Category Archives: Education

The Importance of Physical Activity in Early Adolescence to Address and Prevent Obesity

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), childhood obesity is ‘one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century’ (World Health Organization, 2002). Since children spend such a large portion of their time in education, schools have been identified as a prime location for intervention to combat this growing problem (Cooper & Page, 2005; Naylor & McKay, 2009). Before effective intervention can be implemented, the importance of physical activity needs to be identified, and how this can assist in addressing and preventing obesity. Further, it is necessary to determine the teachers’ role, and the methods that can be utilised to promote physical activity, and minimise the barriers, to support all children to reach their potential.

Physical Activity

Physical activity is important for children of all ages. The Department of Health and Ageing agrees, and provides two broad reasons:

‘First and foremost, it is intuitively sensible and biologically plausible that preventive health measures such as fostering a physically active lifestyle should begin early rather than later in life […] (and) There (is) sufficient evidence to conclude that physical activity is positively associated with bone mass and inversely associated with adiposity and overweight/obesity.’ (Department of Health and Ageing, 2005)

Physical activity serves a number of purposes in children and youth, and impacts the physical, cognitive and socio-emotional domains of development. This is consistently supported in the literature (Cooper & Page, 2005; Huang, Sallis, & Patrick, 2009; Naylor & McKay, 2009; Reilly, 2005; Rowland, 2007; World Health Organization, 2002). Luepker even goes so far to say that ‘The long-term health benefits of continuous physical exercise beginning in youth are both apparent and unarguable’ (1999).

In the physical domain of development, evidence has shown a number of benefits, including: cardiovascular health and fitness, bone growth and strength, muscle growth, metabolic health, and reduced risk factors for disease; which are all consistently improved by physical activity. Attributes like strength, endurance and co-ordination, and the development of gross- and fine- motor skills are also supported by regular physical activity. Another factor has been that physical activity promotes further activity (Cooper & Page, 2005). All these physical effects, especially cardiovascular and muscle development, are seen as having a positive effect on addressing and preventing obesity (Huang et al., 2009; Naylor & McKay, 2009; Reilly, 2005; Rowland, 2007). When considering the benefits of physical activity, it is important to recognise some of the barriers to children in this developmental sphere. Early adolescence is a time of physical growth and developing maturity. This can have effects where some children are taller and bigger than their peers, which can affect how they participate. The extent of physical conditioning can be a further barrier to children and adolescents, but may be the primary barrier to those already overweight or obese.

As well as providing benefits in the physical domain, physical activity can also help develop skills that link into the cognitive domain, such as hand-eye co-ordination. The cognitive benefits of exercise for children have been identified by several researchers. Ploughman claims that ”Aerobic fitness in children is associated with […] faster cognitive processing speed and […] confirmed the positive relationship between physical activity and cognitive and academic performance in school aged children’ (Ploughman, 2008). Siedentop agrees, and further claims that:

‘evidence reveals that appropriate levels of physical activity among children and youth […] are positively related to increased on-task classroom behavior, cognitive development, and academic performance’ (2009).

This implies significant benefits for educators to promote physical activity; not only will it assist in addressing and preventing obesity, but will also assist teachers in the settling of restless children, and provides children and adolescents a safe outlet for relief of tension in (McDevitt, 2010). Physical activity is that it provides the opportunity for promoting and developing lifelong healthy habits (Huang et al., 2009), and the development of a healthy body image (Snow, 2000), and self-esteem (Foster & Page, 2005). It is important to realise that the ‘early adolescent’ phase of development is where body image begins to take a prominent role, and many of this age group have not yet developed the ability to objectively process difference in body type and composition; this can lead to unrealistic expectations, and later issues with risky behaviours (McDevitt, 2010).

