Academic journal article Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

Physical Education "In All Sorts of Corners:" Student Activists Transgressing Formal Physical Education Curricular Boundaries

Academic journal article Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

Physical Education "In All Sorts of Corners:" Student Activists Transgressing Formal Physical Education Curricular Boundaries

Article excerpt

The data for this paper were generated during a 3-year, participatory action research project, with 41 female coresearchers and activists ages 15-19 years old, within and beyond the walls of a secondary school. The two questions we sought to answer were (a) what happens when we engage with students to challenge formal physical education curricular boundaries and connect with students' physical culture; and (b) what are the benefits and the challenges associated with engaging in this sort of practical activism? The findings suggest that a boundary-crossing approach to physical education can facilitate students in finding their own meanings in physical education and physical activity. Supporting boundary-crossing practices is, however, a time- and thought-intensive pedagogical design, which will be challenging for many physical education teachers.

Key words: participatory action research, physical education pedagogy, student voice, students as researchers


As Maxine Greene (1997) said:

   ... teaching as possibility in dark and constraining
   times. It is a matter of awakening
   and empowering today's young people to
   name, to reflect, to imagine, and to act with
   more and more concrete responsibility in an
   increasingly multifarious world.... The light
   may be uncertain and flickering; but teachers
   in their lives and works have the remarkable
   capacity to make it shine in all sorts of comers
   and, perhaps, to move newcomers to join with
   others and transform (p. 10).

Greene spoke about the transformative potential of teaching and about teachers' and students' capacities to realize change "in all sorts of comers." The current study was an effort to move others to recognize and create new comers for physical education learning, in-between spaces that are engaging and empowering, and that lie outside formal school and curricular structures. By working with a group of student activists and their school physical education teacher to chart how we struggled and, to some extent, succeeded in creating in-between physical education learning spaces, we hope to give others insight into the benefits and the challenges associated with the process.

Kirk (1999) used the term "physical culture" to refer to "a range of practices concerned with the maintenance, representation and regulation of the body centered on three highly codified, institutionalized forms of physical activity-sport, physical recreation and exercise" and "concerned with meaning-making centered on the human body" (p. 66). For many young people, their engagement with physical culture outside of school is antithetical to the physical activity experiences provided to them through their formal physical education curriculum (Macdonald, 2003). Students have criticized physical education for being disconnected from their lifestyle contexts and for lacking relevance and meaning (Ennis, 1999, 2000; Enright & O'Sullivan, 2010a, 9010b; Gibbons & Humbert, 2008; Macdonald, 2003; Tinning & Fitzclarence, 1992). Students struggle to engage with detached pedagogies that fail to recognize their lived experiences of physical culture and often provide less challenge, responsibility, and autonomy than they are familiar with in their lives outside school. While physical education scholars differ in terms of value orientations and the pedagogical models they support, most of these scholars share one common pedagogical belief: that learning is facilitated when students find activities relevant and personally meaningful (Kretchmar, 2000). There has been strong advocacy for the design of more meaningful physical education and physical activity experiences for young people (Ennis, 2000; Kretchmar, 2000).

There have been some efforts to act on this advocacy and challenge the discontinuity between students' in-school physical education experiences and their out-of-school engagement with physical culture and, thereby, make physical education more personally meaningful for students. …

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