The Role of Content Knowledge in Conceptions of Teaching Effectiveness in Physical Education

Article excerpt

Physical education teachers and the programs that prepare them find themselves in the early part of the 21st century in a public policy environment that differs significantly from that of the 20th century. This policy environment is grounded in an ideology that postulates that schools and teachers, rather than social forces, should be held responsible for academic outcomes, and in turn, economic success. For the first time, physical education teachers are being held accountable for student learning in the same way as their classroom peers. Improving the effectiveness of teachers is seen as the primary mechanism for improving student learning. In discussing how teaching effectiveness has evolved, I describe a relationship among the process-product paradigm, the ecological paradigm, and a neoecological paradigm called the instructional core. The latter paradigm extends our understanding of teaching effectiveness in new ways by describing the dynamic and interdependent relationship among teacher, student, and content in the gymnasium. It has significant implications for the professional development of teachers and the conduct of teaching effectiveness research. I conclude by discussing why content is so critical to conceptions of teaching effectiveness.

Keywords: instructional core, research paradigm, standards, teacher accountability


I learned in my education as a teacher that teaching effectiveness is defined in terms of student learning. But I learned as a teacher educator that what counts as teaching effectiveness is influenced by ideological and paradigmatic positions, (1) some of which become the basis for policy, which in turn influences teaching practice. Thus, I begin this article with a discussion of the standards and teacher accountability policies in the United States and how they relate to physical education. In the next section, I argue that the process-product paradigm (Dunkin & Biddle, 1974) and the ecological paradigm (Doyle, 1986) are important ways to view teaching effectiveness. In examining these paradigms, I suggest that a major flaw in studies that have been conducted in physical education has been the absence of content as a criterion of teaching effectiveness. I conclude by discussing a neo-ecological paradigm that defines the dynamic and interdependent relationship between teacher, student, and content, and why in this interdependent relationship content is so critical to conceptions of teaching effectiveness in physical education.


What students learn has historically been defined by the curriculum, a forum where an ideology and its paradigms could influence the pedagogy, the content, and the assessment of what was taught. In the United States, physical education curricula in the past have been created at the local level as individual teacher products, as district courses of study, or most simply as lists of activities that could be taught in physical education. Notable exceptions to local curriculum development are Fitness for Life (Corbin & Lindsey, 1979) and Sports, Play, and Active Recreation for Kids (SPARK; McKenzie, Sallis, & Rosengard, 2009). The first national standards and grade-level outcomes for K-12 physical education were published in 1995 and were intended to help teachers both design and align their curricula to meet the standards (National Association for Sport and Physical Education [NASPE], 1995). The advent of the standards brought physical education into line with other subject areas in the K-12 school curriculum. Since then, standards for student learning in physical education have been developed in all 50 states, which by and large take their lead from the NAPSE standards describing a physically literate individual (2) (NASPE, 2013). The effect of the standards is likely as NASPE intended: Teachers organize their curriculum in ways to meet the standards principally because many states require the reporting of standards. …