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Structured and Unstructured Contexts in Physical Education: Promoting Activity, Learning and Motivation

Christopher J. Kinder, Karen L. Gaudreault and Kelly Simonton

joperd cover august 2020

Physical activity (PA) plays an essential role in the overall health and well-being of youth (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2018). Recently, children in the U.S. received a D- for their overall physical activity behaviors (United States Department of Health and Human Services [USDHSS], 2018), with nearly 76% failing to get enough physical activity each day (USDHHS, 2016). Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity & Health (World Health Organization [WHO], 2019) has recommended that youth participate in at least 60 minutes or more of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) daily. Physical education (PE) is instrumental in providing opportunities for students to meet these recommendations (Sallis & McKenzie, 2012) and teaches students foundational knowledge and skills needed to make appropriate decisions regarding PA outside of school. Outside of PE, children participate in daily PA during recesses, classroom PA integration lessons, sport or club teams, and/ or intramural programs (SHAPE America – Society of Health and Physical Educators, 2015). This provides an opportunity for physical educators to consider how the benefits of these contexts can inform unique methods that may encourage individuals to value health and PA for a lifetime.

Identifying and implementing strategies to enhance motivation in PE is key to developing interest and enjoyment of PA for a lifetime. Therefore, physical educators must make informed decisions regarding the instructional practices they employ to ensure youth are meeting the PE national standards and PA guidelines. SHAPE America (2015) has recommended that instructional practices aim to “maximize PA and keep students engaged in MVPA for at least 50% of the lesson” (SHAPE America, 2015, p. 6). Notably, physical educators must also account for other recommendations (e.g., consistent assessment of learning to improve practice and inclusion for students with special needs/disabilities) that demand renewed perspectives. Exploring instructional strategies that implement a variety of PA contexts may offer insight into how physical educators could address the issue. The purpose of this article is to: (1) discuss the benefits of presenting unstructured PA features during PE, and (2) present multiple pedagogical strategies for implementing an unstructured PA context for increased motivation and enjoyment in the PE classroom.

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