To truly understand the dynamics of the teaching-learning environment, it is important to understand the intermediary processes between teacher behavior and student learning. Research on physical education has focused on teacher behavior, teaching methods, and student behavior, but little is known about the processes that occur between overt teacher behaviors and student behaviors. The study of the intermediary teaching processes can provide a more thorough understanding of theoretical and applied aspects of teaching and learning.
The task structure - the task presented by the teacher, the explicitness of the presentation, and the explicit and implicit accountability mechanisms - provides a good basis for examining what occurs in an educational environment. This is because it mediates teaching method and teacher behaviors and interacts with student behavior. Doyle (1983) has stated that the work in schools is a collection of academic tasks and that tasks are "the basic treatment unit" (p. 162) of instruction. Doyle (1978, 1979, 1983; Doyle & Garter, 1984) has shown that during classroom instruction students and teachers negotiate tasks (both overtly and covertly), and that both ambiguity (or explicitness) of the task presentation and the risk at which students are placed as a result of evaluation criteria influences task completion. In addition, students develop strategies for circumventing teacher demands, and student accountability for the task is important in completing the task and for learning. The negotiation that occurs means that tasks may be modified and student responses may vary.
Although teachers present tasks to students, such as drills or other practice situations, students may modify these tasks and not complete them as intended by the teacher. This task mediation may occur when students are not held accountable for task completion or the task is so ambiguous that students do not completely understand it and do something other than what was intended by the teacher. As an example, task mediation can occur during practice situations when students complete tasks that are different, to some degree, than those presented by the teacher. Research has shown that the amount of appropriate student practice is related to student motor skill achievement in physical education (Ashy, Lee, & Landin, 1988; Buck, Harrison, & Bryce, 1991; Pieron, 1983; Silverman, 1985, 1990; Silverman, Tyson, & Morford, 1988; Solmon, 1992). Teachers may direct students to practice in a way in which the teacher believes that their practice will be maximized. This may not occur, however, if the students do not understand how the teacher intended the practice to be conducted (the explanation was ambiguous) or if the students feel it is okay to modify the practice since there is no accountability. In either case, the teacher's intentions were not carried out and, ultimately, it would be expected to affect student achievement during the task.
Recently, physical education researchers have begun investigating task structures and accountability in physical education. Based on the work of Doyle (1978, 1979, 1983; Doyle & Cutter, 1984), Siedentop and his students (Graham, 1987; Jones, 1992; Lund, 1991; Marks, 1989; Tousignant & Siedentop, 1983) have worked to describe task structures in physical education. They essentially described three general categories of task structures (managerial, instructional, and social) and found that accountability, or the way the teacher makes sure the students complete the task, is an important aspect of the task structure in physical education classes.
Hastie and Saunders (1990, 1991, 1992) have studied accountability in both secondary school physical education and sport settings. In secondary schools, they found that the way in which teachers monitor students during tasks is related to student behavior (Hastie & Saunders, 1990), and that accountability plays an …