Closely linked with cognitive development, the socio-emotional sphere has both benefits and barriers to physical activity, and for the early adolescent, can prove to be the most beneficial, or the most damaging. Social and cultural factors such as age, ethnicity and gender have all been recognised as impacting on the level of physical activity undertaken by children and youth (Goran, Reynolds, & Lindquist, 1999; Luepker, 1999; McDevitt, 2010). Physical activity has been show to promote teamwork, peer support, and societal approval (Department of Health and Ageing, 2005; McDevitt, 2010).

Physical activity self-efficacy […] has been shown to be a consistent predictor of physical activity behaviour […] adolescents. Perceived physical competence and perceived behavioural control have also been shown to be associated with physical activity behaviour in youth. Positive expectations or beliefs about the outcomes of exercise are also salient influences on youth activity participation. Of particular importance is the belief that physical activity is fun or enjoyable. (Department of Health and Ageing, 2005)

This can lead to improvements in global self-esteem and self-worth (Hill, 2005). As Hill notes, ‘social interaction is the key to self-perception’ (2005). Physical activity can also provide opportunities for inclusivity (Huang et al., 2009). The major barrier to physical activity in this sphere is based around perceived or real peer expectations and victimisation (Hill, 2005).

The Teachers Role in Addressing and Preventing Obesity

As a significant other in a child’s life, the teacher has a definite role in combatting, or preventing obesity. Ensuring a high quality health and physical education programme, health education should be conducted early and often, incorporating all faucets of healthy living. Students should be taught both theory and practical skills to make appropriate health choices for themselves.

‘Emphasis should be on helping students develop the knowledge, attitudes and behavioural skills they need, to establish and maintain healthy eating and a physically active lifestyle’ (Story, 1999).

The teacher should provide modelling behaviour; being seen to partake in healthy eating and exercise habits can provide a strong motivator for children and early adolescents, especially where the home leisure activities are sedentary (Goran et al., 1999).

It is important to provide access and support to early adolescents to be physically active. Goran, Reynolds and Lindquist tell us that ‘studies have shown that physical activity is positively associated with access to facilities or equipment (1999). By providing a range of activities and encouraging all students to participate to their fullest capacity can assist in prevention of obesity in all adolescents, and can support those who are at risk, or already overweight to manage their weight. It is essential to avoid favouring the stronger students, as has sometimes been observed:

As students move through the system, it is increasingly evident that those who are the most skilled receive the most attention when competitive sports activities dominate. Observational studies suggest that many of the students who are in physical activity classes are standing passively while the high achieving students control the game and expend most of the energy. (Luepker, 1999)

Teachers can also play an important role in developing school policy, supporting moves to discourage the sale of unhealthy options at the school canteen, encouraging the sale of healthier’ alternatives and discouraging parents from sending children to school with ‘junk’ food. This could be incorporated with a parent education plan, sending information home to parents, and getting parents involved where possible (World Health Organization, 2002).

Methods for Teachers to Address and Prevent Obesity

In order to develop appropriate strategies for increasing physical activity, especially to address and prevent obesity, it is necessary to take a holistic approach.

‘[…] obesity is likely a consequence of pervasive influences that operate across many settings, the development of effective preventive interventions likely requires strategies that effect multiple settings simultaneously.’ (Dietz & Gortmaker, 2001)

It is important to create an environment where victimisation is not condoned or ignored (Corbin, 2000). Encouraging students and others to be supportive of each other in various efforts will have a considerable impact on physical activity motivation, especially in those overweight or obese.

‘Active Travel’ has been promoted as an effective method of encouraging physical activity. Several researchers have found links between active transport and further physical activity, during school, extracurricular activities, and on weekends (Cooper & Page, 2005; van Sluijs et al., 2009). For parents concerned about safety, promotion of initiatives such as the ‘Walking school bus’ (Dietz & Gortmaker, 2001) could be beneficial; though with psycho-social developments in early adolescents, it could be even more beneficial to empower students to use their own initiative to generate similar walking, cycling or rollerblading clubs.

