Physical Education’s case for Peculiar Pedagogy

Perculiar Pedegogy

As Physical Education (PE) teachers, we do at times face the pressure of trying to define the way we practice via articulation of approaches and models, especially when we start opening up to the rich discussion that take place in pedagogy development. How does this relate to us experienced teachers dealing with new learners? As educators, we have been traditionally been very linear and believe in the importance of our direct involvement in the learning for students. This importance is an intimate, close association to the learning process of learners. It is almost a case of as-good-as-we-are as teachers (mainly our own abilities in movement skills), our students will be so likewise. Of course, as selfless teachers, we also hope for our students to go beyond us eventually. To a large extent, this points to our own learning journey and how we translate that for our students. We take our movement experience, our teacher training and our teaching experience to build up incredibly powerful learning opportunities and experiences that allow similar growth in interest and abilities for our students.

A popular theoretical understanding for movement education is Non Linear Pedagogy (NLP). Seems that the non-linear path to skill acquisition is an incredibly rich and well looked into perspective on how learners might acquire vital movement solutions (skill outcomes). Constraint led approaches to teaching new skills leverage on the ideas of non-linearity for skill learning. In a nutshell, the human learner complex system is artificially put into a state of instability that forces/encourages movement solutions when approaching a state of internal organisational criticality. The reactions from this are about the body’s evolutionary ability to react using important information sources from Task, Environment and Self. The challenge is to manipulate these responses through constraints (Task, Environment and Self) to a set of actions, with the desired degrees of freedom, that answers the movement problem. So while outcome is always as needed or expected, the journey to the outcome is built up by leveraging of the body’s ability to react towards that outcome by the almost infinite paths that takes into account minute variation in conditions that exist in a real context. Or at least this is what this simple teacher gathers from a rather yet-to-be-fully-explored experience and attempts at looking further into research in this area. I find the ideas expressed here very complementing to what is happening for those of us who are trying to create learning more deeply, guided by principles of teaching that seeks objective understanding rather than replication. My ideas on these are well represented in my previous articles.

The difference in nuances between the two preceding paragraphs is that the latter is very much about a good teacher understanding the primary working mechanism of perception-action (sometimes it is cognitive-psychomotor-affective) coupling behavior of the learner and creating that learning environment. The former paragraph seems to suggest the importance of the abilities of the teacher him/herself as the primary creator of learning. Without doubt, the role of the teacher is always vital as the understanding of learning mechanisms relies on that teacher ability very prominently. I have heard of inspiring stories of teachers/coaches moving through teaching perspectives (from relying on pure role modelling to leveraging on learner responses for teaching) without losing their perspectives on depth of teaching/learning involvement. In my mind, I see a gradual shift in amount of teacher dominance that aligns to a typical teaching spectrum that flows from reproduction to production.

When I described my understanding of a teaching model, it is usually using influence from the literature and not something that comes easily without a deliberate attempt to explore. The research language (my attempt at least) and its representation does put a small spanner in the works at times when it comes to wanting to know more for a teacher like me. It is not just the use of unfamiliar words for different context but also the realization that a process that might have been neglected in attention may need so much more focus when planning a learning experience. Is this a typical conundrum when teachers consider models and approaches?

Do teachers feel comfortable taking all these, and more, in? Anecdotal encounters with fellow teachers all over tells me that shifting teaching and learning perspectives can be a challenge, especially when using explicit terms and conditions as expressed by the respective theories behind each model. Added to this complexity, the word model is usually used interchangeably on the ground with approach, pedagogy, strategy, etc. In a survey of PE colleagues in my cluster of fellow schools, I noticed the varied understanding of what different descriptors for teaching processes mean to different people. On social media, I often come across discussions on the existence of models on its own and in combinations and notice the struggle to make sense of what is the best. A usual conclusion to such debates is to use what is necessary to meet objectives and context conditions. Does this really close the chapter on how we come to terms with the rich information that is available out there and how to incorporate it in our praxis?

