«LEARNING TO TEACH PHYSICAL EDUCATION IN PRIMARY SCHOOLS: THE INFLUENCE OF DISPOSITIONS AND EXTERNAL STRUCTURES ON PRACTICE by Ian Pickup, BA (QTS) A ...»
It is interesting to note that James turned what could be construed as a negative experience into a positive one in which he drew confidence from his experiences in sport as a coach to cope with the management issues and unpredictable problems experienced. The consequences of such incidents at the start of a lesson being taught by a less confident trainee would make an interesting comparison. James’ possibilities of action were strongly influenced by his positive disposition towards the subject, without which such a valuable opportunity to gain experience and to reflect on problems would not have been apparent. Whilst James actively sought out opportunities to teach PE, others displayed an ability to avoid the subject or particular activity areas within it. This was highlighted when working alongside peers in a paired placement in
the first year of study:
The girl I was on TP with wasn’t confident in her PE so she didn’t teach it. It was all left up to me (Ellie, Stage 2a).
In this example, Ellie (who appeared more positively predisposed to the subject with above average levels of ‘physical self worth’ and ‘importance attached to sport’) gained further experience and confidence, whilst her partner (who was reportedly negatively predisposed towards the subject (although not part of the interview sample) did not.
In the first year school placement, Adam was placed in a Reception class, the first time he had experienced working with children younger than five years of age and a long way removed from his stated long-term goal of teaching in Key Stage 2. He seemingly responded to the challenge, yet experienced difficulty in planning activities appropriate for this age phase.
Adam also clearly felt that the expectation on him as a young male trainee was to take charge
of the PE during his placement:
They just gave it to me. You’re a man, you deal with it. No, it wasn’t quite that bad, but they were keen for me to teach it [PE]. I volunteered to take a few lessons but just started off observing as I coach children aged 5-11 normally. I took quite a lot of lessons in the end… We did football. We did basketball and then we just did games and dance…a variety of things (Adam, Stage 2a).
As with the experience of Nicola described above, the assumed responsibility of teaching PE without specific guidance in the school setting did not deter Adam from teaching the subject.
On the contrary, he welcomed the challenge, relying heavily on pre conceived ideas of PE and drawing on his own positive experiences and confidence in the sports context. Trainees such as James and Nicola were, however, able to avoid teaching some activity areas of PE (such as dance activities) within which they had less experience or confidence. This appeared to be enabled through the lack of structured mentoring and subject support in school. The lack of breadth of experience gained by confident trainees was, however, addressed through elective
university PE courses:
The area I didn’t get experience in, in the first two years was dance and to be honest with you – well, look at me, I’m not much of a dancer. I didn’t know where to start before, but can now see how this links to lots of bits of the curriculum. I wouldn’t say I was an expert in it but can give it a go now (James, Stage 3b).
In most cases, the extent to which trainees were supported to practice teaching PE during school experience was dependent on the model of PE delivery in school and the extent to which it was valued by other professionals in the same context. This local variation runs counter to the intention of the requirements for ITT (appendix 3) which aim to ensure that all
design the content, structure and delivery of training to enable trainee teachers to demonstrate that they have met the Standards for the award of Qualified Teacher Status (DfES, 2002).
The influence of the class teacher and other professionals The practice of others within the school context has been shown to be a strong influence on trainees’ experiences. It is possible that some class teachers and mentors in school are similarly negatively disposed towards PE and sport and so the acceptance that PE is best taught by others is endorsed. Whether this is done explicitly in conversation with the trainee teacher, or as an unintended outcome of behaviours, is difficult to ascertain through this study.
The relative disposition of class teachers and mentors in relation to that of their trainee teachers and its effect on practice is an area which merits further investigation. The first-hand accounts of trainees in this sample suggest that compliance with the practices of the class teacher is a likely outcome of efforts to achieve QTS standards – particularly where the class teacher has a role to play in assessing trainee progress.
The influence of peers was also seen during teaching practice where shared placements were the norm for trainees. Leanne commented (Stage 1b) on the benefits of shared experience in
school, describing how she pooled ideas with peers:
Well it was kind of a joint idea between myself and three other Irish girls in the school. So we did Irish dance lessons after school. On our last day it was St Patrick’s day…I led an assembly and the rest of the girls did Irish dancing…and the kids loved it…they all wanted to come Irish dancing.
Class teachers and others were influential in supporting the development of trainee teachers’ opinions in the school context. Having observed class teachers during three school placements,
James expressed a negative view of them in the role as teachers of primary PE, saying that:
I shouldn’t probably say this, but there is a type who just don’t get involved in PE. It’s often cancelled, you know something else crops up and takes priority.
That isn’t right (Stage 3b).
James was worried about appearing too critical during the interview, appearing flustered and concerned about what he had said.
Adam, another trainee teacher with self-proclaimed confidence in sport, showed an awareness of colleagues’ needs in school, indicating that he saw himself in a future role as a primary PE subject leader and being faced with the challenge of motivating others who ‘don’t seem to
know what they’re teaching and why they’re teaching it’. He also explained that:
You get a lot of people avoiding it if you go into school you know. They wouldn’t go into as much depth, like in planning a PE lesson they might just say, oh well use beanbags and hoops and that’ll do (Stage 2a).
