Critical Thinking in Elementary Physical Education: Reflections on a Yearlong Study

By Cleland, Fran; Pearse, Cynthia | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, August 1995 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Critical Thinking in Elementary Physical Education: Reflections on a Yearlong Study

Cleland, Fran, Pearse, Cynthia, JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance

Fifth grade students needed help in understanding how critical thinking roles could be used to respond to the movement tasks within specific lessons.

Imagine students, in small groups, analyzing a basketball play diagrammed on a poster, proceeding to execute the play, reversing the play, devising an alternative, reflecting on their performance, and judging their work using selected criteria. This is one scenario generated by our quest to ask many questions about critical thinking in physical education. For example, can young children learn to employ critical thinking strategies in physical education? What prerequisite skills do they need to have? Do they enjoy activities which emphasize critical thinking? What are the features of a physical education lesson that promote critical thinking?

To address these questions, we set out on a yearlong journey (20 weeks over a two-semester period) with 27 fifth grade students (ages 10 and 11). During this time, the driving force behind our excursion was one central question: How can the physical education specialist structure the learning environment to foster critical thinking? We hope to share answers to all of these questions, highlight successful critical thinking activities, and explain the process of teaching critical thinking in elementary physical education.

Justifying Critical Thinking in Physical Education

Why should we teach critical thinking in physical education? First, the current trend toward teaching critical thinking acknowledges that simply being human and naturally capable of thought does not mean one habitually thinks rationally, nor that good thinking skills are acquired by learning academic content (Nickerson, 1987). In fact, Paul (1987) contends that without training, humans use instinctual thought - spontaneous, egocentric thinking prone to irrational belief formations. Instinctual thought is self-serving and minimizes our capacity to empathize with or enter into points of view other than our own. Humans "need extensive practice to develop a dislike for inconsistency, a love of clarity, a passion to seek reasons and evidence and to be fair to points of view other than their own" (Paul, 1987, p. 130). Lipman (1988) suggests the importance of teaching critical thinking is in the promise of intellectual empowerment. He compares ordinary thinking (e.g., guessing, preferring, grouping, believing, noting relationships) with critical thinking (e.g., estimating, evaluating, classifying, assuming, grasping principles, noting relationships among other relationships, offering opinions with reasons, and making judgments based on criteria). Finally, dispositions, or habitual ways of behaving, such as trying to be well informed, being open-minded and willing to share ideas, and being sensitive to others' ideas, must be developed and support the critical thinking process (Beyer, 1987). These dispositions are constructive behavioral tendencies and vital outcomes of critical thinking. Students must be taught to use critical thinking and to develop the dispositions which support it.

Several scholars recognize that "in physical education, thinking, feeling, and moving are co-equal partners" (Buschner, 1990, p. 59). Practitioners and preservice teachers are encouraged to provide students with opportunities to achieve psychomotor, cognitive, and affective goals (Rink, 1993, p. 6). Therefore, we investigated ways to structure the physical education environment to facilitate good, that is, critical thinking. Consequently, we found that engaging students in critical thinking in physical education is a very demanding, multifaceted pedagogical task. It necessitates a great deal of planning, timing when to provide students with domain-specific knowledge, teaching students the critical thinking roles, and encouraging students to portray favorable dispositions. However, based on the positive reactions we received from our students during stimulated recall interviews (Calderhead, 1981), we believe critical thinking in physical education is a valid educational endeavor.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Critical Thinking in Elementary Physical Education: Reflections on a Yearlong Study


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?