«LEARNING TO TEACH PHYSICAL EDUCATION IN PRIMARY SCHOOLS: THE INFLUENCE OF DISPOSITIONS AND EXTERNAL STRUCTURES ON PRACTICE by Ian Pickup, BA (QTS) A ...»
Becky: an ambivalent class teacher Although not achieving the lowest scores in either PSPP or PIP, Becky was negatively disposed towards PE and sport, with below average scores seen in both profiles. General PSW score was 10 (out of a maximum of 24), sport sub domain score was 12 (a maximum score would have been 24), and PIP score was 5 (maximum possible 8). This suggested that, despite a generally low physical self perception, Becky thought that sport had some degree of importance. This generally ambivalent disposition towards PE and sport was described in
interviews across the investigation. For example, in year 1, Becky commented:
I just have never been particularly good, although I can see that it’s important and why some people really enjoy it. My own experience in PE at school wasn’t great – in fact for lots of my friends it wasn’t great either – but I suppose in primary school it’s a bit different and the children tend to enjoy it. My brothers were really sporty and I guess it just wasn’t my thing… I was more into drama and music (Stage 1c).
Becky’s experiences during the course demonstrate the potential for positive development in PE when certain influencing factors combine in particular ways. For example, Becky enjoyed the compulsory PE module in year one of the course, gaining in confidence and developing a
greater understanding of the PE curriculum. In particular, she commented that:
I understand a lot better now what the aims of the curriculum are. This was explained really well and I can see the point, it’s not just about the skills for playing sport, but there’s so much more learning that can take place. It was very different to what I expected and different to the PE I had when I was at school (Stage 1b).
Despite this positive view of PE lectures, Becky appeared to have been afforded limited opportunity to analyse her own experiences and dispositions within discussions and lecture time, which were focused on practical ideas for teaching curriculum activity areas. Becky suggested, however, that she was more willing to consider herself as a teacher of PE as a result
of the lecture experience, although specific doubts remained:
I can happily talk now about why PE is important, but there’s a big difference between knowing this and being able to put lessons together for 30 children in all the different parts of the curriculum. I just haven’t got any experiences to fall back on and as good as the lectures were, they covered the basics. I guess I could give some PE a go now, but it won’t feel right or easy. We’ll see what happens in school (Stage 2b).
From a somewhat ambivalent starting point, Becky’s dispositional dial shifted as a consequence of Year 1 University based PE, although the extent to which this dial moved, or remained in this more positive position, was subsequently limited. The course structure, reflecting the content of the prevailing NCPE, raised questions in Becky’s mind regarding curriculum coverage and confidence across the range of activities. The positive experience in year 1 was not strong enough to counteract the initial ambivalence demonstrated. As a consequence, Becky’s sole university-based reference point for the subject remained the introductory course in year 1; Becky did not choose to study further modules in years 2 and 3 of the course. During interviews with Becky, a sense of a missed opportunity for development was palpable; a more positive disposition towards PE was becoming evident yet the potential for this to be reinforced through on-going experiences on the course was not met.
This potential for positive development was not consistently reinforced in the school setting.
During year 1 placement, the opportunity to observe and practice teaching PE was severely limited by the class teacher’s own practice and local school policy; according to Becky, PE lessons were frequently cancelled because of poor weather and swimming took place once a week, a lesson conducted by a visiting, externally provided, swimming teacher. Although Becky was asked to accompany the class on two occasions to supervise changing time, she was unable to describe lesson content or the approach to learning and teaching deployed by
I helped the kids get changed, I didn’t like it, but some need lots of help. When the children were in the water I stayed on the side and tried to encourage them, but the teacher was quite dominant and I took a back seat. I’m not the best swimmer, but I just tried to help by passing floats and so on. They didn’t have too long in the water, but I could see that some were struggling more than others (Stage 2a).
At a time when Becky was suggesting a potential for her disposition towards PE and sport to become more positive, as a consequence of the year 1 PE lectures, the lack of school based experience can be conceived as allowing a ‘slipping back’ of the dispositional dial to the earlier position of ambivalence. However, a further repositioning of this to a more positive location can be envisaged as a result of Becky’s school based experiences in year 2. During this school based practice, Becky was placed with a class teacher who reportedly taught PE regularly, who changed for PE and who planned for the lessons. Becky described this experience as valuable, clearly appreciating the opportunity to work alongside such an
Well, this was the first time I had seen PE taught well by the class teacher. It was never cancelled and she always got changed herself and demonstrated all the things the children were asked to do. I don’t think that she was a sportswoman, she just enjoyed it, I asked her about PE and she said it was important and she found it to be a great way to work with the children in a different environment.
She was quite experienced and I learned quite a lot, although when it was my turn to be class teacher I know I didn’t do PE justice in her eyes. I gave it a go, though and taught two lessons in the hall (Stage 2b).
This experience, through which Becky once again considered the possibility of becoming more confident and competent in teaching PE, was not reinforced in her final school placement. As experienced by other trainees, PE was taught by visiting specialists during PPA time as a consequence of the remodelled workforce. Additionally, preparation for tests dominated planning and classroom related activity, with Becky’s efforts directed by the class teacher into maths and English for the year 6 class. During this period, PE lessons were frequently cancelled, although the children ‘were allowed more breaks in the playground to let off steam’ than was usually the case. In this way, the structural properties of schools, policies and the curriculum were seen to diminish the status of PE, in turn impacting on PE practice within the ITT experience. With an underlying ambivalence towards the subject, Becky did not challenge this status quo during placement and was content to comply with locally accepted norms in order to successfully progress towards QTS.
