Educational Gymnastics: Stages of Content Development

By Nilges, Linda M. | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, March 1997 | Go to article overview

Educational Gymnastics: Stages of Content Development


Nilges, Linda M., JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance


For students to become competent and confident in their gymnastics ability, they must develop individual skills and learn to incorporate these skills into a variety of self-designed combinations and sequences. When students are progressively challenged within the educational gymnastics environment they become aware of the many ways the body can move. They develop a deeper understanding of themselves through the creative process and achieve a sense of refinement and aesthetic appeal that signifies that more than an isolated lesson in rolling has occurred.

Many of the recently published National Physical Education Standards (National Association for Sport and Physical Education, 1995) can also be addressed through experiences in educational gymnastics. At any level of instruction, educational gymnastics can promote a unique form of movement competence (national standard 1), allow students to apply movement concepts to the development of motor skills (national standard 2), and foster both social responsibility and a respect for differences through participation in a problem-solving environment (national standards 5 and 6).

Despite the benefits of including educational gymnastics in the physical education curriculum, teachers often feel unprepared to address progression within the educational gymnastics setting. As a result, the skill level attained by students is frequently stagnated by little more than exploratory educational gymnastics work. For example, how many times have you seen an educational gymnastics lesson conclude with students having done little more than roll or balance in as many different ways as possible?

While exploration is an important stage of early educational gymnastics work, content development should progress to combining and sequencing skills while working individually, with others, and while using a variety of small and large equipment. Therefore, after a brief introduction to educational gymnastics, a four-stage framework is outlined to help teachers more systematically increase and decrease task difficulty in educational gymnastics.

Educational Gymnastics at a Glance

This article is based on an educational approach to gymnastics. Educational gymnastics is an alternative for teachers who find traditional gymnastics incongruent with developmentally appropriate physical education practices. In Olympic gymnastics, students conform to externally imposed movement patterns and work to achieve "model" form. In contrast, educational gymnastics develops skill within the ability and understanding of the individual student (Belka, 1994; Werner, 1994; Williams, 1987). A problem-solving approach is used that accommodates multiple correct solutions to open-ended movement problems (Mauldon & Layson, 1979).

Four foundational body management skills make gymnastics a unique movement form. Teaching content in educational gymnastics extends from these four skills. Briefly defined, the foundational skills include: (1) rolling actions (weight transfer over adjacent body parts as in a forward roll), (2) step-like actions (weight transfer onto and off of nonadjacent body parts as in a cartwheel), (3) flight (weight transfer involving loss of contact with a supporting surface as in a jump), and (4) balance (maintaining the body in stillness as in a handstand).

Themes of study are created in educational gymnastics by joining one or more of the foundational skills with selected concepts from the movement framework. A sample theme of study might be step-like actions in different levels. This theme unites the foundational skill of step-like actions with the movement concept of levels.

Through a series of progressive tasks, teachers attempt to enhance movement behavior and understanding in connection with a given theme. To design learning experiences with the potential for progressive skill development, many teachers I've worked with have found the framework for content development outlined next to be a valuable conceptual tool. …

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