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Article - Competent bystanders

In PE, there are four different types of learning outcomes that students might need help in developing (see Table 1). These learning outcomes are important because they play a key role in promoting young people’s engagement with the physically active life.

It has been argued that PE is dominated by a focus on the physical domain and yet evidence suggests that to positively impact on health and physical activity all learning domains need to be considered.

Physical Cognitive
Improve skill performance Understanding of skills and tactics
Ability to perform a tactic Understanding of how to perform
Improve physical fitness Use of tactics
  Designing game
Social Affective
Working with peers Confidence
Leadership Fun & enjoyment
Listening Motivation

What is the definition of a competent bystander?

A competent bystander is a student who is very competent in avoiding teacher-assigned tasks without drawing the teacher’s attention to their inactivity. Recognising competent bystanders is very tricky because their behaviours are different from deviant off-task behaviours. Rather, they appear to be very busy and active even though they are not doing what they are supposed to do. The typical behavioural patterns of competent bystanders are:

  • Avoiding skill practice opportunity: missing a practice turn by going back to the line, moving to the edge of the playing area, hiding in the outfield, choosing an inappropriate skill level group in order to socialise with close friends
  • Engage in alternative activity: being a cheerleader instead of playing a game, retrieving out-of-bounds ball by being a ball girl or ball boy.
  • Modifying teacher-assigned task: modifying skill practice with game

What can we do to minimize competent bystanders in PE class?

  • Use a small–sided game or make group size small so that there should be less opportunity to hide from practice
  • Establish a psychologically safe learning environment: many students avoid practice due to fear of failure. Use social helping practice and encourage students to be positively interdependent on one another.
  • Create an environment in which lower skill levels become less visible: minimise public displays of lower-skill level, fitness, and cognitive knowledge (eg, start running at different intervals
  • Recognise individual differences and adapt the level and structure of the task to meet the needs of individual.

This Article was written by Dr Okseon Lee from Seoul National University, South Korea.

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This article is from the free online course:

Outstanding Physical Education Lessons

University of Birmingham