Investigating Student Understanding:
Year 3 Studentsâ€™ Understanding of the Step-Over Skill in a Football (Soccer) Focused PE Lesson in an International School
Within the PE curriculum, basic skills to practice in a variety of sports (passing, throwing, catching, stepping and so on) are often isolated from context and actual performance in a game (Pill, 2013). Because knowledge of a skill and understanding of a skill are two different things (Perkins, 1993), it is important for a PE instructor to be able to measure how effectively knowledge via instruction is translated into understanding demonstrated in practice. The assumption, for example, is that a chest pass or bounce pass in basketball is only effective knowledge if it can be demonstrated appropriately in a game. For this particular study, the sport of football (soccer) is used to study one skill in particular (the step-over) and the extent to which the gap between knowledge and understanding is bridged. The way in which is this is achieved is by looking at how often students use the skill in a match and whether or not the students understand the benefits of one skill over another in certain situations.
For the purposes of this study, it was important to define terms. Knowledge was thus defined as being able to perform a skill in isolation after being taught it by way of demonstration. Understanding was defined as knowing when and why to use the skill in a match and being able to use it effectively. Knowledge is something one acquires in the classroom; understanding is something one acquires in the field. Knowledge is â€œinformation on tapâ€ (Perkins, 1993, p. 40). Understanding involves both identifying problems and solving them effectively (Perkins, 2010).
The main aim of this project was to analyze the difference between knowledge and understanding in sport. The skill used to examine this difference was the step-over skill in football. The skill was taught by the researcher serving as the studentsâ€™ PE instructor.
Learning can be represented through the acquisition of knowledge of facts and data. Understanding must necessarily go deeper than the knowledge of facts and data. It must penetrate into the realm of applicabilityâ€”how certain information can be applied in the real world. By studying learnersâ€™ understanding of how and when to perform a specific football skill, this study attempts to test the theory of Pill (2013) that non-linear learning in sports via a constraints-led process is most effective in studentsâ€™ acquisition of understanding. Rather than controlling the constraints, however, authenticity is achieved by allowing students to demonstrate understanding in real game play. This study has relevance for all PE instructors as it can show where knowledge and understanding may diverge in real play and provide more opportunities for developing pedagogy.
In a year 3 PE football lessons, do students understand why they are learning a skill and how to apply the skill in a match?
What This Paper Covers
This study focuses on teaching a football skill which year 3 students can perform. In the following section a literature review is conducted, with a discussion of the methodology employed in this study provided after that. A description of the findings of the study follows along with a discussion. The overall point this study aims to cover is whether by using game play as an opportunity to evaluate knowledge and understanding, the researcher can assess where students are able to perform a basic skill.
The most relevant model of understanding for this investigation was Perkinsâ€™ (1993) performance view model of understanding. In PE it is quite easy to assess a studentâ€™s knowledge and skill level by using timing tools and measures and by testing accuracy, all of which are afforded by quantitative data collection instruments, such as a simple tally sheet on which data can be recorded by way of direct observation. However, it can be difficult to assess a studentâ€™s understanding because of the highly subjective nature of this quality and how it is demonstrated based on awareness of context and when and under what circumstances a skill should be implemented.
The relationship between understanding and knowledge is closely linked but still each concept is quite distinct. Nedha (2015) regards knowledge as information achieved through experiences or education. In other words, knowledge typically consists of information such as non-debatable facts that can be empirically verified.
Understanding has a much subtler definition: it refers to knowing or realizing the intended meaning or cause of something (Nedha, 2015). Through understanding one is able to think more deeply about why something is happening. In football, knowledge would be recognizing a skill and being able to perform it, whereas understanding would be being able to use that skill effectively and at the right time in a match.
