«LEARNING TO TEACH PHYSICAL EDUCATION IN PRIMARY SCHOOLS: THE INFLUENCE OF DISPOSITIONS AND EXTERNAL STRUCTURES ON PRACTICE by Ian Pickup, BA (QTS) A ...»
Nicola, herself a netball player, selected (and was permitted to do so) an activity that she had personal experience of, and confidence within. This was the first point of reference for this trainee who, without guidance from class teacher or mentor, did not immediately turn to the children’s records of prior learning, lecture notes from university based sessions or curriculum frameworks. Nicola described her own view of the class teacher as appearing ‘relieved’ to delegate responsibility for PE delivery to an enthusiastic trainee during the placement. It appears in such examples that the class teacher views the trainee as a ‘specialist other’, based on an informal judgement of the level of confidence and personal experience described by the trainee. In this way, a positive disposition towards PE and sport was seen to ‘prime’ such trainees towards particular behaviours, including enthusiastic adoption of the role of PE teacher at an initial stage of professional development. These trainee teachers had also earmarked, at a similarly early stage of ITT, the election of further PE study in years two and three of the ITT course, further demonstrating the ‘priming’ effect of a positive disposition towards the subject.
No trainees in the sample held a high physical self perception in the sport sub-domain alongside a low perceived importance of sport. The inference here is that those trainees who rated themselves highly in sports performance were most likely to perceive sport as being very important. The trainees who were positively disposed towards PE and sport (i.e. with very high sport competence and PIP rating) were a minority in this group of trainee teachers. The number of trainees with a very high SPORT self-perception (PSPP SPORT score, 20-24) and high perceived importance of SPORT (PIP=6-8) was very low (4.82%). This group was made up of those trainee teachers who were confident in their own physical abilities and for whom sport was important. Further statistical analysis demonstrated a positive correlation between sport self perception and perceived importance of sport. ‘Pearson’s r’ indicated a highly significant positive correlation between SPORT self-perception and SPORT IMPORTANCE (Pearson’s r (79) = 0.610; p 0.001 (2-tailed). Unsurprisingly, this confirmed that the trainee primary teachers in this cohort were more likely to attach a high importance to sport if they also perceived themselves to be competent sportspeople. This concurs with the views of self theorists (Harter, 1985, 1986; Neeman & Harter, 1986; Marsh, 1986; Marsh & Sonstroem,
1995) who explored the roles of perceptions of competence and subjective importance across a variety of domains including sport.
Influences on dispositions The influences on trainee teachers’ dispositions were seen to be individualised, complex and wide ranging. The results confirmed the importance of trainees’ prior experiences in PE (c.f.
Lawson, 1983a, 1983b; Belka et al., 1991; Doolittle et al., 1993; Placek et al., 1995; Keating et al., 2002), although this was seen as only one influencing factor. Wider life experiences, trainee experiences during ITT and the influence of other people have also been highlighted as significant influences on emerging teaching behaviours during ITT, working in tandem with prior experiences to mediate practice. The trainee teachers experienced a wide range of events during their lives leading up to the start of the ITT course. Such experiences encompassed the education and training experienced before beginning the ITT course, prior experiences in PE and sport, notable family events and incidents and interactions with other people. For example, not all trainees had followed ‘traditional’ pathways from GCSE to Advanced Level study as entry to the university course. Of the 24 trainees who took part in qualitative research stages, only 9 had followed this route from A Level study to undergraduate ITT. The others were older and had taken breaks following study, or had left school at 16 (and subsequently followed an ‘access to teaching’ course in a Further Education College). Experiences in school and broader life experiences were varied amongst the participants, yet seemingly played equally important roles in determining dispositions, attitudes and emerging working practices.
Life experiences were discussed during Stage 1 and 2 interviews and, in relation to the research questions, specific experiences were seen to be influential. Such life experiences included those which happened many years before (for example enjoying sport at school, or being bullied because of body weight) as well as those which were on-going (for example being a parent, or experiencing poor health).
Experiences in school PE and sport The wide range of life experiences is exemplified amongst individual interviewees who described a range of experiences in PE and sport. This relates in part to the national context in which they were schooled as well as the particular sector of schooling. James, for example, attended an international school in Singapore and was exposed to an Australian-influenced curriculum, with ‘sport high on the agenda’ (Stage 1c). Leanne went to school in Ireland and participated in traditional Irish Dance activities throughout secondary school; Peter attended a private boarding school and attributed his perceived self competence in sport to an exposure to regular, daily, compulsory sport. In such cases, experience of PE and sport as a school pupil played a large part in determining disposition towards the subject. Each of these participants had a relatively high self perception of sports competence and perceived importance attached to sport, although Peter expressed concern regarding teaching gymnastics and dance, areas of the primary PE curriculum of which he had no prior experience. All participants were able to describe memories of school PE and sport. Where a positive memory of school PE surfaced, this was usually linked to team participation, success, and praise from teachers or feelings of competence. This included description of the benefits gained through taking on leadership roles in sport, such as being a team captain. The trainees seemed unsure about any distinction between PE and sport and all mainly recalled games activities when recounting experiences.
Leanne, the ‘Irish dancer’, was the only respondent to recall dance without prompting by the researcher; even then, her account was in reference to an extracurricular club. Adam’s experiences of sport started at an early age, having played and received coaching in a number of sports. He remembered that his primary PE coordinator was the school football coach and recollections were entirely based on extracurricular activities. Adam felt that he had ‘been lucky’ to have had such positive experiences in his own time as a pupil and stated that ‘if you know how to do it you can teach it quite comfortably’ (Stage 2a interview). Adam was seemingly motivated towards teaching PE or at least a sport-based conception of the subject that he understood as PE, and expressed an early desire (during Year 1 of his course) to select further PE for study in Years 2 and 3 of the course. He also expressed a wish to become a primary school PE coordinator in the future.
