It is easy to get carried away with the importance of games teaching in Physical Education (PE) classes. The fact is, this is just a part of the whole spectrum of expectations for the PE curriculum. Another main area of concern is the imparting of physical fitness knowledge and abilities to ensure adherence as part of important life-skills. Then there is also the inclusion of outdoor education as part of the important physical activities that adds to a person’s repertoire for fitness and quality of life. This quality of life connection also includes the development of personal competencies like resilience, respect, grit, etc. There may also be basic first aid which has been linked as important if indeed a person intends to embark on a life where physical activities play an important part. So, it goes on and on. It is very difficult to articulate the expectations of a PE lesson in one or two sentence or pin down the exact main focus of the PE curriculum time in schools (this is debatable of course). Society expects much from schools and PE does not escape that.
The issue with being very quick to list out and not put enough thought to the educational process that is needed is the obvious outcome of an outcome-heavy ‘shopping’ list. Again, there is nothing wrong with being clear on what needs to be done and working with the end in mind*. What may be a problem is inadvertently relegating the intent of the list to an exposure level. It then becomes easy and convenient to divide up curriculum time opportunities for exposure to the various expectations. Exposure can be the precursor to a robust educational process or it can exist on its own as a more immediate way to observe temporary evidence of students visibly meeting curriculum needs.
This is where I find the word Education in Physical Education being very overwhelmed by the word Physical to the point of oblivion when the two words exist together. It is indeed a strange phenomenon that is probably the result of the way PE is seen over time. The word Education on its own is accepted by many, including people not in the provision of education business, as a clear process that is necessary for the development of knowledge and skills. Once combined with the word Physical, I strongly suspect it becomes a descriptive phrase that seems to imply exposure only and this does not complement the full education process. It becomes a list of things the students need to be expose to that is expected to allow them the best development outside the classroom. The learning aspect is somewhat implicitly relegated to an automatic process that occurs on exposure. I call this an overemphasis on correlational relationships (assuming exposure correlation to behaviour change and thus just providing for exposure only) that is not the usual causal-effect process of education (we know and deliver what exactly that is needed to cause changes).
So, does PE provide enough opportunities for students to be Physically Educated? I like the phrase Physical Literacy and it has been used a lot in connection to holistic games learning and I also see it as relevant to all expectations of a PE class. The ideas of being Total (see Total Game) is also important in all that we teach via teaching for understanding approaches. So, all this ideas put into games teaching can also pervade the provision of the other aspects of PE to allow that education process to take place. But do we suffer from not being able to focus on wanting to Physically Educate students, through a consistent pervasive approach, because of a myriad of factors stemming from not being clear about what the word Physical in PE means, the word Education in PE means and more importantly, the combined Physical Education’s significance?
Earlier, I wrote about being overtly focused on the interfaces (using different interfaces to connect with students) of teaching without enough thought on the pedagogical approaches that drives us as teachers. (Probably all interfaces comes with an ‘operating system’, i.e. a pedagogical intent that might be overlooked in lieu of exciting modes and mediums of interaction.) There is plenty of time given to the presentation of new equipment, computer apps, smart phone apps and even teaching methodologies with creative engagement methodologies, i.e. flip classroom, Google classroom, etc. All this are valuable potential tools for our arsenal that should very closely be assessed with our overall understanding of pedagogical usage. Otherwise, we may end up focusing on just being physical (the need to see action as an overwhelming objective). Then the need to Physically Educate may not be in practise.
I see a lot of reports in the media to our stakeholders about the enhancement of PE curriculum relating to more opportunities for students to ‘play’ and ‘to be in fresh air’ to encourage movement outside the classroom. Indeed, these are important indicators but taken on its own, it becomes short-termed in its existence and impact. I have colleagues coming to me telling me that some students are berating about not being allowed to have ‘play’ during PE. These concerned educational colleagues tend to be sympathetic to such needs and look to PE as opportunity for the students to ‘let off steam’. (Play as part of motivating learning and play taken literally can be two different animals when it comes to purposeful learning processes.) This one perspective from within our system might be pointing to a serious misrepresentation of what being Physically Educated means, perhaps an antecedent of even more extreme views from outside the system. There is a lot more than can be taken apart for discussion here but the point I am making is the potential disparity of what we are supposed to do against what is expected by stakeholders that may get in the way of our teaching. There is no attempt to politicise what is right or wrong here but explore and overcome hurdles to good practises in order to improve.
The teacher on the ground is the bastion of what comes in the classroom, i.e. tools, interfaces, opinions, attitudes, etc. It is not an easy task as pressure from all around can be convincing. This brings us back to our core beliefs and faith that it will guide us in good practises. My personal take is the need to be constantly reverting back to original intent of the educational articulation of PE expectations, not just being physical but ensuring students are Physically Educated. Formal expectations need to make educational sense to the teacher, it cannot be an end in mind* kind of expectations that may short-cut the learning cycle. So perhaps it is time to relook at Physical Education and proclaim Physically Educate as the main mantra for our efforts in bringing up the next generation of physically literate citizens.
*The end-in-mind, concept to implementation planning process made popular by different propriety schools of thoughts has been much abused (probably though misunderstanding) and used often as a way to quickly implement objectives that may not meet expertise or alignment responsibilities. End-in-mind planning is cyclical, meaning the end in mind is often not constant through a few cycles of attempts to align to possible processes and measurements. For e.g., in curriculum development, content objectives cannot be confirmed till it has been given enough due diligence on its alignment to pedagogy and assessment needs (and likewise for pedagogy and assessment). A linear end-in-mind planning process is just implementation planning.