioned above. Background assumptions may range from the practical input-output perspective, i.e. what and how it works, to the more complex what happens between input and output, i.e. why it works.

  • “…Attard argues that critical reflections on his own experiences enabled learning, and that reflection is best understood by engaging in reflection (Attard & Armour, 2006). More specifically, Attard (2007) states that “examining past experiences to understand and change present and future practices is a stronghold of reflective practice, but this is hard work… as it goes against the natural tendency of creating routines” (p. 155)…”
    • Own note: This almost gives me the name for something that I observe often, routines! A wonderful habit, well exhorted for learners, that sometimes creates a self-directing practice of complacency within departments and individuals.
  • “…Tsangaridou & O’Sullivan (1997) aimed to understand teachers’ reflection from a descriptive rather than prescriptive perspective (i.e. what reflection is, rather than what it ought to be). The authors distinguished between micro- and macro-reflection, with the former being “reflection that gives meaning to… day-to-day practice” (p. 7) and the latter being reflection in professional development over time…”
    • Own note: Not all reflections are equal and it does not help to force certain type of reflections onto teachers who have not buy in. Rather it should be about what works for the teachers, currently and in the long term. However, we do need to be aware of reflective practises and that requires a bit of positive peer encouragement at times. My current approach I am struggling with is how to get the realisation for those around me that the whys of teaching has very satisfying and successful outcomes for the whats and how.
  • “…Keay (2006) also found that although newly qualified teachers (NQTs) were educated to become reflective practitioners, more experienced colleagues who were unfamiliar with reflective practice actually influenced some of the participants to become less reflective…”
    • Own note: Is this a survival strategy? It is common to see NQTs coming in with amazing practises. It can all quickly level down if departments are not deliberate about leveraging on this professional enthusiasm.

This review carries on looking at pre-service, and to some extent in-service, reflective habits and suggestions for future focuses. I wrote more about it in my previous article. The above derived from the paper should be easily understood, observable and appreciated, I think. We are creatures of routines. The planning and implementation of routines takes over our professional life. In a recent discussion with fellow management level colleagues on the what and how of teaching as indicated in a typical unit-plan, there was negligible interest to the why of what we are doing. For academic subjects, this is almost permissible as much structures of certification and moving up the levels has given that why question an implicit response of just needing to do well in school. However, the day-to-day strategy implementation and facilitation for learning requires that awareness to make learning deliberately effective, as opposed to it taking place in spite of our presence. Even more so for PE, where formal levels of desired outcomes are not as observable and therefore easily dismissed as not a priority.  Luckily for us, PE is aligned to a basic need of all humans needing to move recreationally for quality of life and this is what we can leveraged on to get learners to move with our educational intention, implicitly or explicitly.


Standal, Ø., & Moe, V. (2013). Reflective Practice in Physical Education and Physical Education Teacher Education: A Review of the Literature Since 1995. Quest (00336297), 220-240. doi:DOI: 10.1080/00336297.2013.77353

The Fundamentals (some) of Physical Education (PE) teaching.

We are like storytellers. We are experts at telling stories. We get excited when we hear new stories and are eager to search for them. We take new stories and sometimes modify them for our use, if not using them wholesale, based on evidence that it works for others (we sometimes call this evidence based strategies when what we mean is that it has been proven to work for someone else). Sometimes, we create novel ways to share such stories. We speak louder, we use special equipment, we dress up our stories, etc. Sometimes we get frustrated because we do not have a story for a specific occasion and we seek harder. In developing as a storyteller, we share stories, plenty of them. The more effective they are for others, the better.

On occasions, we storytellers become storywriters. It is not easy to hear from the storyteller who tries to explain why their stories were created the way it was. In this mode, these storytellers spent much time trying to figure out the what, how and why of stories. They do this in order to cope with their differentiated listeners as they create and design stories specifically for unique listeners. They seek good stories out but mainly to figure out why they work so well and what about these stories that connects to the listener.

