Promoting Quality School Physical Education: Exploring the Root of the Problem. (2001 C. H. McCloy Research Lecture)

By Lee, Amelia M. | Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, June 2002 | Go to article overview

Promoting Quality School Physical Education: Exploring the Root of the Problem. (2001 C. H. McCloy Research Lecture)


Lee, Amelia M., Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport


Key words: competence beliefs, engagement, gender, student mediation

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For many years the quality of school physical education has been questioned, and many times programs seem to suffer from low status, lack of direction, and failure to offer meaningful experiences for students. The goals of my research for the last 20 years have been to learn how and when students learn from teachers and to improve the practice of teaching. In this paper I share some of the findings I believe can serve as a basis for change.

Charles McCloy holds a unique place in the history of our field, primarily for his advocacy of a scientific program of physical education. He vigorously supported the importance of physical development over moral and social values but recognized that the key to accomplishing that objective was the promotion of quality physical education. In his collection of speeches published in the book Philosophical Basis for Physical Education (1940) McCloy criticized school programs and teachers for too much duplication of material from year to year, low levels of engaged time in physical activity, poor student motivation for active participation, and subjective grading systems that were not correlated with individual differences. To McCloy, most of the progress made between 1930 and 1940 was by trial and error. In making predictions for the 1950s and beyond he believed that researchers and educators could shorten the distance between best thinking and everyday practice. At that time he was convinced the next decades wou ld see health and physical education scheduled 5 days a week, and with more consideration of the student in relation to the environment. McCloy (1940) argued that physical education should be much more than keeping children busy and sweaty. His vision included better prepared teachers who could provide opportunities for students to derive maximum pleasure and satisfaction from participation in physical activity. Today we are still looking for effective ways to prepare teachers who will conduct quality physical activity programs in our schools.

Thinking back over the years I have been involved in research activities, my work has focused on issues surrounding effective teaching. During this time, a substantial body of knowledge has been accumulated and we know far more about teacher effects than is often acknowledged. The general question of interest is--what is a good teacher, or how can teachers create environments that will keep students engaged in meaningful physical activity. There is some overlap among the themes, and the findings I highlight are from studies that were not necessarily conducted in a chronological order. Specific topics include:

1. What role do students play in their own learning?

2. Why do some students seem more willing than others to participate and try?

3. What is the role of gender and competence beliefs in teaching and learning?

4. How can teacher practices influence student beliefs, engagement, and learning?

Most of the research described in this paper has been conducted with graduate student assistance. One of the pleasures of a research career is the opportunity to work with young doctoral students, and I have been fortunate to have outstanding students through the years. None of this work would have been possible without their effort.

The Setting: Research in Schools

Most of our research is conducted with students and teachers in school settings, but this paper will spare you the many details about data collection and analysis. We use a variety of self report measures to get information about students' backgrounds, their socializing influences, their beliefs about their own competence, and the value they attach to physical activity. In many studies, we look at the activity patterns of students and the instructional actions of teachers. Several different approaches have been used to gather data about the thoughts students have and the strategies they use during class. …

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