«LEARNING TO TEACH PHYSICAL EDUCATION IN PRIMARY SCHOOLS: THE INFLUENCE OF DISPOSITIONS AND EXTERNAL STRUCTURES ON PRACTICE by Ian Pickup, BA (QTS) A ...»
Although not necessarily an optimum experience, the two lessons provided the only opportunity for Sarah to practice the teaching of PE across the three year ITT course. The structure of this particular school experience enabled this to take place and allowed some feedback to be received. During Sarah’s final school placement in Year 3, the PE lessons were conducted by visiting PE specialists during PPA time, a further example of the impact of structure on the experiences of trainees. This was disappointing to Sarah, although she accepted that this was normal practice and did not attempt to negotiate opportunities to develop her own practice in the subject. As with other trainees discussed in this chapter, an awareness of the need to negotiate broad requirements of ITT was evident, with successful teaching of core subjects remaining of upmost importance. There was one interesting exception to this towards the end of Sarah’s final experience when she was, as required by the formal expectations of ITT, to assume the full role of class teacher. The visiting specialist was unable to attend the school on this particular day and, rather than cancel the PE lesson, Sarah took the decision to teach the lesson herself. She took a great deal of pleasure from explaining the success of this lesson and the sense of achievement she felt from ‘finally teaching the subject on my own’ (Stage 3b).
Sarah was seen to share characteristics and experiences with other trainees in the sample. A very negative PSW score was similar to that recorded by Kay, a confirmed avoider, yet the PIP score and on-going behaviours seen during ITT suggest a developing sense of the importance of the subject, more like that exhibited by Leanne, a committed class teacher.
Sarah, at times, also expressed some ambivalence towards the subject, valuing other areas of the curriculum more highly than PE, reflecting the importance afforded to subjects in the ITT and school curricula. Any ambivalence regarding self within PE was, however, gradually overcome, with signs that she was becoming increasingly committed. Sarah is, therefore, an example of a trainee who, where conditions allow, can be supported to become a more confident and committed teacher of PE. Her experiences also highlight constraints within the current system; if conditions within ITT had been more carefully and consistently structured in respect to Sarah’s specific needs, it is possible that the move towards being a committed class teacher could have been accelerated and more firmly reinforced. It is also conceivable that experiences during her NQT year may not reinforce this positive development and that a return to a more ambivalent stance could be seen. Sarah was a trainee who does not sit neatly within either the ambivalent or committed class teacher types, but is someone with the potential to move more firmly into either category during on-going career progression.
The positioning of Becky and Sarah within the typology raises the question of whether the typology can be further refined. It seems that ambivalent trainees can tend towards either a positive or negative stance, depending on various factors at different times. In line with recommendations made in chapter 8, this potential for alternative positioning could itself be a trigger for trainee reflection. The refinement of the typology could also be an outcome of future research, also discussed in chapter 8.
Developing new understanding The typology confirms and extends understanding gleaned from previous studies and provides substantiation of issues which were previously only known through anecdotal evidence. The complex and individually nuanced nature of the process of becoming a teacher is confirmed, whilst new understanding regarding the dual influence of disposition and structures, particularly influential during school based experiences, is provided. As with earlier studies relating to primary PEITT (Physical Education Association, 1984; Williams, 1985;
Brumbaugh, 1987; Walkley, 1992; Carney & Armstrong, 1996; Moore, Webb & Dickson, 1997; Morgan, 1997; Carney and Chedzoy, 1998; Clay, 1999; Warburton, 2001), the results of this investigation confirm that an element of this group of trainee primary teachers lack confidence to teach PE, and exhibit a negative disposition underpinned by poor prior experiences in the subject as school pupils. However, the typology indicates a range of disposition and practice that is more nuanced than earlier studies have suggested. Disposition and teaching behaviours vary across the typology and suggest degrees of change or potential for change that have previously been unidentified.
As others have suggested in respect to teacher development (c.f. Hextall, et al., 1991;
McNamara et al., 2002), this study has confirmed that primary PEITT is a complex, dynamic and non-linear process, and that the likelihood of each trainee passing through a predetermined set of planned stages (as promoted by Fuller & Brown, 1975; Conway & Clark,
2003) is discounted in favour of an approach which highlights complexity and individual difference (c.f. Burn et al., 2003).This casts doubt over the relevance of formal expectations of trainee behaviour in relation to school practice, such as an escalating and deliberately staged increase in responsibility for the whole class and curriculum. The school experience context provides an opportunity for multiplicity and locally varied practice and the different interpretations of official policy that have been experienced by trainees. Each of the case study trainees experienced practice in school which did not comply with the formal expectations and which was influenced by a range of contextual factors.
