RQES Table of Contents

Educating Students for a Lifetime of Physical Activity: Enhancing Mindfulness, Motivation, and Meaning

Catherine D. Ennis

Researchers, scholars, and teachers have spent the last four decades describing and nurturing effective teaching with generally good results (e.g., Lee & Solmon, 2005). Researchers have identified characteristics of effective physical education (PE) teachers, and textbook and journal authors have communicated these characteristics to a broad readership of teacher educators and preservice teachers. The greatest changes in PE quality, however, have come when teachers work directly to understand and incorporate best practices in their teaching (e.g., Rink, 2014). Yet, as we move courageously into the 21st century, it is becoming clear that more than effective teachers/teaching may be needed to create transformative PE programs that change student lives and lead to physically activity lifestyles. Transformative planning and teaching focus on opportunities to provide life-changing experiences (Mezirow & Taylor, 2009). In this article, I will remind readers of the three different types of PE programming that are practiced in schools today and review critical features of effective teaching that should be in place in all PE programs. I will then examine research findings that have the potential to be transformative through an emphasis on teacher and student mindfulness, motivation, and meaning.

Three types of physical education programs
There is absolutely no doubt that teachers are the driving force in every gymnasium. Effective teachers plan carefully, create an engaging environment, provide clear instruction, and support students with learning cues and formative assessments. Within a recreational approach to PE, effective teachers manage classes effectively and provide a steady stream of enjoyable activities that engage students in games and other activities. In recreational approaches to PE, the teachers’ primary goals are to assist students in having fun, letting off steam, and working cooperatively with others to make the experience enjoyable for all. Recreationally focused PE teachers feel constant pressure to find the next new game or fun activity to keep students participating. Games that students deem not enjoyable are quickly discarded and replaced with new activities (Ennis, 2011).

In the second type of PE program currently found in the United States today, the public health approach embodies the goals of a physically active lifestyle. PE teachers and activity leaders work to assist participants and students to develop habits associated with an active lifestyle in and out of school (see, e.g., Sport, Play, and Active Recreation for Kids [SPARK]). At times, this type of PE program may involve student skill development, but more frequently, it focuses on participation at a target heart rate in a range of physical activities. Additionally, goals of public health-oriented programs include an understanding of the physical activity guidelines and safe, regular use of weight-training and conditioning protocols. Public health-oriented PE teachers work conscientiously to manage the classroom for maximum physical activity. The most effective public health programs are those that have adequate facility space and instructional time to meet physical activity guidelines and criteria. Although PE is viewed as one of many sources of physical activity during the day, public health-oriented physical educators have the opportunity and responsibility to provide an essential dose of regular moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) to students in their classes (Ennis, 2011).

In the third type of PE programming, the primary goal is education of the learner to understand, perform, and value physical activity. In the educational approach, PE teachers place a balanced emphasis on skill performance and fitness goals while participating in a range of sport and fitness-based activities. Within the SHAPE America – Society of Health and Physical Educators Standards (2014), PE teachers assist students to learn and understand cognitive concepts that facilitate efficient movement and encourage them to apply concepts to solve sport and fitness-related problems. Teachers identify learning cues and reinforce and guide performance using feedback and formative assessments. The explicit curricular goal of these programs is enhancing student learning of skills and fitness to prepare students for a physically active lifestyle (Solmon & Garn, 2014). Because learning requires contact time with students, educational-approach teachers are severely constrained by limited instructional time allocated to PE and often have to narrow their program goals to focus on the most essential skills within time constraints (Ennis, 2011). It is important to distinguish among these three types of PE programs because the program goals directly impact the expectations for teaching effectiveness in each program.

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