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Specific Approaches for Physical Education and Sport

This is an excerpt from Adapted Physical Education and Sport 6th Edition With Web Resource by Joseph Winnick & David Porretta.

This section provides two examples of specific approaches used in physical education and sport for students with behavioral disorders. The humanistic orientation can be used with all students, including those who have milder forms of behavioral disorders; educators working with students who have mild and severe behavioral difficulties employ the behavioral approach.


Humanistic Approach

In physical education, students with behavior disabilities ranging from mild to severe can be taught through the humanistic approach. In this context, humanism is applied to skill acquisition and the management of social behaviors. Generally speaking, some techniques suggested by Sherrill (2004) for improving self-concept are singularly applicable with this population; for example, teachers should strive to do the following (p. 234):

  • Conceptualize individual and small-group counseling as an integral part of physical education.
  • Teach students to care about each other and show that they care.
  • Emphasize cooperation and social interaction rather than individual performance.
  • Stress the importance of genuineness and honesty in praise.
  • Increase perceived competence in relation to motor skill and fitness.
  • Convey that they like and respect students as human beings, not just for their motor skills and fitness.


More specifically, the approach outlined by Hellison (2011) has immediate relevance for practitioners confronted with students who are usually high functioning but who lack self-control and consequently present management problems. Hellison has developed a set of alternative goals or levels for physical education that focus on human needs and values rather than on fitness and sport skill development exclusively. The main purpose of Hellison's approach is to develop positive social responsibility. The goals are developmental and reflect a loosely constructed level-by-level progression of attitudes and behaviors. They include self-control and respect for the rights and feelings of others, participation and effort, self-direction, and caring and helping.

  • Level 0: Irresponsibility. This level defines students who fail to take responsibility for either their actions or inactions; they blame others for their behavior and typically make excuses.
  • Level I: Respecting the rights and feelings of others. This level deals with the need for control of one's own behavior. Self-control should be the first goal, according to Hellison, because learning cannot take place effectively if one cannot control impulses to harm others physically and verbally.
  • Level II: Participation and effort. Level II focuses on the need for physical activity and offers students one medium for personal stability through experiences in which they can engage on a daily basis. Participation involves getting uninterested students to at least go through the motions, experiencing various degrees of effort expenditure to determine if effort leads to improvement, and redefining success as a personal accomplishment.
  • Level III: Self-direction. Level III emphasizes the need for students to take more responsibility for their choices and to link these choices with their own identities. Students at this level can work independently in class and can take responsibility for their intentions and actions. At this level, students begin to assume responsibility for the direction of their lives and to explore options in developing a strong and integrated personal identity. This level includes developing a knowledge base that will enhance achievement of their goals, developing a plan to accomplish their goals, and evaluating their plan to determine their success.
  • Level IV: Caring and helping. Level IV is the most difficult for students; it is also not a requirement for successful participation in the responsibility model. At this level, students reach out beyond themselves to others, committing themselves to genuinely caring about other people. Students are motivated to give support, cooperate, show concern, and help. Generally speaking, the goal of level IV is the improvement of the entire group's welfare.
  • Level V: Outside the gym. Level V promotes the opportunity to transfer many of the lessons learned in the gym to other areas of life. It also implies being a role model.


Hellison recognized that these five goals provide only a framework and that strategies must be employed to help students interact with self-control and respect for the rights and feelings of others, participate and show effort, be self-directed, and demonstrate caring and helping behavior on a regular basis. He suggests five interaction strategies to help reach the goals. These include awareness talks (e.g., post levels on gym wall and refer to them frequently), the physical education lesson (e.g., students can be taught to solve conflict during a game), group meetings (e.g., students discuss issues of low motivation or difficulty in being self-directed), reflection time (e.g., students record in a journal or discuss how they did during class in relation to the goals they had established), and counseling time (e.g., students discuss their patterns of abusive behavior and possibly their underlying motives for such behavior). This last strategy gives students the opportunity to talk with the teacher about problems preventing them from achieving their goals within specified levels of the responsibility model. These strategies are "processes for helping students to become aware of, experience, make decisions about, and reflect on the model's goals" (Hellison & Templin, 1991, p. 108). See table 9.2 for a brief examination of the relationship between the levels and strategies in Hellison's model.


Table 9.2 Hellison's Personal and Social Responsibility Model


Many physical education programs use games to accomplish goals and objectives established for individuals and classes. Because students with behavioral disorders often lack fundamental skills, they frequently are incapable of demonstrating even minimal levels of competence in these games. As a result, they have an increased tendency to act out - perhaps with verbal or physical aggression - or to withdraw, which further excludes them from an opportunity to develop skills.


