This past week, and for the next two weeks after this one, I am teaching a summer class to a cohort of 22 pre-service teachers. The class have been introduced to the teaching games for understanding (TGfU) approach as I thought that this offered a way of challenging their pre-existing beliefs about what good teaching is. After demonstrating a TGfU lesson yesterday, I had the students take the Japanese idea of 'lesson study' and plan a TGfU lesson of basketball (to circumvent issues with content knowledge) together that one of them would teach to their peers dot 30mins - the time of an average elementary/middle school lesson here in the states. So, one of them was the teacher and one the 'observer' acting as a 'critical friend' to support reflective processes and the co-construction of their emerging pedagogical knowledge in using TGfU. The 'observer' also videoed the lesson. Today students began micro teaching to peers. Before we started I was very apprehensive about not only how the lessons would run but how the students would respond to the 'approach' as it seemed at first a little out of left field for them as it was different to most of their previous experiences both growing up and in the previous courses they had taken on their teacher education program. By the end of the session I was truly inspired by the group. Most importantly, they understood the need to engage their participants in the game-skill-game format which allowed the participants to appreciate the need for the skills in the game. While there were still some kinks in the Armour in terms of stepping back and using questioning, it was clear to me that this group were receptive to TGfU as a viable pedagogical approach for teaching physical education to young people. My final thought was that if this cohort of students can achieve what they did today after only two previous class periods, I am excited to see what more they can achieve in the days and weeks to come. Moreover, my hope is that they can be an inspiration to other teachers to continue their journey as lifelong 'learners' and not simply teachers of physical education.
I have been doing a bit of reading recently and it seems that the big conclusion from a these studies is that the days of the short unit in physical education seem to be numbered. For example, Hastie and colleagues (2013) compared units of track and field athletics taught using Sport Education and a Direct Instructional approach. Both groups significantly improved their technique and skill execution after meeting for 10 90-minute lessons, albeit the groups taught using the Sport Education groups out-performed the groups taught using the Direct Instructional approach. While the main aim of this study was to examine the relative effectiveness of the two approaches, an unintended consequence of this study was the demonstration that no matter what approach is taken by the physical education teacher, the main point is that students need to be provided with enough time to learn to content to be taught.
Notwithstanding the amount of time needed to learn the content to be taught, Ward (2013) has also encouraged both researchers and practitioners to consider the quality of the task as a mediating influence on student learning. Citing work from his own professional development work in Sport Education and the work of others, he noted that the instructional core of teacher, content and students must be right (much like Goldilocks' porridge) in order for learning to occur. He quoted work from City, Elmore, Fiarman, and Tietel (2010, p. 26) to suggest that:
There are only three ways to improve student learning at scale. The first is to increase the level of knowledge and skill that the teacher brings to the instructional process. The second is to increase the level and complexity of the content that students are able to learn. And the third is to change the role of the student in the instructional process. That’s it. If you are not doing one of these three things, you are not improving instruction and learning.
In conclusion, teachers must focus on this instructional core, and think carefully about task design. For this to occur, they must know their content, but also their pedagogical approach and their students. Not only will learning not occur if the teacher does not attend to this common core, but learning will also not occur unless the teacher does not provide enough instructional time for the students to learn the content being taught.
Hastie, P.A., Calderón, A., Rolim, R.J., & Guarino, A.J. (2013) The development of skill and knowledge during a Sport Education season of track and field athletics. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 84 (3), 336-344.
Ward, P. (2013) The role of content knowledge in conceptions of teaching effectiveness in physical education, Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 84 (4), 431-440.