Lately, I have been evaluating myself on what I have achieved after 25 years of teaching. There was a period when I thought that being a good teacher is about climbing the leadership ladder. With this, comes the needed skills in many things that are not directly related to teaching, e.g. event organizational skills, people management skills, etc. For a while, I felt that being good also meant collecting coaching credentials and experience. For a long time, the need to do more in teaching than instructing did gnaw at me but it was easily buried as the other distractions were stronger. There was also a period I felt I might need to get higher academic qualifications to quench my uneasiness of not doing enough for PE teaching, which was without any fixed formal assessment standards that needed to be reported, other than fitness testing. Depending on schools and department, assessment and teaching standards can differ from having pedagogical innovations to organizing physical activities for fitness and games requirements. Lately, I have again revisited what I have been doing and influencing in my teaching career. I have to confess, I get overly reactionary when I see our subject being relegated to popular culture interpretation. One of the biggest interpretation I see problems with is that PE time is activity time that does not need the educational element. This perspective is not explicit but can be seen sometimes in the way we have to juggle resources for our craft because of competing needs from the more established academic subjects. The professional development sites I sometimes frequent are heavy on anecdotes of outliers or entertainment choreography and light on underpinning theories and sciences. At times, we are driven by well meaning policies to ensure adequate physical movement instead of educating to ensure that fitness habits are developed for life.  

What exactly do we need to be aware of as teachers to do our job better? Is there some basic fundamental areas of expert thinking processes that we should engage in to allow a more comprehensive reflective process of our teaching and outcomes? Recently, a paper on Fundamental Motor Skills (FMS) (Newell K. M., 2020) was brought to my grateful attention online and it was a good reminder to always be questioning what we think we know and are doing. It discussed, amongst much more stuff, the re-looking at what we might think of being fundamental in motor skills and deepening that understanding by cross-referencing it to the meaning of terms in research such as fundamental, movement, motor, etc.

The lesson for me here is the need to step back and reflect if what we are doing fits our intentions. If our intentions are unclear or not forward looking enough, then to reflect on our intentions to decide if indeed they are adequate. How do we evaluate adequateness? For example, if we focus on a series of perceived fundamental motor skills with the expectation that they are precedent to more specialized motor skills, or more realistically giving the confidence to explore, it might help to take the time to be sure that the skills are indeed fundamental or we lose an expected avenue of growth for more specialized skills. The organic process of thinking, adapting and carrying out recreational movement does ensure that whatever we do, the young will develop habits good and bad. It is just how much good habits we want encourage in the most efficient way, given our privilege position in having access to learners the moment they enter school.

Going back to the example above, to decide if it is fundamental, we might even have to take a reflective view of why such skills are even considered fundamental in the broader perspective of living. We usually only do it for the games we hope to teach. Is our understanding of the word “fundamental” based on the game/activity we hope to achieve for the learner or is it for fundamental motor skills for life? The question for me here as a teacher, do we look ahead to what we want teach only or do we have to figure out what, how and why our learners even want to move ahead in being taught whatever it is that we think they should be taught?

Carrying on, are such basic sets of movements even finite enough to be categorized into groups? If yes as broad groups only, how do we ensure a facilitation/teaching strategy that allows that broad-to-specific varied experience to solving a fundamental movement problem that allows future adaptations that are seemingly unique yet have roots in the fundamental motor skills. Many questions and definitely not a case of looking at a diagram or list and introducing all the gross identified fundamental skills of a known model as it is, with the implicit hope that one day it morphs into something skillful.

So recently on social media, I came across the work of Basil Bernstein mentioned with respect to classification and framing in education (Sadovnik, 2001). Bernstein  was an eminent sociologist who looked into the relation between the social classes and education. He was known for his code theory, amongst other things. He defined collection and integrated codes. This is a kind classification of content and knowledge in school that either restricts learning in silos base on subjects, i.e. collection, or allows integration, i.e. integrated. He went on further to talk about framing, the way content is transmitted, the pedagogical aspect of schooling. Framing refers to refers to the “…degree of control teacher and pupil possess over the selection, organization, pacing and timing of the knowledge transmitted and received in the pedagogical relationship…” There is strong framing that implies limited degree of freedom between teachers and students and weak framing, where there is more freedom. Now, I gather all these from a sole introduction of Bernstein by Sadovnik and am in no way even remotely know enough of his complex area of expertise to comment more but nonetheless very attracted to his idea of classification and framing and impact on social classes. I see it somewhat aligned to what I think of existing strong boundaries within and between the on-goings of academia and practice.

