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Systematic Teaching: How to Facilitate Motor Learning

This is an excerpt from Adapted Physical Education and Sport 7th Edition With HKPropel Access by Joseph Winnick & David L. Porretta.

By Douglas H. Collier

Experts in the development and teaching of movement skills have stressed the importance of examining variables that relate to the learner, the task, and the environment when designing learning opportunities for students with unique needs (Haibach et al., 2017; Haywood & Getchell, 2018; Newell, 1986). These variables are not independent of one another; rather, they interact in sometimes complex ways. Variables that relate to the learner include age, body build, sex, socioeconomic class, culture, attitudes, actual and perceived competence, creativity, motivations, disability, and ability. Some of these variables might change over the course of a unit or even a lesson, depending on the situation. For example, Zaria, a student with Down syndrome, might be excited about taking part in a jump rope activity, but after 10 minutes of doing the same thing with little success, her motivation level, as well as her perceived competence in jumping rope, might diminish considerably. On the other hand, Va, a student with cerebral palsy, might come into the gym feeling nervous about taking part in line dancing, but given an excellent breakdown of the skill; some thoughtful, unobtrusive peer tutoring; and great music, his motivation to participate could increase dramatically.

When examining environmental variables, educators must think beyond the physical. Although the indoor or outdoor setting, facilities, equipment, space, floor surfaces, lighting, and temperature must be considered, it is also imperative that teachers of adapted physical education carefully consider the emotional environment. Do activities take place in a positive, affirming environment in which individual differences are embraced? Is there mutual respect? Are all students treated with dignity? Along with making sure the physical environment is universally designed (see chapter 2 and later discussion in this chapter), safe, and appropriate, effective teachers must also monitor the environment for emotional safety (Sherrill, 2004).

The third variable—the task—gets at the curriculum and the task at hand. Are the movement skills of interest and use to the students? Do instructors teach skills because they enjoy the activity or because it’s “just the way it’s always been done”? Or, much more appropriately, are skills taught because they are valued by the student and will be useful now, in the next educational placement, or at home or in the community? Additionally, the task variable includes the rules that govern the activity and the equipment used. Shooting at a 7-foot (2.1-meter) basket instead of a 10-foot (3-meter) basket could certainly have a positive effect on the form—and the success—of an athlete with poorly developed upper body strength. Beyond scaling equipment or playing surfaces, we must ask ourselves: Just how important are the rules? Although some may be immutable, other rules can and should be modified; maybe for a little while and maybe for a longer period of time.

Research in the disciplines of motor learning, motor development, motor control, biomechanics, physiology, special education, and pedagogy has uncovered certain principles that can help significantly in the teaching and learning of movement skills. Keeping in mind the interaction of variables related to the learner, the environment, and the task to be accomplished, Dunn (1997) has compiled a list of motor skill tenets. A partial list follows.

  • Growth and maturation influence the ability to learn a movement skill. It is detrimental to the physical and emotional well-being of students to pressure them to take part in tasks that they are not ready to accomplish physically, cognitively, or socially—that is, tasks that are developmentally inappropriate. Although teachers should organize learning environments in which students can explore their movement potential, they must carefully consider cognitive, affective, and physical strengths and limitations.
  • Mechanical and physiological principles of movement dictate the best way to perform a given skill. The laws of stability and motion, along with clearly established physiological principles of exercise, apply to all people regardless of functional level or disability. For example, the principle of stability posits that balance is enhanced when the center of gravity falls within the base of support. This principle should be considered when, for example, students with amputations are asked to perform movement skills in a gym or pool.
  • Reinforcement and repetition are needed when learning a new skill. As discussed earlier in this chapter and in other chapters in this book, it is imperative to identify consequences that will increase the likelihood that a response will take place. Although being intrinsically motivated to take part in an activity is preferred, this is often not the case, especially regarding students with affective or intellectual disabilities. Thus, it is necessary to find extrinsic reinforcers that are effective and applied with an eye toward systematic fading. Reinforcers must be individualized, chosen carefully, and provided effectively. Too often, educators assume that a consequence is reinforcing to a given learner when, actually, it is punishing. Conversely, educators may attempt to reduce behavior using what they believe to be aversive or punishing consequences when these consequences are reinforcing, thus having the opposite effect on the learner. (For example: “Okay, Mikey, you’ve been warned about talking out of turn. So, instead of dancing for the next five minutes, I want you to sit on the blue bench and think about what you could do differently.” With a smile, Mikey heads on over to the blue bench, getting exactly what he was hoping for. The teacher shouldn’t be too surprised when, moving forward, Mikey talks out of turn even more.) In terms of repetition, students with unique needs must have multiple opportunities to perform a given movement skill. Too often, a student does not get enough opportunities to practice, making it unlikely the skill will be established. The teaching situation must allow for plenty of “perfect practice” (practicing a skill accurately). Practice sessions must be structured so that students have the opportunity not only to repeat a given skill several times but also to repeat it in a stimulating, exciting activity during which their attention is focused on the relevant cues.

When considering these tenets, note that much of the research has been conducted with children who are developing typically, as opposed to those with identifiable disabilities. Although students with unique needs are more similar to their typically developing peers than not and thus these findings will largely apply, additional research with a wider range of subjects will significantly increase the knowledge base.

More Excerpts From Adapted Physical Education and Sport 7th Edition With HKPropel Access