An increase in the enjoyment of a topic promotes participation and retention of factual information. By incorporating physical activity in their academic subjects, utilising the ‘outdoor classroom’, providing ‘active’ projects in student weakness areas, and participating in fun, physical ‘classroom breaks’, like those mentioned in the ‘Take 10’ initiative (Stewart, Dennison, Kohl, & Doyle, 2004), teachers can provide opportunities for scaffolding knowledge in all learner types – visual, auditory and kinaesthetic.

Perhaps the most important method for teachers to assist in addressing and preventing obesity is by fostering good relationships with parents.

‘Education must be combined with assistance to facilitate behavior changes in a supportive environment. This should include children, parents and teachers working together’ (Hills, 2009)

By involving parents, and keeping them informed of topics, it is possible to enlist their support for encouraging physical activity after school, and improving home and school diet.

Conclusion

By taking into consideration the developmental stage of early adolescence, the importance of physical activity in creating and maintaining a healthy weight, as well as numerous other factors, including cognitive and socio-emotional development is seen. Utilising the methods outlined, combined with others, and good teaching practice, teachers can be effective promoters of health, and physical activity to address and prevent obesity.

Reference List

Cooper, A., & Page, A. (2005). Childhood Obesity, Physical Activity, and the Environment Childhood Obesity. (pp. 119-134): CRC Press. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1201/9781420038071.ch9

Corbin, C. B. (2000). Helping All Students Feel Good About Physical Activity. Reclaiming Children and Youth, 9(3), 173.

Department of Health and Ageing. (2005). Discussion paper for the development of recommendations for children’s and youths’ participation in health promoting physical activity Canberra, ACT: (Commonwealth of Australia).

Dietz, W. H., & Gortmaker, S. L. (2001). Preventing obesity in children and adolescents. Annual Review of Public Health, 22, 337.

Foster, L., & Page, A. (2005). Self-Perceptions and Physical Activity Behavior or Obese Young People Childhood Obesity. (pp. 51-63): CRC Press. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1201/9781420038071.ch5

Goran, M. I., Reynolds, K. D., & Lindquist, C. H. (1999). Role of physical activity in the prevention of obesity in children. International Journal of Obesity Related Metabolic Disorders, 23 Suppl 3, S18-33. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10367999

Hill, A. (2005). Social and Self-Perception of Obese Children and Adolescents Childhood Obesity. (pp. 39-49): CRC Press. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1201/9781420038071.ch4

Hills, A. P. (2009). It’s Time to be More Serious About Activating Youngsters: Lessons for Childhood Obesity. Journal of Exercise Science & Fitness, 7(2), S28-S33.

Huang, J. S., Sallis, J., & Patrick, K. (2009). The role of primary care in promoting children’s physical activity. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 43(1), 19-21. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19001016

Luepker, R. V. (1999). How physically active are American children and what can we do about it? International Journal of Obesity Related Metabolic Disorders, 23 Suppl 2, S12-17. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10340799

McDevitt, T., Ormrod, J. E. (2010). Child development and education (4th ed ed.). New Jersey: Pearson Merrill Prentice Hall.

Naylor, P. J., & McKay, H. A. (2009). Prevention in the first place: schools a setting for action on physical inactivity. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 43(1), 10-13. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18971250

Ploughman, M. (2008). Exercise is brain food: The effects of physical activity on cognitive function. Developmental Neurorehabilitation, 11(3), 236-240.

Reilly, J. (2005). Obesity Prevention in Childhood and Adolescence Childhood Obesity. (pp. 205-222): CRC Press. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1201/9781420038071.ch14

Rowland, T. W. (2007). Promoting Physical Activity for Children’s Health: Rationale and Strategies. Sports Medicine, 37(11), 929-936.

Siedentop, D. L. (2009). National plan for physical activity: education sector. Journal of Physical Activity & Health, 6 Suppl 2, S168.

