«LEARNING TO TEACH PHYSICAL EDUCATION IN PRIMARY SCHOOLS: THE INFLUENCE OF DISPOSITIONS AND EXTERNAL STRUCTURES ON PRACTICE by Ian Pickup, BA (QTS) A ...»
Some of the things we have gone over, it’s been based on what you’re expected to teach up to the level of. So, some of the things, I just thought, well I know this.
It’s just something I’m very comfortable with. I can be involved and help but I’m not really learning too much. I think for me, a lot of it has just gone over my head (Stage 1c).
Adam was a trainee who rated himself highly in the PSPP and proclaimed a confidence to teach ‘almost any sport’ (Stage 1c). This trainee’s views highlight a necessity to consider the learning needs of all trainees, to take account of prior learning, and raise questions pertaining to the extent to which learning is differentiated within university based lectures. Issues regarding perceptions of PE and the need for reflective opportunities to challenge pre held perceptions of the subject (for example relating to appropriate curriculum content in both primary age key stages) are also highly pertinent in this regard and were surfaced in a
subsequent interview with Adam:
The PE that I have seen in school so far has been pretty much all games and I have felt comfortable teaching football when I was in school this year. In fact, they let me do whatever I wanted to be honest. We did a couple of lessons of dance too, which was pretty straight forward, but I was much more at home on the field (Stage 2a).
Although Adam did not appear to value the learning experiences provided in Year 1 PE lectures, he remained true to a stated longer term ambition of becoming a PE coordinator in school and elected to study further PE in Years 2 and 3 of the ITT course. The perceived negative experience on course in Year 1 did not adversely affect personal disposition and selfconfidence, or alter pre held perceptions of PE and sport being effectively the same. This suggests that the influence of PE lectures for such positively disposed trainees at this stage of teacher development is minimal and that wider life experiences have much greater influence.
The trainees acquired practical ideas for lessons and there was a growing awareness of the need for children to be healthy and that provision of movement, PE and sport opportunities was part of a broad commitment to children’s health and the prevailing ‘Every Child Matters’ agenda. Despite this, those trainees who began ITT with negative dispositions did not appear to be any more confident or perceive themselves as sufficiently knowledgeable in this regard, even after attending lectures. Ria (Stage 3a) exemplified a concern that the precise role of the
class teacher within the broad health and physical activity agenda was unclear:
We are being told all the time that children are too fat, and that they don’t move enough. I realise that PE has a role to play in helping with this stuff, but I am still not sure how this works, what my role is or whatever (Ria, Stage 3a).
Similarly, Ellie (Stage 2a) demonstrated a somewhat simplistic view of the subject and lack of
clarity regarding the educational potential of PE:
The lectures last year were fun and gave us lots of things to try in school, but I am not sure where it all fits in and how important it (PE) is to me as a class teacher. If it’s as simple as letting all the children burn off some calories, then I can do that and the children do seem better for having had some exercise when you try to teach them after PE.
Although James remained committed to the notion of developing to become a PE coordinator in the future, he was very much aware of the constraints that a limited exposure to PE within the ITT curriculum presented; he did, however, accept the need for a personal investment in
time for developing PE knowledge further:
I feel as though I can play a big role in PE in school and really see myself a coordinator in the future, but I’ve only really taught a small bit of the curriculum…I don’t feel confident in some areas like gymnastics. I’ll give it all a go and will be able to manage the class but if I need to advise other teachers and help with planning I’ll need to do some research! (James, Stage 2b).
The impact of PE lectures led to a short term change in trainees’ attitudes towards the subject.
In such cases, trainees seemed more willing to practise the teaching of PE in school, owing to increases in confidence and enhanced awareness of what and how to teach. For example,
Sarah (Stage 1c) said that:
I have got some good ideas now and understand why it’s so important for children. I hope I get chance to teach some PE in school, although I am not sure that I will. When I did some observations in a school before starting here I didn’t see much PE at all and I don’t think we are expected to teach PE this year.
Maybe I will give it a go.
In general terms, the compulsory, Year 1 PE lectures were perceived by the trainees as a positive experience. Although positively disposed trainees expressed a view that they were not developing sufficient subject knowledge during this course, and other trainees highlighted the relatively surface level exploration of the subject, the majority of trainees described the lectures as enjoyable, often more fun than was initially anticipated, providing opportunities for developing subject knowledge. The PE course largely served to allay fears, advocate the importance of the subject and provide a broad introduction to teaching PE, although coverage of all six NC activity areas was clearly not possible during this 20 hour course. This raises significant questions regarding teacher knowledge in the content of primary PE and the content of university based lectures in relation to the national curriculum teachers are charged with delivering. Critically, the key outcome of the compulsory PE lectures appears to be an increase in confidence amongst negatively disposed trainees and the compulsory PE course did not appear to deter trainees from teaching the subject. Through participation in this course trainees were more aware of the nature and content of PE, appropriate teaching strategies in selected activity areas, and the importance of PE within the broader landscape of encouraging healthy physical activity. The teaching of PE during school placement was now a realistic possibility of action for the majority of trainees, although the range of activities and level of support required to negotiate PE teaching practice varied considerably from trainee to trainee.
