Beyond Fun And Games: How Physical Educators Learn To Teach
By Shannon Langone
Reprinted from Triangle magazine,
Vol. 81, No. 1
THROUGHOUT THE UNITED STATES and the world, Springfield College is renowned as a premier institution for preparing physical educators, with physical education offered as a course of study since the College’s founding in 1885. Since then, the process of educating teachers in this field has changed significantly in response to the needs of children, schools, and society. The physical education curriculum at Springfield College keeps pace with this ever-evolving landscape and ensures the development of well-rounded physical education teachers through real-world experience in the classroom, professional development opportunities in the field, and an education that speaks to learning both what to teach and how to teach it.
Into the Classroom from Day One
Springfield College students in the physical education teacher preparation (PETP) program are exposed to practical experience in their first year, attending lectures two times per week and engaging in a two-hour lab that allows them to put what they’ve learned into practice. In this Instructional Strategies course, taught by Stephen Coulon, Ph.D., students start the process of preparing to become physical educators by working with pre-schoolers and utilizing instructional strategies that focus on the fundamentals of movement concepts and motor-skill development.“Right away, the first-year students are learning how to be effective teachers, beginning with the basics: an appreciation of movement and the fundamental skills to participate in any activity,” explains Coulon.
“From that first day, students discuss the importance of physical education in grades K through two,” says Michelle Moosbrugger ’00, Ph.D.‘06, assistant professor of physical education.“It’s such a critical period for learning gross motor skills, and if children don’t learn the basics, they will never reach their potential.We also teach students to capitalize on the fact that, at this age, children have a natural love for physical activity.” Once students understand what children in grades kindergarten through two are capable of, they can begin to understand the skill development of those children as they progress to middle school.“If the students are on task and have observed properly the needs and skill levels of the children, they will understand how to develop appropriate lessons and activities,” says Jim O’Donnell, visiting professor of physical education.
With basic developmental knowledge in place, PETP students in their sophomore year continue their practical experience by participating in four modules that rotate every seven-and-a-half weeks, covering grades kindergarten through two, three through five, six through eight, and nine through twelve. O’Donnell focuses on grades three through five, and stresses to his students that at this level they need to reinforce the fundamentals of movement by making the learning process enjoyable and appropriate, and by giving children the chance to experience early successes.“The key to this is in the delivery,” explains O’Donnell. “All the students will have similar content knowledge, but in order to be accepted by the kids they are dealing with, they have to observe and understand their needs and make it fun for them.” O’Donnell encourages students to use imagination and creativity to develop lessons that will engage children in physical activity.“The more experience the students get, the more opportunities they have to try new approaches, to take risks,” he says.“For example, I had one student develop an activity on catching and throwing, but instead of bringing in a ball, he had the children throw a rubber chicken. I was impressed that the student wasn’t afraid to be creative and wasn’t locked in to how people think an activity should be done. Utilizing imagination can separate the good teachers from the great ones.”
Beyond Physical Education Class
Diane Lorenzo, Ed.D., associate professor of physical education, teaches the module for sixth through eighth grade. She explains that the number one objective at this level is to create a curriculum that is meaningful to students at that age—one that will entice them to love physical education—a difficult task at this stage of a child’s development.“Middle-schoolers are experiencing more changes in their lives and bodies than at any other time,” she says.“They love being with their friends, and they also need opportunities that are meaningful to them.With that in mind, we instruct students on peer teaching and peer learning as a means of getting the children involved. And, we encourage students to make connections between classroom activities and what the children are interested in outside of school.”
Finding ways to keep students interested in physical education is a teaching skill that is equally important for students in the secondary module for ninth through twelfth grade.“In order to teach, you have to understand the dynamics of the secondary classroom, and we try to prepare students for the reality of what they’ll face,” says Ted France ’91, G’93, Ed.D., associate professor of physical education.“It is imperative that pre-service teachers find innovative and creative ways to engage youth.” France also encourages innovation by broadening the experience of the students in the secondary module to community centers and other community-based organizations. “We want our students to reach beyond the schools and into the community,” he says.“By forming school and community partnerships, and promoting physical education across the board, our students are learning to teach and to become leaders.”
At the end of their sophomore year, physical education students have been exposed to youth pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade.“By allowing them to experience each grade level, they gain understanding about the natural progression of skills in all domains—affective, cognitive, and psychomotor— and can make an informed choice about what is best for them in terms of choosing which grade level they want to teach,” explains Moosbrugger. This is especially important as students enter their junior and senior years, during which they complete their pre-practicum and student teaching. At this point they are also required to take and pass the Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure in reading and writing as well as the content for physical education. By the time they finish their student teaching and pass the required certification tests, all Springfield College PETP students are certified to teach kindergarten through twelfth grade.
