Early Correction of Movement Errors Can Help Student Performance

Article excerpt

Effectively teaching students to execute motor skills in physical education is one of the most difficult challenges in elementary schools. Part of the reason is that skill learning is a complex process and students have little time to learn a variety of skills during class periods. How much and how well students learn motor skills during their school years can directly influence their future participation in sports and physical activities. Thus, providing students with a proper learning environment and effectively teaching them motor skills most likely will encourage them to participate in sports and physical activities throughout their life. This is a main objective of the physical education program in elementary schools.

According to Magill (1993), skill, as a task and an indicator of quality of performance, must be learned in order to be performed properly. Skill learning involves many variables, including a student's cognitive and physical abilities, teachers' proper instructions, and an optimal learning environment. In the process of skill acquisition, skill improvement has value, for changes in motor behaviors produce improvement or decrement of the performance (Schmidt, 1988). Thus, elimination of unwanted motor behaviors is one of the goals of skill learning. To achieve this goal requires accurate identification of the causes of the movement errors, an important step that many elementary school physical education teachers have difficulty accomplishing. To aid them, this article will analyze the potential causes of the movement errors and provide some additional information related to motor skill instruction.

Identifying the Causes of Movement Errors

According to Fitts (1964) and Fitts and Posner (1967), a skill-learning process includes three relatively distinct phases: cognitive, associative, and autonomous. The cognitive phase is represented by large numbers of gross errors, while the associative phase involves fewer and less severe errors in performance. The autonomous phase is characterized by few, if any, errors in performance. The physical educator's goal in elementary schools is to help students reach the third stage as quickly as possible. Although all students

learn skills through these phases, some students attain skill more quickly than others. The crucial questions in the skill-learning process are: (1) What makes certain students achieve better performance in comparison to others? and (2) How can we help students discover the causes of movement errors and correct them accordingly? Elementary school physical education teachers need to realize that skill learning is an internal process that cannot be observed directly. Also, skill learning requires behavioral modification of movement to obtain the desired motor skills.

Although we all know about "learning from our errors," it is also true that the errors should be corrected promptly to prevent bad habits from forming through the consistent execution of skills with improper mechanics. Schmidt (1988) says that any errors produced during practice are harmful to learning because the feedback from errors differs from the feedback associated with a correct action. Consequently, the cognitive conceptual trace of the skill will be degraded slightly. Identifying movement errors and giving proper guidance for their correction is therefore an important aspect of training.

Movement Errors Caused at the Perceptual Level

At the initial learning stage, a student commonly makes movement errors by misunderstanding the proper structure of the skill. In other words, while learning, a student is sometimes unable to fully understand the teacher's instructions. With an improper image of the skill, the student's motor cortex will send inaccurate signals to the related muscle groups, reducing movement errors. A student's misunderstanding of the skill can result from any of several potential causes.

Teachers commonly use verbal instruction to teach students about limb positions, proper stance, what to watch and listen for, and how to perform a particular skill. …