Snow, S. T. (2000). Fostering Positive Body Image in Children and Youth. Reclaiming Children and Youth, 9(3), 187.

Stewart, J. A., Dennison, D. A., Kohl, H. W., III, & Doyle, J. A. (2004). Exercise level and energy expenditure in the TAKE 10![R] in-class physical activity program. Journal of School Health, 74(10), 397.

Story, M. (1999). School-based approaches for preventing and treating obesity. International Journal of Obesity, 23, S43-S51.

van Sluijs, E. M. F., Fearne, V. A., Mattocks, C., Riddoch, C., Griffin, S. J., & Ness, A. (2009). The contribution of active travel to children’s physical activity levels: Cross-sectional results from the ALSPAC study. Preventive Medicine, 48(6), 519-524.

World Health Organization. (2002). Reducing Risks, Promoting Healthy Life – The World Health Report. World Health Organization. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/entity/whr/2002/en/index.html


From ‘Ordinary’ to ‘Extraordinary’: Teaching Experience?

Magic Mirror, on the wall, how does one become the greatest teacher of all?

Arguably, this is the idealistic aspiration of preservice teachers on entry to an Education degree, and indeed, a large portion of inservice teachers; though many would settle for the less subjective ‘effective teacher’ title. It is difficult, however, to pin down exactly what an effective teacher is, and how to become one. Specific attributes, like being ethical, professional, caring; even consideration of particular teaching philosophies and methodologies come to mind. Others claim that it is simply ‘experience’ that propels a preservice teacher to become proficient in practice. While it is true that teachers are made through a combination of these factors, they are not sufficient to elevate a teacher from ‘ordinary’ to ‘extraordinary’. The ability to teach effectively does not simply come from ‘experience’; it is the ability to learn from this experience, by reflection, critical questioning and informed decision-making that makes the difference. Through an investigation into the qualities of effective teachers, an understanding of the reflection process, and the benefits to both teaching and learning this difference will be demonstrated.

Qualities of Effective Teachers

There is difficulty in definition and measurement of the qualities held by effective teachers. The qualities usually cited are professionalism, ethics, resilience, commitment, enthusiasm, and motivation (Sammons et al., 2007; Whitton et al., 2010). These are then amplified by requirements to be positive relationship managers, who create an environment of trust and respect, and assist to build their students’ self-esteem (Sammons et al., 2007; Whitton et al., 2010). Due to these problematic characterisations, and inability to accurately rank teachers by these qualities, education departments often fall back on ‘years of experience’ as their quality measurement (EDNSW, 2011; EDQ, 2011; EDWA, 2011a). The expectation here is that experience is primarily responsible for creating effective teachers; however, as a recent study found, “the best teachers are not necessarily those with the most experience” (Sammons et al., 2007, p. 698). Instead, they found a small, but significant decrease in relative effectiveness in teachers’ “later years” (Sammons et al., 2007, p. 698). So if effective teaching isn’t derived from years of experience, how is it obtained?

Reflections, Questions, Decisions

Dinkelman reports that “Experience teaches nothing to the non-reflective practitioner” (Dinkelman, 2003, p. 9). This would suggest, in combination with the findings of Sammons et al., there is considerable support to the negation of ‘experience as a measure of effectiveness’; however it does support reflection as an integral feature in effectiveness. It is therefore argued that effectiveness is significantly reliant on a teacher’s willingness to undertake this process of reflection. To support this, the details below will discuss what reflection is, and outline the basic process, which can be summarised as ‘reflections, questions, and decisions’.

Reflection is the act of looking at an event, and examining it critically, towards a deeper understanding of processes, preconceptions, and influences from outside factors. It is a cyclical “process of thought that is active and careful” (MOSEP Consortium, 2006-2008), which provides the ability to problem-solve teaching, recognising opportunities for learning and development; it also promotes a constructivist approach, by encouraging the ‘self-construction’ of knowledge from their experiences (Copeland et al., 1993, p. 348; Loughran, 2002, p. 38).

