How much circus is allowed? : Challenges and hindrances when embracing risk in physical education
, Torun Mattsson
- Taylor & Francis
Introduction: Research has indicated that Physical Education (PE) is often characterized by teacher-centred teaching (e.g. Byra 2006; Tinning 2010), where the pupils follow instruction and perform pre-established movements (Karlefors and Larsson 2018). Pupils are expected to listen, do as they are told, and follow rules (Fitzpatrick and Russell 2015; Quennerstedt 2013). PE teaching has been described as an act of control (Quennerstedt 2013), and teachers face the dilemma of letting go of control and still having enough control to make sure that the lesson smoothly moves forward (Alfrey and O'Connor 2020). However, when the pupils are given more power and the teacher applies student-centred teaching, the pupils get to come up with ideas and make decisions (e.g. Byra 2006; Garrett and Wrench 2018; Mattsson and Larsson 2021). This is significant because it can develop PE and contribute to meaning making among pupils and their experiences of movement. This article aims to analyse the use of exploratory circus assignments in PE teaching and to discuss this in relation to current school norms. Biesta's (The Beautiful Risk of Education [Paradigm Publishers 2014]) concept of risk, which means not knowing the outcome, is used. The article problematizes pupils' own ideas and suggestions in relation to prevailing norms in school. What happens when pupils participate in teaching based on exploratory circus assignments? Exploration, playfulness, and expression were focused, and the lessons were characterized by the absence of primary focus on competitiveness as a counterweight to traditional PE content. Methods: A research teacher (a university teacher with experience teaching school PE and circus) conducted 10 lessons together with 20 pupils (aged 10) and their PE teacher using exploratory circus assignments. Data was collected through participant observation, video observation, and field diary. The data analysis generated three themes, Following instruction, Limited exploration, and Shared power, that were reviewed in relation to the theoretical framework. Results: The results show that the research teacher and the PE teacher resisted embracing risk in PE due to the prevailing norms and what Biesta (2014) describes as the practice of schooling. They focused on keeping the pupils in order rather than being flexible and open to unknown outcomes. The exploratory circus assignments involved risk to different extents, and the research teacher's tendency to embrace risk increased over time. Her letting go of control enabled her to embrace risk. It did not mean a total relinquishment of control, but rather not having exclusive control over the decision-making and meaning-making processes. When she shared the power with the pupils, new and other movements could be explored. The results show that pupils' actions can be more educative than what teachers initially consider. Conclusion: Teachers need to relinquish control to conduct teaching which embraces risk. Doing so enables them to share power with the pupils, which allows pupils to explore and discover different ways of moving and using the material. Exploratory circus assignments can enable risk embracement in PE and function as a way for teachers to reflect upon pedagogical considerations and practice the sharing of power with their pupils.
Exploratory circus assignments