Understanding Children Better in Physical Education

New Experiences

The willingness to try new experiences and participate in activities is driven by how people feel about their perceived ability level. We call it perceived competence. Perceived competence becomes more specific as students age. Young students, for example, preschool, seven years of age – most of them will tell you that they can do it. “Look, look, look, I’ve got it.” They think they’re competent in everything they do. However, that quickly changes. As they enter third and fourth grade, they start to realize that others students are much better than them in some areas and they start to compare themselves to others.

Low Success Rate = Low Perceived Confidence

If these students are not given the chance to succeed in class, then they develop low perceived competence about their ability to perform physical skills. This learned helplessness eventually leads students to dislike and drop out of physical education and future sport and recreational activities. They’re quite likely to leave school with negative feelings about continuing in an active lifestyle. Dropping out of physical education commonly occurs in middle and high school. However, oftentimes these students may have developed these feelings of incompetence in elementary school.

More Success in PE

One of the things we want to do is design experiences for students where they can find success. And if you think about it, that probably means that you’re going to start with activities that are geared toward the bottom half of your class so that they start out on par with other students and are successful.

Remember if the first activities you teach create a sense of failure and make them perceive that they can’t do these things, they’re not going to want to do. And if over and over and over, you perceive yourself to be incompetent, why would you choose to be in physical education and be active for a lifetime? So the challenge for us is gear your activities for those students who really need to develop some feelings of competence, give them lots of reinforcement, lots of positive experiences, in fact, probably more than the gifted students and get them on their way to developing a perceived level of competence that says, even though I’m not the greatest at this, I can do it and I like it.

Please reach out to Dr. Robert Pangrazi on Twitter @rpangrazi and continue the conversation by commenting below!

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