The conflation of PE and sport in ITT The conflation of PE and sport in the minds of trainee teachers has been seen to be reinforced by contextual factors. For example, the compulsory PE course studied by all trainee teachers in the sample during Year 1 required the completion of an initial ‘subject knowledge audit’ during the first lecture (see appendix 13). This necessitated the trainees completing a self rating questionnaire, using a 0 to 10 rating scale with regards ‘experience’ (0 signified no experience and 10 regular participation) and ‘performance’ (0 signified none or poor performance and 10 high level / national performance). The scale related to the six activity areas of the national curriculum for PE, although the prominence and level of detail afforded to each area was not equitable. Games activities (the first activity area listed on the audit sheet) was subdivided into categories of games (namely ‘invasion’, ‘net/racket’, ‘striking/fielding’) and each category contained specific, named formats of sports (rugby, hockey, football, basketball, netball, other; tennis, badminton, squash, other; cricket, rounders, softball, other). The other activity areas of NCPE, except athletic activities, were not sub divided into component parts (it would, for example, have been possible following a similar approach, to name different dance styles or formats of gymnastics, strokes in swimming and so on). Trainee teachers were also asked to list any ‘sports governing body awards’ such as coaching certificates that they held.
The audit, completed largely to support development of the course tutors’ understanding of trainee teacher learning needs, afforded a heightened level of importance to trainee teachers’ performance and competence levels.. Undue weighting towards games activities and adult versions of team sports was evident whereas there was little scope for the trainee primary teachers to document an interest in children’s physical development or experience of working with children in wider movement contexts. Interview data suggested that this sport and activity-based conceptualisation of PE was unquestioned by the trainee teachers; as the trainees already appeared to hold the view that PE and sport were the same, the audit and the ensuing games related focus of lectures confirmed this view. The trainees with greatest levels of perceived sport competence and highest values of perceived importance of sport were implicitly confirmed as ‘able’ in PE from the outset, whilst the negative self perceptions of others with a weaker sense of personal competence were similarly validated. For those with negative dispositions, this conflation appears to limit possibilities of action with regards to being open to professional development as a teacher of primary PE. At the same time, those with positive dispositions are also confirmed as likely future specialists based on experience in performance and coaching contexts. This also serves to limit the possibility of reconfigured and reconceptualised PE teaching in the primary school curriculum (for example placing an emphasis on cooperation and learning through movement experiences); those most likely to become PE coordinators from this cohort were those with most experience of performance, competition and coaching.
Elective ‘specialist’ lectures A minority of trainees who had chosen (and were subsequently selected by lecturing staff based largely on the completed subject audits and a subjective view of amount of experience) to study more PE during Years 2 and 3 of the course (of the 24 in the original interview sample, 5 chose to do so), further practical application was gained in taught sessions. This included taught lectures as well as practical tasks in which trainees gained experience, practising teaching groups of children in schools and in University. The 5 ‘specialists’ continued PE during Years 2 and 3 of the course, although others within the year group chose to study PE in Year 2 only. The ‘specialist’ group within the sample were those who had expressed a positive disposition towards PE and sport at the outset of the course, in addition to a small number of trainees (such as Vicky) who were initially lacking in confidence but who grew in confidence within compulsory PE lectures. This ‘subject specialist’ group were, through on-going engagement with PE within the university based course, afforded more time to develop knowledge and teaching skills in the subject whilst those who did not elect to study PE were not. Members of this PE group experienced a wider range of PE learning opportunities, which included local school children attending lectures (in Years 2 and 3), with whom the trainees taught under supervision and with peer support. This allowed the trainees to work collaboratively, gain confidence and subject knowledge in activity areas in which they were less confident and receive constructive feedback from specialist tutors. This learning
experience was warmly received by the trainees concerned:
I worked with my group to plan a dance lesson based on a story. I didn’t have a clue to start with, but we researched it together and eventually taught the dance to some local children who came in. I got a lot out of this lesson and feel more confident now that I can teach dance in the future…I’ve got some ideas and ways to plan and teach (Adam, Stage 3b).
It was useful to work with others and to teach without being formally assessed…like, the PE tutor was there more in support and to pass on advice. I think I learned more in that 30 minutes than I have done in the whole year of other lectures (Nicola, Stage 3a).
The best thing was doing something that I wouldn’t normally do [dance] with the others who used to dance… that gave me some confidence and, yeh, I’m not a dancer but now feel as though I can get stuck in and give it a go. It was good to practice teaching without worrying about being assessed and it was actually nice to get some feedback from a PE expert (James, Stage 2b).
This experience was central to the elective trainees’ progress as PE ‘specialists’; such professional learning, however, only took place amongst the minority who elected further PE study with the remainder remaining reliant on knowledge accrued in one compulsory module (in Year 1) and from experiences acquired in the school context. In this way, those who were generally the most confident and positively disposed towards PE were further supported and enabled within university based PE courses, some of which had clear linkage to school practice. Those with least confidence and experience were not encouraged or supported to develop further as teachers of primary PE. The possibilities of action in PE for this group of trainees (making up the majority of respondents) were therefore severely limited within the university context.