Barriers & Opportunities
Physically Active Learning (PAL) approaches offer untold benefits to schools, But, why are teachers not embracing PAL? What are their perceived barriers and how can we overcome them?
This is a personal reflection on a recent publication by academics (Thomas Quarmby, Andy Daly-Smith and Nicky Kime) from Carnegie School of Sport, Leeds Beckett University, ‘Primary school teacher perceptions of physically active lessons.’
Traditionally segmented time slots within the school day such as break or lunch time are where the bulk of children’s movement occurs.
Visualise a child’s movement and physical activity within the average school day. What do you see? Twenty-minutes charging around an overcrowded concrete school yard mid-morning, followed by a thirty-minute blast midday after finishing packed lunches? Perhaps another ten-minutes activity when the clock strikes two? This is when children move in many schools.
Now visualise how adults move within the average weekday. A coffee break mid-morning followed by a stroll to the delicatessen for lunch? The day ends with a reluctant trip to the gym or twilight run to keep the smartwatch happy in advance of a rock n’ roll evening watching one of the nation’s favourites?
There is a pattern. Movement in segments. This works for adults, but why do we insist on this model for children? After all, children are not mini-adults!
Barriers & Opportunties
There is a growing evidence base to suggest that introducing physical activity into classrooms may have many benefits to help improve children’s learning behaviours, academic achievement, cognitive function, along with physical health & mental wellbeing (Quarmby, Daly-Smith and Kime, 2018). Small daily gains, aggregated over time all add up. However, opening your classroom to movement can feel like inviting chaos into the room. By asking teachers to integrate movement in class we are also asking them to stretch the boundaries of their comfort zone. But, every barrier presents an opportunity…
Move & Learn
Primary schools need to emphasize the important role that movement can and should play within the classroom environment. Movement is a powerful teaching tool that teachers can thoughtfully incorporate into their own practice to elevate a child’s learning experiences. Movement does not need to be viewed as a break from learning; movement is part of learning. The opportunities for thoughtful exploration of this within the classroom are endless. Check out this TED talk from Harvard’s Dr John Ratey, where he shares his insights over how physical activity can transform our schools.
The Way We Do Things Here
Teachers in the study were keen to ensure that their actions aligned with the school policy and development priorities. This is an opportunity for school leader to recognise physically active approaches as tools that can support wider school improvement. Movement can give a platform upon which to develop many of the characteristics that schools seek in their learners.
A clear a vision over what learning should first look like in your school gives clarity over where movement can best be added. A good example of this is at Malton Community Primary School where movement is integrated in a meaningful way within the learning activities throughout classrooms. The culture & ethos of this school is built upon collaboration, curiosity and enquiry. A natural bi-product of collaboration is movement. Take a look at some of these pioneering schools and how movement sits at the heart of their vision:
- Queensway Primary School In Leeds have created this wonderful video outlining their approaches to active learning.
- Similar attitudes and approaches can be seen in tweets from Water Primary School in Rossendale.
- Likewise, take a look at the home page of the pioneering Manor Leas Junior School in Lincoln.
Parents as Partners
Parent expectations are reported as influential factors over teaching approaches. Recognising parents as key stakeholders in children’s learning is essential. This is an opportunity to work in partnership. Many parents (like us) are products of the traditional repressive and didactic education system. Share your practice with parents to help them understand approaches and become part of their child’s learning journey. Online and app-based platforms such as Class Dojo and Seesaw are fabulous resources to help teachers build these positive relationships.
The Obvious Choice
Teachers report that current classroom layouts were not movement-friendly and therefore significant preparation/rearrangement time would be needed ahead of an active lesson.
Changing the physical environment is THE crucial step for embedding movement into a classroom. Environments change behaviours. Structure the environment to make the desired behaviour the most obvious (and attractive) choice for the children. Here is a great example of how one city encouraged more commuters to use the stairs by changing the environment .
Malton Community Primary School embed EYFS principles throughout the school to ensure that movement becomes habitual. Standing work spaces, reduced chairs and tables, increased active seating spaces (swiss balls) multiple areas of active provision and versatile open-plan areas are common place. Schools can sustainably invest their sports premium funding to support this.
Teachers reported a lack of clarity over what physically active approaches look like in practice. They raised concerns over how to manage activities and behaviour effectively. Perceptions over how children might behave were a major influence over whether to attempt (and re-attempt) an active lesson.
The teachers in the study openly acknowledged this, providing an opportunity to develop their knowledge through professional development. The challenge is then ensuring that this professional development engages teachers the way we expect them to engage their children— physically as well as intellectually. By taking teachers completely out of the typical training model and beyond the passive stares at slides and, we can begin to help them create a culture where children move & learn every day.
Join the Movement
Incorporating movement-based activities can help learners of all ages create and share new ideas. When teachers are encouraged and supported to infuse movement into lessons they in turn begin to elevate classrooms from static places into vibrant learning environments that nourish collaboration, enquiry, problem solving, creativity, wonderment and awe.
If you are passionate about helping your school to move & learn every day, then click on the link below and register for free with Move & Learn UK.
About the Author
Richard is an SLE and SLT member at Malton Community Primary School. As a PE specialist he delivers CPD to school leaders, teaching staff and ITT students. Richard is passionate about empowering primary practitioners to integrate purposeful physical activity into classroom pedagogy.
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