Questions that most prominently comes to my mind when considering the above is;

  • Why do we need to struggle with ascertaining choice of model/s (approach/es)?
  • Do we have confusion with the processes behind words like Approaches, Models, Pedagogy, Strategies, e.g. which leads us to the struggles mentioned in the first question?
  • How much of these is related to misunderstanding, model loyalty, dominant model influence from literature, etc. ?

I have written quite a bit for my reflections of the possible full spectrum thought process involve when it comes to developing an effective teaching plan and the need to be clear about it. Basically my thoughts are about going back to personal core beliefs that influences own teaching philosophy and vice versa. I am coming back to it because of recent encounters with very good discussions on teaching model fidelity and options. A popular understanding that reflects well the differentiated needs of learners and context is multi-model options, e.g. a Models Based Approach. In a lot of these discussions, the learner’s needs, learner centered, and the teaching context, maybe a reflection of game centeredness, are considered very prominently when deciding what model to use. And within a teaching situation, much discussion also takes place on how you adapt it to also sort of create, possibly with elements of different models, a hybrid or modified approach solution.

Most, if not all, contemporary ideas on student learning put a lot of the focus on how learners react to different stimulus first and foremost, within the context of a learning environment designed to work towards learning objectives. It is learner centric and a clear distinction exist with the more traditional teacher centric methods. How and under what conditions students need to react to differ in these models depending on which aspect of the very broad learning system definition a model is focusing on, e.g. ecological dynamic, cognitive, physiological, etc. Is it fair to say that the anatomical structure and their focus areas are similar for most approaches? If indeed this is a common broad alignment that most models/approaches take and is all about developing the child in a way that involves deep and long lasting learning, then the main difference will be the strategies they employ that are customized for their learning/skill acquisition focus.

What about overall education system learning direction (the approach to learning that the education system you exist in advocate)? Does this need to be considered when deciding what to use on the ground? I think that we can rest assured that such a direction will also take into consideration the overall needs of the young vis–a-vis the needs of the nation and take on also the influence of global educational expectations. If this is accurate, what it means is that our decision making on the ground could possibly only be at strategy level as broad teaching and learning approaches have already been decided for us. If this is again accurate, we can also rest assured that most modern interpretation of learning and teaching theories, whether grounded in physiological, environmental, social, etc. sciences, will have the same natural alignment (hopefully!).

So how much is our rhetoric on the models and approaches we need to use on the ground reflect the situation of what it should really be, a very natural need to meet the needs of students via effective implementation strategies that is well understood and already set in many ways? This is where I have always tried my best to remember that such strategies should be grounded in good overall expectation of how learners should learn and represented by good established theories. In a very convoluted way, I am supporting the use of what needs to be done as a result of an internal overarching understanding of how various theories support learning, without the worry of which model or approach ‘my’ way exist in. A big caveat I put forward here is that the need to understand such theories individually is still absolutely vital (even though I seem to suggest the possibility that the education ecosystem has set in place the overall directions for us), without inadvertently boxing ourselves in. Implementation strategies shouldn’t be used without any thought on its theoretical existence, which is also a comfortable situation many might resort to. I am probably repeating it quite often but I believe it is the role of teacher to be a good curator and user of collective knowledge out there.

So what can potentially happen when we get cautious and assume approaches and models are mutually exclusive? I am suggesting that this may lead to unnecessary distraction on trying to figure out merits or otherwise of different comprehensive and established learning theories. In the literature, it is expected, I will say, for experts and authors to provide very comprehensive representation on each school of idea they are working on. Less popular are definitive actual on-the-ground, outside experimental conditions, formal reports of practices. There are plenty of informal ones though coming from practitioners all over. Such a reporting scene might contribute towards this one-model-over the-other or versus situation. I can see only progress if we continue pushing our expertise to ensure the best fit theory knowledge and experience design for student learning that is not stifled by teacher’s need to defend a theoretical position but rather share and explore it.

There is nothing peculiar about pedagogy!

(The above is probably the mash-up song equivalent of a reflection. A delayed apology, if you have reached this far, on the rather more suffering than genius for this very passionate teacher…and thanks to Miss Peregrine for title inspiration)

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