Answered by Dr Margaret Whitehead, 2014
As set out in the definition the three essential elements of the concept are the affective – motivation, confidence and commitment, the physical – physical competence, and the cognitive – knowledge and understanding. These elements, which are interdependent, serve to make it clear that the concept is founded on monist principles.
All elements are equally important. Each is essential to realise progress on an individual physical literacy journey.
- Without motivation there would be no incentive to take part in physical activity or to appreciate the value of this activity.
- Without the development of physical competence there would be no grounds for individuals to value the experience as satisfying and rewarding, one through which they develop self-worth and self-confidence.
- Without knowledge and understanding in respect both of the nature of movement and the holistic benefits of exercise there would be little grounds for individuals to take responsibility for their participation throughout life.
The priority given to motivation and confidence arises from a perception that, over the years, teachers of physical education and other practitioners, have been more effective in promoting physical skills than in inspiring learners to continue with activity when they leave school. Equally many adults with a history of physical competence seem to have little incentive to continue to take part. Physical competence without the motivation to maintain this activity would not seem to encourage continued participation. It is, therefore, diagnosed that far more attention should be given to ensuring learners are motivated to take part in activity, and experience development of self confidence and self-worth on account of participation in physical activity. This, it is suggested, will encourage them to maintain participation. The long term aspiration of all practitioners working to promote physical literacy, is to so enthuse participants, through providing rewarding experiences, that they adopt physical activity as part of their lifestyle.
The attributes of physical literacy serve to describe a cluster of the behaviours that are symptomatic to making progress on a physical literacy journey. In brief these refer to:- motivation and confidence, movement with poise, sensitive perception of the environment, a well established sense of self, sensitivity to others and the ability to articulate the value of physical activity. The nature of these attributes demonstrates that, on account of our holistic nature, making progress has far reaching effects on the individual.
No. Physical literacy is not a state that once reached is maintained throughout life. Each individual is on his/her own unique physical literacy journey. Progress is made in situations where there is enhancement in any or all of the attributes. Comparison with others is irrelevant. Progress may fluctuate over the life span. In older adulthood optimising movement ability is important to maintain active involvement and thus a positive physical literacy regime.
No. Physical literacy is as valuable and important to older learners in school and to adults as it is to those in the early and primary years. Physical literacy is much wider than physical education and encompasses all participation in physical activity throughout life. The promotion of physical literacy is a life-long journey relevant to all. All can make progress on their physical literacy journey as appropriate to their individual endowment. All can benefit from making progress on their journey.
No. Physical literacy is important and valuable to every individual irrespective of their physical endowment. Thos with particular potential will benefit considerably from a broad and balanced coverage of Forms of physical activity and from teaching that respects individuals’ specific needs. Differentiation lies at the heart of teaching that can promote physical literacy and those with significant potential should be challenged, encouraged and rewarded in the same way as all other learners.
Yes. All can make progress on their journey irrespective of their endowment. For those with any form of disability it is very important that they capitalize on their embodied capability, optimizing this area of potential. Regrettably in some situations physical literacy is seen as less important for these individuals when, in fact, there is a view that is more important. The journey continues into old age during which time the goal is to optimize potential in the context of aging.
No. Everyone is on their unique journey. Progress on a journey will be evident in situations where there is an enhancement in respect of all or some of the symptomatic behaviours identified as attributes of physical literacy. Each journey is likely to encounter twists, turns and maybe setbacks along the way. Journeys may stall on account of a range of personal circumstances, some of which are beyond the individual’s control. However, with determination and the help of others, individual journeys can re-start and indeed flourish.
Yes. While all can be physically literate, it is possible for individuals at any stage of life to lack or lose the motivation, confidence and physical competence to value physical activity and fail to take steps to maintain activity. In this case they can no longer be described as being physically literate. In other words they become physically illiterate.
Yes. The key issue here is that significant others and practitioners who are in contact with a physically illiterate individual should encourage and facilitate involvement in some form of physical activity. Positive and rewarding experiences have the power to enable the individual to start or re-start their journey. Motivation, confidence and physical competence need to be nurtured in non-threatening settings. Realistic targets need to be set and appreciation shown for effort and progress.
There are two important points to make here:- Firstly it needs to be understood that physical literacy is not a state that once attained persists through life. As indicated above physical literacy is best seen as a lifelong journey that is particular to the individual. Measuring or assessing physical literacy in this context is a form of formative assessment in which the progress made on the journey is recorded. Measurement is more akin to charting progress or mapping a journey. Comparison with others in not appropriate as each individual is on his/her unique journey. Charting progress/mapping a physical literacy journey is a more appropriate way to refer to any notion of measurement. This charting process is criterion referenced and ipsative, that is, always judged against previous achievement. And secondly judgements should be made in respect of all elements within the definition – affective, physical and cognitive. Judgements made in respect of only one of these is not a true indication of progress on a journey.