Participants commented on the role of others in relation to PE lectures in university. The modelling of positive and enthusiastic attitudes by lecturers was noted by Leanne, who said
PE tutors are enthusiastic, have a lot of ‘positivity’ and enable everyone to participate at an appropriate level (Stage 2a).
Another trainee commented on a lecturer’s ‘really skilful performance of a gymnastic routine’ (Fran, Stage 1c) that she felt was unachievable by most of the group, going on to suggest that tutors needed to be more aware of perceived practical expectations and the emphasis on performance at an individual level. This was also seen as relevant in the context of the approach to PE promoted within the taught courses and the messages inherent in course documentation. For trainee teachers with negative dispositions, such a demonstration by the tutor reinforced the perception that PE was best taught by ‘specialist others’ who possessed knowledge and abilities beyond the realm of the class teacher practitioner.
Subject specific mentoring Trainees made no direct reference to PE subject mentoring during interviews. Attempts were made to probe this line of enquiry and trainees were unable to cite specific examples of PE mentoring, other than unstructured observation of another’s teaching. Whilst the impact of the class teacher as a positive role model was felt by some, the use of specific mentoring strategies (such as team-teaching, post-lesson discussion) which were reportedly evident in other subject areas was lacking in all cases. The relationship between trainee teacher and ‘link tutor’ (the member of staff, employed by the university to make formal visits to the school setting and to assess trainees’ progress) appears to have been centred on a series of formal, assessed observations, with only one example of this happening in PE. This trainee, who exhibited high levels of physical self perception, sports competence and importance attached to sport
I really wanted to get observed in PE; I know I am confident in it and I wanted her to see me doing what I enjoy doing. As it happened, the lesson went OK and I was pleased and I think she had to try really hard to pick me up on a few things (Nicola, Stage 3b).
Trainees felt that the emphasis and priority in school was squarely placed on core subjects and that this reduced opportunities to teach the wider curriculum. Although trainees could understand the benefits of subject specific mentoring and why this may be a good thing, the least confident trainees expressed concern about being observed by someone whilst teaching a subject that they considered as ‘daunting and very different to being in the classroom’ (Kay, Stage 3b). Such trainees clearly felt most comfortable in the classroom context where they had
gained the majority of their teaching experience. As researcher field notes stated:
The overriding impression I am getting here is that a clear focus in school is on achieving QTS standards and teaching core subjects overrides any understanding that developing skills in other areas such as PE can be achieved (field notes, Stage 3b interviews, May 2007).
There appears to be a lack of mentoring of any real kind in PE in school – it’s almost as though the trainees experiences in PE are being left to chance (field notes, Stage 2b, February 2006).
Summary The wide range of structural factors described in this chapter resulted in an equally wide range of possible actions available to the trainee primary teachers. In many cases, the combined effect of each feature of the ITT structure was to hinder the development of the trainees as teachers of primary PE. At best, ITT afforded a small number of trainees the opportunity to apply existing and new PE knowledge in school. This was largely restricted to those trainees who elected further specialist study and for whom expectations and assessments were formally structured to include PE. Such elective experiences served to create additional exposure to PE practice in school and provided opportunities for reflection and professional development within the subject. Less positively, the structures conspired to reduce the opportunity for development in the subject for the majority of trainees. Those with least confidence and experience were enabled to avoid the teaching of PE during three years of school placement.
Those with an initial ambivalence towards PE were also unable to build on early signs of positive development following taught course in PE; the model of practice seen in schools was also largely unsatisfactory, providing very few opportunities for meaningful reflection on PE practice as a component of the teacher development process. Only those trainees placed with class teachers who themselves had a positive disposition towards PE were able to acquire further knowledge and experience in the subject.
The externally determined professional standards for QTS, university and school curricula and prevailing educational policies pre-exist trainee teacher engagement with the ITT process.
The ITT syllabus, requirements of trainees in school and prescribed professional standards are, however, interpreted by the trainees and others around them in various ways. The trainee teachers’ behaviours, together with that of university tutors and mentors and class teachers in school, reinforce or challenge the requirements, resulting in the local and individual interpretation of expectations, in turn influenced heavily by previous experiences and dispositions of both the trainee teachers themselves and the other individuals involved. The wide range of local interpretation and practical implementation is an outcome of all agents’ conduct, including that of the trainee teachers as agents in focus of this investigation and of others, including class teachers, school based mentors, university tutors and peers.
The degree of local interpretation of requirements and within practical implementation impacts markedly on the possibilities of action for trainee teachers. The practices and behaviours available to trainee teachers are also associated with individual status and role in the ITT process, in turn influenced by a range of internal and external factors. The practices and behaviours exhibited by each trainee within the context of ITT may also be based on a ‘hierarchy of purposes’ (Giddens, 1993) and an ‘ordering of concerns’ (Archer, 2000). For example, those trainees positively disposed towards PE see the subject as a high priority, central and significant within the horizon of action. For those negatively disposed, PE barely features on this horizon, remaining low in the ordering of concerns throughout the three year course. Such trainees, at the extremes of exhibited dispositional characteristics, have a largely pre-determined and enduring action horizon which is minimally affected by external factors.
For the majority of trainees who are ambivalent towards the subject, however, agency is much more susceptible to a greater range of influencing factors at work within the ITT context.