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Inter-student interactions and student learning in health and physical education: a post-Vygotskian analysis

Journal article
Authors Dean Barker
Claes Annerstedt
Mikael Quennerstedt
Published in Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy
Volume 20
Issue 4
ISSN 1740-8989
Publication year 2015
Published at Department of Food and Nutrition, and Sport Science
Language en
Keywords group work, zone of proximal development, constructivism
Subject categories Didactics, Learning


Background: Group work is often used in Physical Education (and Health – HPE). In this paper, we propose that despite: (1) its widespread use; (2) advances surrounding HPE models that utilize group strategies; and (3) a significant amount of literature dealing with group work in other school subjects, we do not have a particularly good theoretical understanding of group learning in HPE. Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to propose one way of conceptualizing individual learning in peer interaction based on three tenets of post-Vygotskian theory that relate to the zone of proximal development (ZPD); namely that in learning situations: (i) group members engage in shared communication; (ii) expert–novice relationships can develop and change during group activities and (iii) constructing knowledge can be thought of as reaching agreement. Participants and setting: Empirical material was generated with eight different HPE classes in lower and upper secondary schools in Sweden. Schools were selected in a way that maximized variation and were distributed across four geographic locations with varying sizes and types of communities. Data collection: Observational material was produced at each of the sites with the use of two cameras: one stationary and the other mobile. Stationary filming maintained a wide-angled focus and captured the entire class. Mobile filming focused on different groups working within the classes. During mobile filming, between two and five students were generally in the frame and filming was directed at sequences in which a group of students worked together on a specific task. Data analysis: Analysis of the data focused on two kinds of incidents. The first comprised a sequence in which two or more students were interacting to complete a task which they could not immediately do and were engaged in collective signification by talking about or doing the activity in mutually compatible ways. These conditions were sufficient in our view to signal the creation of a ZPD. The second kind of incident fulfilled the first criteria but not the second – i.e. the students were interacting but not in mutually compatible ways. Findings: A post-Vygotskian interpretation of three group work sequences draws attention to: (i) the flexible and fluid nature of ‘expertness’ as it exists within groups; (ii) the unpredictable nature of member interactions and (iii) the challenging role that teachers occupy while trying to facilitate group work. Conclusion: Such an interpretation contributes to a growing understanding of group work and helps HPE practitioners to make the most of a teaching strategy which is already used widely in schools.

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