Promoting Affective Development in Physical Education: The Value of Journal Writing

Article excerpt

By participating in carefully managed writing exercises at the end of class, students can learn to set goals, evaluate themselves, and communicate effectively.

Outside it is snowing, and the tiled floor inside the gym door bears evidence of the weather. The gym, like the rest of the school, is old, big (for an elementary school), and dull. The stage on one side of the gym houses desks, paper palm trees from a school play, gymnastic mats, and an assortment of trash.

The class of 27 is in groups working on developing throwing and catching games. Near the end of the period, the teacher says, "Stop! When I say 'go,' put your equipment away and come here." Students return their equipment and gather around the teacher. The teacher continues, "Today in your journal I would like you to write about how well you took responsibility for your own learning and whether you helped anybody. You may talk to your partner, but you have to write on your own. Journals and pencils are on the stage."

Students walk to the stage and collect their supplies. Some lie on the floor, others sit, and the rest lean against the stage. Nearly all are sitting in pairs. Quietness descends as they read the teacher's responses to their last journal entry. Some students resume talking as they share their reactions with their partners. Silence returns as they begin writing, interrupted only by the occasional "How do you spell...?" The classroom teacher, who has arrived to collect her class from the gym, doesn't rush the students. As they finish, one by one, they walk back to the stage, place their folders in a pile, and return their pencils to the box.

Physical education classes tend to be highly interactive and emotional in nature, and so they hold considerable potential for pupils to develop personal and social qualities. A focus on the affective domain, coupled with the current emphasis on accountability and assessment, provides an opportunity for teachers to use different instructional strategies and measurement techniques. We have found that engaging students in journal writing as a means of reflecting on their physical education experience can reinforce the priority of affective goals. The description of the scene above is based on an elementary physical educator's field notes. The rest of this article describes the potential benefits of writing journals and provides suggestions for managing this activity in physical education classes.

In recent years, the traditional academic goal of developing knowledge and skills has been supplemented by a need to produce students who possess essential social skills and who are able to make responsible decisions in their daily lives (Kamii, Clark, & Dominick, 1994; Noddings, 1992). If physical education is to be part of this process, then its focus should be broadened to promote the affective development of students. Teachers who embrace affective learning goals specifically design activities and experiences to promote qualities such as respect and sensitivity towards others, responsibility, cooperation, and fair play. When affective development is specified in unit objectives and lesson plans instead of being regarded as a natural by-product of the physical education experience, the potential of physical education to contribute to the overall development of students is increased (Corbin, 1993; Ennis, 1993; Hellison, 1995; Kirk, 1993; Shields & Bredemeier, 1995).

As students move about, practice, and work together in physical education class, they develop feelings, attitudes, and emotions about the extent to which they are challenged, the amount of effort they expend, the success they have in cooperating with their teacher and classmates, the enjoyment they feel, and the outcome of the activity. Teaching for affective development recognizes that how students feel about themselves, deal with their aspirations and problems, and treat others are important facets of the learning process that must be incorporated into lesson planning and teaching practices. …