Physical Literacy & Secondary Physical Education

Motivating students to want to learn can be one of the most challenging aspects of teaching within the secondary school sector. Adolescents during this time are starting to carve out their identity, establishing who they are, what they enjoy and what makes them, them. As part of this process physical education teachers are often met with comments from students such as ‘I don’t do PE’, ‘I don’t like PE’ or ‘sport is just not my thing’, we even have the same problem within our subject area with students proclaiming to be ‘netballers not hockey players’ or ‘footballers not gymnasts’! Readdressing these statements can be challenging as students have already started to identify areas from their education and elements from their life experiences to date, with which they feel that they have an affinity, and ultimately what constitutes to their self-efficacy and esteem.

Of course it is important that students are able to identify what they are good at or excel in and enjoy. But this identification can sometimes be to the detriment of the development of other things that they may find more challenging or difficult. It is our role as educators to ensure that students are able to develop holistically areas of strengths and weaknesses so that they may become well-rounded individuals who relish the challenge of mastery within areas natural to them and areas that may be more challenging. Learning these life skills is essential in order to become successful in a diverse and challenging world where the luxury of choice of avoiding difficult situations is not always available.

As physical educators we hold the key to unlocking interest in physical education, physical activity and sport by creating opportunities for students to identify areas that they are good at and enjoy and helping  develop areas of weakness. This relates not only to their physical competence but also their motivation, confidence, knowledge and understanding. We can achieve this aim through the development of physically literate individuals who have the physical and creative skills, knowledge and motivation to become physically active throughout their life-course. Avoiding physical activity throughout life is one of those life choices that must be prevented if students are to become happy and healthy adults. Therefore, promoting physical literacy within education is essential in unlocking students desire, interest, confidence and competence to partake in physical activity throughout their life, the experiences and skills they gain within education after all, will pave the way for their adulthood.

Photo: Nottingham Trent University

8 Comments on “Physical Literacy & Secondary Physical Education”

  1. Interesting article. I agree that there is a need for the PE program to be developed based on the developmental age and the skills and competencies expected for that age. Definitely not what the child thinks he or she needs or likes. Physical literacy (a term I really find so apt in terms of an educational perspective) is an important part of a child’s education similar to numeracy and literacy. Sadly, physical literacy has always been grossly neglected.

  2. Liz’s statement that “Adolescents during this time are starting to carve out their identity, establishing who they are, what they enjoy and what makes them” lies at the heart of physical literacy. This is the stage for young people:

    o Learning to value purposeful physical pursuits and their significance for their lives.
    o Learning to give their life shape and purpose
    o Learning to make informed choices
    o Learning to acquire the freedoms to access their choices
    o Learning how to acquire personal inner resources that underpin enablement and success in learning

    This is the focus for our educational validity inspired by a concern for physical literacy. But, what does this entail? Does the physical education profession posses a shared understanding of how to deliver this in their practice. At this time, the answer is most definitely no. Hence the need for the physical literacy association to chart the paths that can lead to a more informed and educational valid physical education in practice.

  3. Valid points that will undoubtedly be shared by many in the P.E profession. But the difficult task for IPLA is to plot the path for Secondary Teachers in how they may go about this? “How do I do it”? “What and how do I teach it”? Are inevitable questions.
    In a world of levels of progress, data and performance management this is a very difficult task indeed…..but not impossible!

  4. the question to be asked is not; ‘what is physical literacy?’ but who/how many teachers of physical education are actually aware or fully understand what it means. All of the comments that Len makes with respect to physical literacy are valid but equally apply to ‘high quality physical education’ and perhaps it is this that we should be focusing on alongside the concept of physical literacy as the two should go hand in hand.

  5. There are a few areas of those outcomes I think are just hogwash! ‘Know and understand what they are trying to achieve’ come on, this means more hanging around talking about very simple concepts, that pupils probably picked up in primary school, when in all reality they need as much time refining what they know ‘in the moment’. Try stopping a game in full flow and you tell me if you are met with willing and enthusiastic responses!!!
    Roy Keane in his biography explains Brian Clough’s instructions on his first game against Liverpool, ‘Get it, pass to one of your team-mates, and move.Can you do that’? Simple concepts required at elite level!
    What I feel many academics do, is that in order to justify our subject they throw in statements like the above in order for it to sound more detailed than it needs to.
    It is the ‘explicit cognitive brigade’ moving in on something they know little about!
    I think we should, in PE, keep things very simple and allow practioners to become very expert at delivering simple concepts to different groups of pupils with very different needs.
    The difference between discussing it and actually doing it is as long as the distance between your head and your heart and that is where I think PL can have the greatest impact!

  6. Many great ideas and I tend to agree that we need to place more implementation of physical literacy through physical actions and understanding of physical literacy. As Liz mentioned in the her original post that “ddolescents during this time are starting to carve out their identity, establishing who they are, what they enjoy and what makes them, them. As part of this process physical education teachers are often met with comments from students such as ‘I don’t do PE’, ‘I don’t like PE’ or ‘sport is just not my thing’, we even have the same problem within our subject area with students proclaiming to be ‘netballers not hockey players’ or ‘footballers not gymnasts’! ” So the question that I always ask my students is how are you physically literate and have them understand what physical literacy means to them and come up with examples of how they demonstrate physical literacy in their lives. This can be a reflection of their last year, their current status and perhaps in the next five, ten, and even twenty years down the road.

    So perhaps a focus on the student and how they explain how they are physically literate will begin the discussion that perhaps they are an elite footballer and not an physically literate individual that has placed all their eggs in one basket as their sole identity.

    1. Lance’s comment raises an interesting point for me – do people really interpret the “know and understand” components of PL in relation to motor skills? That would seem weird given what we know about motor learning, invariably thinking about a movement/skill drops us back to moving like a novice again (unless you are already a novice…!)

      I can see clear arguments for knowing and understanding the benefits of living an active life and engaging in purposeful movement etc – because the ‘implicit’ approach is clearly not working there (culture and policies all seem to reinforce avoiding any physical exertion, and de-emphasising it in the curriculum at many schools). Many approaches to behaviour change in psychology recommend an explicit consideration in some way – Transtheoretical model, various types of therapy – and we know implicit/heuristic thinking is often both flawed and extremely difficult to change (good old Kahneman and Tversky).

      On reflection, some things within PL do not need/want explicit consideration (e.g, the actual motor skills and movement patterns, even tactics), but some almost definitely do – importance, consequences, opportunities etc. – especially when we’re reaching out to those who have disengaged and have no interest in physical pursuits. Hopefully the latter wouldn’t be seen as hogwash or the academic explicit-cognitive brigade justifying their own existence.

      Alternatively however, if we created an entire culture – schools, communities, policies, media etc. – that valued and reinforced physical pursuits… then we may never need to explicitly argue the benefits after all 🙂

  7. Having thoroughly enjoyed reading the above posts, I am keen to understand and listen to any views on how it is practically possible, in the real world, to integrate physical literacy into the national curriculum for PE?

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