In reviewing the current literature in physical education, the task force identified several areas as critical to the direction and development of grade-level outcomes: motor skill competency, student engagement and intrinsic motivation, instructional climate, gender differences, lifetime activity approach and physical activity. Brief summaries of the findings are presented for each of these areas, followed by a synopsis of how the findings were applied in the grade-level outcomes.
Motor Skill Competency
A growing body of evidence indicates that motor skill competency is essential for participation in physical activity and for health-enhancing fitness. Spessato, Gabbard and Valentini (2013) found that during physical education class, motor skill competence of children ages 5 to 10 proved to be a better predictor of physical activity levels than body mass index. In their study of the relationship between motor skill proficiency and physical activity, Stodden et al. (2008) concluded that “motor skill competence is a critically important, yet underestimated, causal mechanism for the health-risk behavior of physical inactivity” (p. 302). Lack of motor skill proficiency was associated with lower physical activity levels and, consequently, lower fitness levels. Other researchers have corroborated these findings, with many noting the importance of emphasizing skill development in physical education as a strategy to promote physical activity participation and fitness (Barnett, van Beurden, Morgan, Brooks & Beard, 2008a,b; Castelli & Valley, 2007; Hamilton & White, 2008; Kambas et al., 2012; Stodden et al., 2008; Stodden, Langendorfer & Roberton, 2009; Strong et al., 2005). It should be noted that physical education is uniquely positioned within schools to foster motor skill competence.
Student Engagement and Intrinsic Motivation
Students in physical education do not acquire the knowledge and skills needed to be physically active if they are not personally engaged in the content. Some students feel alienated in physical education and opt out completely (Carlson, 1995; Ntoumanis, Pensgaard, Martin & Pipe, 2004; Shen, Wingert, Weidong, Haichun & Rukavina, 2010). While these students might constitute only a small percentage of the student body in a school, other students might be participating passively by taking their places in the activity but not making an effort to engage fully. This behavior might mask their disengagement, but it clearly does not enhance student learning. It’s essential for teachers to create a learning environment that fosters engagement for all students in their classes.
Research on intrinsic motivation in physical education, particularly through the framework of self-determination theory, has yielded a great deal of information about which factors influence student engagement. These factors include perceived competence, autonomy (choice of activity), relatedness, cognitive demand and social comparison. Students’ perceived competence and self-efficacy have been found to positively predict physical activity levels (Bevans, Fitzpatrick, Sanchez & Forest, 2010; Gao, Lee, Solmon & Zhang, 2009; Hamilton & White, 2008; Stuart, Biddle, O’Donovan & Nevill, 2005). Perceived competence also is associated with higher levels of enjoyment of physical activity (Gao, Lee & Harrison, 2012; Smith & St. Pierre, 2009). Students who don’t believe they are competent in a particular activity are less likely to be interested in participating during physical education class or outside of class (Garn, Cothran & Jenkins, 2011; Ntoumanis et al., 2004; Portman, 2003; Shen et al., 2010). Clearly, if students are to be physically active throughout their lives, they need to learn skills well enough to feel competent during participation.
In addition, choice of activity is important for student engagement and motivation. When students have the opportunity to choose their activity or a variation of the learning task, it contributes to feelings of autonomy and leads to higher motivation levels (Bryan, Sims, Hester & Dunaway, 2013; Hannon & Ratcliffe, 2005; Ntoumanis et al., 2004; Prusak, Treasure, Darst & Pangrazi, 2004; Ward, Wilkinson, Graser & Prusak, 2008; Zhang, Solmon, Kosma, Carlson & Gu, 2011).
