Academic journal article International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education

Examining the Knowledge and Capacity of Elementary Teachers to Implement Classroom Physical Activity Breaks

Academic journal article International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education

Examining the Knowledge and Capacity of Elementary Teachers to Implement Classroom Physical Activity Breaks

Article excerpt


Physical activity (PA) offers numerous physical and psychological benefits to children (Biddle & Asare, 2011; Center for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2011; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [DHHS], 2008). Despite these benefits, a majority of children are not meeting PA recommendations (60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous PA every day) (USDHHS, 2008; Troiano et al., 2008). For example, only 42% of U.S. six to elevenyear-old children achieve the PA recommendations (Troiano et al., 2008). Greater efforts are needed to ensure more children are attaining PA recommendations. Children can be engaged in PA in varied settings including school, home, childcare, and the community (Institute of Medicine, 2005). Among these, a variety of research results has suggested schools are an ideal environment in which to implement interventions, because a majority of children attend schools and schools provide a safe environment for children to improve their knowledge, practice, and receive support for healthy behaviors (CDC, 2011; Peterson & Fox, 2007).

Typically within schools, physical education (PE) and recess periods have been the primary avenues for children to obtain some portion of PA recommendations during the school day (Webster, Russ, Vazou, Goh, & Erwin, 2015). However, decreases in school budgets and increases in academic pressure are leading to diminishing PE classes and recess periods. In the United States only 13.7% of elementary schools, 15.2% of middle schools, and 3% of high schools provide PE three days per week (CDC, 2006). In addition, only 20% of school districts (several schools located within a geographical area or which operate under a collective administration) require daily recess (Chriqui, Schneider, & Chaloupka, 2010; Elliot, Erwin, Hall, & Heidorn, 2013). Additional PA opportunities are needed to maximize the time spent at school to improve the overall health and well-being of children.

Classroom PA breaks are one viable solution for providing additional PA opportunities during the school day. Not only can classroom PA breaks contribute to daily PA accumulation (up to 19 minutes per day), but specific classroom PA break programs have been found to increase children's time on-task, as well as improve reading, math, and spelling scores (Bartholomew & Jowers, 2011; Bassett et al., 2013; Carlson et al., 2015; Dunn, Venturanza, Walsh, & Nonas, 2012; Erwin, Fedewa, & Ahn, 2013; Kibbe et al., 2010; Mahar, 2011;). Notably, several of these studies found improvements with minimal staff training (Donnelly et al., 2009; Dunn et al., 2012). Thus, classroom PA breaks could be a feasible approach for helping schools increase PA as well as an effective instructional method to improve academic achievement.

In order to understand how to best promote the use of classroom PA breaks, it is important to understand teachers' existing classroom PA knowledge and practices related to classroom PA breaks. Assessing teachers' current capabilities and implementation identifies the classroom PA strategies teachers (a) can implement unassisted, (b) may implement with support, and (c) are not yet prepared to implement. The strategies teachers may use if provided support, represents their zone of proximal development and a key area for strategic efforts (Vygotsky, 1978).

Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development theory posits interventions targeting this zone are most likely to help a learner (e.g., teacher) advance their skills (e.g., classroom PA breaks). Within the zone of proximal development, learners should work "in collaboration with more capable peers" (Vygotsky, 1978, p., 86) as they attempt a new task. The new task should build on learners' current knowledge yet challenge them to advance their skills. The support of someone with expertise related to the task mitigates the difficulty of learning something new. While this theory has typically been applied with children, a similar view can be utilized when schools/districts are examining how to scaffold the support teachers need to increase classroom PA breaks. …

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