The value of physical literacy can be understood on two levels. On a personal level, having the motivation and confidence to make physical activities a part of life, enhances the quality of life, in a number of ways. For example this can encompass:- fostering a positive attitude to participation in physical activity for life, developing physical potential, contributing to the enhancement of self esteem, providing opportunities for involvement in worthwhile and pleasurable activities, promoting all round health and fitness and offering choices that can contribute to a varied and balanced life-style. On a deeper level the philosophical schools of existentialism and phenomenology alongside a commitment to monism, unequivocally support the central role that the human embodied dimension plays in life as we know it. Physical literacy, seen as a human capability (Nussbaum/Sen – Refs), enables each individual to capitalise on a fundamental dimension of their human nature – their physical dimension. Realising and using any aspect of human potential provides the opportunity for the individual to flourish and to live a richer life. Studying these schools of philosophy provides a valuable understanding of the significance of the notion of promoting physical literacy.
The implications of working towards promoting physical literacy are fourfold. In brief these encompass i) maintaining an encouraging ambience in all working sessions, ii) employing appropriate, differentiated teaching approaches, iii) providing participants/learners with a worthwhile experience of a wide variety of Form of Movement (Whitehead et al 2010, Capel and Whitehead eds 2013) and iv) adopting criterion referenced, ipsative assessment of progress. On a deeper level the philosophical schools of existentialism and phenomenology alongside a commitment to monism, unequivocally support the central role that the human embodied dimension plays in life as we know it. Physical literacy, seen as a human capability (Nussbaum/Sen – Refs), enables each individual to capitalise on a fundamental dimension of their human nature – their physical dimension. Realising and using any aspect of human potential provides the opportunity for the individual to flourish and to live a richer life. Studying these schools of philosophy provides a valuable understanding of the significance of the notion of promoting physical literacy.
The promotion of Fundamental Movement Skills (FMS) per se does not equate to the fostering of physical literacy. As the definition indicates there are three essential elements of this capability – the affective, the physical and the cognitive. Teaching FMS, ca, if taught with empathy in a climate that embraces differentiation, make a contribution to the physical competence element of physical literacy. However the mark of individuals who are making progress on their journey is their ability to draw on their bank of movement patterns as they interact with a variety of environments (see attributes, Whitehead 2010 and Capel and Whitehead 2013) In the context of these challenges to interact effectively individuals can have a meaningful experience. FMS taught in isolation from meaningful engagement with the environment have no automatic benefit to the fostering of physical literacy. In addition insensitively taught FMS can seriously damage the development of motivation and confidence in the movement sphere.
Physical literacy is not an alternative to physical education/sport, nor is it in competition with physical education. Physical education is a subject area in the school curriculum; physical literacy is the goal of physical education, a goal that can be interrogated with confidence to reveal the intrinsic value of physical activities.
No. Physical literacy is not taught in the same way as hockey or dance are taught. Physical literacy is a disposition and as such it cannot be ‘learnt’ or ‘taught’ in the traditional sense. The disposition develops as a result of practitioners involving participants in a rich variety of positive and rewarding experiences. As a result of these experiences participants make progress in their physical literacy journey.
No. Working to a goal of physical literacy as the underlying rationale of all physical activity is not an alternative goal for physical education, rather it should underpin all teaching. Pedagogical models are devised to achieve particular goals in respect of involvement in physical activity. Working within each of these models can contribute to developing physical literacy. Should the focus of a Unit of work be e.g. Sport Education, Games for Understanding or Health Related Exercise, the underlying principles of physical literacy should be adhered to. Learners should leave sessions motivated, confident and having gained in physical competence. They should have enhanced knowledge and understanding which, together with their practical experiences, will strengthen their resolve to participate in the future.
The decision to use the concept of literacy arises from the philosophical roots of the concept – being existentialism and phenomenology. In this context ‘literacy’ refers to the productive interaction with the world which helps individuals to reach their potential and consequently enrich life. The concept of ‘literacy’ provides physical activities with a valid place in education – or educational validity. The concept was not employed to provide academic credibility to physical activities. The benefits of physical activity are ends in themselves, not means to other ends.
Teachers of physical education are not alone in working to promote physical literacy. All significant others who are in a position to influence attitudes to, and competence in, physical activities have a role to play. This includes parents, child minders, practitioners in the early years, coaches, peers, family members, leisure management personnel, employers, the medical profession and carers for the elderly. Practitioners working with early years learners and teachers of physical education, however, have a key role as they are the only qualified professionals who will have contact with every young person. This puts a responsibility on these practitioners and teachers to lay a firm foundation of positive experiences so that all learners have begun to make progress on their individual physical literacy journey.