The Misconceived Role of Physical Education in Education: Similarities and Benefits

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18th May 2020 Physical Education Reference this

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The Misconceived Role of Physical Education in Education: Similarities and Benefits

Education has proved to be an important part of an individual’s existence. Getting an education can add ease to an individuals’ daily life and enhance socialization opportunities (e.g. reading instructions, grocery shopping, reading emails or letters for communications purposes), which can lead to the possibility of a better quality of life. Davidson and Hobbs (2013) stated that education is strongly related to, improved cognitive health in children of educated parents, the use of contraceptives efficiently, an individual’s health, their child’s health, their spouse’s health, reduced criminal activity in communities and less social cohesion. Individuals cannot access quality education if they do not have adequate reading skills to learn from printed text. Physical education on the other hand is aimed at improving the overall physical health and quality of life of individuals through living active lifestyles. According to Corbin, (2002) one of the primary goals of physical education is to potentially promote a ‘lifetime’ physical activity. For the purpose this paper other subjects like English, mathematics, social studies, science etc. will be referred to as general education, in order to differentiate and better explain the similarities and uniqueness of physical education and general education.

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Many educators have a misconception on the role physical education plays in students’ lives. Teachers see physical education as an opportunity to get some time to themselves where they can plan for other subject areas, eat lunch or get a quick break when students are away ‘running around’ or ‘playing in the gym,’ with a coach yelling instruction at them. Contrary to this belief Hills, Dengel and Lubans (2015) stated that,

“health benefits of physical activity (PA) are well documented and include improved body composition and the prevention of overweight and obesity; and improve skeletal, metabolic, and cardiovascular health. Benefits are not only limited to the biological, but also include numerous psychosocial advantages such as a reduction in the symptoms of depression, stress, anxiety, and improvements in self-confidence and self-esteem. The collective benefits of participation in regular PA are important at all ages but critical in the formative years for healthy growth and development, optimizing cardiometabolic function, and preventing chronic disease. In recent decades, significant changes in lifestyle practices and reduced opportunities for PA mean that too many children and adolescents are not sufficiently active to realize health benefits.”

General education teachers argue that individuals with poor literacy skills suffer personal embarrassment and dysfunction in social situations. They further argue that poor literacy will limit these individual’s life‐chances and exclude these individuals from having the ‘good life’ (Payne, 2006). It is also very clear that the marginally literate tend to have poorer health outcomes than those with adequate literacy skills (Ziegler, 1998). General education teachers need to understand that their goal educating their students in order to enable them to have a better life is shared by physical educators. Physical education seeks to support this goal and encourage these individuals to seek, obtain and maintain a quality lifestyle thereby assisting them in obtaining this ‘good life’.

General education and physical education have many similarities and commonalities as each has its unique role to play in helping students attain the best quality of life through education. Much like general education which emphasizes the need for evidence-based research and interventions that will enable students who struggle, to catch up with their typically developing peers. Physical education also encourages the need for research to be carried out in the field of physical education in order to explore what works and how better to serve the populations physical educators caters to. Silverman and Skonie (1997) explained that in recent years not a lot of research has been carried out in physical education even though the number of people attending the annual American Educational Research Association (AERA) meeting has continued to increase over the years. The authors research paper focused on published research articles focused on teaching in physical education, social dynamics and the outcomes of physical education, emphasizing the importance of research and how this provides an avenue for looking at the growth of research in an area of physical education. The authors further emphasized that in order to analyze that particular research area focusing on three major areas in physical education is necessary (a) teaching, (b) teacher education, and (c) curriculum. Kulinna, Scrabis-Fletcher, Kodish, Phillips and Silverman (2009) conducted a study that provided a detailed analysis of the research literature in physical education that has been done over the period of a decade. They found that there were 1,819 physical education pedagogy research papers published during 1995–2004 in 94 different journals. Kulinna et al., also emphasized the need for more current research to be carried out in physical education in order to provide data for a broader spectrum of understanding the discipline of physical education.

Due to the diversity of the students we come across in our classroom as educators. Teachers will need to tailor instruction and teaching in order to accommodate students challenges and encourage students in areas that they have strengths. Often the subject matter and content educators need to teach will dictate the specific approach to instruction that teachers adopt in order to impart knowledge to their students. This brings us to another similarity between physical education and general education which is the teaching styles that both disciplines share. In general education according to Opdenakker and Van Damme (2006) the literature about teaching styles talks about the formal and informal teaching styles, the learner-centered and the content centered teaching style, although these labels are not always used. The authors referred to other authors that made a distinction between the expository versus discovery style and exploratory versus authoritarian styles of teaching. General education teachers also explore the mixed methods teaching styles, where they combine two more teaching styles in order to enable their students reach their maximum learning potential.