  1. Reflections

The first step in the process entails description of the scenario, paying particular attention to salient events, decisions and outcomes. It should include perceptual thinking, feelings and both verbal and non-verbal feedback from students.

  1. Questions

Critical examination of the scenario is then undertaken. The event is carefully examined, highlighting why certain situations were encountered, examining the beliefs behind reactions, querying the underlying motivation for making particular decisions, an exploration for alternative solutions, and connecting to alternative actions and hypotheses.

  1. Decisions

The culmination of the process entails decision-making on areas identified for improvement. Decisions must be made on what to change, and how to implement that change. Once this cycle is completed, action is taken, and then the cycle begins anew.

This process is highly individual, and will be based around an individuals’ past and present, as well as their attitudes and beliefs (Butler, 1996, p. 275). This was recognised by Dewey, who stated that a teachers “actions, attitudes, habits, and thinking are inseparably intertwined” (as cited in Birmingham, 2004, p. 319). The process is also highly critical, requiring “systematic [and] rigorous” thinking combined with an ethos for continuous improvement (Lee, 2005, p. 700). These can be significant barriers to engagement in the reflection process.

Barriers to reflection

Both new and experienced teachers can find this critical element a significant barrier to engagement in the reflection process. Many teachers have a reluctance to expose oneself to criticism, even in the context of ‘self-improvement’, as it has the potential to damage self-esteem, and affect their personal and professional identity (Cattley, 2007, p. 338; Wildman & Niles, 1987, p. 28). Since this is an area that is considered to be a strong indicator to a teachers overall effectiveness (Sammons et al., 2007, p. 699), it is important that teachers have a supportive environment, and reliable support systems to be able to participate in the reflection process effectively (Wildman & Niles, 1987).

Another barrier, specifically identified in beginning teachers, is inhibiting preconceptions of teaching (Butler, 1996, pp. 274-275; Hatton & Smith, 1995). Smyth understands this dilemma, and informs that the way to overcome this is by opening up “dialogue […] in a way that enables questions to be asked about […] cherished assumptions and practices, the reformulation of alternative hypotheses for action, and the actual testing of those hypotheses” (Smyth, as cited in Smyth, 1989, p. 5).

Time factors, along with the related relevancy issues are also perceived as significant barriers to reflection. Teachers expend a considerable amount of ‘non-teaching’ time, and ‘personal and family time’ on teaching related activities; This is illustrated in EDWA’s statement that “During school hours set time is allocated for you to teach and complete some of your non-teaching duties [3 hours and 40 minutes]. You are given the choice of when and where you complete the rest of your non-teaching duties. You have the flexibility to complete them before or after school, at weekends or during school holidays” (2011b). With ‘non-teaching’ responsibilities including marking, report writing, writing Individual Education Plans (IEP’s), developing lesson plans, and designing assessment and homework tasks, and seeing that the allocation for all this work is less than 4 hours, it is not difficult to see why comprehending the relevance of reflection, and finding the time to reflect can be difficult. It was also noted by Wildman and Niles that some teachers may not be willing to “use free time […] when it is made available” for themselves (Wildman & Niles, 1987, p. 30), preferring to use the time for other non-teaching duties.

These points suggest that instead of seeing criticism as a threat, teachers need to see weaknesses as opportunities to improve; As Butler tells us, “Learning is and should be, on some occasions, a disturbing and unsettling process” (Butler, 1996, p. 275). Teachers must also be open to trialling alternative approaches, and need to be willing to “take time for themselves” (Wildman & Niles, 1987, p. 30). Learning and experience must be combined with reflection in order to provide the opportunity to develop skills; this will produce a teacher with an increased ability to apply their skills to analogous situations (Copeland et al., 1993, p. 354), and also during a situation rather than after it. This latter application of reflective skills is known as reflection ‘in’ action.

