Promoting Responsible Student Decision-Making in Elementary Physical Education

By Bulger, Sean M.; Townsend, J. Scott et al. | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, September 2001 | Go to article overview

Promoting Responsible Student Decision-Making in Elementary Physical Education


Bulger, Sean M., Townsend, J. Scott, Carson, Linda M., JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance


The promotion of lifelong physical activity has been recommended as "a contemporary mission" for the physical education profession (Pate & Hohn, 1994). Practicing physical educators would be well served to provide an instructional environment that contributes directly to the development of the cognitive, psychomotor, affective, and fitness characteristics that will enable children to maintain a physically active lifestyle through adulthood. Corbin (1994) suggested that physical education students must acquire the necessary problem-solving, self-evaluation, and decision-making skills if they are to progress from a state of dependence to independence regarding their own physical activity behaviors. Accordingly, physical education professionals should employ instructional methodologies that facilitate the development of these higher-order cognitive skills.

Teachers can positively affect student learning by using instructional strategies that give students the opportunity to make choices about the task and environment in which they are engaged. More specifically, a number of physical education researchers have recognized student decision-making as a potentially beneficial component of a complete educational environment (e.g., Martinek, Zaichkowsky, & Cheffers, 1977; Schemp, Cheffers, & Zaichkowsky, 1983). For example, Lydon and Cheffers (1984) concluded that: "Public school physical education teachers who work with elementary-school-age children may find that children can make decisions concerning the learning areas within physical education in which they will work, and that they can plan constructively to carry out those learnings which they have chosen because of valid, personal interests" (p. 140). Accordingly, practicing physical educators should be encouraged to explore instructional strategies that challenge students to assume progressively greater respons ibility for their own learning.

While the transition from teacher-directed to student-centered models of instruction could prove difficult for both students and teachers, the literature does offer some guidance. Ecological task analysis (ETA), for example, has been recommended as an instructional model that incorporates student decision-making as a defining characteristic of the learning environment (Balan & Davis, 1993; Bouffard, Strean, & Davis, 1998; Davis & Burton, 1991). The ETA model, which is based primarily on contemporary motor-learning theory, provides students with frequent decision-making opportunities that allow them to individualize each task.

The purpose of this article is to present ETA as an instructional alternative that can be used to promote responsible student decision-making in elementary physical education classes. Additionally, the potential benefits and concerns associated with the use of student-centered learning environments are discussed along with practical suggestions for assessing student learning and facilitating student decision-making in such environments.

An Overview of ETA

Direct instruction is a widely recognized model of teaching that has its conceptual origin in the process-product research of the 1970s (Brophy & Good, 1986; Housner, 1990; Rosenshine & Stevens, 1986). During this influential period, educational researchers invested a considerable amount of time, effort, and resources into studying the effects of teacher behavior (process) on student achievement (product). Historically, direct instruction has received a considerable amount of support regarding its effectiveness in a variety of educational contexts (Housner; Sweeting & Rink, 1999).

When using a model of direct instruction, the teacher: (1) establishes clear lesson goals, (2) engages the students in a sequence of carefully arranged learning activities that allow for a high rate of success, (3) employs a variety of instructional techniques (e.g., demonstrations, teaching cues) to provide clear explanations of the lesson content, (4) asks frequent questions to evaluate student comprehension, and (5) provides feedback and re-teaches the lesson content as needed (Housner, 1990). …

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