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Pedagogical "Shift" in PE

Multi-Activity to Models-Based Approach + More...

Pedagogy is the combination of teaching methods (what teachers “do”) and learning activities (what teachers have students participate in). Casey and Kirk (2021) refer to pedagogy as the interdependence of curriculum, teaching, learning, and assessment.

Multi-Activity Approach

The multi-activity approach is commonly identified as the dominant “pedagogical” approach used (worldwide) when teaching PE (Kirk, 2010). The most common teaching style found in the multi-activity approach is the practice style (Cothran et al., 2005) where students practice how to perform a skill and usually, they are provided feedback from the teacher on their “sport” technique. The multi-activity approach is often the same introductory unit year after year. It is the one size fits all approach which provides numerous opportunities for highly skilled students to engage in movement. Ennis (1999) claims this approach can alienate girls and restrict their opportunities for lifelong physical activity. The approach also underserves those who are from ethnic minority backgrounds and those who have a disability (Casey & Kirk, 2021). It tends to promote inequality, gender segregation, and low-skill levels in students (Ennis, 1999). It is not uncommon to see PE programs utilizing a curriculum composed of using the multi-activity approach. This can include many short units (e.g. 3-6 lessons in length per unit; over a dozen units per school year) for each grade level. Keep in mind that Nuthall & Alton-Lee (1997) found that students are typically required to be exposed to any new learning at least 3-5 times before it has a high probability to be learned. While Lally et al. (2010) claim that approximately 66 days of repetition will form a new habit.

The multi-activity approach often includes the following (Ennis, 1999):

1) Short units. There are minimal instructional periods. Units could be 3-6 lessons in length.

2) Lack of educational sequences. This lack of educational sequence is minimal, or even non existent, across lessons, units, and grades which limits learning.

3) Skills are not applied to game play. There is little or no accountability for using and applying skills strategically in game play.

4) Minimal scaffolding of game play. There is little or no instruction or coached supervision of game play.

5) Lacks inclusivity. There are few (if any) policies to equalize playing opportunities for less physically competent students.

6) Public displays of performance. There are often required public displays of playing ability where a student is performing in front of all of their peers. Full-sided games (e.g. 5 of 5 basketball while the rest of the class watches) and fitness testing (e.g. beep tests).

7) Teacher-directed. The class is controlled by the teacher. Student agency is not promoted and student ownership and leadership opportunities are minimal.

Models-Based Approach

O’Sullivan (2012) claims there has been a shift from the multi-activity approach to pedagogical practices that include one or more instructional or curriculum models. Casey and Kirk (2021) suggest that implementing a models-based approach allows teachers to choose different pedagogical models around which to build a new curriculum. A models-based approach includes pedagogical models that have non-negotiable features that makes each model distinctive. These models contribute to quality teaching and learning in PE and can be applied to a wide range of school contexts to cater to a wide range of student needs (Penney et al., 2009). Casey and Kirk (2021) argue that using a pedagogical model changes the focus from activity (e.g. fitness testing, games, dance) to learning (e.g. healthy, active lifestyles). PE can achieve a wide range of education outcomes for school-aged children and youth (Kirk, 2013) - models-based practice can cater to teaching and learning in the physical, affective, cognitive, and social domains. A PE teacher, however, should not just focus on one-model. A models-based approach in PE should make use of different pedagogical models, each with its unique learning outcomes and its alignment of learning outcomes/standards with teaching strategies and subject matter (Kirk, 2013).

There are a variety of pedagogical innovations that are specific to PE and contribute to quality teaching and learning (Penney et al., 2009). Models-based practice are typically longer units of learning in PE which develop deeper knowledge and higher levels of competence (Kirk, 2010). Models have been applied (and researched) in a range of school contexts (Lingard et al., 2001; Newmann et al., 1996; Siedentop & Tannehill, 2010). Some (not all) of these models include Sport Education (Siedentop, 1994), Teaching Games for Understanding (Thorpe & Bunker, 1982), Teaching/Taking Personal and Social Responsibility (Hellison, 1973), and Cooperative Learning (Dyson, 2001).

  • Sport Education - emerged from dissatisfaction of typical sport represented in traditional PE programmes. It promotes fair play and knowledge of etiquette, respect for opponents and rules, and places responsibility on students to take on team roles. Non-negotiable features include: seasons, affiliation, formal competition, culminating event, record keeping, and festivity. Students experience a number of different roles besides being a player and students stay on the same team for the seasons in Sport Ed.

  • Cooperative Learning - Is a model that can teach diverse content to students at different grade levels, with students working together with their peers (Dyson & Casey, 2014). Non-negotiable features include face to face interaction; individual accountability; group processing; positive interdependence; interpersonal and small group skills.

