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Developing Social-Emotional Learning in Physical Education Through Appropriate Instructional Practices

David Barney, Keven A. Prusak and Liana Davis

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In our ever-changing world, K–12 students are faced with many challenges in their education. These challenges make a teacher’s role important in assisting their students to navigate what comes before them. This also applies in physical education (PE). PE is a unique content area in that students receive instruction in three domains of learning: affective, cognitive and psychomotor. The affective domain develops positive attitudes and appreciation for participation in physical activity. As part of this domain, students learn fair play, sportspersonship and cooperation with classmates during games and activities. The cognitive domain focuses on students learning to acquire, comprehend and evaluate knowledge. In this domain they learn values, strategies, skills and safety in various activities. Lastly, the psychomotor domain is the physical domain where students learn fundamental motor skills to be used throughout their lives. Skills such as throwing, catching, striking, kicking and others are taught throughout the curriculum (Lumpkin, 1998).

One affective goal that PE teachers strive to teach their students is to demonstrate positive social behaviors as they interact with one another in PE and other physical activity settings. SHAPE America – Society of Health and Physical Educators created five national standards as guides to assist PE teachers in educating their students (SHAPE America, 2014). The fifth standard reinforces this concept of students exhibiting positive social interactions, stating: “The physically literate individual recognizes the value of physical activity for health, enjoyment, challenges, self-expression and/or social interactions” (SHAPE America, 2014). This national standard closely aligns with the concept of social emotional learning (SEL). SEL has been described as a process through which students are able to better manage their emotions, feelings and care and concern for others, as well as solve problems and have positive peer relationships (Zins et al., 2004). As a result of PE students incorporating SEL behaviors personally, self-management, self-awareness, social awareness, building positive relationships, and making healthy decisions manifest themselves in class activities (Jacobs & Wright, 2014). For many students these SEL skills do not come naturally or automatically. Just like skills such as throwing or catching, these SEL behaviors can be learned in PE. The PE teacher will teach, reteach, model, give feedback and then provide opportunities for students to practice these skills throughout PE class (Ciotto & Gagnon, 2018).

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