The Three Little P's: Teaching Affective Skills in Physical Education

By Kuhrasch, Cindy | Strategies: A Journal for Physical and Sport Educators, July-August 2007 | Go to article overview

The Three Little P's: Teaching Affective Skills in Physical Education


Kuhrasch, Cindy, Strategies: A Journal for Physical and Sport Educators


Physical education has long been recognized as a forum through which affective skills can be successfully introduced and practiced. The concept of affective development as an educational objective in physical education was introduced more than 160 years ago. In 1831, early physical educators made a plea for the inclusion of character development as one aspect of a sound physical education curriculum (Woolbridge, 1831). In fact, Solomon (1997) found that many believed that the educational merit of physical education was based on the ability of educators to promote affective development. Today, physical educators teach an increasing number of students who are considered "at-risk" in terms of their ability to manage their own behavior and interact in a positive manner with others. In addition, because of the increasing exposure to reality television, violent video games, and provocative music, many would argue that the morality of today's youth is in jeopardy.

But can physical education serve a role in the positive development of the affective domain? Solomon (1997) found that current research supports the contention that physical education experiences provide a prime setting for promoting character development. Most physical educators have a strong sense that the behavior of their students can be affected by the environment and experiences that take place in their class. Additionally, Stoll and Beller (1998) found that those involved in cognitive moral development research believe that: (1) common universal moral values do exist, (2) the moral reasoning process based on universal values can be learned, and (3) because this process can be learned, it can be measured.

W. C. Crain (1985) asserted that the developmental process through which a student can develop "character" is well defined by Kohlberg, who reasoned that children could move through a six-stage theory of moral reasoning with discussion and practice opportunities. So in the same way that students can develop psychomotor skills through learning and practice, so too can they develop affective skills.

What Are Affective Skills?

"Affective education" serves as a broad term for a variety of values and skills, but in a general sense can be defined as social and/or relational in nature, and universally accepted as "right and good." A few examples of affective skills are listed in table 1.

Other non-controversial moral values such as honesty, integrity, compassion, fairness, respect, and responsibility have been identified by The Ethics Resource Center, an agency devoted to the development of character development in youth. Don Hellison's (1995) ground-breaking work in this area defines self-esteem, self-actualization, self-understanding, and positive interpersonal relations as critical to the development of the ability to manage one's own behavior and to develop character.

The Three "P" Program

The first "P" in the program stands for pre-instruction. Teachers may possess knowledge of the types of values that they would like to promote in their students, but they must effectively translate those expectations into a framework that students can understand before expecting that students can demonstrate the skills associated with the values. Asking students to "be good" is useless if their understanding of "good" does not match our own. A visual and auditory framework of the skills and behaviors we are trying to teach is critical. One effective way to translate our expectations for students is to have them participate in a "looks like, sounds like" exercise. This short, but effective activity allows students to think about and share their ideas about what a value looks like when it is being practiced. In addition to serving as an initial teaching tool, a chart of student responses can be posted to serve as a constant reminder to students for whom this idea is new (see table 2).

Within the instruction portion of each learning activity, in addition to presenting information about boundaries, rules, and the goal of the activity, a moment or two should be dedicated to developing an understanding of the specific ways in which the students can express the value(s).

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