Essential Components of a Standards or Outcomes Based Quality PE Program

In Australia, curriculum has been organised around standards or outcomes frameworks since the 1980's. It has become common thinking about Quality Physical Education (QPE) Programs as organised around these standards or outcomes statements that offer direction and continuity to the individual teacher, and the possibility of a set of common understandings that can lead to a connected community of practice through a shared understanding of the expectations about the meaning of a physically educated child. This type of curriculum development stems from a belief that the curriculum focus should begin with the explicit statement of outcomes expected, and that curriculum content, processes, structures and resources should be planned in order that learners's opportunities are deliberately expanded over time. In a Key Note presentation at the 2011 ACHPER Biennial International Conference in Adelaide, prominent US physical education academic Professor Fran Cleland called this deliberate expansion over time coherent complexity. (See the free online proceedings of the 27th ACHPER International Conference here )
In order to understand the content and pedagogical directions implied in standards or outcomes statements, I encourage an understanding by design process ( purchase Wiggins and McTighe excellent book Understanding by Design here ). Very simply put, this means starting at the end and working backwards. It was this process that led me to suggest a Praxis Model for PE back in 2007. In this model, I proposed that planning backwards commences with an understanding of the aspects of learning from which the broad spectrum of knowledge relating to PE (or HPE if in Australia) and the aims of the learning area arises.
Aspects of Learning                                    Spectrum of Knowledge
Physical                                                         Wellbeing
Intellectual                                                     Health
Emotional                                                      Behaviour
Spiritual                                                        Skills
Social                                                            Dispositions

The core of the problem - being able to "define a dog"

For a teacher to be able to describe the expected learning and a description of what it means for students to "get it" the teacher needs to be able to "define a dog" for each student. Most people could describe a dog, but if we were asked to draw how a dog behaves, what would we draw? I use this metaphor to illustrate the importance of the teacher knowing what an appropriate level is, and how to assess against expected standards - otherwise, students in PE may end up doing pretty much the same (e.g.) volleyball unit in Year 10 that they did in Year 7, and under-achievement gets built into the cycle of experience. Both teacher and student need to know what the standard (or outcome) looks like. For every unit of work, we need to be explicit with students about what the success criteria looks like.

The language of outcomes or standards framework in existence globally vary in expression, but the process of understanding the frameworks by design is the same.
                                    Understand the Learning Area Statement              
                                       Refer to the Standards/Outcomes                     
                                  Examine the Standard/Outcome statement verbs 
                                 Examine the Standard/Outcome statement nouns
For example, this is an example from a HPE outcomes framework for Year 6:
*Analyses a variety of community health issues that affect them and investigates community  
programs to address them
Verbs                                                          Nouns/Noun Phrases
Analyse                                                       Health Issues
The level of cognitive action (analyse) expected in student engagement (investigate) is indicated by the verbs. The content question is indicated by the noun phrase (Health issues). The curriculum design question for the teacher is then, " What are the Health issues?". This may begin by considering the categories health issues may fall under (economic, cultural, political, societal, lifestyle, etc) before discerning what is relevant to students of this age in the context of the community in which they live. 
Breaking this down into a series of design questions, let's look at the following example and a suggested set of questions to use by the HPE teacher to guide the curriculum design process:
*Articulates, on the basis of personal participation, understandings about fitness through experience of the feelings and effects of different types of exercise on the body
  • What are the physical or cognitive actions described by the verb/s?
  • What is/are the key concept described by the noun or noun phrase?
  • What activities can the students do to either work towards demonstration of   achievement of the outcome/standard, or demonstrate achievement?
  • What does evidence of this demonstration of achievement "look like"?
  • What can I do as teacher to scaffold this development and demonstration?

When standards are combined with outcome statements, the result is statements that look like this:
Standard (Level 2, by the end of Year 4)
2.1 Confidently performs and repeats movement sequences with control, balance and
                Outcome Statement - Confidently performs and repeats movement sequences
                Competency Statement  - With control, balance and coordination

In a standards or outcomes framework students "results" are determined by being below, at, or beyond standard. Some education systems require reporting to parents using an "A to E" mechanism, in which "C" is a pass. In a standards or outcomes framework, being "at standard" by the indicated year level means that the student has "passed", they are a "C" student. Achieving beyond standard would be a "B", and being at the next standard would be an "A", while being below standard (not there yet, or partial achievement) would be a "D", and achieving at or below the previous standard level would be an "E".

A Standards or Outcomes framework is structured using the design principle of coherent complexity as the structure sequence is premised on the principle that learning is a process leading to change in the individual, enabling that person to perceive differently, adapt differently, perform differently, or create differently. For an outcomes or standards framework to "work", teacher consistency of understanding of the expectations of the standard or outcome is necessary, and this relies on a common interpretation of the learning outcome or the learning intention. For standards or outcome statements to work as intended moderation of student work needs to occur within HPE Departments and between schools, and exemplars of standards developed.  

This blog is developed from a presentations given by the author at conferences in 2007 and 2008. Those presentations were designed with former DECD HPE Policy Officer Tricia Knott.

William Spady is sometimes credited as the pioneer of outcomes based education (OBE). For those interested in his ideas, see Outcome Based Education and Paradigm Lost: Reclaiming America's Educational Future 


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