Recommendations for Teaching Physical Education to Students with EBDs

By Young, Shawna | Strategies: A Journal for Physical and Sport Educators, July-August 2012 | Go to article overview

Recommendations for Teaching Physical Education to Students with EBDs


Young, Shawna, Strategies: A Journal for Physical and Sport Educators


A Practitioner's in-class Study

A college professor who trains preservice physical education teachers was asked to design, develop, and implement a pilot physical education program at a nonpublic school primarily serving students with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBDs). The teacher/ researcher conducted an action research study (Johnson, 2008) to maximize the effectiveness of teaching and learning in this class. The program included teaching two 45-minute classes per week to over 50 students.

This school's administration decided to pilot a formal physical education program, as it was thought that it could have potentially far-reaching positive effects on their students. Research indicates that exercise has a positive effect on the behavior of individuals with emotional disturbances and intellectual and learning disabilities (Eichstaedt & Lavay, 1992; Elliot, Dobbin, Rose, & Soper, 1994; Medcalf, Marshall, & Rhoden, 2006; Tantillo, Kesick, Hynd, & Dishman, 2002). Research also suggests that there is a relationship between increased time spent in physical education and improved academic performance (Carlson, Fulton, Lee, Maynard, Brown, Kohl, & Dietz, 2008; Tremarche, Robinson, & Graham, 2007). So in addition to the commonly-known physiological health benefits of participation in physical activity (Insel & Roth, 2008), it was hoped that their students would benefit socially, behaviorally, and cognitively from participation in physical education.

Based on analyses of four data sources, several findings were identified as being especially important when teaching students with EBDs. These sources included: 1) a teaching journal in which the teacher wrote reflections following each class session; 2) incident reports to document the context in which behaviors such as noncompliance, verbal, or physical aggression occurred during class; 3) participation ratio checks which involved random intervals of tallying the number of students actively engaged in activity while noting the lesson context; and 4) notes in lesson plans relating to impromptu changes in lesson design. Corresponding recommendations are presented here in lesson sequence.

Organization and Preparation

Facility and space

At the beginning of this teaching assignment, the space designated for this class of more than 50 students was a relatively small enclosed school yard, with a grassy area measuring approximately a third of the size of a football field. Space became a concern. Crowding led to disruptive and unsafe behavior, such as verbal and physical aggression. Responding to this issue early, the school administration was able to arrange for the use of green space, the size of a football field, on a nearby public high school campus. The use of this large space significantly reduced verbal and physical aggression. Structuring the physical learning environment, including providing sufficient space, with anticipation of behavioral problems before they happen, is a proactive management strategy that can prevent disruptive and potentially unsafe situations (Barbetta, Leong-Norona, & Bicard, 2002; Heward, 2009).

Preparation and equipment set-up

The need for careful and deliberate equipment planning and preparation was found to be especially critical. The lowest number of disruptions occurred when equipment was set up in advance and organized in a fashion that did not require the teacher to change or move equipment during class time.

Lesson Introduction

An effective lesson introduction can help foster a positive tone for the remainder of the class session. Providing a brief introduction with an anticipatory activity gives an opportunity to help students make connections to the lesson content. Responding to calls for meaningful and relevant curriculum (Dewey, 1916; Eisner, 1998; Goodlad, 1984) and student-responsive instruction (Tomlinson & McTighe, 2006), as well as considering research suggesting that focus should remain on those things deemed most important (Coker, 2004; Magill, 2011), an anticipatory activity became an important ritual in the lessons not overlooked in this study.

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