A Constructivist Approach to the Teaching of Physical Education

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A Constructivist Approach to The Teaching Of Physical Education

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Over the past twenty years there has been a noticeable change in the delivery of physical education with the focus switching from teacher-centred to learner-centred. The former, which is grounded in behaviourism, involves direct instruction whereby lessons are highly structured. The latter, which hones in on constructivism, moves away from the monotonous development of skills and aims to construct student knowledge through active participation. In doing so, pupils acquire more responsibility, both creatively and socially, as the teacher takes a backward step into the role of a facilitator.

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This ties in nicely with Piaget and Vygotsky whose work underpins constructivism, yet sharing different perspectives on the theory. Piaget highlights cognition as the focal point, and how individuals make sense of the environment by using their cognitive structures. Through the process of assimilation and accommodation, learners adapt to the environment. Taking in, understanding and storing information for future use enables people to make decisions, critically think and solve problems, all of which are key attributes in constructivist learning. Meanwhile, Vygotsky refers to interaction as the central feature, with the approach being most effective in a social context. By working together and sharing ideas, students can reflect on activities and add to existing knowledge from others. There is much discussion over which approach is more significant on learning.

Fosnot (1996) believes that neither takes precedence, for instance, yes it is clear that people think and society does not, however a person’s thoughts are constructed through social activities, therefore making both naturally entwined.Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU), presented by Bunker and Thorpe in 1982 was the starting point for change. This method of teaching focuses on tactical awareness and decision making through modified games. With the learning of techniques still at the forefront, TGfU aims to apply these to match situations, for example, implementing small-sided games in sports like football and hockey can be used as building blocks to work on principles of play, i.e. depth, width, pressure.

Corbin (2002) found that learning through matches was an effective way of providing formative feedback, making it easier for students to relate this information to the context of the game. The use of questioning throughout lessons sees individuals take responsibility for their own learning by thinking for themselves and overcoming tactical challenges. These need to be relevant to the player’s ability and asked at the right time, for example, during an adapted cricket game, teachers might ask questions as fielders rotate positions. A lot of sports have similar characteristics and are categorised into different groups such as net/wall games including tennis and badminton or invasion games like rugby and netball. TGFU allows pupils to transfer skills from one sport to another, for instance, in net/wall games, players will anticipate an opponent’s shot the same way while in invasion games, intercepting the ball is a key feature of each sport.

Sport Education (SE), introduced by Siedentop in 1994 was also intended to reshape the traditional curriculum. With similarities to TGfU, this model relates to the authenticity of sport, something that is not replicated in lessons (. Outside of school, students will attend training sessions and participate in matches for their clubs whereas in school, practices are decontextualised with skills being taught differently. Alongside developing techniques and playing matches, SE provides a full experience, including multiple roles such as captaincy, umpiring and scoring. In order for SE to work, teachers must be committed for the entire programme, otherwise a lack of enthusiasm will be transferred to the pupils, resulting in some losing interest and practices returning to an ad hoc setting. The main issue facing this concept is time due to a large number of institutions only offering two hours of physical education each week, making it difficult for learners to improve quickly.

Furthermore, examinations will disrupt SE seasons with members of staff and students preparing for practical and written assessments. Class sizes are another reason why schools are reluctant to use this method since many will not have enough students for it to run effectively.While the command style appears outdated and for the most part replaced by constructivism, it is still essential in sports that require a high level of safety such as the javelin throw and shot put. It is understandable why some teachers are hesitant about using a constructivist approach, particularly for beginners who may need time to develop skills and learn the rules before participating in games.

Another major issue facing constructivist learning is a lack of subject knowledge in a range of sports. The teaching of fundamental techniques is straightforward, however many educators struggle when it comes to delivering the tactical elements, having never played the game. For this reason, teachers will revert back to the conventional method whereby lessons are taught with more assurance and in a controlled manner.

On reflection, physical education appears to be moving in the right direction as more schools start to adopt a constructivist approach. This is largely down to a new generation of teachers who have studied this method at university or school-led training courses. Students are extremely motivated by games, which should be viewed positively with many becoming engaged during lessons as well as participating in extracurricular activities.

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