Student Learning and Motivation in Physical Education

By Richards, K. Andrew R.; Levesque-Bristol, Chantal | Strategies: A Journal for Physical and Sport Educators, March-April 2014 | Go to article overview

Student Learning and Motivation in Physical Education


Richards, K. Andrew R., Levesque-Bristol, Chantal, Strategies: A Journal for Physical and Sport Educators


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In a previous Advocacy in Action article, Richards and Wilson (2012) discussed quality physical education as a precursor to advocacy. It was argued that before physical education teachers can be effective advocates, they must first develop a high-quality physical education program for which to advocate. The American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD; National Association for Sport and Physical Education [NASPE], 2010) guidelines for quality physical education and the national standards for physical education (AAHPERD, in press) were cited as being critical to the development of a quality program. We extend the points made by Richards and Wilson by arguing that in addition to being standards-based, a high-quality physical education program should promote a student-centered learning environment. Such a learning environment fosters student engagement and learning and increases the likelihood of transfer outside of physical education. The integrated model for learning and motivation (IMLM; Levesque-Bristol, Sell, & Zimmerman, 2006) is reviewed as a conceptual framework for enhancing student learning through the development of a student-centered learning environment.

The Integrative Model for Learning and Motivation

Grounded in self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 2000), the IMLM provides a conceptual framework for understanding the influence instructors have in facilitating student learning. The model posits that students' experiences in a class can be influenced by the type of learning environment the instructor creates. A teacher-centered learning environment focuses more on the needs and perspectives of the instructor. In contrast, a student-centered learning environment is characterized by high levels of student engagement and empowerment so that students become central to the learning process. This environment allows students to achieve the three basic psychological needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness (Deci Sc Ryan, 2000).

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Autonomy relates to students' ability to make choices in the learning environment. It is important to note that giving students choices does not require that the physical education teacher turn over complete control of the class. Rather, autonomy can be fostered by allowing students to make small decisions during a lesson. For example, if a teacher sets up three stations at which to practice basketball skills, students could be given the freedom to choose at which station to begin based on the skill they need to work on the most.

Competence is closely related to self-efficacy (Bandura, 1997) and can be defined as an individual's perception that they are effectively able to perform the behaviors required to accomplish a task. In physical education, competence can be fostered by designing tasks that are appropriate given students' developmental level and skill. Giving students numerous opportunities to practice and providing them with positive or corrective feedback can also enhance feelings of competence.

Relatedness is fostered through connecting and engaging with other people. It manifests through a sense of belonging or affiliation with others. Physical education teachers can promote relatedness by giving students opportunities to work in collaborative environments. Team-building activities and instructional models such as sport education (Siedentop, Hastie, & van der Mars, 2004) that foster interdependence among students can enhance relatedness.

Drawing on self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 2000), the IMLM (Levesque-Bristol et al., 2006) holds that satisfying the three basic psychological needs through the development of a student-centered learning environment will lead to more intrinsic and self-determined forms of motivation. When students are intrinsically motivated, they pursue learning for the joy or excitement they derive from learning the material itself. …

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