«LEARNING TO TEACH PHYSICAL EDUCATION IN PRIMARY SCHOOLS: THE INFLUENCE OF DISPOSITIONS AND EXTERNAL STRUCTURES ON PRACTICE by Ian Pickup, BA (QTS) A ...»
Consequently, Kay did not practise any of the ideas she had seen during the year one PE course, or raise this as an issue of concern with her visiting tutor or school based mentor.
Looking back on this at the end of the course, Kay commented:
At the time, it just wasn’t something I thought about. We had a file full of things that we had to get done and PE wasn’t one of them! There was no pressure to observe or have a go at teaching all subjects, there was much more pressure for us to get to grips in the classroom, in maths and English and to manage behaviour. The tutor watched me teach and made sure my files were all up to date…but no, PE just wasn’t something to focus on (Stage 3b).
In this way, Kay’s negative disposition combined with school based experiences to result in a lack of practical experience in PE. In years 2 and 3 of the course, Kay was able to continue this avoidance of teaching PE, without this raising any concerns amongst ITT staff, despite a course structure which expected her to teach full range of subjects as necessitated by the relevant QTS standards. In year 2 placement, the class teacher with whom Kay was placed
appeared not to value PE, or demonstrate confidence in the subject herself:
Well, she taught it once when I was there, but other things were always in the way, play rehearsal or trips. The one lesson I saw was quite short by the time they got out onto the playground, it was just ball skills. I helped a bit, and it was a bit like what we did in college, although it wasn’t very good really. I wouldn’t say that this was a great lesson for the kids (Stage 3a).
In year three placement, Kay was again placed in a school where the teaching of PE by visiting specialists was the norm. Her class teacher used PPA time to mark children’s work and Kay was asked to ‘look after the display boards’ as an additional task during this time.
Kay did not voluntarily seek out opportunities to observe or to work alongside the coaches during PE lessons and was not asked to do so by the visiting tutor, despite the formal expectation within the standards to gain experience across the full range of NC subjects.
Following this final placement, Kay expressed relief that the visiting coaches were teaching
Yeah, they were good, always on time and organised, looked very sporty. The kids enjoyed the lessons and I was glad of the time. I don’t think I can teach PE like that, and I wasn’t asked to either. I think there are lots of things to get involved with as the class teacher without being great at teaching everything…I am glad that schools can now bring other people in, actually I was quite relieved (Stage 3b).
The structure of ITT, in mirroring the NC and numeracy and literacy strategies, reinforced the low subject status of PE. Impact of the National Numeracy and National Literacy strategies was evident in school experiences through the clear emphasis placed on teaching and learning in English and mathematics. Kay commented repeatedly about the importance of core subjects and the work she was doing to become a qualified teacher in these areas. Kay showed me, during interviews, the files of plans and positive lesson evaluations documented by visiting tutors and school based mentors. Kay was clearly a trainee who felt ‘on track’ to becoming a qualified teacher and able to demonstrate the required competencies to progress from year to year, placement to placement and beyond the course towards a teaching career. The low status of PE in the university course and in school ensured that Kay’s negative disposition and low levels of confidence in the subject did not undermine this overarching aim. Despite the instigation of a national PE subject strategy, of which Kay had some awareness, the structures of ITT served to reinforce a view that PE was best taught by other people, and that this was acceptable despite the formal expectation that trainees ‘should have sufficient understanding of PE (and the other NC Foundation subjects) to be able to teach with advice from an experienced colleague where necessary’ (DfES/TDA, 2002).
ITT course and school-based structures were also seen to combine with the actions of other people within the ITT context. The practice of class teachers, mentors, visiting ITT tutors and PE coaches reinforced Kay’s perceptions of PE and sport. For example, Kay was placed with successive class teachers who each demonstrated a negative disposition towards PE. This manifested itself either through the avoidance of teaching PE or the ready acceptance that others would teach the subject. The visiting specialists appeared to Kay to be ‘sporty’ and unlike her, whereas she empathised strongly with the views and practices of the class teachers.
In such a way, Kay’s own disposition was related to the dispositions and practices of others which were, at the same time, impacted upon by the prevailing structures. Kay was, therefore, highly unlikely to seek out opportunities to develop as a physical educator during school experiences where these did not routinely present themselves. The structures of the ITT course served to reinforce Kay’s extremely negative disposition, yet failed to capitalise on the one evident opportunity for development seen within the relatively positive experience of year 1 PE lectures. The lack of an immediate exposure to PE practice undermined any development that had occurred during the university based course and Kay’s conviction that PE was best taught by others was subsequently reinforced. The class teachers with whom Kay was placed were perceived to hold similar views, whilst the incoming specialists strengthened the view that the teaching of PE was best carried out by others. Kay’s disposition and favoured practice were legitimised and deemed to be acceptable within the training context, particularly within school where the practice of others condoned Kay’s stance. In this trainee’s experience, an existing negative disposition was further reinforced through experiences in ITT which were the outcome of particular structures. Across the ITT course, through successive school experiences and in the absence of on-going or mentored PE, Kay’s dispositional dial was firmly ‘locked’ into place at this moment in time. The nature of PEITT, structure of NCPE and Kay’s disposition served to constrain development as a potential teacher of PE, resulting in Kay typifying those trainees classified as ‘confirmed avoiders’.
James: an affirmed specialist James demonstrated an extremely positive disposition towards PE and sport from the outset.
