Physical education as praxis

Schools are under increasing pressure to show that they are providing every student with a comprehensive and appropriate education. As part of the school curriculum, Physical Education is not immune to this pressure and in recent times Physical Education has been caught up in the politics of sport, physical activity and obesity.   

Gateman (2005) and NASPE (2005) have previously suggested that the heightened attention on children’s physical activity and weight levels has resulted in confusion between the terms “physical education” and “physical activity”, and in more recent times I would add "physical literacy", in school settings. Gateman and NASPE provided useful distinctions between physical education and physical activity. Both focus on an attempt at distinguishing between physical activity in curriculum time and outside curriculum time to define the educative positioning of activity in Physical Education.

It needs to be recognised that Physical Education, like all school subjects and curriculum, is influenced by societal expectations and pressures and therefore subject to continuous revision. 

However, to what extent have many physical educators simply been consumers of initiatives that have come from outside of education and has the physical education community of practice demonstrated a capacity to shape initiatives through leadership expressed as informed, reflective and reasoned critical debate? 

Tinning and McCuaig (2006, p8) suggested that a spotlight on the role curriculum plays in the construction of  “physically educated citizens” enables questions about what is assumed in initiatives from within education, one's own practice of physical education, and about what is pushed into the education space by health and physical activity activists.  To that end, I argue there is a need to continually consider what it means to be "physically educated" in order to ensure two outcomes:
  1. The Physical Education profession, through an ability to articulate and  express an educative purpose that is situated within the broader goals of education, is able to provide leadership in curriculum direction through critically considered and reasoned responses to initiatives from outside the profession.
  2. Students physical education experiences are making a difference to their  lived reality now, and in the future through a curriculum that is being more than reproductive of practice and tradition.
Several years ago I suggested a praxis for physical education from a constructivist view of education as a means of going some way towards meeting those two outcomes. I will return to this later

I'll declare my bias at this point. I understand the "business" of schools to be education and I agree with Kirk (1996) that Physical Education should be able to justify its presence in the curriculum on its educative purpose. Therefore, my thoughts resonate with Penney and Chandler (2000) who asserted that student learning needs to be the explicit defining feature of the subject and the framework for physical education curriculum development. Before I lay out Physical Education as praxis I will first consider what it means to be physically educated.

The Physically Educated person
If learning in Physical Education is "the main game", then Physical Education programs can be planned for the deliberate construction of environments that enhance learning.

Consider this Physical Education example from a school I use to visit on teaching practice supervision, where the child’s first Physical Education lesson in High School is the Coopers 12 minute run to test aerobic fitness. What is the child who struggles in such an activity having reinforced about social inclusion in movement experiences, the necessary pre-requisites for success in that schools Physical Education program and future inclusion in movement culture - what are they learning about self and self in relation to others in Physical Education if this is their first lesson in high school physical education? 

But what does it mean to be a "physically educated person"? We can consider that from an "outcomes" perspective. In 1986 NASPE asked "What should physically educated students know and be able to do?and in 1995 declared that a physically educated person:
*has learned skills necessary to perform a variety of physical activities,
*is physically fit,
*participates regularly in physical activity,
*knows the implications of and the benefits from involvement in physical activities,
*values physical activity and its contribution to a healthful lifestyle

NASPE (1995) defined a physical educated person. physically educated person: Demonstrates competency in many movement forms and proficiency in a few movement forms. Applies movement concepts and principles to the learning and development of motor skills. Exhibits a physically active lifestyle. ICHPER.SD continues to use the following definition: A physically educated person HAS learned skills necessary to perform a variety of physical activities; IS physically fit; DOES participate regularly in physical activity; KNOWS implications of and benefits from involvement in physical activities; and VALUES physical activity and its contributions to a healthful lifestyle. (National Association for Sport and Physical Education, AAHPERD, 1992).

Borrowing from the philosophies of Reid, Peters and Aristotle, MacAllister (2013) considered what it meant to be physically educated from a "life" perspective and concluded that physically educated persons should be defined as those who have learned to arrange their lives in such a way that the physical activities they freely engage in make a distinctive contribution to their long-term flourishing.

It is a recent assumption that physical education is something that only occurs in schools in physical education lessons. "Back in the day", the fitness coaches at my football clubs were called the "phys edders", and what are now called "personal trainers" were the "phys edders at the gym". A recent CEO of the AFL referred to the sport scientists at football clubs as the "phys edders". I am not one who shares a belief that physical education is something that can and does only occur in a physical education class in a school with a physical education teacher. However, the praxis for physical education I drafted back in 2007 was for the school subject called Physical Education.

Physical Education - a Praxis Model
Praxis in education is a way of describing the realisation of theory, or the practicing of ideas. The praxis for physical education I lay out here starts with the end in mind - education. I wrote this before I had come across the Understanding by Design model, which now informs my curriculum practice.

Education is Learning about Self – physical, social, emotional, cognitive, spiritual
Physical Education is the development of the physically educated person
whose state of mind gives witness to the lived belief in and value of movement as
an essential element of life
These beliefs are supported by Essential Learnings which are the habits of mind of the physically educated person
They are matured through Learning Contexts
- Learning in the physical
- Learning about the physical
- Learning through the physical
They are taught via Guiding Pedagogies and Principles
(for example, Mosston's Spectrum)
Through which students engage with Learning Content:
- Skills, Knowledge, Attitudes and Values
And experience Learning Activities

In my development of a praxis model for Physical Education, Costa and Garmston’s (2002) “Maturing Outcomes” model was foundational. I first encountered it during a curriculum professional development experience in 2004. Costa and Garmston provided a framework focused on “states of mind” - enduring, essential learnings which are, “as appropriate for adults as they are for students” (Costa & Garmston, 2002, p. 1). While knowledge and skills are essential for children to learn and the pedagogical practices employed are essential in this provision, skills and knowledge are only meaningful to the lived reality of a student if they are connected to how the student understands and feels about self in a way that actually makes a difference to their lived reality. Costa and Garmston’s model also emphasis learning founded around processes which challenge student’s cognitive reasoning and beliefs. This praxis model therefore presents a broader conceptualisation of essential learnings as the maturation of ‘habits of mind’. The ‘habits of mind’ presented by Costa and Garmston have been refined and added to in their application within this praxis model for physical education I lay out below.

In 2007 I proposed the following as the essential learnings of the physically educated person;
The habits of mind required to: 
  • effectively transfer learning through, about, and in the physical to other areas and means of learning.
  • critically examine and take action on social issues.
  • understand how one’s own body (and that of others) moves, changes and adapts in space and time.
  • understand that as we learn through, about in the physical we interface with values and beliefs.
  • understand and respect the holistic person – physical, emotional, cognitive, social, and spiritual.
  • develop and maintain meaningful right relationships with others and the world.
  • demonstrate unconditional respect for others identity.
  • understand the social construction of physical self identity, and that of others.
  • work effectively and confidently with change, including physical change.
  • maximise opportunities to be physically active and healthy now, and in the future.
  • understand how one’s actions influence and impact on others and the world around them
  •  construct and deconstruct meaning and, to critically understand visual, verbal and physically literacy, the power of communication and technology.
 It has been interesting revisiting these ideas I originally published in 2007 in the paper Physical Education - what's in a name: A praxis model for holistic learning in physical education, Healthy Lifestyles Journal, 54(1), 5-10. This was one of my first peer reviewed publications as an academic, penned in 2006 which was my first year as an academic. I'm interested in any thoughts about how the concept and associated ideas "holds up" eleven years down that track.


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