This is where I will pause and stop pretending that I know much about the above scientist or his field, as much as it interest me tremendously in the way I see teaching. Specifically, why do people need and want to be taught. This awareness came to me very late in my career and as I attempt to connect with fellow practitioners in this area, it becomes very obvious that sociology, add to that philosophy and the mere mention of the word ‘theory’ connected to any fields of science, are difficult areas to connect with for many.  

In a recent posting by a very enthusiastic teacher, he lamented how his contact from outside the PE field commented on the need to teach during Physical Education sessions when his own experience in PE was free-for-all activity sessions.  This is a rather common comment (we seem to be known as storytellers rather than story writers) and it gets me back again to looking at what exactly is the need of PE and why is this need vital as part of life. This is where I find much help from the observation lenses made clear by sociologist like Bernstein above that allows that systematic understanding of how, what and why we behave and operate the way we do. Another one I like is by Pierre Bourdieu, i.e. the Bourdieusian lens of capital available (expertise available out there), habits (how the different stakeholders in the scene operate within their influence) and field (how different stakeholders in practise, research, academia, policy, etc. interact).

This is where I pause again to reflect from a very practical own lens. Sometimes, PE in the eyes of our stakeholders, including maybe even teachers themselves, is very physical movement outcome dependent. On social media, whenever there is an entertaining eye-catching clip of movements being captured, immediately it might be connected to the provision, or lack, of PE in schools. This video and pictorial insights shared that brings forth the perceived PE connection can include anything from images of senior people executing movements to young people doing incredible action choreography. We tend to ground what we see with what needs to be delivered as oppose to grounding the delivery to what is needed for survival (to some extent) and recreation (to large extent) in life.  

The above can be considered as a very top-down approach to analyzing what is missing in PE and is a problem when even as teachers we get caught up in the fray to provide what could be temporary popular expectations of the observers of our very public subject. To be fair, at times, we may take cue from popular culture and its public viewpoint for PE but we need to consider it from a bottom-up perspective. Meaning, we need to consider what, how and the why of what we want to do and cross-referencing it to the needs of the learners.

For example, I want to teach students how to manipulate a football to a scoring advantage in a small side football game versus I want to teach students how move with an implement in an environment which needs them to go against an opposition to execute a scoring action. For both, the teaching activity can be very similar except that the later might have a perspective that allows the teacher opportunity to connect to further types of movements that are part of living better or at times for survival, e.g. needing to stay healthy. Therefore, when I see, for example, a large group of young people executing synchronous ball handling on social media, I will not think I want my own classes to be executing such skills but will reflect what is it that allows such a group, e.g. their social and cultural make up perhaps, to deliver what is a disciplined and skilled choreography. The intention being not to replicate but to figure what I can do in my own context to deliver my own context outcomes. My thinking process might seem far off from what we sometimes spent hours in teacher training and our own sporting experience, i.e. understanding the straightforward mechanics of movement through study and practice. 

Again, there is a pause in my flow here as I ask myself why describe and burdening it along the way, what should be a simple action to something so layered and abstract. For example, in teaching for understanding methods, the teaching of concepts getting into the way of reproduction teaching suffers from this perception also to some extent. Some might strongly recommend the later (direct teaching) preceding the former (conceptual guided discovery) or vice-versa. Which is the outcome and which is the intention? Does there need to be a clear chronological existence?  Does clarity in learner intention help in better execution?

My personal insights is realizing that these are not only technical questions but also social and philosophical ones. Immediately, I might have fallen into the boundaries (or out of it?) mentioned by Bernstein above regards classification and framing that may be potentially blindsiding me (or facilitating?) better understanding of what it needs to have good teaching awareness. In order to be an enlighten storyteller, I need to be able to know how stories are written.


Newell, K. M. (2020). What are Fundamental Motor Skills and What is Fundamental About Them? Journal of Motor Learning and Development(8), 280 – 314. doi:

Sadovnik, A. R. (2001). BASIL BERNSTEIN (1924 – 2000). Prospects: the quarterly review of comparative education, XXXI(4), 687 – 703. Retrieved from

Reconciling externally regulated teaching approaches with more efficient self-regulated learning processes in Physical Education (PE)

So lately, we successfully manage to squeeze in face-to-face lessons for Physical Education (PE) as normal lessons resume with strict safe management measures in place. This includes group activities limited to five per group, an odd number that is unfortunate for small-sided games that loves even numbers. Odd numbers does however provides opportunities for under and over loading potential of game representation in activities. As I get into the groove of such conditions (tempted to say constraints but am observing a self-imposed writing rule to use the word constraint to mean a feature that facilitates rather than being an obstacle), I got more than a few exclamations from my students that goes along the line of “What are we doing today?  I am sick of PT (Physical Training). Can we do something fun.”. It is very difficult to hear these comments. Like or not, I probably have done a great injustice by i) making PE/PT/PA (Physical Activities) unwelcoming and ii) linking much effort put into creating that personal responsibility in fitness and movement knowledge to something that is not so positive.

