20 on 20: Essays in Celebration of FLEFF


The Changing Landscape of Physical Education By Prithwi Raj Subramaniam

Prithwi Raj Subramanian


Physical education (PE) as a discipline has undergone a paradigm shift in terms of its educational goal in the overall school curriculum. 

       Currently, the goal of PE is to develop physically literate individuals who possess the knowledge, skills, and confidence to engage and enjoy a lifetime of healthful physical activity.[1]

       The impetus for this changing landscape is directly related to the global pandemic of physical inactivity and the concomitant upward trends in overweight and obesity levels among children and youth.

       There has been a concerted effort to align and coordinate the K-12 curriculum in meeting the goal of developing physically literate individuals. The focus at the elementary level is to provide the foundational knowledge and fundamental movement skills that will be needed to enjoy lifetime activities.

       In the middle school years, the focus shifts from building a foundation to providing an array of physical activities to stimulate interest in health-enhancing lifetime activities. The exposure to multiple physical activities in the middle school years enables students to make decisions about the activities they enjoy and in which they desire to become proficient when they enter high school. 

       The self-selection of physical activities to specialize in at high school enables students to participate enjoyably and confidently and remain physically active for a lifetime.[2]

       Another area where change is occurring is in physical activity (PA) promotion in schools.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended a whole-of-school approach to PA promotion.[3]

       A prominent example of this approach is the Comprehensive School Physical Activity Program which includes quality PE: PA during the school day; PA before and after school; staff involvement; and family and community engagement. This multi-component approach provides a variety of school-based physical activities to enable all students to participate in sixty minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each day in the hopes that all students will be physically literate and well-equipped for a lifetime of physical activity. 

       The changes in PA promotion in schools have also expanded the role of PE teachers as advocates for their subject matter.  In this capacity, PE teachers are viewed as PA directors who play an integral part in the health and welfare of the school community.

       Traditionally, PE has been taught in a direct and formal approach which gave students a limited role in the learning process.  Essentially, the PE teacher gave directions and the students followed them.  All instructional decisions were made by the PE teacher and students were passive recipients of information. 

       Gradually, PE teachers began to experiment with other effective instructional models that were successfully employed in general education classrooms. 

       Model-based instruction began to replace the traditional way of instructing PE.   New instructional models such as cooperative learning, personalized systems of instruction, sport education, tactical games, and teaching personal and social responsibility have been successfully used in PE.[4] Model-based instruction empowers students in the decision-making process and allows them to take ownership of learning. 

       In this context, PE teachers use modified and small-sided games by changing the rules, the number of players, the court size, etc., to accommodate individual differences, simplify content, and to provide maximal practice opportunities for all students to succeed regardless of skill-level.  Full-sided games which favor high-skilled students goes counter to the goal of having all students engage in moderate-to-vigorous PA. 

       Another important change to note in this approach to teaching PE is the focus on lifetime activities (e.g., swimming, weight lifting, badminton, yoga) instead of team sports activities which have been the staple of PE curricula previously. 

       The effectiveness of any instructional model is determined through assessment.  The changes in PE also have been felt in the area of assessment of student learning. 

       The standards and reform-based movement has had a profound impact on how students are assessed in PE today.  Game play is the preferred venue for the authentic assessment of skills and tactical knowledge in PE.  The Games Performance Assessment Instrument[5]  allows PE teachers to assess tactical decision-making, skill execution, support, cover, and guard/mark in authentic game play.  Traditionally, skills were decontextualized from game play and assessed separately making such assessments questionable. 

       Another form of assessment that is garnering a lot of attention in PE is technology.  Advances in video recording and analysis, the development of mobile devices, and a host of apps for analysis and visual representation of performance facilitate the assessment of student learning.

       In addition, wearable sensors, such as pedometers, heart rate monitors, and accelerometers are used to objectively measure PA and its various components.  “Smart” sports equipment with embedded or attached sensors offers another means to assess the performance of various sports skills.

       The changing landscapes of PE have brought significant changes to curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Such changes are reflected in the teaching and learning process in PE today.   


[1] Society of Health and Physical Educators, National Standards & Grade-Level Outcomes for K-12 Physical Education (Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2014), 11.

[2] George Graham, Shirley Ann Holt/Hale, and Melissa Parker, Children Moving: A Reflective Approach to Teaching Physical Education (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2013), 22-23.

[3] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Comprehensive School Physical Activity Programs: A Guide for Schools (Atlanta, GA: Department of Health and Human Services, 2013), 12.

[4] Michael W. Metzler, Instructional Models for Physical Education (Scottsdale, Arizona: Holcomb Hathaway, 2011).

[5] Judith L. Oslin, Stephen A. Mitchell, and Linda L. Griffin, “The Game Performance Assessment Instrument (GPAI): Development and preliminary validation,” Journal of Teaching in Physical Education 37 (1998): 231-243.