The result of this intense practical experience is a well-rounded teacher who understands the content and how to deliver it in an effective way, no matter the grade level. Throughout their preparation, students use video and journals to analyze and reflect on the lessons they deliver, allowing them to perfect their pedagogical content knowledge.“Students are videotaped as they teach,” Lorenzo explains.“The students then watch the video and are given feedback from professors and peers.” The students are given a chance to refine their delivery and teach the lesson again to a new group of students at the same grade level. Says Lorenzo,“This approach helps the students realize what good teaching is.” Students are also required to reflect, in a journal, after every teaching experience, allowing them to take a step back and realize what worked and what didn’t.
Facing Challenges, Providing Solutions
As students learn the ins and outs of content and pedagogy, they must also keep in mind the current climate surrounding the field of physical education, including state and national standards; political, social, and economic issues; and the latest research and trends from scholars and professional organizations. (See sidebar, page 17.) More is expected of physical educators than just playing games. They are asked to teach physical skills as well as to educate students on wellness and to encourage them to lead physically active lives. At Springfield College, about eighty percent of physical education majors have a minor in health. All are taught the importance of fostering the wellbeing of their students on a broad scale, teaching movement concepts and basic skills, as well as explaining the nutrition and physical activity choices that define a healthy lifestyle.
Meanwhile,many school systems are suffering budget crises that make physical education a low priority. To address this issue, students are challenged to establish the physical education curriculum as an interdisciplinary tool.“We want teachers to look outside the gym and become integrated with the rest of the school,” says Lorenzo.“These days, physical educators really have to sell their program, to justify its existence.” Students are asked to come up with innovative ways to relate physical education to other areas of study. A physical education teacher who is involved in the school environment can collaborate with teachers of other subjects to simultaneously teach a theme that runs through all of their classes. For example, the common theme could be risk-taking, with instruction in rock-climbing and mountaineering in physical education class, the stock market in math class, and the Revolutionary War in history class—all areas that involve people taking risks to achieve something.
PETP students gain the confidence to foster a collaborative environment in schools and to advocate for physical education via leadership opportunities and professional development. All students are encouraged to become members of professional organizations, where they are exposed to the latest research on physical education and to the work of some of the most respected scholars in their field. The College hosts speaking engagements, such as the yearly Karpovich Lecture (see sidebar, page 15), featuring top scholars and researchers. Springfield College faculty also host professional development opportunities for the supervisors of student-teachers in an effort to promote mentoring and to keep everyone on the same page.“This ensures that what our students are experiencing in the classroom is meshing with what we’re doing on campus,” says Linda Davis-Delano, Ph.D., director of educator preparation and certification and professor of physical education. She also stresses to students the importance of appearing and acting professional as a way to promote physical education.“We tell them to always be the consummate professional in everything they do, from what they wear to what they teach and how they teach it,” says Davis-Delano. This professionalism, coupled with the knowledge of the latest developments in physical education, garners respect for the field and for its value in supporting academic goals.
From Preparation to Practice
Daniel Jaskot ’02, G’07, earned both his undergraduate and graduate degrees in physical education at Springfield College, and is currently putting what he learned into practice as a physical education teacher for grades six, nine, and ten at the Renaissance School in Springfield. He credits the College’s well-rounded approach with opening his eyes to the potential of physical education and preparing him for the type of teaching that today’s climate requires.“I knew in my junior year of high school that I wanted to be a physical education teacher,” says Jaskot.“But at Springfield College, I found that teaching physical education was a lot different from what I had experienced in high school.” Jaskot remembers high school physical education as simply “rolling out the ball and playing touch football,” but found, through his practical and classroom experiences at Springfield College, that physical education isn’t just based in sport but also in wellness.“I learned that I could turn kids on to activities they could do for the rest of their lives,” he says. Jaskot also appreciated the focus on all three domains of physical education: psychomotor, cognitive, and, especially, affective.“I loved the good feelings associated with physical education,” explains Jaskot,“the idea of providing a safe environment for students to play, have fun, learn, and be positive—all while being physical.”
At the Renaissance School, Jaskot integrates physical education into the school-wide curriculum. In two of the three trimesters at the school, students are required to embark on “expeditions” in which they experience a common theme across several disciplines.“During the ninth-grade expedition, the students studied the benefits of locally grown food,” explains Jaskot.“In science class, they looked at organically grown food versus genetically modified; in history class, they discussed how people throughout history survived on food that they grew; and, in my class, they learned about nutrition and the food pyramid.”
Jaskot maintains that the most rewarding part of his education at Springfield College was the early and ample exposure to practical experience.“You are put in school-like situations and challenged to make decisions from the start,” he says.“You are encouraged to be innovative in developing lessons that both engage your students and meet the state and national standards. From the beginning of my career, I have felt confident in my ability to utilize my experiences to create effective lessons.”
As the standards for physical education and the expectations of physical educators have changed, so has Springfield College’s curriculum and method of teacher preparation. But, by recognizing the need for new approaches, richer practical experiences, and continuous professional development for its students, Springfield College continues its tradition of educating outstanding physical educators who are prepared to take leadership roles in their field.