An intercounty GAA player for Cork, Dr. Orlagh Farmer has spent the last six years working in education and sports research after becoming a qualified PE teacher. She has created research in conjunction with the Ladies Gaelic Football Association, successfully defending her PhD Gaelic4Girls, and is a lecturer at Dundalk IT for the past three years.
“It’s inevitable that you’re going to have students with different abilities and different needs in the class.”
One of the big challenges for PE teachers in Ireland is the different levels at which students start and the different rates at which they progress. In the same class, you could have students who lack fundamental movement skills and you could have refined athletes. As a PE teacher, you can’t just focus on the athletes and leave the less able students behind.
Dr. Orlagh Farmer believes that the key to bringing everyone forward and finding success as a PE teacher lies in adaptability.
“Differentiation is a massive thing in a PE environment. It’s so important to challenge those that are more able and make sure those that are less able (or maybe less confident) that you’re lifting their spirits too. You’re including them in a way that you’re not segregating them.
That’s the main thing.
You can’t change the world in a PE class but if you differentiate and adapt according to their needs, they will want to come back and it will help with their motivation as well…It boils back to do they feel good and do they want to come back. Will they be enthused and motivated next week for the PE class or for the next session?
Adapting to each student to create an environment where every student has the chance to be competent and confident is the definition of inclusivity in the classroom.
While there are specific responsibilities with regards to passing tests and creating projects for the Leaving Cert exam, the long-term benefits of instilling children with an understanding of physical education and why it’s important actually outweigh the specific skills they will learn in each class.
But it’s not easy to do. Dr. Farmer used an example from her time coaching a GAA team where all of her players were doing the same drill but she subtly challenged the more competent players to use both their left and right leg when kicking the ball. That’s not how she handled the players who were at an earlier stage of their development.
“The girls that are struggling a bit, you’re giving them deliberate practice. You’re allowing for that period of them maximizing their time on the ball. Maybe it’s smaller groups or pair work so they’re getting more assimilation.
You need to know your students [individually]. You need to know how to approach students as well.
They’ll feel wanted if you’re giving them the right approach, the right attention, the right feedback and the right time, that deliberate practice that they can execute the skills. Then they will improve and will appreciate that.”
Students walking away from PE classes with specific skills will likely have gained confidence that carries into the rest of their lives.
But a PE class on its own isn’t going to create a sustained commitment to physical health. The wider culture of Ireland needs to emphasize the importance of physical activity more than just assigning an hour per week to fill the minimum. No student would ever pass their Leaving Cert maths exam if they only had class one hour per week for six years.
Dr. Farmer pointed to Scandinavian countries where a different model has been adopted.
“Educational opportunity [is vital]. School is such a controlled setting. It’s the perfect opportunity to promote physical activity, to educate young children on the benefits of physical activity and the consequences of a lack of physical activity. It’s that education side that needs to be more powerful.
Children should have an appreciation for why they’re doing an activity and for why PE is important. Why should I bring in my gear next week for a double class? I don’t think that children understand that appreciation for the benefits of sports.
In Scandinavian countries they adopt physical activity into their school day. They have movement breaks every hour or so. Bringing it in incrementally so that it’s not just that 60 minutes of physical education in the school a week.
How can we as educators promote it outside of the PE class as well? What can we be doing in a school environment to promote physical activity?”
Creating an internal motivation in children will not only lead to them finding great joy and appreciation in their earlier years, it will also ward them off chronic health issues that lead to curtailed lifespans and increased healthcare costs for the country as a collective.
Even in a world where iPads and social media have overtaken the lives of children as well as adults, young people will innately seek out fun.
That fun exists in physical education. It’s not the child’s fault if they are spending all their time on a laptop or on their phone. Children take from what society shows them and what society emphasises.
Dr. Farmer puts the onus on all of us as adults to show the next generation the right path.
“One thing that I’ve noticed in lecturing earlier educators is that lack of confidence and lack of education. Even in fundamental movement skills. Some practitioners actually don’t understand what fundamental movement skills are and the importance of them.
That’s what I mean by education.
We need the educators. We need the parents. We need the kids to all be on board if we want to get the most out of physical education and physical activity. It’s just having that confidence to give children the best that they deserve.”
Portobello Institute values the one in everyone and understands that education is only a part of your life. We don’t want to take up all of your time and create stress for you. You should go to college to improve your life outside of college and after college.
We are training the sports professionals of the future. If you would like to work in sport in a professional capacity, you can find a course that will provide you with the requisite education to do so.