In an effort to promote the most positive learning environment, Hellison (2011) developed a nontraditional approach to working with at-risk students, using basketball as the primary vehicle for empowering students to learn personal and social values. Employing Hellison's responsibility model (discussed previously) as the philosophical underpinning, the coaching club is a before-school program in Chicago's inner city. It offers students the opportunity to explore movement through a progression of five levels: (I) self-control, meaning control of one's body and temper; (II) teamwork, meaning full participation by all team members; (III) self-coaching; (IV) coaching another team member; and (V) applying skills learned in the program outside the gym to school, home, and neighborhood. Playing ability is not a prerequisite. This program promotes social responsibility. Likewise, extrinsic rewards are unnecessary because students are motivated to reach level IV (coach) on the evaluation system (Hellison & Georgiadis, 1992, p. 7). Level IV consists of the following:

  • Has good attendance.
  • Is coachable and on task at practice.
  • Does not abuse others or interrupt practice.
  • Is able to set personal goals and work independently on these goals.
  • Possesses good helping skills (such as giving cues, observing, and giving positive feedback as well as general praise).
  • Encourages teamwork and passing the ball.
  • Listens to players; is sensitive to their feelings and needs.
  • Puts the welfare of players above own needs (such as the need to win or look good).
  • Understands that exhibiting these characteristics is the key to being a good coach, regardless of personal basketball ability.


Behavioral Approach

Students with severe behavior disorders require intense programming efforts. This group includes students who are self-indulgent, aggressive, noncompliant, and self-stimulatory or self-destructive (Dunn & Leitschuh, 2014). Using the basic steps of behavioral programming discussed in chapter 6, Dunn and his coauthor developed the data-based gymnasium (DBG). This program incorporates behavioral principles in a systematic effort to produce procedural consistency for teachers who work with students with behavioral disorders and to bring student behavior under the control of naturally occurring reinforcers. To the latter end, instructors use natural reinforcers available in the environment, such as praising a desirable behavior to strengthen it or ignoring an undesirable behavior to bring about its extinction. Tangible reinforcers such as token economies are introduced only after it has been demonstrated that the consistent use of social reinforcement or extinction will not achieve the desired behavioral outcome.


In an effort to equip teachers with consistent behavioral procedures, Dunn and Leitschuh (2014) use a variety of strategies, including rules of thumb, to apply to inappropriate behavior. For each area of inappropriate behavior (e.g., self-indulgent behavior), there exists a rule of thumb or generally accepted way of responding when certain undesirable behaviors occur. The intent of these rules is to make the development and implementation of a formal behavioral program unnecessary.

  • Self-indulgent behavior. Behaviors in this category include crying, screaming, throwing tantrums, and performing repetitive, irritating activities or making noises. The rule of thumb for handling students who engage in self-indulgent behaviors is to ignore them until the behavior is discontinued and then socially reinforce the first occurrence of an appropriate behavior. For example, one would ignore children's tantrums when they cannot control a play situation with classmates but reinforce with social praise their initial attempts to play cooperatively.
  • Noncompliant behavior. Noncompliant behaviors include instances when students decline to comply when instructed to do something as well as forgetting or failing to do something because they choose not to do what is asked. Noncompliance also includes doing what is requested but in a less than acceptable way. The rule of thumb is that teachers should ignore noncompliant verbalizations, lead students physically through the task, or prevent students from participating in an activity until they follow through on the initial request. Compliance with any request is immediately reinforced socially. For example, one would physically restrict aggressive play and socially praise a child's positive engagement with a classmate or group.
  • Aggressive behavior. Verbal or physical abuse directed toward an object or a person is considered aggressive behavior. Examples of aggressive acts include hitting, fighting, pinching, biting, pushing, or deliberately destroying someone's property. The rule of thumb for aggressive behavior is that it is punished immediately with a verbal reprimand and the offending student is removed from the activity. Social reinforcement is given when students demonstrate appropriate interaction with other people or objects. For example, a student who strikes another student is immediately reprimanded verbally (conflict resolution) and is eliminated from the activity (given a time-out; see chapter 6).
  • Self-stimulatory behavior. This category includes behaviors that interfere with learning because students become engrossed in the perseverative nature of the activities. Examples include head banging, hand flapping, body rocking, and eye gouging. As a rule of thumb, Dunn and Leitschuh (2014) recommend a formal behavioral program to deal with this type of behavior. An in-depth discussion of formal principles and programs for behavior modification is presented in chapter 6.

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