Relatedness is another element that contributes to motivation and engagement. Students who experience higher levels of relatedness through social support and encouragement by teachers and peers are more likely to be engaged than those who do not (Dunton et al., 2012; Gao, Lee, Ping & Kosam, 2011; Haerens, Kirk, Cardon, De Bourdeauhuij & Vansteenkiste, 2010; Ntoumanis et al., 2004; Zhang et al., 2011). Ensuring that learning tasks have challenging cognitive demands can also increase student engagement and situational interest (Chen & Darst, 2001; Smith & St. Pierre, 2009; Subramaniam, 2009). However, engagement and motivation can be diminished when students—particularly adolescents—are placed in situations in which social evaluation or comparisons are readily made by peers (Garn, Ware & Solmon, 2011; Ntoumanis et al., 2004; Ommundsen, 2006). Often, this is the case in competitive activities that require high levels of skill.
Much has been written about the instructional climate in physical education. Bevans et al. (2010) found that student engagement was enhanced by a mastery climate and that skill development within a lesson can increase engagement among students with lower perceived competence. Many other researchers have echoed the importance of a mastery climate, which is task-centered and focuses on self-improvement, for student engagement and development of motor skill competence (Ennis, 2011; Gao et al., 2011; Hamilton & White, 2008; Ntoumanis et al., 2004; Ommundsen, 2006; Standage, Duda & Ntoumanis, 2003; Treasure & Roberts, 2001).
Another aspect of the instructional climate is the degree to which competition (performance) is emphasized. High levels of traditional game play, which contribute to a competitive environment, have been found to alienate less-skilled students (Bevans et al., 2010; Ntoumanis et al., 2004). Garn, Cothran, et al. (2011) noted that “large-sided team games with minimal learning progressions or skill development during the semester forced students to build competence in a structure that catered to students who were already highly skilled” (p. 233). Girls, less-skilled students and overweight students preferred more cooperative activities or noncompetitive activities over competitive ones, indicating that highly skilled students took the games too seriously, dominated play and sometimes excluded them from participation (Bernstein, Phillips & Silverman, 2011; Bevans et al., 2010; Portman, 2003). Competitive games appeal mainly to highly skilled boys and girls who experience positive reinforcement in that setting while less-skilled students were more likely to experience negative social evaluation and embarrassment (Garn, Cothran, et al., 2011; Hill & Hannon, 2008).
Many researchers have examined the role of gender in the physical education setting and have found that as children mature, differences become more pronounced. In general, girls are less physically active than boys, and as they age, that trend continues or worsens (Bradley, McMurray, Harrell & Deng, 2000; Haerens et al., 2010; Hannon & Ratcliffe, 2005; Pangrazi, Corbin & Welk, 1996; Patnode et al., 2011; Prochaska, Sallis, Slymen & McKenzie, 2003; Treanor, Graber, Housner & Weigand, 1998; Xiang, McBride & Guan, 2004; Yli-Piipari, Leskinen, Jaakola & Liukkonen, 2012). Researchers also have explored the activity preferences of boys and girls and found some divergence, particularly during adolescence. Girls tend to prefer noncompetitive and cooperative activities, dance, fitness and activities that provide opportunities for social interaction (Azzarito & Solmon, 2009; Bevans et al., 2010; Couturier, Chepko & Coughlin, 2007; Grieser et al., 2006; Hill & Hannon, 2008; O’Neill, Pate & Liese, 2011; Prusak et al., 2004; Ruiz, Graupera, Morena & Rico, 2010; Wilkinson & Bretzing, 2011; Xu & Liu, 2013). Similarly, Eime et al. (2013) found that fewer than 50 percent of the adolescent girls they studied met the physical activity guidelines and, as they aged, their preferences shifted from competitive and organized activities to noncompetitive, nonorganized activities. Gao et al. (2012) found that girls perceived themselves as having lower ability in traditional team sports and activities stereotyped as masculine. With the exception of the highly skilled, most girls are dissatisfied with the traditional team sports curriculum (Bryan et al., 2013; Derry, 2002; Hannon & Ratcliffe, 2005; Hill & Hannon, 2008).
Researchers also have examined the effect of the environment on student engagement and found that girls are more likely than boys to report factors such as showering, changing, and messing up their appearance as barriers to participation (Couturier et al., 2007; Grieser et al., 2006; Xu & Liu, 2013). Perhaps girls’ lower physical activity levels are understandable when considering that the traditional curriculum and typical physical education setting do not meet their needs or interests (Couturier et al., 2007; Trost et al., 1997).
