WHY WE DO NEED MORE FLOW?
WHY SHOULD THERE BE MORE FLOW IN PHYSICAL EDUCATION?
There is an observable and palpable rigidity in physical education. From reproduced sport-infused content, to militaristic, command-based teaching methods, a mechanistic and rigid conception of movement in physical education is apparent. Our goal in introducing the Function2Flow model is to provide teachers and students with conceptual and practical strategies to help them become increasingly more fluid with respect to the content constitutive of physical education programs and the ways in which fundamental movements are introduced and assessed.
For the most part, physical education lessons are based on children practicing isolated sport techniques, such as kicking soccer balls and passing basketballs, in very particular ways. These isolated techniques leave them with little room for creative thinking and expression. Although a spectrum of teaching styles that delineates a continuum of command-based instruction to student-initiated discovery has been in existence for quite some time, the unfortunate reality is that when children step inside the gym, they are told exactly what they are supposed to do and how they are supposed to do it. The drill sergeant approach to teaching physical education reveals the subject’s militaristic roots in training youth for war. The problem in teaching physical education in such a rigid way is that it lacks authenticity and connectedness to the games and activities in which the manipulative skills are situated. Asking children to practice ‘sending’ actions of a ball in an isolated and repetitive manner gives little consideration of how these movements might take different shapes and forms within a game context.
With the upsurge of concern for childhood obesity and increasing levels of inactivity, health-related fitness activities are also making their way into physical education programs; however, these too are taught and assessed in very isolated and rigid ways. Attention is paid to quantitative features of exercise frequency, intensity, time, and type, yet little concern is given to the qualitative features of fitness-promoting movement and the long-term effects certain repetitive actions have on posture and daily function. For example, considering the amount of time we sit hunched over computer screens, it makes little to no sense that the remedy be a fitness program primarily based on progressive counts of completed push-ups and sit-ups. These actions shorten and tighten the front of the body, and if they are repeated without including exercises that open the chest and strengthen the back, they can do more harm than good from a postural perspective. Similar to the way sport techniques are taught in isolation, with little thought dedicated to how these actions are experienced in authentic, fluid ways, fitness exercises are drilled and repeated with little regard for their long-term effects on muscular form and function, and the emotional affects associated with bodily carriage.
While several approaches to teaching physical education have been introduced over the last twenty years that aim to disrupt rigid, mindless drill and kill, teacher-dominant approaches to teaching physical education, such approaches are met with much resistance. What is needed to bring about change, it seems, is a step away from what is reproduced and what is familiar. So rather than try to introduce yet another way to teach isolated fundamental movements constitutive of games and sports, we take a step to the side of what we customarily know and do in physical education classes to consider certain ‘alternative activities’ and what they afford children and youth in terms of fluid, motional competency. These alternative activities afford diverse opportunities to experience and assess fundamental movement skills in ways that promote holistic health, i.e., ways that take into account the physiological, kinaesthetic, aesthetic and energetic dimensions of the Function2Flow model. By introducing alternative activities and showing how they can be experienced and assessed in diverse ways, a broadened understanding of, and approach to developing vital fluid physical competency may then be applied to movement forms that are more familiar.
A metaphor comes to mind for what we wish to accomplish by introducing the F2F model. Imagine a bag of water sitting in a box. The box represents what is familiar to us with regards to the content and learning outcomes of physical education. The bag of water represents the learner. We do not wish to demolish the box and design a new container. But at times the bag of water can be taken out of the box, keeping in mind that no amount of water will be lost and the bag of water can be returned to the box at any time. What is gained in taking a momentary conceptual and practical leap out of the box is an opportunity for the water to show its nature as fluid, adaptable, turbulent, effervescent, and calm, and subject to taking on many different shapes.