Some context. In the age group and system that I teach in, physical training is an important aspect even in the best of time. This is due mainly to getting the boys in shape for military conscription (conscription duration is cut by up to two months for those who attain a certain standard) and for the girls to be aware of their responsibility to have a healthy routine for present and future. We do our best to intertwine all these with a typical Physical Education (PE) syllabus that includes elements of recreational movement and knowledge with its impact on personal development. We also have a very strong leadership development flavour where we identify students for formal leadership training and eventual position in the area of outside classroom physical related activity provision within the school.

It is times like this when all the time spent looking at theories, models, approaches, etc. seems to go out of the window. At times like these, you have a bunch of students looking forward to PE, the play opportunity. This brings to mind the importance of always realising that recreational movement is more than just motor learning, skill acquisition, technique enhancing, etc. It is part of life and requires much deliberation from teachers than expected biomechanical realisation. I remember recent situations when I seek help from student experts for skills that I struggle with and even envy when I see young kids performing. One was from an Ultimate player who was also the captain of my school team and the other two were Calisthenics fanatics.

From the former, I sought out more information on Ultimate throws and the latter, tips on doing the muscle-up move (where you raise yourself from a pull-up to above the bar). It was a revelation to observe how they go about trying to teach me. While I can notice them using cue words direct from available expert information, they also spent quite a bit of time trying to describe what the movement feels like. For the Ultimate throw, my student attempt to reiterate the main skill identification cues of how to hold the disc for the forearm and backhand throws with a few suggested variation, putting emphasis on how the disc should feel like on a good hold, i.e. very firm. He went on to describe the pull (a throw to start the game) as almost willing the disc to move out before coming in by ensuring release angle commensurate with the preferred disc initial flight path. It may be just my own bias in interpretation but I was listening to very good external cues being mentioned.

For the muscle up move on the pull-up bar, I have asked a couple of students how they manage it. First impression seems that it is just about brut strength. They described a feeling that is possible with the appropriate over-hand grip on the bar that allows the quick transition to over the bar at the right moment with appropriate technique. The rest needs to be shown to me according to them. Obviously, they have difficulty in verbalising what exactly needs to be done in the usual linear way. I appreciated and learned a lot in what relates well to effective learning from these little interactions. Note: I still can’t do either well at all!

Is this their attempt to share their successful proprioceptive (feelings reflecting how their limbs and body felt like in a successful attempt) interpretations that is imbued self-regulation that matter more to them than the usual teaching cues that they may have encountered? All of them acquired their skills through fellow students and available instructions, not adult coaches. Can we learn more about teaching by listening to these young competent movers?

The OPTIMAL, Optimizing Performance through Intrinsic Motivation and Attention for Learning model (Wulf & Lewthwaite, 2016) is an interesting area of work that brings together motivation, external focus and motor learning. Part of the theory suggest that motivation is not just a by-product of successful movement but can actually enhance the acquisition of it. Autonomy is also discussed here as a biological necessity that needs to exist for motivation in successful motor learning. Autonomy can include some learner control over practise conditions and the use of instructional language that supports autonomy perception. Reasons for this includes better processing of relevant information, better error detection and better use of self-regulation strategies. A very interesting sharing in this paper is that even incidental choices have value, e.g. choice of colour of ball and choice of unrelated task after main task, in increasing success factors of skills, e.g. accuracy, velocity, etc.

All these goes towards “…strengthening the coupling of performers’ goals to their movement actions, presumably operating in complementary ways…” What I like about this paper is the table of predictions (see Table 1 below taken from the paper) that is easy to understand for a teacher like me that also sort of summaries the whole paper.