Ellie played for her secondary school netball and football teams and was ‘sports captain’. She cited a positive memory of primary school sports days where there was ‘a full staff involvement’. She also described how her role as sports captain at secondary school was demanding, that the PE staff ‘asked a lot of her’ and that ‘she was very aware of her role as a leader’. Ellie had studied PE to GCSE level and was ‘looking forward to doing PE at University and to have a go teaching it’ (Stage 1c interview). Leanne was another respondent
who provided positive recollections of school sport, proudly sharing her memories:
When I was at school I was good at sport and I enjoyed it. They’d say here comes Leanne, she’s a brilliant runner - oh, makes you feel good when you’re a kid. I got into the teams for most things, only because of my height I was refused a place in the netball team. But then I managed, I got into the team and I was captain in the end (Stage 2a).
Conversely, other trainee teachers had few distinctive memories of PE or sport at school and, where fleeting memories were surfaced, they were often characterised by negative events. For example, Ria (Stage 2b) remembered hitting a friend with a tennis racket and being hit by a hockey stick, saying that ‘I know you want me to remember what fun we had in school PE, but that’s about it, all I seem to remember are the things that hurt’. Sarah (2a) noted that ‘we
didn’t have that much sports going in my day at school’ whilst Jo felt that she is:
Lacking in confidence as I was never taught the basic skills, was never part of school teams. I was always the one picked last and things…sport was just something that I wasn’t good at. Because it’s competitive, and when I went to secondary school, that seemed to be all it was about (Stage 2a interview).
In some cases, recollections were tinged with a level of disappointment. For example, Jo said that she enjoyed specific activities and recalled feeling confident when throwing the javelin.
She expressed disappointment that this was something that she could only ever do for ‘two weeks of the year, and even then it was never taught properly’ (Stage 1c interview). Jo typifies those trainee teachers who felt that school PE and sport had little personal relevance. Prior experiences in PE and sport were therefore seen as significant influencing factors on trainee teacher disposition towards such activities. This appears particularly to be the case for trainees who exhibited either strongly positive or negative dispositions and for whom memories of the sporting experience in school reinforced the notion that PE and sport are the same. Trainees who received frequent praise or indirect reward by being team members and captains were positively predisposed towards PE and sport whereas those with negative memories appeared to be negatively predisposed.
Wider life experiences Trainee teachers explained how wider life experiences were life-changing events which resulted in specific actions later in life. For example, Julia interrupted academic study to have a baby and returned to full time education to embark on the BA Primary Education course.
Having a disabled father and older siblings, ‘who were never around because they were always playing football’, also appears to be a significant factor in the development of Julia’s negative view of physical self and perceptions of PE and sport, although as a mother, she also
expresses a belief in the importance of health and physical activity for children:
I have a 7 year old boy and know how important physical activity is for him. I try to encourage him to be active and play football with his friends…it’s about health and also letting off steam… they need to do it (Stage 1c interview).
In this case, although Julia seemingly lacks confidence regarding sport, there appeared to be a willingness to contemplate becoming a teacher of PE owing to a viewpoint as a mother of a primary school aged child. In this case, the wider life experience of being a parent suggests that she had motivation in the early stages of ITT to apply herself to learn to teach PE and overcome any negative perceptions she may have.
Wider life experiences also impacted on Sarah’s physical self perception. Sarah left school at the age of 15 without any qualifications, only later in life embarking on a university degree following completion of an ‘access to teaching course’ at a Further Education College. Sarah had previously worked as a plumber and lorry driver and amongst this life experience had discovered that ‘her father wasn’t who she thought he was’. Such a life event led to a ‘process of self discovery’ in which Sarah became acutely aware of her own body image (a parent ‘subjected her to constant sniping about her weight’) and in which she developed a resolve to deal with any challenges thrown her way. In such a way, notions of physical self perception were seen to be entwined with life experiences, relationships with other people and a deep rooted, emotionally charged, personal history. Although not directly relevant to PE and sport, Sarah’s own feelings and attitudes towards her physical self meant that she ‘would feel a bit self conscious jumping about in front of other people’ (for example during PE lectures), although this concern was not seen as a limiting factor when teaching children in a primary
I don’t see it as a problem with kids, especially primary aged kids...I’ll just get on with it and have fun, it doesn’t matter if you make a fool of yourself...that’s what the job’s all about (Stage 1c interview).
Sarah, like Julia, was a trainee with potential to move from being predisposed against the teaching of PE (in this case because of a negative body image) to being more positive about her own role as a teacher of primary PE (because of her willingness to face challenges and greater security when working with children rather than adults). The physical health of family members was also a factor which encouraged trainee teachers to remain open minded about the value of PE despite a negative predisposition towards the subject. Mary commented on the impact of ‘seeing my mother (who was severely overweight) suffer kidney failure and die’ on her own motivation to engage in physical activity, although she also describes having her own family as a ‘disruption to a previously active lifestyle’. Nevertheless, she now appeared committed to the notion that physical activity was important for children and appeared determined to gain experience in teaching PE during ITT. As with Julia’s experiences, this shift seemed dependent on experiences during ITT and, particularly the opportunities for development provided during school based experiences (see chapter 6).