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Have we lost our soul? (21.12.12)
On the day when most people are putting school behind them for a couple of weeks, I thought I’d share some reflections on where we seem to be at when it comes to teaching and learning in PE.
I appreciate that as a teacher educator I write from a privileged position. I’m not caught up in the hurley-burley of school life and I don’t have to worry constantly about pleasing/appeasing Ofsted, or more accurately what my school managers THINK Ofsted would make of my practice. My job also allows me time to read, think and critically reflect on practice.
This ‘state of the nation’ reflection is based on practice I observe in schools and, interestingly, practice that is reflected by people applying to study PGCE (post grad teacher education). I receive hundreds of application for PGCE PE. Most applicants are already working in schools. Those that are invited to interview are asked to teach their peers. This is a fascinating exercise as what we on the panel see, is their interpretation of what make great PE based on what they see and hear at school. This is characterised by the following…
- Levels – an obsession with giving every action of every learner a level. ‘This is a level 4 chest pass, this is level 5 and this is level 6’ with the THIS often portrayed by way of A3 laminated worksheet complete with pictures, graphics and wordart text.
- Combined with the levels comes all/most/some objectives…’all of you will achieve level 4, most of you will go on to be able to use your chest pass with accuracy in practices with some pressure and some of you will progress even further and be able to chest pass in a game and all the way home on the bus.’
- And the last piece of the jigsaw…super detailed assessment rubrics, which presumably enable teachers to apply levels consistently.
So what’s my beef?
Despite all this ‘effort’ practice hasn’t changed so after these lengthy introductions, establishing levels, going through all/most/some etc the kids are then asked to do the same decontextualized practices that I was asked to do in my PE lessons 30 years ago. What I witness is a poorly applied/misinterpreted version of Assessment for Learning as developed by brilliant educators like Dylan Wiliam, Paul Black et al 15 years ago. The actual teaching has become procedural and bureaucratic. Void of soul:
- The learning environment has become clean, even clinical. Effective learning often looks wonderfully messy.
- The (unreasonable) expectations assume linear, measurable progress in the acquisition of complex movements in EVERY lesson.
- The learning experience is shaped by exclusionary values supported by a narrow interpretation of the subject that David Kirk refers to as ‘physical-education-as-sports-techniques’.
So to bring a seasonal feel to my ramblings…you can wrap up an unwanted gift in the best wrapping paper and a fancy bow but inside a crap gift remains a crap gift.
My wish for 2013…every child to have meaningful, exciting, appropriate and authentic experiences in PE where the only level that’s relevant is ‘are you making progress towards the level you need to be at to engage happily in sport and physical activity when you leave school.’ You never know, Mr Gove may well be my Santa and deliver this gift by way of his new national curriculum!
Season’s greetings everyone.
The Legacy Fallacy (19 December 2011)
‘Every sport will have a legacy’
Sebastian Coe, Singapore 2005
This blog is about the need to transform the way children and young people experience sport and physical activity (PA)
As we prepare to see out 2011 and enter the Olympic year, I thought I would explore where we are in relation to the Legacy agenda.
It pains me to say it but I’m hugely skeptical. It will be the highest profile (and most expensive) sporting event to take place in my home town. The legacy agenda was the only justification I could see for bringing the Olympic circus to town. Not because I bought into the idea that the best athletes in the world would inspire young people to take up and stay in sport/PA but because of the focus and opportunities it could bring.
Lord Coe explained in ’05 how he was inspired as an 8 year old watching the Games to become a multiple Olympic medal-winning athlete. Fair enough – for a limited few that might be the case but we know that access, funding, transport and support all need to be present in abundance for a young person to progress through to elite sport not to mention the physical and psychological characteristics required by the athlete him/herself. This cocktail of contributory factors would exclude so many youngsters that the £9 BILLION spend would equate to tens of millions of pounds per future Olympian. The inspiration fallacy plays out every summer when the local tennis courts see a flurry of activity for a week or two after Wimbledon. It doesn’t last long.
So how could the Olympics have impacted on participation rates? Shifting the national gaze over a range of sports has led to initiatives such as National School Sport Week and the School Games have been expanded to allow schools to emulate Olympic style competition. Sport England have a range of initiatives from Places People Play to Sport Makers. These initiatives are essentially MORE OF THE SAME and it’s this more of the same approach that feeds my skepticism.
Sports development specialist, Jim Cowan has been highlighting the lack of a coordinated, coherent Olympic strategy for quite a while now, yet that is precisely what is needed if London 2012 is going to impact on how children and young people engage with sport and PA. And that’s why the ‘more of the same’ approach is doomed – the thing that is being emulated has not worked. Even the most optimistic figures suggest that MORE young people are NOT involved in Sport and PA than are.