OPTIMAL Predictors

Table 1 (Wulf & Lewthwaite, 2016)

POST FrameworkSchematic 1 (Otte, Davids, Millar, & Klatt, 2020)

Communication with POSTSchematic 2 (Otte, Davids, Millar, & Klatt, 2020)

Another work that shares self-regulatory strategies are the related  PoST (Periodisation of Skill Training) framework and the Skill Training  Communication Model (Otte, Davids, Millar, & Klatt, 2020). A easy to understand summary is given in a paper by Otte et al. PoST refers to the need to recognize the stages of an athlete’s development, i.e. Coordination Training stage, Skill Adaptability Training stage or Performance Training stage. The Skill Training Communication Model is an extension of leveraging on PoST by being more focused on the type of augmented feedback (e.g. feedback given by teachers/coaches) given to an athlete that complements ecological dynamics understanding of constraints. See Schematics 2 & 3. This model sought of guide the coach/teacher who uses a Constraint Led Approach (CLA) to use instructions as a form of external (to the action environment) constraints. I like that very well know work, together with their eminent academics, make attempt to bring it all together for the man on the ground. My only worry is that the necessary scientific need to categorize in both discussion and practice examples may confuse actual experience on the ground. The above papers used for discussion attempts to combine the unavoidable need to recognize the complex environment in which a learner exist in that cuts across typical specific areas of sciences, making it more palatable for use on the ground. This is not easy, as academic work sometimes exist in research silos for the sake of robust research methods that tries to control for extraneous factors. It is great to see established researchers go beyond sole expertise areas to make better sense for practitioner use. I always look out for such crossover attempts.

If a strategy is pegged to very distinct categories, it might create confusion for those who may not have full understanding of more insights. The other issue is the assumed chronological existence of categories that may not be so neat in reality. Maybe it is good to start looking more into the linear structures and development strategies for coaches/teachers vis-à-vis non-linear learner development in learners. Even though the same word development is used both for teachers and learners, their implication can be vastly different.

It is about reconciling externally regulated teaching approaches with more efficient self-regulated learning processes. This comes to mind for me when looking at insights via teaching models. How do they relate to the idea of skills emerging as a consequence of needs, i.e. a dynamic system perspective and effectively self-regulated for the learner. This needs to be put  side by side to the fact that as part of teacher development we need to understand processes systematically, i.e. in a logical step-by-step fashion that is externally regulated to the learner.

A good example of potential confusion can perhaps be seen in the concept of Fundamental Movement Skills, FMS. Is it a linear and distinct implementation strategy for the teacher or does it contribute to the understanding of non-linear development of the learner? We might be tempted to think this differentiation does not matter but I believe that it influences very evidently on how we use such concepts in the classroom. This goes the same for the numerous teaching models that we encounter. My personal simple classification is that pure implementation strategies are usually linear structures and development strategies for coaches/teachers and I always endeavor to seek those strategies that allow me the hybrid structure to understand more about potential non-linear learner development in learners. It mirrors almost exactly how we want our students to learn the why, together with the what and how.


Otte, F., Davids, K., Millar, S.-K., & Klatt, S. (2020). When and How to Provide Feedback and Instructions to Athletes? – How Sport Psychology and Pedagogy Insights Can Imporve Coaching Interventions to Enhance Self-Regulation in Training. Frontiers in Psychology; Hypothesis And Theory. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01444

 Wulf, G., & Lewthwaite, R. (2016). Optimizing performance through intrinsic motivation and attention for learning: The OPTIMAL theory of motor learning. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review(23), 1382-1414. doi:10.3758/s13423-015-0999-9

Expected Norm and Individualised Norm in Physical Education (PE)

Expected n Individualised Norm ver 3

Are there big issues coming out of teaching for PE? Some on the ground might say that everything is OK and that only those that want will make mountains out of molehills. Coming slowly out of this worldwide pandemic, PE teaching has been dissected quite a bit on its role and relevance. Admittedly, and obviously, there is no issue for those who are not looking. The isolated learning environment for students has revealed much about what we have to offer when all initially thought relevant factors are taken away, including those that are assumed non-negotiable to PE before, e.g. social interaction, teacher-student interaction, etc. In this climate, my thoughts stray more into what PE teaching should be like when we eventually resume normality. (Many might say I should think more about what to do right now but admittedly, I think I am one of those who is just hiding from current challenges and hoping for normalcy as soon as possible.)

