Over the past few years, I have tried to understand, on a much deeper level, the Meaningful PE framework in order to make more sense of each of the 5 features that this framework is structured on.
Truth be told, I’ve developed a strong interest in unpacking this framework on a deeper level in order to better understand how it can be applied in the teaching and learning taking place in PE. It has led me down multiple paths and has sparked some great discussions with Dr. Tim Fletcher, Dr. Doug Gleddie, and other educators that I know who strongly believe in this framework and the positive impact it can have on inspiring young people to embrace physical activity and sport in their lives.
As I dig more deeply into the Meaningful PE framework, I can’t help but to reflect on my own experiences with physical activity and sport while growing up and how I found meaning in movement at a young age. Having grown up in a dysfunctional family environment, physical activity and sport provided me with an escape from the darkness that often defined my surroundings. As the youngest of 5 children, I had to make my own way through this darkness and, without question, I found purpose and hope through physical activity and sport.
It’s physical activity and sport that got me out the door each day with friends, but also many days on my own. From about the age of 9, I had fallen in love with football (American football) and would work endlessly at developing motor competence in the areas of throwing, punting, and catching a football. Growing up in Canada, we had very harsh winters, but the cold and the snow did not hold me back. I always found a way to get out and work on developing my skills and to enjoy the game that meant so much to me.
There were times I would drag a snow shovel outside to clear and 2 meter by 2 meter patch in the snow, so that I could have a flat surface that was wide enough to take 2-3 steps in order to be able to punt or throw the football. Often times I had a friend on the receiving end of these punts and passes, but even when alone, I was inspired to throw and punt the football for hours and loved every second of it. I had truly found states of flow in many of those moments while growing up.
Little did I know, but I would go on to play 13 years of competitive American football as a quarterback and a punter that concluded with 5 seasons as a quarterback and punter for my university team in Windsor, Ontario. Many lifelong friendships were formed through football and I appreciate everything the sport gave back to me.
Although football was my main sport while growing up, I had also embraced many other forms of movement such as cycling, climbing, golfing, and running.
The reason that I’m sharing this part of my life with you is to emphasize the point that I was inspired to move at a young age and that I had found purpose and hope through movement given the circumstances of my life at that time.
Looking back on my life of movement, I cannot help but be drawn to the Meaningful PE framework as it makes so much sense to me when I reflect back on my own experiences with physical activity and sport while growing up. It is so very easy to see how the 5 features of the Meaningful PE framework (Fun, Personal Relevance, Motor Competence, Social Interaction, and Challenge) were all interwoven within my movement experiences, helping me to find so much meaning and purpose in the physical pursuits that I was engaged in at the time.
It is through this lens that I look when trying to provide students with purposeful physical education experiences. I want them to be inspired, to be curious, to be filled with joy and wonder, and to ultimately know that they can find a capacity within themselves to move and to fall in love with physical activity and sport. I want them to know that it can change their lives forever, just as it did for me.
Fast forward to my current role as a pedagogical coordinator and teacher coach, my job provides me with daily opportunities to work closely with teachers during the planning and reflection process in order to provide the most meaningful learning experiences possible in physical education, music, and visual arts.
Although I strongly feel that the 5 features apply just as well in music and visual arts, in this blog post, I want to share my current understanding of the Meaningful PE framework, not only based on my work with PE teachers helping them to plan their units, but also in the work that I do co-teaching alongside them.
The 5 features of the Meaningful PE framework are meant to be guideposts that help teachers to think more deeply about how they are going to design teaching and learning in a way that ensures that students have as many opportunities as possible for meaningful movement experiences in PE.
In order to bring the 5 features of Meaningful PE alive in our program here at Gardens Elementary School in Saudi Arabia, we have experimented with different ways to create an environment that gets our students emotionally invested in their own learning at the start of the unit. We believe it is necessary to create these emotional hooks at the outset of the unit in order to tap into their curiosity, wonder, and to provide them with opportunities to co-construct what success might look like for them in the specific unit they are about to dive into.
Once we can co-construct what success might look like in differentiated ways, the students can embark on their own learning journeys that honor where they are at and what it is that they would like to work on.
For us, this is usually done by unpacking what students find most challenging about a chosen area of physical activity that we will focus on in a unit. For example, if we are about to embark on a cycling unit, we will have the students identify what their biggest challenges are. This is primarily done through an exploration of the physical activity (in this case cycling) for the first couple of classes in the unit.
By prioritizing the feature of challenge, our aim is to help our students understand that each of us have specific things that are challenging and that finding the right challenge to work on is a great entry point to their learning. Here is an example of what the class list of challenges might look like in a cycling unit:
What challenges you the most in cycling?
Riding my bike in narrow places
Riding my bike on different surfaces (grass, gravel, paved surfaces, etc.)
Switching speeds from slow, to medium speed, to fast
Doing rode signals when I am riding
Riding closely to others
Once the students have identified, through the exploration, what their challenges are, the process of co-constructing success criteria begins. To keep learning on track, we use a simple self-assessment strategy that involves students using red, green, and yellow sticky dots to assess where they are at with different challenges. They write their names on these sticky dots, placing the dots on the challenge that they are working on. Red=impossible at this point, Yellow=can sometimes do, Green=fully capable of doing. The students do regular check ins to self-assess their progress in the unit.
By prioritizing the feature of challenge, we feel that the other 4 features fall into place quite nicely. As the students have lots of autonomy during this process, we feel the choices they make are personally relevant to them. We have seen an increased level of engagement and most students making lots of progress in regards to their skills in the unit. Therefore, motor competence is also taking care of itself, but the teachers still check in on the students to offer support when need be and to provide timely feedback to them based on their needs in the moment.
We also feel that the feature of social interaction is also taking care of itself as the lessons are set up in a way that allow students opportunities to work individually, in small groups or in larger groups. As well, we constantly observe that the students seem to be deeply engaged and having fun as part of this process.
As we think about our PE program for next year, we are thinking about how we can embed, more deeply, the 5 features of the Meaningful PE framework and how we can better unpack these features to provide more authentic movement experiences for our students. The questions we are currently reflecting on are:
What do we need to get rid of?
What do we need to explore further?
What are we unaware of?
How do we know that what we are doing is having the impact that we want?
Although we have seen lots of success and genuinely feel that what we are doing is working well, we must remain open to new ideas and different ways of applying the Meaningful PE framework in our program. We have interpreted the framework in a way that makes sense to us, but there are so many pieces to the teaching and learning puzzle. At this point, we have a few of the pieces in our hand and these pieces fit together nicely for us. They make sense to us.
We have been able to draw meaning from the pieces that we have put together. However, there is a long way to go in continuing to build this puzzle in order to create a more comprehensive understanding and a more complete picture of what we can do to plant the seeds for young people to be inspired to find greater purpose and joy in physical activity and sport. We definitely on the right track, but there is so much more that we need to learn in order to better apply this framework. Thanks for reading.