My concern is that we will waste the best opportunity to explore answers to difficult questions; to reconceptualise pathways into and through sport and PA, and to transform the experience; to re-consider the ‘old’ models and arrive at new, better ones that place the needs of the growing child at the centre. Our knowledge is so limited. We know how to perpetuate the model that serves those who are supported and socialized into sport but we know so little about how to reach those who don’t think they can or how to engage children who are overweight or have specific learning needs or even how to reach the majority of adolescent girls. Have we really made progress here and what does/can sport/PA look like for these youngsters?
Liz Jones’ recent article in the Mail was widely vilified. It made uncomfortable reading but perhaps she speaks for the many. Those of us involved with PE and Sport would do well to question whether the very experiences and cultures that turned us on to sport as youngsters are the very ones that drive hordes away.
I don’t claim to have the answers. I am, however, convinced that part of the solution is establishing movement competency in children. Good movers can grow into young people who have choice; young people who can decide how they wish to engage with sport and PA, which activities at which level and for what reason. For most kids it’s not about doing loads of one sport, or even doing lots of different sports…it’s about the enjoyment that comes from learning to move in lots of different contexts and environments.
In my next few blogs I will expand on the flaws in the way children generally experience sport and suggest some alternative ways to create a Legacy.
Those who ‘can’t'…
‘It’s just not his thing’….’she’s not a natural athlete’…’he’s just not very good at…’
We hear these sentiments expressed so often. I don’t suppose they are only related to sport and physical activity. ‘I was never any good at Maths’ is also a common one. But I’m not sure there is another field of learning where it is so often assumed that ability is innate. Parents express it, teachers refer to it, coaches use it to justify lack of progress so it’s not surprising that kids assume it too. I’ve heard 3 year olds tell me they’re ‘not very good at…’
The outcome of this highly dubious assumption impacts on millions of young people around the world. They’re lost to physical activity before they even start. How do/can we intervene? I’d love to hear about your intervention strategies for kids ‘who can’t’. Literature, coaching manuals/blogs/websites, twitter conversations etc always seem to focus on how to support kids who are already engaged. The world of sport and PE can appear as a huge ‘mini me’ industry; the message is all too often, ‘I can so you must be able to’ or potentially more alienating, ‘I love this so you’ll love it too’. Enthusiasm is great but we must look at the kid’s starting point and these all tend to be very different. Consider prior experience, opportunities for ‘free’ physical play, hours of participation & practice, quality of early years teaching and learning, level of movement competence, values and attitudes etc etc. Each of these can be discussed in detail another time.
The point I’m trying to make is simple – let’s reflect on what we as parents/coaches/teachers do to break the link between ‘I can’t’ and ‘I’m not interested’. Let’s equip youngsters to know that they can and let’s challenge the highly-damaging myth of innateness. It’s a big ask that requires some big answers.
Just do it
What better gift can we give to our children that the sheer joy of being physically active? In fact, perhaps that should read simply ‘sheer joy of being’. For children to exhibit unbridled enthusiasm for just about anything and everything is, in itself a sheer joy. I guess this really is the holy grail of parenthood, teaching and coaching. Where does it come from / how can we get there?
Unfortunately, we’re up against some formidable enemies of which Apathy must be the deadliest. I’ve been fortunate to work with some inspirational people, none more so than my friend Helen Cazalet. Helen is a retired teacher with a deep, burning passion for young people’s progress. She cares about pretty much everything. Because of this her energy is tangible.
Let’s energetically enthuse and hopefully our kids will engage with their world with interest, enjoyment and a heightened sense INTRINSIC motivation. Let them do it for the sheer love of it!
Professional football club academies start working with children (mainly boys) from the age of 8. Expectations are often raised as the boys progress and a great deal of time, energy and money is invested by the club and parents. Some figures suggest less than 1% of boys go on to play regularly for the first team of the academy club…1%!
That’s a tough one to explain. These kids have the best coaching (supposedly) yet there is clearly a missing element. At Active Kids we feel this is to do with too much emphasis being placed too early on sport specific skills and not enough on general athleticism and core physical competence (although I am sure it’s not quite that simplistic).
Whether you want your child to be a healthy, confident participator or a world beater, the starting point is the same. This quote is from Kofi’s mum. Kofi came to Active Kids (as mi sport was then called) for 4 years from the age of seven. We wish him and all our ‘graduates’ well and hope they go on to really enjoy all that sport has to offer.
AK has been great for Kofi – he’s enjoyed working with all your staff. They have been challenging and consistent. You may know that Kofi plays for Haringey Borough and Broadwater Farm football clubs – both doing very well this season. He is naturally athletic, but the regular attendance at AK over the years has also helped develop his skills.