As Burrows, Macdonald and Wright (2013) note, â€œrather than follow a predetermined linear trajectory, young people are now called on to balance their multiple involvements in study, employment, relationships and leisure; they are active in constructing their own livesâ€ (p. 1). In other words, learners have to do more than demonstrate knowledge which is comparable to mere memorization; they must be able to demonstrate understanding. Measuring understanding requires evaluating â€œperformance over timeâ€ (Carling, Reilly & Williams, 2009, p. 25). It is expected, however, that with time performance should improveâ€”therefore where a student ends at the end of an agreed upon time will likely be different from where the student began. This is why taking a baseline measure is important and why median scores are less important. The big indicator of understanding is the distance between the baseline and the score at the end of the time span.
Cushion, Harvey, Muir and Nelson (2012) show that it is important to measure coaching techniques to ensure validity and reliability when measuring student performance. This allows for a fuller sense of the manner in which knowledge was presented. Quantitative measures are best (Fallowfield, 2004), but qualitative measures can also be used to assess subjective understanding (Gratton & Jones, 2003; Gratton & Jones, 2004). For quantitative measurements, Hughes and Franks (2004) recommend notational analysis, while Pill (2013) advocates taking note of studentsâ€™ understanding using contextual measures which require a qualitative approach.
To assess understanding, one must be able to see whether the learner is able to find problems to solve not just solve problems that are already identified (Perkins, 2010). Students must be able to apply the knowledge they learn from instruction and apply it appropriately in the fieldâ€”and this is easily seen through sports instruction. In sports, a learner is instructed on how to perform a skill and when it should be applied. Not all skills are appropriate for every situationâ€”so a degree of understanding is required of the learner. The learner has to assess a situation as it appears organically and quickly identify any obstacles; if the skill the learner is applicable to overcoming a particular obstacle, then the studentâ€™s understanding will predicate performance of the skill at the right time and in the right way.
When it comes to cognitive development, learners learn more deeply through active participation (Wegerif & Kauffman, 2015), and sports provide exactly such a venue. And when it comes to teaching for understanding, instruction must give way to exploration and application in order for understanding to develop (Wiske, 1998). For this reason, sport makes a perfect way for learners to demonstrate differences in knowledge and understanding so long as the tasks are not too dependent on athletic talent alone (Perkins, 2010).
The Approach and How it Relates to the Research Question
The research technique that was used was participant observation. This was accomplished by coupling qualitative data collection with quantitative data collection. The former was accomplished by filming the sport sessions and then showing the students what they had done during the sessions and giving feedback on it. There was also an element of classroom discussion between the teacher and the students to see if the students had grasped the objectives and understood the basics of the skill. For quantitative data collection, the researcher took field notes during the classes to see which students were understanding the concepts and which were not. These notes were taken in the form of a tally sheet.
Data was collected over the course of 3 weeks during the studentsâ€™ weekly PE instruction. Each weekly PE instruction lasted 45 minutes. The first lesson was used to collect initial baseline data: the students played small matches and the researcher used a tally chart to record how many times the selected skill was used.
The second lesson was used to learn and practice the skill. The PE instructor demonstrated how the skill can be used effectively and in what situations in the game it would be most appropriate.
The third lesson was used to compare the results of the previous lesson. Students again played small sided matches and the researcher again recorded how many times the skill was demonstrated, whether it was demonstrated correctly and in the appropriate situation, and who demonstrated use of the skill during the recording the matches.
By video recording the classes, the researcher was able to obtain further evidence of context and demonstrations that were missed in the initial observation. In this manner the researcher was more effectively able to determine who had understood how to use the skill effectively and who had not.
