Lessons in PE: Good, Bad and ‘Keep them moving & busy!’

Question to evaluate lessons

What makes the ideal lesson, the ideal series of lesson? In Physical Education (PE), lessons are, to many possibly, about clever activities that get students moving. The active movement lobby is so popular that it may be potentially getting in the way of educating. The more engagement that is created, the better it is for many. What is hidden (and often forgotten) is ensuring that activities or learning opportunities are structured to ensure alignment to the approach that we want students to learn by while meeting content objective. The educational trinity of content, assessment and pedagogy plays that pivotal role of ensuring the whole student experience is really a deliberate, thought-out process that involves multitude of considerations that goes back all the way to desired outcomes of the education system it exist it.

  1. How easy/difficult is the recognition (for all lessons and series of lessons) of that hypothetically (or is it a confirmed premise) vital education vein that connects all practices on the ground to its beginning vital desired outcomes?
  2. Should there also be the almost implicit trace that connects to sound pedagogical processes that support these desired outcomes?
  3. Are the two above the same thread?

The three important questions above, to me, comes to mind each time I come across the prominence of a lesson activity or series of activities that promises to engage students to the maximum with incredibly clever teacher-student interfaces and engagement strategies. In my journey to share and learn, I often come across instances where the desired choice of content expected for sharing by platforms is an implementation package that shows clearly student engagement through video or detailed lesson plans/steps. The rationale given for this is usually that teachers need to see it work. It was only recently I head quite happily (probably due to my own limited listening attempts) a senior educator pronouncing the importance to “…talk the walk…and not always walk the talk…” To what extent do teachers qualify a successful learning opportunity? Can teachers use the questions above as part of guiding criterion? If not, is engagement and use of creative interfaces the main benchmark?

The last question that decides for me if I need to go further into scrutinizing my own practices, Is it necessary to query on the above? If yes, then what does a teacher need to look out for on a micro level, day-to-day, and at a macro level, the whole series of lessons for the offered module. In this blog, I have shared perspectives of play, fun, feedback & assessment, reflections, cues, etc. All these thoughts arise as a result of thinking about what a PE session should look, feel and be like at a micro and macro level. In a big way for many, the role of scoping and sequencing dominates the planning process for lessons at times. This is a popular focus as it most directly influences the look of a lesson. In fact, I have occasionally been told by experience teachers that scoping, sequencing, extensions, etc. is pedagogy for them.

A very obvious insight tool for such a purpose (evaluating a lesson) is the lesson observation platform that is often done during training and as part of teachers’ evaluation during different milestones of a teaching career. Coupled with this are the ageless lesson plans that are usually also used mainly during teacher training and in-service performance evaluation. One key characteristic of these two formal lesson design support is that it is to some extent a system-led practice, meaning it is a requirement of the system that is attempting to influence practice and perhaps not primarily something that is overly focussed on meeting differentiated learning needs, an unintended consequence definitely if it is even one. There is no intent here to say that no planning exist for teachers in general but rather that informal, teacher-dependent, structures are probably more prevalent in the delivery of lessons, in areas of PE that may be considered action dependent. A huge chunk of these informal practices can probably be related to reflection or part of reflective practices. I say informal because to a large extent it is totally up to a teacher on the amount of resources use for this important aspect of teaching. It is not uncommon that very experience teachers even do their planning as they walk down the hall to a class! I put forward earlier that comprehensive reflection is probably what makes teaching Teaching!

So what might help when it comes to observing, planning, and reflecting on a lesson (I will refer here to the qualitative evaluation aspect of observing, planning and reflecting as the expectations of pre (planning), during (observation) and post lesson contemplations (reflecting) are different to some extent )? A good first step is to start looking at Lesson Plans as Learning Plans or Teaching plans, to give emphasized on the learner centered focus of lessons which leverages on the skill of a teacher to facilitate good learning. The purpose here is to very deliberately take away the focus from just the look of the lesson, which usually means more to the teacher and observers than the students.

It begins with what are students’ needs and not the teacher’s. I am referring to Learning and Teaching Plans in the broader context of representing the wider thought process that should follow learning opportunities, taking into consideration all that is needed for effective education.

  1. What do I need to cover for the lesson/s?
  2. How am I going to deliver this content?
    • The approach that I want students to learn by
    • Scoping, sequencing and other delivery mechanics that meets the above approach
    • Think of the interfaces and strategies to use
  3. At what points do I need some feedback and the types of feedback on their learning so far?
  4. How will I use today’s learnings to set the scene for the next step and did it connect with the last lesson in the first place?

These questions may be a possible guide to a reflective process when looking, considering learning opportunities in PE. The alphabets denoting the steps may suggest a hierarchy but I won’t dare say one is more important than the other, even though I will suggest that the directional flow does allow a systematic approach to considering a lesson design. The steps above also seems to suggest that the tools that makes a lesson most attractive to the observer (sometimes even to students!) are at the sub-points level (between point 2 and 3). This a deliberate attempt to take away attention from quick fixes. There are times when quick fixes save the day and there is no denying the importance of the role of such strategies in our lessons. The flow should be aligned to the processes that game-centered and teaching-for-understanding methodologies rely on to ensure that students are as often as possible put in a position where there are not only understanding but also able to construct their own learning as a result of.