According to Kirk, MacDonald and O’Sullivan (2006) in the handbook of physical education, teaching refers to any action that is taken with the intention of realizing learning in another using meaningful lessons that are goal-oriented, created in meeting the instructional objectives tailored to a lesson or set of lessons for learners. Early physical education programs were mostly teacher led up until the 1960’s when new teaching styles began to emerge that were more student led. This new development encouraged learning interactions not only between students and teachers but also between students and their peers. This period also birthed the Mosston’s Spectrum of Teaching Styles that physical educators began to adopt and often referred to as teaching strategies. Mosston published a book in 1966 introducing an instructional framework based on teachers and learner’s decision-making strategies encompassing, (a) the command style of teaching also known as the teacher-centered styles and, (b) the self-teaching style also known as the student-centered styles. Mosston went on to break down these two major teaching styles into nine additional landmark styles that focused on the aspects of direct teaching approaches, peer teaching styles, small-group cooperative learning formats, self-check teaching styles, inclusion teaching styles and, discovery teaching styles. Some physical educators believe that in order for students to achieve their maximum learning potential the direct or authoritarian teaching style should be used. Other physical educators believe that for students to accomplish their best, the student centered teaching styles should be used while others believe that mixing both the direct and student centered teachings styles will enable students get the direct instruction they need; while providing them with the opportunity to be accountable and motivated towards their learning.

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Educators have to deliberately come up with content to teach their students in order for learning to be successful. Teachers usually have a learning objective that is tailored to each student or group of students in their classrooms. This is another common aspect of educating students general education and special education disciplines share. This content educators desire to teach their students is often referred to as a curriculum. A curriculum a teacher uses to teach in a general education classroom is often linked to other subject areas in order for students learning to be linked across subject areas. Teachers use prior knowledge of a curriculum students have already learnt to build and develop new content of learning for students. According to Cothran and Ennis (1998),  

“in fact, many current conceptualizations of curriculum retain a similar connotation, using the word to describe a sequence of academic events that students must complete to successfully finish a single class or an entire educational program. From this perspective, a student moves through a predetermined educational path, the curriculum, toward the finish line of course completion.”

A curriculum serves as a guide for both students and teachers to navigate learning and teaching in order for both parties to stay on track. In the disciplines of general education and special education teachers all agree that a curriculum can be hard to navigate and is often not set in stone. In both disciplines’ teachers can change their curriculum as they teach their students sometimes tweaking a lesson to include all the students who will participate in that class or changing a content that will be taught to students due to one reason or the other. It is worthy to note that in both cases the curriculum in a general education and physical education classroom serve as a guide for learning and instruction.

 Up until this point, we have discussed the similarities of physical education and general education and how both disciplines seeks to enhance students potential and achievement levels while improving their daily living. However, research in physical education has shown that physical education has positive outcomes for student’s academic achievement. The relationship between physical fitness and academic achievement has received much attention due to the number of obese children. Schools and educators are put under constant pressure to produce students who meet academic standards. Examples of studies that have explored the relationship between physical education and student’s achievement include:

  1. A study conducted by Castelli, Hillman, Buck and Erwin (2007) that explored the relationships between physical fitness and academic achievement in public school students using a field test of fitness, which is routinely administered in physical education classes. This study was conducted in a single school district in a medium-sized urban community. There was a total of 259 students who participated in this study that were enrolled in third and fifth grades level. Results from this study were statistically significant showing that students had a better chance of academic achievement, when they engaged more in physical activities. The authors concluded that student’s physical health was related to students’ academic performance. The authors further emphasized that this should be an important consideration in educational and public policy making.
  2. A second study conducted by Chomitz et al., (2009) investigated the relationships between physical fitness and academic achievement in diverse, urban public-school children. This study was conducted at the Cambridge Public School Department (CPSD) with a total of 3990 participants enrolled in fourth, sixth, seventh and eighth grade level. The results of this study were statistically significant as well indicating that, students had a better chance of passing the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) for Math and English as the number of fitness tests they participated in where passed. This study aligns with the previous study which shows that there is a significant relationship between students’ academic achievement and physical fitness.
  3. A third study conducted by Castelli and Valley (2007) examined the influence of physical fitness, motor competence, gender, age, and ethnicity on rates of physical activity engagement from a social cognitive perspective during a community-based summer physical activity program. There was a total of 230 participants who were a representative sample of children living in the Midwest enrolled in a summer school program. The results of this study were significantly significant showing that student’s performance outcomes were interrelated. Specifically, physical fitness and motor competence are predictors of physical activity.

In conclusion, physical education is too often underutilized within the context of education and is often misunderstood by many teachers who do not understand the positive impact physical education can have on students and their general education learning. In alignment with previous studies that have shown that physical education enhances better academic achievement outcomes for students, we believe that physical education is a class that should be prioritized by all educators. General educators and physical educators should be encouraged to work hand in hand in order to enhance academic outcomes and give students learning a wholistic improved structure. Special education teachers should also be sensitized about the benefits of physical education for their struggling learners as physical educators and special education teachers can develop incorporate physical activities into academic interventions for struggling students. Finally, we believe that it may be beneficial to have more physical education specialist work with general education teachers and special education teachers in order to develop classroom curriculum for students with and without disabilities.

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