The quantitative data in the form of a tally chart showing how many times the learnt skill was used is attached in Appendix. Students were assigned a number, which was used to identify them in the practice/game play and on the tally sheet. Students who obtained five or more tallies during game play were viewed as demonstrating a sufficient understanding of the skill. Students who obtained five or more tallies during isolation were viewed as demonstrating sufficient knowledge of the skill. Students who gained between 1 and 4 tallies were gauged as having some understanding or knowledge respectively. These values were assigned arbitrarily using the Likert-scale model of measurement with 0 tallies indicating no knowledge or understanding and 5 indicating complete knowledge or understanding. This data was enhanced by direct observation and video replay to assess whether context, timing, and appropriateness of the skill were existent, and qualitative analysis was thus used to confirm the quantitative data. The qualitative data in the form of video recordings which enabled a more in depth analysis were secured in a digitally encrypted file and deleted upon completion of this study.
Convenience sampling was used for this study. The sample consisted of one class of year 3 students (ages 7-8) already being taught by the researcher at an international school. The class contained 18 students within it.
In order to access the sample, permission had to be obtained from the school, parents, and students. Informed consent forms were sent home with students and returned with parentsâ€™ signatures for all 18 students. A copy of the informed consent form is attached in the Appendix. Permission from the school was requested and obtained via email.
In the school where the research was conducted, some considerations had to be made. Though using video recordings of students was a normal part of studentsâ€™ daily school curriculum, the use of video recordings in research was not something that parents had been informed about or given their consent toâ€”so it was necessary to obtain this informed consent before beginning the studyâ€”even though parents had already signed permissions for students to use iPads at the beginning of the year. This study was doing something new that parents and students had not consented to, so permission had to be sought.
To protect privacy rights, the videos were only seen seen by the researcher and the class being recorded. The studentsâ€™ names were not pronounced during the exercise and once the data was used it was deleted from where the file folder where it had been stored and protected using digital encryption.
As all parents of the students provided their informed consent, all 18 students participated in the study successfully. The results of the analysis of their participation are discussed in the next section.
Results and Discussion
The results showed that 2 out of 18 students showed understanding of the skill and were able to perform it effectively in a match. Understanding was indicating by knowing when and how to apply the skill in the game and sufficiently demonstrating the skill in competition.
5 out of 18 students showed sufficient knowledge during drills by being able to perform the skill in isolation at least five times, but only showed some understanding of the skill in game play and struggled to use it effectively in a match.
8 out of 18 students showed only some knowledge of the skill by being able to perform it in isolation fewer than five times and overall were only marginally able or completely unable to use it in a match with any evidence of understanding vis-Ã -vis when and how it should be applied for best results.
3 out of 18 students showed no knowledge or understanding of the skill and were unable to master it even in isolation.
Overall, only 11% of the students demonstrated a proper understanding of the step-over skill, while 27% of the students demonstrated at least sufficient knowledge of the skill but only moderate understanding of the skill in practice as seen in Appendix B Tally Sheet. There was a marked improvement overall from the baseline measurement, which can be seen in Appendix C Tally Sheet, but the goal of understanding as measured by 5 demonstrations of the skill in a game was not achieved in significant numbers, which could show that there is a distinct gap between knowledge and understanding among the participants overall; or it could indicate that 5 demonstrations was arbitrarily set and should not be used to represent sufficient understanding. The fact that results improved from baseline shows that some knowledge and understanding was acquiredâ€”just not in the predetermined parameters for sufficiency as defined at the outset.
As the main aim of the project was to analyze the difference between knowledge and understanding in sport, this study shows the extent to which students demonstrated knowledge and the extent to which they demonstrated understanding. The results raise questions about the extent to which the students were given sufficient time and training to master the skill, as fewer than half demonstrated sufficient knowledge of the skill and just one in nine demonstrated sufficient understanding.
Some limitations of this study include the limited number of data sources as well as the fact that the instructorâ€™s methods were not part of the evaluation process. As Cushion et al. (2012) showed, in order to ensure validity and reliability some measure of and control for the instructorâ€™s methods would be preferred. However, do to time constraints, such measures and controls were not practical for this study. Likewise, convenience sampling was selected for similar reasons and does not necessarily mean that the selected population is reflective or representative of the demographic as a whole. It is evident that more research is likely to be needed to discern why knowledge was obtained unevenly and why so little understanding was demonstrated.