PSPP and PIP scores were amongst the highest seen in the sample of 83 respondents. James’ general PSW score was 21 (out of a maximum of 24), the highest PSW score shared with just one other student. James’ sport sub domain score was 22 (a maximum score would have been 24), with James being one of 5 students with a score over 21. In the PIP profile, James scored the highest possible rating in sport importance (8), one of three students to do so. The causal factors of such a positive disposition were made clear during early interviews, and included positive personal experiences of PE and sport in school, on-going experience of performing, participating and coaching in a range of sports as an adult and the positive influence of other people in friendship groups, peer groups and family. As with Kay, James’ prior experiences in PE and sport played an influential role in his early socialisation into the teaching profession, although positive experiences led to a significantly different disposition to that demonstrated by Kay. James’ dispositional dial was firmly ‘locked’ into a positive position from the outset.
James tolerated the compulsory PE lectures in the first year of the course, not finding the content or approach particularly challenging and feeling ready to progress beyond the general
introduction that he felt this module provided:
It was OK, but looking back now, it was a bit of a waste of time for me and some others who were kind of ready to get stuck in to some more exciting stuff. I felt that I was helping (the lecturer) more than learning myself, but did get some chance to demonstrate things and help other people to get the hang of it. Yeah, it was alright (Stage 1c).
Although James appeared to consider this experience as adequate, the course had no lasting negative impact, instead further reinforcing James’ view that he had a greater knowledge and confidence base in comparison to others. James was motivated to choose PE as an elective subject in the second and third years and was enabled, by the course tutor, who selected a cohort from those who applied, to progress to these modules, having been deemed to have completed the year 1 subject audit satisfactorily. Identifying closely with the activity based structure of NCPE and the subject audit, James was able to provide evidence of extensive experience in performing and participating in a variety of sports. In this way, elements of the ITT structure combined with prior experiences and disposition to facilitate on-going development in the subject. As the university course progressed, James explained the effectiveness of elective lectures in PE during years 2 and 3, enjoying working alongside similarly motivated peers and feeling that he was developing his own knowledge, skills and understanding through the courses. This was particularly the case in modules where working with children became an integral part of the learning experience and where James felt able to make mistakes. This was evident in a dance based module where James’ ability to reflect on
practice was developed. Speaking in year 3, James suggested that:
I have never said that I think I know all there is to know…and am the first to admit that some areas aren’t my strong point, but I am happy that I can learn and know where to look. I’m not afraid to give things a go, and even dance, well I feel much better about this now. The course we did was great, I learnt from (the tutor) and others and the chance to teach small groups as part of the lectures was great. I even gave dance a go last term in school, it went ok; I just needed to put more planning in and used a literacy theme as a starting point. I wouldn’t have known where to start last year! (Stage 3b).
James’ commitment to PE was validated through working with like minded peers and university tutors who shared a positive disposition towards the subject. The feeling of being a specialist was further engendered and James gained tacit recognition from others that he was perceived in this way. This recognition of being a specialist was continued into school-based experiences from the very first school placement in year 1. Although not formally required to gain experience in teaching PE at this early stage, James was afforded extensive and autonomous opportunity to teach PE in each school placement. The structures evident in schools were highly relevant in this regard; the remodelled workforce enabled visiting others to deliver the PE curriculum and in this context, class teachers appeared not to question the appropriateness of a trainee being afforded relative autonomy in teaching the subject.
Although the formal expectations of ITT were made clear to trainees and host schools, James was able to negotiate and navigate a particular pathway through successive experiences which afforded additional opportunities for teaching the subject. At the end of his course, James
looked back and commented:
I felt as though the teachers were relieved I was there on the whole, someone who actually wanted to teach PE. They knew it was important, but I can’t really remember seeing anyone teach what I would call a good lesson. Looking back, I think I also didn’t really teach good lessons in year 1, but it was probably better than the kids were used to…at least it happened! (Stage 3b).
The experiences gained in practising teaching PE during school placements were highly valued by James, who reflected during interviews about his progress as a physical educator.
I always knew I would enjoy the PE, that’s the best bit, where I feel at my best…and where I think the kids have the best time in my lessons. I’m not saying my other lessons aren’t great, or boring, but it’s just different (Stage 3b).
Although James, through a combination of dispositional and structural factors, experienced ample opportunity to practice the teaching of the subject, opportunities were largely unstructured and opportunities for reflection were not taken full advantage of. An exception to this was provided where a specific directed task, within a specialist elective course, reinforced the link between theory and school based practice. However, the need to look at a school’s
long term planning in PE as part of this task was a source of frustration for James:
This was…tricky…well, planning wasn’t great in PE, in fact I haven’t seen much planning in three years…and I had to reflect on the plans in place across a year group. I could find the PE policy and the coordinator talked to me about what each year was doing each term but there wasn’t much detail, just games or dance or gym as a heading (Stage 3b).
As a result of such experiences, James viewed the status of PE in schools and within ITT as far from ideal. Although enabled to elect PE modules across the course, James commented on
the relative level of expectations in other subjects:
It seems that there is so much to do in the core subjects. That’s where the biggest focus is in uni and also in schools that’s what all the teachers talk about. I know that there is a big push on literacy and numeracy and I understand why, but I do think it’s gone a bit too far (Stage 2b).
James also suggested that, although the recently launched national strategy was in place, many of the teachers with whom he had worked were not aware or interested in it.
The school I was in this year had newsletters on the board from the local secondary school organising staff training sessions, I think part of PESSCL strategy. The coordinator was told to go by the head, but I didn’t think anyone else was going…if this had been something about reading or maths, it would have been a whole staff session with everyone expected to go (Stage 3b).