  • Teaching/Taking Personal and Social Responsibility (TPSR) - promotes human decency and positive relationships with others. There are different levels of responsibilities which include: respecting the rights and feelings of others; effort and cooperation; self-direction; and transfer outside of school. Hellison’s (1978) model is a powerful tool for the development of values in students (Escartí et al., 2005).

  • Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU) - Places focus on tactical in-context game play. Bunker and Thorpe (1982) developed TGfU with the thinking of teaching games through games. TGfU gets away from performing skills in isolation without applying them to game situations.

Universal by Design (UDL)

So the research shows that models-based approaches can contribute to the learning of a wide range of outcomes, from different domains, in PE. Universal design, or UDL, is a framework (not a model) created by CAST (2018) that guides instruction learning opportunities for a broad range of learners. The principles of the UDL framework include (and are seen in the visual below):

1) Engagement - how do we engage our students and sustain their interest?

Optimizing student choice can help to engage students in learning. For example, students have the choice to choose from different sending skills (rolling, overhand throwing, frisbee throwing, etc.) based on their level of perceived challenge. As teachers, we can elevate motivation by encouraging self-reflection and the identification of personal goals chosen by the student.

2) Representation - how do we instruct so that learning is accessible for all students? Display information in a flexible format so that all students can access the learning content. For example, you might have an adventure challenge lesson where students are required to get their materials to complete the task and work together to solve the challenge. In this example, it would be beneficial for all students to have visuals (e.g. for items required to complete challenge) posted; directions written for those that would like to read the information; audio option whether it is pre-recorded or it is communicated out loud by the teacher or a group member. Additionally, have Google Translate accessible for students who may be more comfortable accessing the directions in their primary language. Or, if possible, group a student with someone who can verbally translate the information in their common primary language.

3) Expression - How do we provide options for students to express their learning? We can gather more about what students learn when we provide them options to show their learning. We all have preferences under which we perform best and our students are no different (Jung, 2023). We can still have criteria for the same skills and understandings; however, how students demonstrate their learning can be different depending on the strengths and choice of the student. For example, if students are inquiring into strategies used in invasion games (e.g. person-to-person defense, zone defense, attacking strategies, etc.), students can show their understanding of this in a variety of ways. Some may want to write what they know; some might want to be assessed on their performance during a game; some might want to make a graphic displaying their learning; some might make a video analyzing strategies used from a game played in class.

Through these three principles, we plan for diversity amongst our students and remove barriers so all students can access the learning (Jung, 2023). Using the UDL framework alongside (for lack of a better word) models-based practice helps to ensure PE is educative and accessible for all students in the class.

Meaningful Physical Education (Meaningful PE)

Meaningful PE is a framework (not a model) that can be used to help guide teachers as they make pedagogical decisions to prioritize meaningful experiences for their students (Beni, 2019). The Meaningful PE framework can work with models (and frameworks such as the UDL) to improve the teaching and learning of PE (Fletcher et al., 2021). Like UDL, it can be applied for all units in PE (e.g. movement composition, individual pursuits, games, health-related fitness, adventure challenges).

Meaningful PE is both democratic and reflective. A democratic approach ensures that the PE environment supports students' diverse learning needs and interests (Fletcher et al., 2021). Student agency is present and without this, personally relevant learning experiences can be difficult. Co-constructing success criteria and collaborating with others, including the teacher, on the length and types of tasks is present. The teacher models and promotes positive interactions with students, which scaffolds the learning and helps students to decision-make and work alongside their peers in a respectful, democratic environment.

A reflective approach to teaching provides students opportunities to set (personally relevant) goals and to reflect on their achievement. Students might reflect individually or in small/large groups depending on the needs and interests of the students.

As you can see, there are some similarities between UDL and Meaningful PE (e.g. student agency, personally relevant, appropriate challenges, and educative experiences). These two frameworks or approaches to teaching can work with other student-centered models like Sport Education and Cooperative Learning. Doing so can create (perhaps even maximize) a purposeful learning experience for students where all students can safely access the learning and develop the skills, knowledge, and motivation to be active for their lifetime.


Want more information on models-based approaches? Check out this amazing Vlog by Dr. Vicky Goodyear.

Wondering where to find out more about Universal Design for Learning? Take a look at

Interested in discovering more about Meaningful PE? Go to this website and explore!

Membership Plan

If you want more information about what the website offers (both free and paid), check out the post here. We have added a Department Member option to support PE teams (up to 5 members of PE department for a reduced cost). Receive 15% off all membership options when using the the coupon code: MAY15. The deal concludes at the end of May.

Thanks for reading!

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