Better Movers, Better Thinkers, Better Learners

I have spoke before of my interest and journey involving Better Movers and Thinkers (BMT), an approach to Physical Education that signifies the evolution of physical education. I have been late to the ‘party’ but I have been making up for lost time and only recently I attended a BMT Summer School, an excellent 2-day course where I was immersed in the pedagogy of physical education and BMT. During this course I was able to further my ideas and knowledge of how to embed the BMT approach in my own teaching and importantly I was able to discuss this with many like minded and committed professionals. In this regard the future truly is bright for physical education in Scotland. So what have I learned on my journey so far and importantly how will I transfer this knowledge into my classrooms. First I will explain a few things that underpin BMT as a pedagogical model and then go on to outline my intentions.

The BMT approach to learning and teaching in physical education begins with movement, then layers thinking tasks on top of the movement and continues in this process until the point the thinking tasks are complex and the movement is refined. A particular strength of this approach is that it encourages learners to engage in tasks at their own differentiated levels and provides a new role for the physical education teacher as a guide rather than an instructor (this part appeals to me immensely as I believe the children should be the main focal point of a classroom and not the teacher). BMT therefore focuses on learning both the process and the product (i’ll discuss this further later in the post), it develops kinaesthetic awareness, it helps engage learners in tasks and importantly sustain their engagement, it develops executive function skills (again I will explore this further later in the post), it facilitates differentiation by focusing on individuals and it enhances the development of performance. Introduction to the BMT approach to learning and teaching in physical education, Thomas Dowens & Andy Dalziell, 2005.

I have been investigating how I will best utilise the Significant Aspects of Learning (SAL) in my learning and teaching. I am a big fan of the schematic and am beginning to understand how I will best use it for myself, and where BMT fits in with my thinking. For those unaware of the SAL’s, Education Scotland has outlined four broad areas that come together to create a performance; physical competencies, cognitive/thinking skills, personal qualities and physical fitness. Each area is populated by skills and attributes that are ‘significant’ to the process of learning and when together provide the tools children require to be successful in physical education. What has became clear as I have implemented BMT approaches is that the SAL’s can be used  to identify ‘next steps’ for a learner and can aid me in structuring a learner’s development. The SAL’s can be used to evaluate progress, plan learning experiences and identify ‘next steps’. For the learner they can be used to identify strengths and ‘next steps’ and also identify specific skills or attributes they may need to complete tasks both individually or in groups.

A key component of the SAL’s is the cognitive/thinking skills quadrant. Can you think of a skill or activity that doesn’t require you to think?…. either can I!! As mentioned earlier BMT has at its core an ability to support learning by helping to develop executive function skills through the principle of layering thinking skills that increase in complexity to accompanying movement. So exactly what are Executive Function Skills? Executive Functions (EF) provide essential tools that support learners to access optimal learning and act as a mechanism that accurately and consistently guides the cognitive processes to the intended outcome. In the absence of well developed EF skills, learning is not as effective or as consistent. With this in mind the BMT approach has identified six EF skills that should become an intrinsic part of planning when delivering a quality PE experience. The six EF Skills are as follows;

Focus of Attention – the ability of a learner to direct attention onto something.

Working Memory –  the ability of a learner to remember what a task is and stay focused over a period of time.

Inhibition Control – the ability of a learner to regulate their behaviour and to not become distracted.

Cognitive Flexibility – the ability of a learner to adapt when identifying solutions to problems i.e. if plan A fails come up with a plan B.

Planning – the ability of a learner to identify small steps needed to achieve success.

Goal Directed Behaviour – the ability of a learner to identify specific targets that are needed to be achieved in order for success.

For me, having read about and understood Executive Functions I am now placing a bigger emphasis on developing them. What strikes a chord with me is that EF skills are not only necessary for learners to access physical education but are necessary for learners to access all schooling has to offer. Im sure all teacher would welcome learners that have a well developed Focus of Attention, Inhibition Control and Cognitive Flexibility. EF are very important to develop in young people to allow them to achieve success in learning, strong EF skills should allow learners to recognise the product of learning and identify the processes they need to work through in order to reach the product. I cannot overestimate how important I feel this area of teaching is and how I will look to develop these skills in all my learners.

How does this all fit together? I have discussed the BMT approach what it is, how it fits with the SAL’s and also how it specifically targets development of EF skills. In the coming months I will look to implement BMT approaches in my planning with a focus on developing the skills and attributes outlined by the Significant Aspects of Learning and developing the Executive Functions. A key component of the BMT approach is only giving instructions once (which should clearly develop listening and focus of attention skills) and allowing learning to be demonstrated through performance after ample opportunity to plan, explore and refine skills and apply new learning. These components alongside developing of EF skills and enhancing the skills and attributes of the SAL’s will be my main focus over the coming months which I will use this blog to share further my learning journey with you. If you are involved in physical education in Scotland and across the world I encourage you to engage with the BMT approach and if you are involved in education I encourage you to develop an understanding of Executive Functions as they have a major part to play in allowing learners to achieve success.

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