In answer to the research questionâ€”In a year 3 PE football lessons, do students understand why they are learning a skill and how to apply the skill in a match?â€”the answer is that the majority of them do not know how to apply the skill in a match and that it is unclear as to whether or not many of them know why they are learning the skill in the first place.
What the study does reveal is that understanding is certainly distinct from knowledge and that understanding is much more difficult to obtain or to demonstrate. Students who demonstrated at least moderate understanding of the skill also showed confidence and poise in play. Further researcher should examine the relationship of confidence and poise as predicators of understanding. It may be that by facilitating studentsâ€™ development of confidence and poise, instructors can also facilitate future understanding.
The study was helpful from a personal perspective because it showed me how important it is to distinguish knowledge from understanding. I will aim to give students increased opportunities for developing understanding in the future.
Burrows, L., Macdonald, D. and Wright, J., 2013. Critical Inquiry and Problem Solving
in Physical Education. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis.
Carling, C., T. Reilly, and A. Williams., 2009. Performance assessment for field sports.
Cushion, C., S. Harvey, B. Muir and L. Nelson, 2012. Developing the Coaching Analysis
and Intervention System (CAIS): establishing validity and reliability of a computerised systematic observation instrument. Journal of sports science, 30: 201-16.
Fallowfield, J., 2005. Statistics in sport and exercise science. Chichester: Lotus
Gratton, C. and I. Jones, 2004. Research methods for sport methods. Abingdon, Oxon;
Gratton, C. and I. Jones, 2003. Research methods for sport studies. New York;
Hughes, M. and M. Franks, 2004. Notational analysis of sport: systems for better
coaching and performance in sport. 2nd ed. Abingdon, Oxon; Routledge.
Nedha, 2015. Difference between knowledge and understanding. Retrieved from
Perkins, D., 1993. Teaching for understanding, American Educator: The Professional
Journal of the American Federation of Teachers; v17 n3, pp. 8, 28-35, Fall 1993.
Perkins, D., 2010. Making learning whole: How seven principles of teaching can
transform education. Josey-Bass: New York.
Pill, S., 2013. Teaching Australian football in physical education: Constraints theory in
practice. Strategies, 26(1), 39-44.
Wegerif, R., L. Li and J. Kauffman, 2015. The Routledge international handbook of
research on teaching thinking. 1st ed. Routledge: New York
Wiske, M.S., 1998. Teaching for understanding guide: linking research with practice, San
Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass
Appendix A. Informed Consent Letter
My child has been invited to participate in research about knowledge and understanding in sports play.
I have read the foregoing information, or it has been read to me. I have had the opportunity to ask questions about it and any questions I have been asked have been answered to my satisfaction. I consent voluntarily for my child to be a participant in this study.
Print Name of Participantâ€™s Guardian/Parent__________________
Signature of Participantâ€™s Guardian/Parent ___________________
Print Name of Child ___________________
I have witnessed the accurate reading of the consent form to the potential participant, and the individual has had the opportunity to ask questions. I confirm that the individual has given consent freely.
Print name of witness____________ Thumb print of participant
Signature of witness _____________
Statement by the researcher/person taking consent
I have accurately read out the information sheet to the potential participant, and to the best of my ability made sure that the participant understands that the following will be done:
1. A video recording of student play will be made.
2. For 3 sessions of 45 min. each
I confirm that the participantsâ€™ guardian was given an opportunity to ask questions about the study, and all the questions asked by the participant have been answered correctly and to the best of my ability. I confirm that the individual has not been coerced into giving consent, and the consent has been given freely and voluntarily.
A copy of this ICF has been provided to the participant.
Print Name of Researcher/person taking the consent________________________
Signature of Researcher /person taking the consent__________________________
Appendix B. Tally Sheet
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Appendix C. Baseline Tally Sheet
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