In the calm of the void of face-to-face teaching, my thoughts go back again to what exactly do we want students to achieve right now, immediate future and long term. These statements have evolved for me;

  • When teaching an open skill (where context feedback loop informs maintenance of movement, e.g. a continuous movement like attacking and defending in invasion games), do we teach from the norm and expect moving away from it (Individualised Norm) or do we teach to the norm (Expected Norm), ensuring all achieve a similar standard. (expected norm vs individualised norm – see Fig 1)
  • When teaching a close skill (where feedback is still required but perhaps assumed from within the body mainly, e.g. discrete skills like taking a penalty, a sprint take-off, etc.), do we teach from the norm or to the norm.

I will add here that I do not think there exist a close skill as defined by our popular view that such skills do not need knowledge of outcome/result to be executed or maintained. Our practise might assume that for convenience but closer study will show that there is always an interaction within a learner and the context. All actions need that close loop for feedback (note the word close here is used in different perspective to open and close skill, i.e. an open skill needs a close feedback loop and a close skill might be assumed to not need a feedback loop). We need to consider this loop more carefully to realised the role that information in the context plays. There is a strong chance this feedback flow of information can lead in activity design. Understanding it opens up interesting possibilities.

The reflections on the above might be able to get us thinking a bit more about what underpins teaching processes within learners that will help us understand better effective learning and teaching.

  • Why do we need to teach from the norm or to the norm (expected norm vs individualised norm)?
  • What happens in the learning process when we teach from the norm or to the norm?
  • How do our understanding of cognitive processes involve in learning relates to teaching from the norm or to the norm?
  • Lastly, does being learner centred or skill centred affect the way we see the above?

The word cognition has taken on many meanings. I am not referring here to the cognitive development of learners that we expect as a result of learning (that is also hugely popular as an outcome of education) but rather the cognition involve in the process of learning. For teaching and learning strategies, like it or not, the way we teach makes many implicit assumptions about how we think learners learn and therefore what cognition looks like. This is a mainstay for much of my thoughts as I try to understand the strong lobby that is looking into the look and role of cognition that might differ from the traditional understanding that our brains does the central control for everything.

One common practise is that we create a learning environment in its full representation, or partial, for learners to lock in and replicate when needed. The teaching for understanding perspective goes a bit deeper in expecting deliberate cognitive involvement by expecting learners to think about what they are doing, why they doing it and as a consequence, how to go about it in the future when face with something similar. The ecological camp goes deep into a theoretical view of how cognition works by suggesting that learning takes place as a result of reacting to a series of needs directly which preps the learner for a repertoire of future responses due to this calibration experience, different from traditional cognition understanding of information processing.

Calibration here means an internal information processing mechanism sorts of learn of its abilities and limitations through experience, e.g. how far can I reach, how fast can I move to a point, how to throw an implement to a base accuracy level, etc. When faced with a task that requires the convergence of a few similar expectations, the body reacts accordingly, i.e. the interplay of affordances (reaction possibilities) provided by a task in an action environment. Rereading the preceding sentence, as best as I could have written it, makes me realise why not more practitioners want to look deeper into this. It seems very abstract and seems to say the usual in a confusing way when all teachers might want to do is get a learner to kick a ball in one direction!

The key here is the calibration process and how it is locked in for future adaptation. Example, if I go through an expected norm biomechanical process using a substitute sock ball or a plastic bag full of air and expect it to go towards learning when an actual implement is use, I may not be aligned to how we acquire skills. It is a fun activity and if indeed that is all that is available, I will do it with the expectations for students to respond in anyway as long as task outcome is achieved, e.g. keeping modified ball in the air. This is allowing the learner to calibrate response to needs of the task and environment which will adapt better when eventual implement is used.

I seem to be harping on my same old mantra of considering what happens within the learner when the teacher intervenes and the student respond, other than “the student will listen and do what I want”. This present rehashing seems apt for me to reflect on with the rise of PE discussion in present climate.

Story time – an analogy

“There exist a robot that was designed to respond to walk and stop via pressing a remote control button. A programmer build the programme for the robot’s movement. A user uses the control and manipulate the robot’s behaviour quite effectively via the control. One day, the user wanted the robot to run. He tried his best to jab at the buttons as quickly as possible to reflect the fast rhythm of a running gait. It did not work. The programmer got to know of this need and was able to easily get the robot to run because he knew exactly how to programme the remote-robot interaction such that the correct motors in the robot respond at the appropriate time to initiate a run. However, he needed some help from the user to understand the correct movement rhythm! The programmer knew the interactions between creating a signal and causing a movement. The user was an expert in using the robot to meet the needs of his use.”