Reflection in Action

Schon uses the term “Reflection in Action” (as cited in Birmingham, 2004, p. 315) to describe the ‘same’ reflective process happening within the situation. This ‘reflection’ has an immediate effect on the situation, and ‘dictates’ the actions that follow (Del Carlo, Hinkhouse, & Isbell, 2010, p. 59; MOSEP Consortium, 2006-2008). This is often seen as a teachers ‘tacit knowledge’, however through reflection, this knowledge and understanding can be made explicit, then questioned and evaluated as for any other knowledge.

Benefits of Reflection on Teaching and Learning

Reflection is the tool allowing effective use of learning and experience. It allows the “transforming [of] experience” (Dewey, as cited in Clarke, 2004, p. 2), makes ‘tacit knowledge’ explicit (Loughran, 2002, pp. 34-35), and enables us to “direct our activities with foresight and to plan” accordingly; enabling attainment of “future objects” and to develop into “what is now distant and lacking” (Dewey, as cited in Birmingham, 2004, p. 320). Through reflection, teachers develop those skills required to “[propel] people along the journey from novice to expert” (Butler, 1996, p. 279; see also Pultorak, 1996, p. 291).

Expertise is not the only gain. Cattley proposes that the “development of professional identity” (Cattley, 2007, p. 339), considered by Sammons et al. to be a significant contributory factor in effectiveness (2007, p. 699), can be promoted through reflection. This is considered likely to lead to improved morale and retention, especially in beginning teachers. By inducing a greater understanding of “ourselves as teachers”, and our styles of teaching, we gain understanding that ultimately leads to increases in teacher effectiveness (Butler, 1996; Yost, Sentner, & Forlenza-Bailey, 2000).

This increase in expertise, along with the development of professional identity and resilience affects not only teachers. Students also receive benefits from their teachers’ development, and not only in ‘better instruction’, but also through their teachers increased ability and motivation to foster reflective skills in their students (Wildman & Niles, 1987). This encouragement can assist students to get the most out of their learning, making “learning real” (Yancey, 1998, p. 17). As Yancey noted, “evaluation pervades our lives invisibly, […] from cradle to grave” (1998, p. 13); when teachers assist their students to develop the skills to reflect and ‘self-assess’ their own work, they are promoting the students personal development.

Conclusion

A large percentage of pre- and in-service teachers are expected to have a desire to become ‘effective teachers’. In the explanation showing the qualities of effective teachers, the difficulties in ascribing a definition, and measuring ‘effectiveness’, showed that ‘experience’ often becomes the default measurement tool. However, with many writers suggesting that experience alone is not sufficient to claim effectiveness, and research finding contrary evidence to this ‘experience as effectiveness’ claim, it was theorised that the ability and willingness to reflect was the deciding factor in taking a teacher from ‘ordinary’ to ‘extraordinary’.

By outlining the reflection process, and the barriers perceived, reflection is shown to be an easily understood process; however the barriers to be negotiated create considerable complexity in its execution. This complexity is overcome by knowledge, a collegial environment, and the use of time provided. With this understanding, it is expected that teachers will find it easier to overcome these obstacles.

It is also shown that there are significant benefits to overcoming these obstacles, including, but not limited to the primary goal of ‘expertise’. Improvements in other areas already noted as ‘key factors’ in effectiveness, such as professional identity, and resilience are also demonstrated. Finally, it is shown that it is not only the teacher who benefits; students can benefit in a variety of ways, but particularly by having a teacher able to pass these skills on to them.

The understanding developed here shows reflection to make a considerable difference to the effectiveness of teachers. It is expected that a ‘reflective’ teacher can reach the ‘effective’ title earlier than would a ‘non-reflective’ teacher, due to their increased ability to learn considerably more from the experiences they have, and apply that knowledge to a wider variety of situations. This puts the determination of the ‘greatest teacher of all’ into the hands of those who know; the students.

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