Game Shaping-A Tool for Teachers

By Howarth, Kath; Bailey, JoEllen | Strategies: A Journal for Physical and Sport Educators, January-February 2009 | Go to article overview

Game Shaping-A Tool for Teachers


Howarth, Kath, Bailey, JoEllen, Strategies: A Journal for Physical and Sport Educators


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If students in high school are to participate in sport, teachers at the upper elementary and middle school levels need to help these students establish a strong base of skills and tactical awareness in all classifications of sport. It is only when students in the lower grades begin to work on these skills in an integrated curriculum that they will complete their education with the preparation they need to become lifelong participants in physical activity.

Physical educators are fortunate to have well-established standards for physical education, based on NASPE national standards, and a clear outline of the range of activities expected to be offered to students as they progress through their curriculum. Emphasis has shifted toward assessments which are authentic, meaning that students' abilities should be assessed across all learning domains (cognitive and affective as well as psychomotor) through the medium of sport. The sport education model (Siedentop, Hastie & van der Mars, 2004) can be fully integrated with this view of assessment since the focus is placed on teaching sport at the secondary level as a complete cultural experience, including seasons, coaches, officials, competitions, and celebrations. The model was developed as a way of helping students in physical education recognize the relevance and meaning in sport by placing it in the full social and cultural context in which it normally exists outside the school.

Two models--Play Practice, developed in Australia by Launder (2001), and the tactical, or TGFU (Teaching Games for Understanding) model (Mitchell, Oslin & Griffin, 2006)--when introduced at the late elementary or middle school levels, seem to lead most naturally into the sport education model and have been used worldwide. These models focus on tactical awareness which "is the ability to identify tactical problems that arise during a game and to select the appropriate responses to solve them" (Mitchell et al., 2003, p. 8). Games sense means "the ability to use an understanding of the rules of strategy, tactics and, most importantly of oneself, to solve the problems posed by the game or by one's opponents" (Launder, 2001, p. 36). The base of skills, games sense, and tactical awareness offered by these models are best developed through smaller, developmentally appropriate versions of the full sport form that are close enough to the "real" game to allow for the eventual use and transfer of skills and tactics. These games have many titles including lead-up games, small-sided games, modified games, conditioned games, mini-games, and designer games. The hardest task for the teacher is to design series of games which not only fit the development and experience of students, but also provide the most useful and relevant tactical problems for them to solve at that point in their learning.

Games require us to make decisions in a very short space of time. Players cannot wait for a teacher or coach to tell them what to do. Well-designed modified games allow students to practice decision-making at a developmentally appropriate level. Teachers should develop questioning techniques to help students learn what decisions they need to make. These questions should be tactical, such as: Where do I move? When should I pass? To whom do I throw the ball?

Teachers can find the task of designing games difficult. It is much easier to select "fast food" games from books or websites. These games may be great, but they will not fit their classes as perfectly as games designed in the teachers' own "kitchens." Game shaping (Launder, 2001) is the concept of designing games based on a number of decisions made by teachers about their students and about the game. Game shaping requires teachers to ask detailed questions about, for example, numbers of players, rules and equipment modifications, thus providing a sound basis for designing modified, small-sided games appropriate for the tactical focus of the lesson and the skill requirements of the students. …

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