Lifetime Activities Approach
Finally, there is strong support for a health-enhancing and lifetime physical activity approach in physical education. As long as two decades ago, Corbin et al. (1994) argued that the Lifetime Activity Model, focused on lifetime activities with enough energy expenditure to attain health benefits, was more appropriate for children and adolescents than the Exercise Prescription Model adopted by adults and athletes. Since that time, many researchers have argued that physical education should focus on health-promoting physical activity practices and a curriculum that teaches lifelong activities (Balestracci, 2013; Castelli & Valley, 2007; Corbin, 2002; Grieser et al., 2006; Pangrazi, 2010; Penney & Chandler, 2000; Sallis et al., 2012; Wang, Castelli, Liu, Bian & Tan, 2010). When students learn skills that they can use across the life span, that have personal or cultural meaning and that can be performed alone or with a partner (instead of a group or team), it’s more likely that they will continue physical activity through adulthood (Pangrazi et al., 1996).
Research on the importance of physical activity for good health also influenced the development of the National Standards & Grade-Level Outcomes for K-12 Physical Education (Bryan et al, 2013; Corbin, Pangrazi & Le Masurier, 2004; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2008). Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that children ages 6 to 17 should participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily. Because children spend a large portion of their day in school, the Institute of Medicine further recommends that at least 30 minutes—or half of the daily recommended time—be accumulated during the school day (Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, 2013). For some children—particularly minorities and children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds—physical education might be the only opportunity they have for physical activity (Basch, 2010; Prochaska et al., 2003).
Numerous studies have documented diminishing physical activity levels as children move into adolescence (Bradley et al., 2000; Corbin et al., 2004; Patnode et al., 2011; Prochaska et al., 2003; Xu & Liu, 2013; Yli-Piipari et al., 2012). While physical education cannot be the sole solution to the problems of increasingly sedentary lifestyles and childhood obesity, it is in an excellent position to influence physical activity levels during the school day and beyond (Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, 2013; Sallis et al., 2012). In addition to having children and adolescents participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily, it’s important that most of that time be spent in moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) and, on at least three days a week, students should participate in muscle- and bone-strengthening activities (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2008). SHAPE America guidelines further recommend that students engage in MVPA for at least 50 percent of physical education class time (NASPE, 2009a,b,c).
Quality physical education is the foundation for student attainment of the physical activity guidelines, providing students with opportunities for physical activity and the development of skills and knowledge during school. Students can then use these same skills and knowledge in before- and after-school physical activity programs, recess and classroom physical activity breaks (NASPE, 2008). It is the responsibility of physical education teachers to take on a leadership role in creating physically active schools and communities. They are uniquely qualified to sponsor and support new physical activity programs and classroom activities, guide classroom teachers in their efforts to include nutrition and fitness in their subject areas, and advocate for student and community access to facilities and equipment.
To help practitioners meet the physical activity guidelines, several researchers have focused on how to increase MVPA time in physical education classes (Lounsbery, McKenzie, Trost & Smith, 2011; McKenzie et al., 2004; McKenzie, Prochaska, Sallis & LaMaster, 2004; Sallis et al., 2012; Schuldheisz & van der Mars, 2001; Van Buerden et al., 2003). In most cases, MVPA decreases during skill acquisition, but given the importance of skill competency for lifelong physical activity and fitness, practitioners need to find ways to optimize MVPA during instructional time.
Strategies such as keeping groups small, allowing for choice in activity or variation of learning tasks, designing tasks with appropriate levels of challenge; and practicing in dynamic environments and small-sided games foster a mastery climate while keeping physical activity levels high. These practices are reinforced throughout the grade-level outcomes that follow and in chapter 7 (specifically, the section on creating a mastery climate).