We as teachers, are we the user or do we want to be the programmer or a bit of both? (Caveat: At times, we do think we are working with machines and choreograph elaborate reproduction plans. The programmer understand and writes codes for a complex information processing mechanism and do not just input a picture!).

I am trying to put all my thoughts, represented quite a bit by my written reflections, together to re-look and re-fine my own personal mission and vision of teaching PE related skills and knowledge. Fig 1 is a busy visual that attempts to consolidate some of my own learning experience in the area.

One of my biggest observation is our fraternity’s preference to use problem identification (or movement parts identification) cues directly as teaching cues. I remember one of my teacher training lecturers (one of the founders of TGfU) emphasising to us that beginners usually can cope with only one or two cues at a time effectively. A very simple advice that I believe you will notice immediately with your beginner learners if you make a deliberate observation. Many times I find myself giving very elaborate internal cues (e.g. angles, body positions, gaze direction, etc.) to satisfy my own desire of wanting to go through the skill and not realising it does not help in learning for my listeners. They initiate my instructions by picking up the easiest to follow cues. This teacher habit comes together with the breaking up of complex skills to simpler component parts (try looking into the ideas of Decomposition and Degeneracy). This comes with cues that are the representation of the smaller parts. We hope that these cues that when put together represents a picture of the total movement.

This may not be the best framework to expect learning because at any one time, the action needed (we want it to be the action expected) depends on the immediate next phase and not the end outcome. Example, an exercise in an isolated Javelin throw run up will not be the same in natural body calibrating and wanting to adapt best as compared to holding a Javelin and going into the next phase of beginning the release. We can force a sub response to be perfect in its broken up form but that might go against the best learning process within the learner.

We tend to carve out close skills that are discrete and decomposed from continuous movements, e.g. passing drills that mimics part of a bigger movement. This may be a problem. Main reason is while the mechanism within us that facilitates learning across types of skills is similar, the inputs into this mechanism do differ, i.e. continuous, open movement information coming into our learning mechanism will probably differ quite a bit form those of close, discrete movements. Therefore, teaching might not be effective if we do not consider such differences in inputs.

This results in a non-linear development that needs careful consideration from all parts of a progression. Cutting in into parts creates its own outcomes that may not contribute neatly as expected. This is where representational activity outcome needs to be carefully designed to ensure relevancy to eventual outcome.

This is where the whole ecological dynamics perspective, and even the learning for understanding practises, can offer some insights. Is it fair to say that ignoring this might result in the convenient strategy of breaking up complex movements into exact observable parts for practise that inadvertently result in a mismatch of information needed for the eventual expected response between the whole and part activities? I will add that there are three broad ways to dissect a complex skill, 1) by its observable parts, 2) by it’s assume stimulus-response needs at different points and 2) combination of the two. One good reminder from a recent discussion on the matter with some colleagues is that while working in parts, we need to ensure there is always a valid transition in not only mechanical progression but also stimulus (information) relevance to eventual context.

Even the type of cues matters. Beginners respond best to external cues that facilitates an ecological (requiring context-learner interaction consideration) respond to a need, e.g. “get under the ball” activates a movement that automatically scales (movement that takes into consideration learners spatial-temporal interaction abilities, given a task) learners’ abilities to the task as opposed to “bend your legs and move forward”. Cues that we use as experts to identify good and bad movements may not be the best teaching cues if translated directly without taking in to consideration learner’s skill level, physiological processes of learning, etc. Higher ability levels come with better self-understanding that may allow the use of more internal cues for learners. Of course, a good balance of internal and external cues requires the teacher’s expert deliberation on the type of skill/movement in consideration.

What will happen if we do not look deeper here? I believe learning will still take place but with a bigger reliance of learner’s own adaptive mechanism for that learning, i.e. learning takes place despite us and very linted. What will happen if we do consider deeper and are more aware of learning processes within learners, other than replication expectations? I believe our lesson designs will gradually shift towards a direction where our expectations of what we offer and its actual learning impact becomes more aligned.