Relations among Beliefs about Epistemology, Ability Conceptions, and Achievement in High School Physical Education Students

By Lodewyk, Ken | Physical Educator, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview
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Relations among Beliefs about Epistemology, Ability Conceptions, and Achievement in High School Physical Education Students

Lodewyk, Ken, Physical Educator


While the critical role of knowledge in physical education performance is well-documented, there is little research into the role that students' beliefs about what knowing is and how they come to know relate to their achievement in physical education. The purpose of this study was to discover relations between beliefs about epistemology, ability conceptions, and achievement in 750 high school physical education students. Exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis provided reasonable support for a two-factor structure (Simple Integration of Knowledge; Stable Useless Knowledge) of beliefs about epistemology in physical education that, along with incremental ability conceptions, predicted achievement in physical education. Gender differences were not evident. The findings highlight the potential role that beliefs about epistemology and incremental ability conceptions have in physical education.


Felix is struggling in his ninth-grade physical education class. He believes that knowledge is essentially a collection of isolated facts that are passed down from authority figures like teachers and parents. He also holds firm beliefs that his poor performance is a result of innate genetic forces beyond his control and that the acquisition of knowledge either occurs quickly or will not occur. Whereas a solid empirical case has been built concerning the important role of knowledge in academic disciplines (Alexander & Judy, 1988), human movement competencies (Allard, 1993), and in the application of tactical concepts (Dodds, Griffin & Placek, 2001), little is yet known about whether students' beliefs about knowledge (epistemology) relate to achievement or existing constructs like ability conceptions in physical education. In other words, could Felix's achievement in the class be significantly related to his beliefs about knowledge and ability? Attempting to answer this question is the primary aim of this investigation.

Beliefs about Epistemology

Domain knowledge--generally known as "a realm of knowledge that broadly encompasses a field of study or thought"--consists of declarative (knowing the "what" about something), procedural (the "how" about a concept or function) and conditional knowledge (knowing "when" and "where" to apply a concept or function) (Alexander, Schallert, & Hare, 1991, p. 332). For example, knowledge within physical education can vary from knowing the rules for a game (declarative knowledge), applying the rules to strategic advantage (procedural knowledge), to knowing when and where to employ such a strategy (conditional knowledge Alexander & Judy, 1988).

Understanding the nature, sources and limits of knowledge is a central objective of epistemology. In other words, those who study epistemology analyze what constitutes knowledge, from where it originates, and how it changes and can be justified (Royce, Coward, Egan, Kessel, & Mos, 1978). The diverse views of epistemological development are reflected in the variety of theoretical frameworks that venture to explain it. One such approach is psychological epistemology. From it, Royce and Mos (1980) developed the Psycho-Epistemological Profile to assess individual's epistemic styles for knowing or their "approaches to reality" (p. 1). Participants' scores clustered on either rationalism (logical consistency manifested in rational analysis and synthesis of ideas), metaphorism (insight, awareness, and cognitive processes like symbolizing), or empiricism (commitment to external sensory experience and active perception). To illustrate, Felix would score high in rationalism and low in both metaphorism and empiricism because he believes strongly that knowledge in physical education is essentially memorizing facts related to sports rules and etiquette, how the body works, and healthy habits that are communicated mainly through his teacher and textbook. He does not feel that using learning strategies, imagination, collaborating with others, or participating in various movement activities, makes much difference in acquiring the knowledge he needs to succeed in physical education.

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Relations among Beliefs about Epistemology, Ability Conceptions, and Achievement in High School Physical Education Students


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