One possible distraction that does appear in traditional Lesson Plans and lesson planning processes, this teacher thinks, is the separation of learning to the specific domains of Cognitive, Affective and Psychomotor. At formal teachers’ gathering recently, I overhead a statement that declared the lack of thinking skills needed in Physical Health and Fitness theory delivery. To me, it is only related to health and fitness if there is a very large amount of thinking involved!

When separated at implementation, these three domains seen in isolation can possibly lead to misconceptions or with best intentions, given a bigger role than its combined impact on a learner. I will share Sönmez’s (Sönmez, 2017), see table below, declaration that “…no learning outcome can fall into a single domain. A learned behaviour is in association with all domains…”. He explored the possibility that when considering possibly flawed single-domain affected outcomes, isolated domain classifications in existence might not be the most accurate and therefore practices aligned to such taxonomies might need a better understanding. He suggested a fourth domain of Intuition. Something to consider for us.

Sonmez Model

Without doubt that these domains are the vital targets for development and numerous well versed theories exist to suggest that. It is probably fair to say that different groups of thought/theory development will focus their work to restricted definitions and we as expert classroom gatekeepers, make sense of it within our everyday professional experience. As much as it helps to look into these areas separately (to some extent) in studies, we must realise that they are part of a human’s complex system make-up and with the simple realisation that the ‘whole is not the sum of the parts’, which can inadvertently be alluded to if not careful with Lesson Plans and reflections that attempts to bring to focus the individual realisation of the three domain’s development.

So what is the option then if indeed we acknowledge and want the holistic development of all these areas? I will suggest putting faith into the pedagogy we embrace that takes into account the overall development of students. Game-centred approaches like Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU) is more than instructional, step by step framework that guarantees understanding cures to all PE movement learning ailments! Part of the important philosophy of teaching for understanding is represented by the word Understanding. This word represents being successful (each person will have their own unique success definition, not communal or universal) in living in the world that they exist in. The living mentioned here is one that meets, or on the way to, the ideals of a legitimate and appropriate existence in accordance to the law of man and nature. What this means, through a bit of a convoluted but effective relationship, is that the expectations of affective and cognitive development will come with the psychomotor when done right, focusing on game centeredness with the assumption that game or play in its best form is reflecting alignment to existing well as it is leveraged for learning. With this premise, PE can first and foremost focus on physical activities and their existence in a real-world context.

Consider the role of the Cognitive. Some may narrow its impact to the cognitive processes that is directly involved with movement solutions in PE (e.g I want to move to the right). Even then, we might say it is the body’s automatic evolutionary response or a higher order thinking response. This might create strategies that negatively support the mind and body duality in physical movements. We should perhaps focus on the Cognitive (and also the Affective), when looking at the overall big picture of development in PE, as the conditions needed in the mind that is associated with the acquiring of knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, creating own learning/understanding, etc., that is part and parcel of movement education used in PE (i.e. I want to move to the right because that allows me to meet my immediate objective of receiving the ball. I need to receive the ball quick at this point in time to assist in offensive movement happening. This is my best choice right now). That is, being able to exist in this world (movement wise) with a well-equipped psychological state. This to me is what Physical Literacy or being Physically Educated is very much about. Is movement offered without all these considered forced replication?

We perhaps also need to explore further our understanding of the PE-teacher-workable role of the mind at a local level when involved with Psychomotor learning. This relationship is probably the most thought of when it comes to PE teaching. What is the connection? Some non-linear explanation might even suggest a lack of cognitive interference in perception-action coupling. I accept that but will suggest that this relates to a local (to the event) level of cognitive definition that is not the wider Cognitive and Affective understanding that we look at overall for PE related development.

The Affective domain, gaining much prominence, also tends to be brought to light in the pursuit of living competencies like resilience, perseverance, fair play, respect, etc. I will consider these as realistic secondary outcomes of good overall education. The primary Affective domain in PE for me is the part of the learner that allows the discerning acting out of the Cognitive (via the Psychomotor) in the learners immediate and long term existence. It is the feeling of doing an action well (success) and perhaps not totally right (failure) in relation to movement, which allows better future movement. It is part of the decision making mechanism in us that tells the body what is possible and not and its various iterations in the middle, not only for immediate movement solutions but considering the bigger context the movement exist in which in turn relates to existence in this world.

So, is there such a thing as a Good or Bad lesson? I will suggest carrying on having as many Bad lessons as needed (not on purpose of course!), as only then can us as reflective teachers move forward. The nature of human behaviour is such that only through exploration can we develop the best plans, as many plans as we have students! A lot of my own reflections are a result of a lifetime of Bad lessons and I am still searching for that elusive perfection!

References and readings for this article

James, A., & M. Cruz, L. (2005). Address the “Whole Person”. Teaching Elementary Physical Education, 16(6), 20-22.

Sönmez, V. (2017). Association of Cognitive, Affective, Psychomotor and Intuitive Domains in Education, Sönmez Model. Universal Journal of Educational Research, 5(3), 347-356.

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