Curriculum integration and knowledge representation in practical learning environments: continuing dilemmas for physical education in Scotland
Thorburn, Malcolm S.
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My years teaching physical education examination awards in high school revealed some of the pedagogical complexities involved in putting into practice experiential learning approaches in a formal examination context. Furthermore, analysis of assessment results at national level indicated profound annual i mbalances between students' practical performance and analytical abilities (as assessed by written examination answers). Therefore, the central research question in this thesis examines, through a progressive programme of research, the reasons why there is such a marked imbalance in the attainment profile of students. The first phase of research collected evidence from 40 semi-structured teacher and group student interviews, completed in ten high schools. Results h ighlighted marked differences in the pedagogical practices teachers adopted when attempting to deploy practical experiential learning approaches. There were some schools where the short-term assessment pressures were determining the methodology and quality of student learning experiences. There were other schools where prescriptive assessment answers had been developed and lastly schools which were characterised by a high level of teacher expertise for practical experiential teaching. Crucially, students in these schools completed the written assessment answers in the divergent open manner expected. To understand, in detail, the effects of different pedagogical approaches on student learning and assessment, the second research phase tracked the development of students' learning in six of the original ten schools, with schools being selected from each of the types of schools previously identified. Analysis of students' assessment evidence revealed that while some schools results had improved, year-on-year improvements have proved difficult to achieve in many schools. Throughout both research phases the dominant attribution of teachers in explaining students' under-performance was the nature of the written assessment instrument used in examinations. Consequently, the third phase of research compared oral and written assessment procedures in order to Jearn more about the accuracy and authenticity of both methods of assessment. Evidence showed, that while the higher levels of attainment anticipated by many teachers were not realized, there were encouraging indications that oral assessment could enhance the quality of students' learning and assessment experience, and inform teachers' curriculum decision-making. As well as progressively investigating the central research question it was also pertinent to explore factors associated with how examination awards have been conceived, and how they might be constructed in future years. The wider conceptual analysis and framing of the central research question pointed up how current difficulties in re lation to assessment challenge existing epistemological and ontological assumptions about the nature of physical education. The concluding chapter summarizes the major findings arising from the different phases of applied research and reports on the types of interventions which might best address the shortcomings reported in the thesis. Accordingly, the major professional issues associated with teaching, learning and assessment are considered prior to reviewing how professional development opportunities for teachers could be improved. Finally, research interventions which could provide more detailed insights on how to improve practical experiential learning environments in examination awards are outlined.