Application of Findings
SHAPE America considers the development of motor skill competence to be the highest priority in the grade-level outcomes. As research has shown, skill competency is essential for student engagement, intrinsic motivation, perceived competency, participation in physical activity and, subsequently, sufficient levels of health-related fitness. It is the key to attaining the goal of physical education: a physically literate individual. The grade-level outcomes in this book address the need to develop skillfulness in part by focusing on the acquisition of fundamental motor skills at the elementary level. These are the building blocks for all specialized movement patterns that students will use in adolescence and adulthood to participate in a variety of fitness and physical activities as well as organized sport.
Skill competency is formed through sufficient, deliberate practice (Ericsson, 2006). That requires carefully planned progressions, meaningful and well-designed learning tasks, unit lengths that allow for skill acquisition, and specific, corrective feedback. All of those factors are critical components of an instructional climate that focuses on mastery. A mastery climate promotes the development of skill competency while enabling less-skilled students to be successful in physical education classes. It also can enhance perceived competence and student engagement while limiting the opportunities for social comparison associated with a performance or competitive climate. In this instructional environment, students are focused on self-improvement and practice skills in dynamic environments and small-sided games, which facilitate maximal practice opportunities and skill acquisition. These types of learning activities also have the advantage of keeping MVPA levels high.
The grade-level outcomes in this book were designed to facilitate skill development and the implementation of a mastery climate by using comprehensive, developmentally appropriate progressions across grade levels for the skills and knowledge associated with each national standard. These progressions are readily seen in the outcomes and in the Scope & Sequence for K-12 Physical Education chart (see table 6.1 in chapter 6). At the same time, SHAPE America recognizes that good progressions are not enough to ensure learning. Practitioners must be able to design appropriate learning tasks as well as monitor and track student progress. For those reasons, the standards and outcomes are supplemented with chapters on designing practice tasks and assessing student learning. In addition, the introductions to the chapters on the middle and high school levels include recommendations about the length of units to help practitioners allot an appropriate amount of instructional time for the activities.
SHAPE America also considers the traditional (and gendered) team sport curriculum to be a concern for the profession. The evidence clearly indicates that this type of competitive sport curriculum alienates many students, particularly girls and less-skilled students. It does little to address the need for skills and knowledge that promote lifetime physical activity or health-related fitness. In general, the grade-level outcomes that follow eliminate full-sided games and de-emphasize competitive activities.
SHAPE America does recognize that competitive team sports (invasion games) have attributes such as cultural relevance and opportunities for affiliation that merit inclusion in the curriculum. However, their inclusion is limited to the middle school level and only in small-sided games formats that maximize practice and physical activity opportunities for students. By the time students reach the high school level, invasion games no longer are part of the curriculum as the focus shifts to lifetime activities and health-related fitness.
The grade-level outcomes are structured so that activity categories that appeal to less-skilled students and many girls are integrated throughout the middle and high school levels. These categories include fitness activities, outdoor pursuits and dance, which are noncompetitive and are lifelong physical activities. In addition, activity choices within these categories should vary each year across the middle and high school levels to support student engagement (Mears, 2008). The practice of teaching the same activities and sports each year in the traditional curriculum cannot be supported in an educational environment.
The grade-level outcomes provide a scope and sequence of skills and knowledge predicated on teaching a variety of activities to achieve learning for all students. Finally, the importance of lifetime activities and health-related fitness can be seen at all levels in the outcomes but become the central focus of the high school level, particularly in Standard 3. Students should graduate from high school well-prepared to participate in selected lifelong physical activities and knowledgeable about achieving and maintaining their own health-related fitness.
Many factors that affect the quality of physical education—including class length, class size, time allotment within the school day and program budgets—generally are beyond the control of the teacher. However, it is noteworthy that most of the components described in the research for the grade-level outcomes are well within the physical education teacher’s domain. The teacher can have a tremendous impact on the development of skill competency, the establishment of a mastery climate and the engagement of all students, regardless of ability. It is SHAPE America’s intention that this document becomes an essential resource for physical educators, both new and experienced, in creating and enhancing high-quality programs that promote student learning.