It is also important to raise further questions regarding gender, given the relative number of men and women in the primary teaching profession. In each case described in this chapter, the prior experiences of trainees in school PE and sport have been seen to influence disposition towards the subject. In all cases, recollection of experiences concerning competition and performance were commonly recounted. It appears that, during trainees’ prior experiences, PE has played a part in reinforcing notions of masculinity and femininity (c.f. Flintoff, 2011), emphasising the competitive, team sport aspects of the subject over those which could be deemed as being more creative and cooperative. The ‘male-based’ nature of the PE curriculum (Azzarito & Solomon, 2003) has been reinforced through the structures of ITT, particularly through the activity focus of PE lectures designed to mirror the NCPE. Of the 14 participants who took part in quantitative and qualitative stage of the research, three were identified as affirmed specialists, including just one female. Although such structural influences cannot be ignored, the impact of gender is not straightforward; the identification of males as ambivalent and committed class teachers was possible, although no males were identified as being confirmed avoider types. It is clear that gender plays a significant role in shaping experiences in PE, although individual differences in trainees’ dispositions, beliefs, prior experiences and on-going interactions in the ITT context have been identified as being more significant than any one overarching structural component. Individual difference has been highlighted within the case studies, demonstrating how each type of trainee responded to their circumstances and contexts in a contrasting fashion. At the extremes of the typology, exceptionally positive and very negative dispositions towards PE and sport have been shown to be somewhat resistant to change during ITT, yet those trainees occupying the two middle categories were seen to be more susceptible to the possibility of ‘becoming’ a teacher of primary PE and developing within the subject. James and Kay behaved in ways which reinforced their strong dispositions in relation to the subject, whilst Leanne, Becky and Sarah responded differently, with multiple and fragmented identities (c.f. Stronach et al., 2002;
Akkerman & Meijer, 2011; Day, 2011), creating new possibilities for practice.
Opportunities for trainee development in primary PE have therefore been seen to be greatest for those trainees considered to be in the ‘middle ground’ of the typology. These trainees commonly exhibited a generally negative disposition towards PE and sport, yet also demonstrated a view that PE and sport held some importance in the lives of primary aged children. In some cases, this perception developed as a consequence of experiences in ITT and led to an increased likelihood of a change to teaching behaviour where this was facilitated. For these trainees, the range of possible actions in primary PE was enhanced. Such trainees with an initial ambivalence towards PE developed a heightened sense of subject importance through university lectures and occasionally wider, familial, friend or peer related experiences.
Only those trainees categorised as confirmed avoiders were seen to have a low physical self perception and low importance attached to sport; for these trainees, the horizon of action was severely limited from the outset.
Whilst trainee identity, manifested through disposition towards PE and sport, has been confirmed as a key influence on teaching behaviour, the social conditions of ITT have been seen to create enabling or constraining discourses. The ‘conditions of possibility’ (Foucalt,
1979) within this context enabled the development of teacher identity in relation to PE for some trainees (e.g. Leanne and Sarah) more than others, although the limits of this were set by social, cultural and institutional discourses (c.f. Zembylas, 2003). Disposition towards PE and sport, whether fixed or more fluid, facilitated each trainee teacher’s level of interaction and agency, what Giddens (1979) called ‘going on’ within the specific social context. This primed the trainees to respond to contextual factors in a number of possible ways; the typology also suggests a wide range of what Mouzelis (1991) describes as ‘situational-interactional’ conduct. The full range of possible practice available to each trainee teacher was a ‘horizon of action’ (Stones, 2005, p. 101), within which each trainee developed a ‘hierarchy of purposes’ (Giddens, 1993), and an ‘ordering of concerns’ (Archer, 2000). The typology highlights a more complex and individually nuanced process than has been previously been suggested. The possibilities of action are in fact numerous, although structural factors within the ITT context in focus have been largely seen to limit the extent to which trainees can capitalise on this range of potential opportunities.
Although highlighting the potential for a broadening of trainees’ horizons of action, this research confirms that the training needs of all trainees were not adequately addressed. The horizon of action was seen to be relatively limited for all but those trainees with a positive disposition. The relatively minor allocation of course content to PE in the university context did not allow sufficient time for all trainees to explore the subject in detail, to reflect on and in practice (Whitehead, 1989, 1999; Bramald et al., 1994; Clandinin & Connelly, 1995; Carter & Doyle, 1996; Cole & Knowles, 2000; Gudmunsdottir, 2001), to gain practice in teaching PE or to consider alternative pedagogies, features of ITT thought to be necessary for teacher development (Curtner-Smith, 1998). However, this is not solely a problem that can be eradicated by merely providing more time for PE, as advocated by Caldecott et al. (2006a, 2006b) and Talbot (2007). The existing university PE course, compulsory to all year 1 students, did not offer differentiated learning for trainees who commence ITT with differing needs and any increase in time would need to be considered in parallel with how whatever time is available can be best utilised. Furthermore, those with the greatest levels of confidence and the most positive disposition were encouraged and enabled to study more PE as the ITT course progressed. For the small group of affirmed specialist trainees, exemplified by James, the combined effect of structural and dispositional factors resulted in greater opportunities for practice and reflection. For those with greater levels of ambivalence or negative disposition, ITT provided relatively limited or ad hoc opportunities. The structures of ITT enabled and legitimised an avoidance of the subject by some trainees (e.g. Kay), and for the teaching of PE to be low in a hierarchy of purposes. Those with the greatest professional development needs in primary PE therefore were unable to access sufficient, on-going or meaningful development opportunities during the ITT course.