Measuring Motor Skill Learning-A Practical Application

Article excerpt



The assessment of fundamental motor skills in early learners is critical to the overall well-being and physical development of the students within the physical education setting. Olrich (2002) has suggested that any physical education program must be designed to assess both measures of physical fitness and fundamental motor skills in all students. By promoting and assessing the physical fitness of our youth in physical education programs, we may impact future behaviors that might influence lifelong patterns of physical activity (Whitall, 1992). The specific methods of physical fitness testing that are most appropriate in the classroom and how to perform those specific tests have been addressed in the literature (Wikgren, 1992).

There is no doubt that understanding the importance of physical fitness is critical to children learning the importance of physical activity. Understanding the benefits of fitness and movement may ultimately have positive influences on later movement-related behaviors. But what about the benefits associated with fundamental motor skill learning? Learning the fundamental motor skills at an early age is lust as critical as learning about the impact of fitness on activity patterns and may have an even greater impact on future behavior. Positively influencing one's motor abilities at an early age may provide individuals with the necessary physical tools to engage in lifelong sports, such as tennis and golf, and help them foster an appreciation for engaging in physical activity throughout their entire lifespan. And how do we, as teachers, actually assess this learning of fundamental motor skills? What methods of measurement are most effective at providing information about whether a skill has indeed been learned?

One of the major goals of any individual working in physical education today is to improve the fundamental motor skills of those participants within any activity program (Olrich, 2002). Fundamental motor skills are basic developmental movements common for activities such as walking, running, hopping, throwing, catching, striking, etc. These fundamental skills act as a foundation for the development of more advanced forms of movements in children (Gabbard, 2004). The development of fundamental motor skills is important for any child, as they serve as the base from which all future motor skills are developed. A child cannot become efficient in many sports and games without first mastering these necessary movements.

In many cases it may be easy to assess whether fundamental motor skills have been improved, as it may be as simple as observing individuals in the structured environment of a class. One day in class a student may have difficulty simply tossing the ball back to a pitcher during a game of softball. The throws are off target, with differing levels of force, and the student seems frustrated with performing this relatively simple motor task. The next week you observe their performance has improved, as they are able to throw the ball more effectively, with more force, and with less variability in their toss. Thus, you may easily conclude that the student has learned the task over the previous week of practice. Other times, changes in motor performance are much more subtle and observing them is difficult. Gauging the effectiveness of any instructional physical education program is dependent upon whether it is meeting the demands or goals of that program. In other words, do the students learn the skills? Are they developing the necessary fundamental motor skills that may be necessary throughout their life? But how does one specifically measure whether learning has occurred? What principles need to be followed to measure motor learning in children and assess the effectiveness of activity programming?

Motor Skill Learning Defined

Motor learning is the study of the acquisition of movement skills, and the enhancement of learned activities through the use of practice (Magill, 2006). …