Meaningful Physical Education: Outlining an approach to support teaching and learning

Year: 2018

Author: Fletcher, Tim, Ní Chróinín, Déirdre, Beni, Stephanie

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In the proposed presentation we will outline an approach to teaching and learning in PE that prioritises meaningful experiences. We take up the idea of meaningfulness in resistance to a dominant view of PE that is focused primarily on health-related outcomes or the development of a range of discrete sporting techniques (Hastie, 2017). Meaningfulness is positioned as enriching quality of life through movement. Like Ennis (2017), we suggest meaningfulness may offer a path to transformative PE experiences for contemporary learners.
Background: Meaningful experiences are those that hold personal significance (Kretchmar, 2007). While there is an extensive body of literature that documents the value of meaningful experiences (Arnold, 1979; Hawkins, 2008) and what they tend to involve (Authors, 2017), less is known about how they can be promoted by teachers with intention and on a regular basis.
Due to the subjective nature of meaningfulness, we are reluctant to propose a model comprised of a rigid set of characteristics. However, when guided by evidence from the literature and our own research (Authors 2015, 2017, 2018a, 2018b, 2018c), we also see merit in outlining a general approach whereby several outcomes and pedagogical strategies/principles are articulated. Along with this, there is a need to situate the Meaningful Physical Education approach amongst other models and approaches.
We will synthesize 5 years of research on meaningful PE, which guides the identification of main outcomes, distinct characteristics, and teaching and learning principles and strategies for the Meaningful Physical Education approach. For example, distinct characteristics include teachers using features of meaningful experiences (Authors, 2017) – social interaction, fun, challenge, motor competence, and personally relevant learning – as a guide for making pedagogical decisions in planning, instruction, and assessment. In addition, pedagogical strategies and principles include those that support autonomy by providing students with opportunities to use their voice and have choices in what they engage in, for how long, and how they are assessed (Authors, 2018a). Drawn from data analysed in Authors (2018b), we will present one pedagogical case to illustrate what the Meaningful Physical Education approach can look like in a primary classroom.
Given the need for approaches that emphasise personal meaning, there is a sense of urgency to describe and outline a practical, usable approach for teachers and their students. This approach may offer a radical way to shift the focus of PE programs to better suit the needs of young people today.