Sports is more than a healthy, recreational activity. To a team of Physical Education (PE) teachers at Punggol Secondary School, sports are effective tools in inculcating values and positive attitudes in students. The team shares with SingTeach how the teaching of values can be more explicit during PE lessons.
Inspired by the Youth Olympic Games movement in Singapore some years back, Mr. Mohamad Noorhisham and his colleagues from the PE department decided to embed the five Educational Values of Olympism within their PE lessons at Punggol Secondary School. The team believes that sports is an informal yet organized platform which enables the delivery of values that can help cultivate good character and attitude in students.
“We want to build character through sports and the thing that drives our behaviour is our attitude,” shares Noorhisham. “So we named the five Olympic Educational Values as PE attitudes.”
The Educational Values of Olympism or PE attitudes – joy of effort, respect, fair play, pursuit of excellence and balance between body and mind – are thus incorporated into PE lesson plans through a framework (see box story below) that encourages positive behaviours during sports in a manner that is made known to students.
Building Character Explicitly
The teaching of values can be made more explicit to students. This is the key idea that drives the team’s character-building framework during PE lessons.
“In PE lessons, we work on students’ attitudes and we need to be deliberate and create teachable moments instead of waiting for them to happen,” explains Noorhisham. “We try to be very explicit in the teaching of values.”
As such, Noorhisham sees the importance of communicating to his students the intent of every lesson. For instance, he will start the PE lesson by saying: Today, we want to work on joy of effort. “It is crucial that we communicate the attitude we want our students to pick up during the lesson just to make them aware of what we are doing,” he explains.
However, the team also recognizes that character education should not distract the main purpose of PE lessons, which is the physicality of it. Team member Mr Yusri Ahmat therefore reinforces that while the lesson focus is still largely on the physical aspects of the PE curriculum, the teaching of values helps complement the lesson. “The affective domain whereby PE attitudes are taught is infused into the main lessons through affirmation of the good things the students have done, and encouraging them to develop certain behaviours and attitudes,” he shares.
Affirmation is done by reinforcing students’ good behaviours. For example, instead of just saying “good job”, Noorhisham and his team consciously practise explicit reinforcements by saying “I can see that you are making progress with the effort you are putting in to get a good contact with the ball”. The obvious reinforcement of PE attitudes allows students to understand that good effort on their part has been made and recognized.
“It is crucial that we communicate the attitude we want our students to pick up during the lesson just to make them aware of what we are doing.”
– Mohamed Noorhisham, Physical Education (PE) Teacher, Punggol Secondary School
Sport Climbing Builds Character
PE teachers at Punggol Secondary also focus on a second PE attitude, pursuit of excellence, through one of the school’s signature programme of sport climbing.
Mr Vincent Wong explains why sport climbing was chosen as opposed to other sports such as soccer. “Sport climbing is a challenging sport,” he says, “It is something new that provides a level playing field for everyone.”
The PE teachers agree that the nature of sport climbing allows for ample learning opportunities and moments for both students and teachers. For the teachers, it gives them the opportunity to teach the class that success can have different definitions for different people.
“One of my students climbed a few panels and she came down sobbing because she was so scared,” Vincent shares. With encouragement from her classmates and Vincent himself, she climbed a couple more panels and this time around, she did not cry. “When her friends witnessed this, they understood that she had achieved success in her own way and that her criteria of success is different from others.”
Mr Leon Lee, a PE teacher who joined Punggol Secondary in 2016 shares a story about one of his students who looked at the climbing wall and instantly gave up because he was afraid of heights. “Eventually, he managed to climb halfway up the wall,” Leon shares. “When I see how my students react and push themselves to further their limits and try to do a little bit better, I bring these learning back to their classrooms and everyday lives.”
And it is the teacher’s hope that the demonstration of these attitudes goes far beyond the class into the school level and eventually, at the community level.
Character versus Physical Education
If there are already classes in the curriculum that devotes to the learning of Character and Citizenship Education (CCE), is there a need to infuse character education in PE lessons, as what these teachers are doing?
“We do have CCE lessons that touch on the five PE attitudes, which are taught by the form teachers,” explains Noorhisham. “PE lessons serve to reinforce the learning of these attitudes.”
The team believes that the experiences that students go through during PE lessons can be brought back to their other classes as a vehicle to facilitate the learning of CCE. The form teachers are also engaged by way of observing their students during the signature programme of sport climbing.
“When I see how my students react and push themselves to further their limits and try to do a little bit better, I bring these learning back to their classrooms and everyday lives.”
– Leon Lee on how the learning that comes through playing of sports is transferable to other aspects of life.
“Sometimes in a classroom setting, the students exhibit only one facet of themselves – and that does not represent the whole child,” says Vincent.
By taking photographs and cheering on their students during sport climbing, the form teachers can see different aspects of their students which they do not see in the normal classroom setting. “When teachers show the pictures they have taken, it cheers the students up and reminds them of the times when they have achieved milestones,” Vincent adds.
Mr Henry Wong, another new addition to the PE department at Punggol Secondary School, feels that having bite-sized and consistent teaching is key to unpacking the five attitudes in observable traits. “Short and precise feedback are more digestible for younger students,” he says. “They may not appreciate if you give them too much at once. It is also about consistency; slowly and surely moving towards what we want them to achieve.”
For Yusri, it is simply because “seeing my students grow is the biggest takeaway for me, and that is why I want to continue character education in sports.”
The story of Punggol Secondary’s PE department is testament that the old adage “sports build character” is not just a cliché, but an accurate description of what happens on the field, or wall, for that matter.