“We’re making a difference to the lives of our students”Learning Communities in Physical Education Research Completed


“We’re making a difference to the lives of our students”Learning Communities in Physical Education

Lead Author

McBain, Suzanne Cynthia


University Of Canterbury

Publication Year



University of Canterbury. School of Sciences and Physcial Education




This qualitative case study combined teacher and student interviews with observations of one physical education class to facilitate understandings of physical education learning communities. Watkins’ (2005) definition of a learning community was used as a framework to conceptualise the study. I found that physical education teachers in this study do actively develop their classes as learning communities. Five key findings are discussed. Physical education learning communities exist in a number of different forms that can be related to a learning community continuum. The learning community’s positioning on the continuum is directly related to student agency in learning. It was found that student agency is promoted through a discourse of inquiry. In this study inquiry is a central tenet of a learning community as learning is viewed as a cognitive and socio-cultural constructivist function resulting in knowledge generation (Brown, 1997 cited in Alton Lee 2003; Sewell, 2006; Watkins, 2005). As inquiry learning is a social process in a learning community, it is concurrently supported by a discourse of community, promoting students’ ability to work altruistically and collaboratively, learning together. It was found that the explicit teaching of socio-moral outcomes through socio-cultural pedagogies enhance positive peer relationships and is essential to the promotion of an altruistic discourse of community. The discourses of community and inquiry are dialectically related and communicate clear messages to students about the expectations of behaviour and learning within an altruistic community. The early stages of a physical education learning community are based on the genuine and altruistic student-teacher relationships which provide a springboard to allow opportunities for teachers to have further conversations about learning. Finally, evidence in the study suggests that philosophy plays a significant role in both the growth and oppression of the evolution of a learning community. This study suggests that the relationship between the philosophy of the New Zealand Curriculum (2007), the physical education teachers and the economic neoliberal context influences the development of learning communities in physical education.


Physical education learning communities, Student agency, Inquiry, Socio-moral outcomes, Socio-cultural pedagogies, Student-teacher relationships, Teacher philosophy

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Areas of Focus

Population Groups




October 8, 2012

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