Becky experienced, therefore, a variety of mixed messages regarding the importance of PE in the primary curriculum. The university based course served to improve her understanding and encouraged Becky to place a higher importance on teaching the subject. School based practices were, however, variable, despite the recent introduction of the PESSCL strategy.
Individual attitudes and beliefs of class teachers, together with the approaches taken by schools regarding PPA time and curriculum emphasis directly constrained the opportunity for
Becky to develop practice in PE. An originally ambivalent trainee, Becky maintained this noncommittal stance, stating at the end of the investigation:
I have had a really mixed experience in PE. I’m not going to pretend that it’s now really important to me, because it’s not…but I can see why children like it and why it’s important. I admit that I am not going to be the first to volunteer to teach it and do think that there are some really good coaches in schools nowadays…but I can give it a go and will do if I am asked to by my new headteacher in September. I suppose I wouldn’t want children in my class to have a negative view of sport and I will try my best if needed (Stage 3b).
Becky has been seen, therefore, to exhibit ambivalence throughout the ITT course. This ambivalence is not as firmly entrenched as the extremely positive or extremely negative dispositions shown by James and Kay respectively, and has been challenged and positively influenced by specific experiences within the course. Experiences in school settings variously undermined or supported Becky’s development in the subject, at times reinforcing the positive learning that took place in the university course, at others emphasising PE’s low status. In Becky’s case, the dials of figure 7.1 can be conceived as working against each other, limiting the potential for permanent movement in disposition, and constraining opportunities for the development of the trainee’s practice. Where positive movement was achieved, a slippage of the dial to the ambivalent starting point was allowed through inconsistent and variable experiences. Within the typology, Becky typifies those trainees classified as ‘ambivalent class teachers’.
Sarah: an ambivalent or committed class teacher Sarah embarked on ITT with a PSW score of 7 (maximum possible score of 24, and group mean 12.6), although the PIP score was relatively high (5 out of a maximum possible 8).
Sarah’s self perception in the sport sub domain was also below average (10). Interview data from Stage 1 suggested that there were particular experiences in Sarah’s life that had resulted in this low physical self worth, although these were not generally linked to sport or PE in school by her. Discussion in Chapter 5 highlighted negative life experiences and the impact of family issues on Sarah’s self perception, although this does not appear to have a direct impact on disposition towards teaching PE; Sarah demonstrated an open minded approach to the subject, suggesting that her negative physical self perceptions would not impact on her role as teacher. Sarah approached the compulsory PE lectures in an open minded fashion, describing,
enthusiastically a real sense of enjoyment. She suggested that:
The PE was nothing like the PE I remember from school and has given me lots of ideas…I want to make sure the kids in my classes have fun in PE and get confidence that they can do things (Stage 1b).
Sarah also demonstrated a view that PE was important with regards the developmental needs of children, a view that had been reinforced in Year 1 lectures and through wider more current
I know how important it is for children to be active and PE can give them the confidence to do this, and it is important when they get older too, I’ve seen children in my family who are sporty and some who are not and there’s a difference…if I have kids I definitely want them to be active…the tutor discussed with us the problem with obesity and its definitely something to be aware of (Stage 2b).
Although Sarah was keen to take this learning forward into her Year 1 school experience,
opportunities to do so were not provided by the prevailing structures. Sarah remarked that:
The focus was on everything else, well mainly numeracy and literacy and I didn’t see much PE…I wasn’t asked to do any and I didn’t feel like I had time to put myself out to do it. It’s a shame because I enjoyed the PE at Uni…but it just wasn’t important for me at this stage (Stage 1c).
In this way, the emphasis on core subjects and the requirements for trainee practice in school limited Sarah’s opportunity to build on a newfound enthusiasm for the subject. Sarah did not choose to elect further PE following the Year 1 compulsory course, although had considered this carefully. Sarah suggested that her decision was based on a wish to develop knowledge across the curriculum, and the perception that she would not have been selected by the course tutor following completion of the PE audit in year 1. This further highlights the impact of structures on this trainee’s continuing development. The elective modules in PE were perceived by Sarah to be more suited to others, a view reinforced through the activity-based
focus, itself mirroring the structure of the prevailing NCPE. Sarah commented:
Well, I know there were only so many places available and the sheet we had to fill in was tricky for me, I couldn’t give any experience or examples in sport or in coaching kids in different activities, and I think they were looking for lots of that.
I didn’t go any further with PE in the end, part of me thinks I would have enjoyed it, but I did other subjects which were useful too (Stage 2a).
Although Sarah was able to gain some experience in PE during her Year 2 school placement,
the two lessons she taught were irregular and relatively un-supported:
I did teach two lessons and I think they were OK, but the class teacher didn’t really know much about PE and I think I was at least as good as her…that sounds horrible, but she seemed happy with what I did, which was Games and I used my notes from last year’s lectures which were helpful. I got some feedback from the teacher, and she was happy with my class management and plans. I was a bit aware that it didn’t really fit with anything else the children were learning but I think from what I’ve seen that this is pretty normal (Stage 2b).