Included yet Excluded? : Conditions for Inclusive Teaching in Physical Education and Health

Abstract: This dissertation has examined the conditions for teachers who teach Physical Education and Health (PEH) in elementary school (age 11-12) and their opportunities to pursue inclusive teaching with the aim of reaching all pupils. The compilation thesis consists of four different articles and provides knowledge from the perspectives of pupils and teachers, but it also includes teaching and learning processes that were studied in situ. The first article contributes to knowledge on how different related variables affect learning motivation and how cultural aspects influence and affect shaping patterns of attitudes, beliefs, and values shared by pupils. Based on and selected from the sample of the first study, the second article examines low-motivated pupils’ perceptions about learning in the subject and their representations of teaching, learning and participating in PEH. The third article takes the teacher’s perspective into account and examines teachers’ discursive representations of low motivated pupils and related beliefs regarding inclusive teaching and strategies for reaching all pupils. The last article presents a case study examining teaching and learning in PEH in situ and demonstrating how a teacher’s assumptions about the purpose of PEH and consequent interactions with a student assumed to be “low motivated” had effects that were detrimental to the student’s confidence and capacity to engage and learn in PEH. The general major findings and the suggested implications of the results have been discussed and organized from the two major dichotomies involved in the two fundamental inclusive perspectives: a categorical perspective (problems are sited within individuals) and a relational perspective (perceived problems occur in the interaction between an individual and the surrounding environment). Applying a categorical perspective, pupils categorized as “low motivated” toward learning in PEH experienced little opportunity to influence either content or form and also had difficulties in verbalizing the aim and purpose of the subject. Despite long-term health-related goals, they had difficulties understanding and connecting to PEH. The pupils also had difficulties connecting with their teachers, who were described as being insensitive, uncaring, or inflexible and forcing “unrealistic” goals on them when they did not feel competent at mastering the content relative to their peers. The studies confirm that learning motivation is strongly related to perceived competence, and low learning motivation is related to feelings of anxiety, especially for girls. Teachers, on the other hand, attributed motivation problems to the individual (the pupil) or the context (social background, parents, etc.) rather than the situation, their own teaching in class. Teachers had various strategies for teaching inclusively. Cooperative and collaborative methods, such as using skilled pupils or pupils with the “right” attitude as role models for behavioral transfer or “strategic grouping,” were mentioned as inclusive teaching strategies. Adapting the rules of games or traditional sports so that everyone started on the same level was another strategy. By presenting a multi-activity approach to teaching with many different sports, pupils were assumed to be able to find “their” particular sports. Results also showed that the stereotyping of “low motivated” pupils often is related to the teacher’s own perception of what is experienced as essential learning in the subject. Applying a relational perspective, focus is on the system beyond the individual. Based on the results of these studies, the subject seems to be influenced and guided by two logics or discourses: fostering to sports and related values, and health and fitness. Both logics also highlight the importance of content and form in teaching. The sport discourse seems to create a situation where normative performance-oriented components have negative consequences for certain pupils. A general use of a multi-activity approach for structuring the content with short-term units, using primarily team sports and ball games, can be argued counterproductive for pupils, especially for those pupils who start at lower skill levels. This approach with fragmentary or blurred learning objectives may then contribute to disservice in a long-term perspective. This, combined with the effect of high activity and unilateral focus on exercise risks blurring of other possible learning dimensions in the subject, and may also contribute to the alienation of pupils who lack skill, ability, or interest in the subject. With inclusive intentions abilities in the subject may need to be reconceived and alternative abilities recognized to challenge the established order and normalized ways of thinking in terms of content and form. Teaching efforts that give primary consideration to the individual needs of “marginalized” pupils may be necessary if inclusive intentions are to be met. It is therefore suggested that teachers need to look beyond the traditionally trodden paths and challenge the currently dominating discourses that influence PEH. Reinforcing other learning dimensions and reconceiving abilities to go beyond the emphasis on skill and performance may strengthen pupils in other areas they possess. Differentiated teaching must not lose sight of needs that are common to a group or a class as a whole, but rather, it must also consider the needs of each individual.