Can physical literacy be taught? Part 3: Assessment in physical education for a physical literacy outcome.

Please read part 2 before reading this blog. 

It is relevant to discuss the teaching of physical literacy with an outcome of being physically literate, as physically literacy is a universal concept that has been adopted by many cultures and organizations around the world. The above sentence, without seeking to attack individuals or groups that believe you can teach to become physically literate, I urge you to be open in your reading and in this context, dialogue. It can be argued that before I discuss being physically literate or being physically illiterate, the philosophical underpinnings behind the concept should be made clear. However, I will continue our discussion on the aforementioned topic, as only a low level understanding of the philosophical underpinnings is needed to accept my thinking and reasoning. Let’s start!

Physically literate 

The concept of physical literacy can be described as a capability of ones embodied dimension. Just as we pose the capability for literacy, the tag line of endowment of ones embodied potential is attached, with the physical, joining physical and literacy together to form physical literacy. Therefore, as mentioned, this concept is a capability and is achievable by all, as we all possess an embodied dimension and capability of being a human with potential to grow our embodied potential. With this in mind, I will argue that programs for young children in physical literacy are not straightforward or in any way subject to becoming physically literate (especially if an age is tagged with becoming physically literate – ASPEN). The associated term of being ‘physically educated’ seems to be a somewhat unclear alternative to physical literacy. However, this term suggests an end state to becoming physically literate and ‘if not achieved by a certain age or stage, were beyond an individuals reach’ (Whitehead, 2010, p.5). I would also argue that many could interpret the term physically literate as a destination or end goal but physical literacy can not be aligned to this statement. This will be discussed in depth throughout this post. Nevertheless, refereeing back to the term ‘physically educated’, it can be said that if you have not grasped the concept of being physical literate by a certain age, the capability is lost on the road to becoming physical educated/literate. Moreover, the term physically educated segregates itself from the concept physical literacy as it is does not pay worthy recommendation to the fact that as humans we have a capability that is purposeful to ones embodiment and embodied potential. 

Building on from this, I reject the claim that physical literacy can be taught as teachers, practitioners and coaches can only provide the experiences that individuals can interact with, in different environments. In doing so, these experiences will become meaningful and challenge a persons embodied dimension. The satisfaction and pleasure of movement in physical activity can be directly linked to ‘our embodied dimension as a significant and indeed essential human asset’ (Whitehead, 2010, p.37). How can you teach something that is a lifelong journey? With this question, being left unanswered, it can be argued how can we implement the term ‘being physically literate’. As discussed in my last blog post, mastering movement is hard and teaching motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding is also a even harder task, especially across the life course. Therefore, it can be argued that ‘while experiences at this early age are particularly important, the nature of physical literacy means that this capability should be nurtured beyond the earlier years, through maturity and old age’ (Whitehead, 2010, p.7). It can also be suggested that if physical literacy is going to be attempted to be taught worldwide, it should be open in age and marketed as a life program, where children, young adults, adults and older adults can share their experiences of physical activity together. However, I do not like this above suggestion, as it is difficult to comprehend such an undertaking and I still reject that physical literacy can be taught. As stated, we can only provide the experiences and the personal life long journey of physical activity will be left to flourish by those who value the four elements (motivation, confidence, physical competence and knowledge and understanding) instilled in their embodiment and set to grow in ones embodied potential.

Physically illiterate 

The term physically illiterate is another term that is being tagged or targeted to describe obese humans. This statement does not sit well with me and I will endeavor to explain my reasoning. It can be argued that ‘physically illiterate individuals will avoid any involvement in physical activity in all situations wherever alternatives are possible. This could include not walking short distances, avoiding tasks such as house cleaning and gardening, preferring quick methods of preparing a meal and always using the remote control to turn on an electrical appliance’ (Whitehead, 2010, p7). It can be suggested that this statement and tag line of being physically illiterate can only be used if ones embodiment has no embodied potential. For example: a person who is severely affected by mobility and will forever be bed stricken. In this case, I feel there is no option but to use the term physically illiterate. However, this term does not sit well with me as it goes against an individuals endowed capability of embodied dimension and embodied potential. Therefore, I reject that obese people are physically illiterate as physical activity(s) are in reach and can provide the experiences for interaction in all different environments that are purposeful to flourishing in education in movement, physical literacy (the lifelong journey) and health as resource for every day living.


To synthesise physical literacy can be fostered by those who want to teach physical activities, physical education and outdoor pursuits by providing the experiences in meaningful situations. In doing so, I believe that being physically literate is not achievable or an acceptable term to be used and being physically illiterate does not sit well with me, for the above reasons of capability and embodied dimension that is individualised to ones physical literacy journey. A question worth pondering may be, where do we draw the line in what constitutes as a physical activity?

In my next blog, I will discuss some suggestions for assessment in physical education for a physical literacy outcome. Remember, that physical literacy is a life long journey and not something that stops at school! One person’s disposition is linked directly to physical literacy and the embodied dimension and embodied potential. Therefore we must choose to be physically active for life!

Please feel free to follow and retweet my blogs; share this with anyone and everyone. I appreciate any and all comments. Please let me know what you think? Do you agree or disagree?



Whitehead, M. (2010) Physical Literacy: Throughout the lifecourse. London: Routledge.