Running away from learning in physical education and health - A multi-method study of learning discourses and teaching objectives.

Year: 2012

Author: Åström, Peter

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


This paper reports on a study designed to shed light on the teaching and learning that takes place in PEH secondary school classes. In this paper the focus will be on the study that examined how different discourses of learning in PEH affected the learning experiences drawn on by pupils who were considered to be low motivated towards PEH.

The paper draws on data from a multi-method study where 22 lessons were video-taped in secondary school. Data was also gathered from interviews (with teachers before and after lessons and with pupils after lessons), pupils´ talk during lessons (voice recordings using portable digital voice recorders) and field notes.

Results show how the dominating learning discourses in the subject, that is, discourses of health and sport, directed teachers´ conceptions of ´low motivated´ pupils. However, in interviews after the lesson many of the ´low motivated´ pupils were positive about the lesson if they got attention from the teacher, were integrated with the group and received task related feedback. Many of these pupils could verbalize task related objectives and also cooperation objectives. On the other hand when unclear health- or sport related aims were expressed, pupils had difficulties in understanding the purpose of the lesson. When teachers tried to push them harder or put them into situations not of their choosing they felt uncomfortable and the lesson experience was negative. The results show that a categorisation of pupils labelled as ´low motivated´ was based on how teachers perceived their activity or skill level or attitude to PEH.

From these results it was concluded that if a health related discourse guides the teacher´s teaching, the commitment to get pupils to sweat, exercise vigorously and show they are ´doing their best´ can blur other learning dimensions such as developing the individual movement repertoire. Where a sport discourse dominated, the purpose of an activity was often unexpressed or taken for granted which could leave pupils with solely performance related experiences. Overall, the study showed that more specified learning objectives need to be communicated otherwise there is a risk that pupils, if not interested before, have a hard time to understand the purpose of the lessons and create meaning and as a result display behaviour that teachers may interpret and categorize as low motivated.