Now imagine a stream of flowing water. It has the potential to flow in many ways. Unless contained by a reservoir or dam, the water circulates, deviates, gravitates, and mediates as it creatively adapts and finds an innovative course around, through, underneath, or over the top of rocks, roots or even human debris. In some cases, water can appear to be still, but when the container (shoreline) narrows, and it is ‘let out’, so to speak, it has the potential to erupt, to gush, to exude exuberance.
It has been said that we need to make the familiar strange in order to break out of our taken-for-granted attitudes and habits. To put this into context, think of the following example: the way we raise our hand over our head in a classroom context. We typically don’t think of the various pathways, tempos, and forces we might experience and the felt sense of emotion that can be communicated by just raising one’s hand. Imagine a student quickly jutting a hand up in the air and waving it back and forth in a ‘pick-me’ manner, versus someone who tentatively raises it at half-mast. Now, if we were invited to shift our attention away from the utilitarian purpose of indicating we have an answer, consider what it might be like to have a suspended moment to explore the many variations of hand-raising that exist in an inquisitive manner: e.g. shooting it up quickly versus floating it up softly We might then become sensitized to the various meanings and nuances that hand raising holds. We can return to what we usually do when we raise a hand, yet in having a moment of inquiry into a taken-for-granted action, our awareness of what is felt and communicated in that gesture is deepened.
In a similar way, introducing alternative activities in physical education to develop stability, manipulative and locomotor skills will also awaken fluid pathways, rhythms and motile possibilities, along with a greater understanding of the various messages and meanings that can be communicated.
Our Function2Flow model is geared towards creating experiences of fluidity. By inviting teachers and students alike to consider the constitutive dimensions of movement function, form, feeling and flow, we will demonstrate how this conceptual framework may be used to introduce and assess a wide variety of mainstream and alternative activities.
We purposefully introduce the Function2Flow model through alternative activities because we feel that a wide variety of alternative activities are essential to experiencing the fluidity of movement function, form, feeling and flow. Confining our programs to just traditional games and sports and conventional fitness activities not only limits the full development of a movement repertoire, it also constrains us in promoting the full gamut of movement experiences. We also contend that in trying out alternative activities that offer various ways to acquire fundamental movement skills of kicking, throwing, catching, and so on, students will return to games and sports with enhanced competence and confidence. They will be able to kick, throw, and catch many kinds of objects in various ways, and thus be better able to kick, throw, and catch in the specific ways that the games and sports allow.
Alternative activities to be considered include:
- Indoor climbing activities for muscular strength and endurance
- Skipping for cardiovascular fitness
- Slack lining and unicycling for balance
- Acro yoga for flexibility and agility
- Juggling for throwing and catching
- Devil Sticks for hitting
- Poi, Bo sticks, Buugeng, Ropes and Diablo for spinning, turning, twirling
- Hooping for bodily agility
- Cyr wheel for rolling
Each of these activities is merely suggestive of the vaster array of movement forms that can be taken up in physical education classes. They are noteworthy in their novelty and thus representative of how we can break away from conventional designs and assessments of physical skill development.
Our Function2Flow model creates a frame for both teaching and assessing the progression of learning in these alternative movement forms. Once the Function2Flow model is understood in these unfamiliar activities, the Function-Form-Feeling-and-Flow levels of awareness can be applied to the familiar games, sports, and fitness activities we usually teach.
We introduce the dimensions of movement Function-Form-Feeling-and-Flow through an inquiry based approach. We have many publications that explain the philosophy, definitions and conceptualizations of each dimension in the Funtion2Flow model (Lloyd, 2014; Lloyd & Smith, 2014; Lloyd, 2012a; Lloyd, 2012b; Lloyd 2012c; Lloyd, 2011a; Lloyd, 2011b, Lloyd, 2011c; Lloyd & Smith, 2009). With the practitioner in mind, however, we have decided to introduce each dimension with experiential prompts. We suggest that to best understand these forthcoming prompts, you select an activity that is either alternative or mainstream to get a tangible sense of the Function2Flow approach.