Games Teaching: A New Approach for the Primary School

In this blog, I outline an approach for games teaching in primary schools. In Australia, Games and Sport are a focus area of Movement and Participation Strands of Health and Physical Education curriculum. A premise behind the proposed approach is that games in the school curriculum are not defensible on suppositions about their role in socialisation and character-building, their usefulness as a supplement to 'academic activities', their use as a release for 'surplus energy and high spirits', and their role as preparation for leisure in later life. The point of games in physical education is one of educational value. To this end, the approach assumes the value of games in physical education is movement education.

The approach proposes four stages of game progression in primary school PE:
Stage 1 - Exploratory play
Stage 2 - Play for individual acquisition of skill
Stage 3 - Play for acquisition of skill and the ability to play with others
Stage 4 - Competing with others in play and making games

The planning question for the PE teacher is not one of 'which' game to play, rather, it is how to teach for understanding of the essential features of games and the opportunities these features afford.

Understanding of the essential features of games and the opportunities these features afford begins with the concept that all games involve one or more of the following three activities:

- sending away the object
- gaining possession of the object
- travelling with the object

In considering these three features of games, the PE teacher can further consider games based on an appreciation of common factors, rather than viewing individual games in isolation. This consideration of common features leads to a curriculum based on game classifications rather than on individual games or sports. The proposed classifications are:

Category 1. Net games: games in which players are concerned mainly with striking, where the territory is divided by a net, and the sides are of equal number. For example, tennis and volleyball.
Category 2. Batting games: games in which one side is concerned with wholly striking while the other team is wholly concerned with fielding (collecting, throwing and catching). For example, baseball and cricket. The games all involve a batter striving to send the ball into spaces not covered by a fielder.
Category 3. Running games: games in which both teams are engaged in striking or throwing, catching or collecting, and carrying or propelling. For example, hockey, basketball and soccer. The games all involve passing and eventually, a shot at a target.

Examining further the three categories, we see that:
In net games, gaining possession does not occur;
In batting games, gaining possession is only the concern of the fielders; and
In running games, gaining possession is the concern of all players.

In this proposed thematic curriculum based on the themes of net, batting and running games, physical education does not consist merely in imparting expertise, it involves awakening children's curiosity and interest in the questions of 'why' and 'how' things happen in the game.The teacher must be ready to guide when required, as well as be alert to the possibilities which emerge which the children could be helped to exploit. The plan for a lesson might be as follows:

  • Begin with a game, whether already known or newly invented
  • The game is suspended as problems arise or weaknesses become evident
  • These problems are investigated
  • Discoveries are shared and the solutions examined
  • The techniques involved are practised and 'coached'
  • The game is resumed with particular attention on the points which have been examined and practised.
In this approach, games are structured situations for experimenting, problem solving and discovery. Children are encouraged to notice what is worth investigating, practising and discovering, and to put forward suggestions and questions. A most important function of the teacher at such times is to set questions and to follow up children's responses and discoveries. Teacher skill in posing questions is important. Discussions between teacher and student/s, and between the students themselves, will play a more important part in this approach to games teaching than a 'conventional approach'.

In a games lesson, the teacher might regulate any of the following as a starting point for game design:
- apparatus
- playing area
- rules
- numbers per side

These general principles outlined above govern the planning of games teaching that has a focus on movement education. That is, to teach for understanding of the essential features of games and the opportunities these features afford.

# The approach just outlined and its rational, was first proposed in 1969 in the text: Mauldon, E., & Redfern, H. (1969). Games teaching: A new approach for the primary school. London: MacDonald and Evans. People familiar with a game-based or 'tactical models' for games teaching will see many similarities in the Mauldon & Redfern approach outlined above and Teaching Games for Understanding (UK), Game Sense (Australia) and Tactical Games (USA). 

I first came across Mauldon & Redfern's work in 2010 while researching for my PhD, 'Rethinking Sport Teaching in Physical Education'. I was struck by how similar the 'new approach' they proposed was to explanations and demonstrations of 'progressive' approaches to games and sport teaching in PE. I suspect that if one was to see this New Approach in action on 'teaching rounds' today, it would still be considered a new, progressive or innovative way of teaching primary school PE by many.


Popular Posts