How Principles of Motor Learning Affect Physicality

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

As a physical education teacher, you are probably interested in helping students acquire more physical skills, endurance, and agility. This lesson discusses how the principles of motor learning can impact physicality.

Understanding Motor Learning Principles

Jerry has been teaching PE at Uptown Elementary for five years. In that time, he has learned so much about children's physicality, or how they use their bodies. Jerry really takes seriously the idea that he is meant to teach his students skills that enable them to use bodies so that they can participate in sports, games, and rhythmic activities to the best of their ability.

When it comes to developing physicality, Jerry believes in the principles of motor learning, or theoretical ideas about how people learn to use their muscle groups to develop skills and perform at ever-increasing levels of difficulty.

The principles Jerry incorporates into his teaching practice include the following:

  • Readiness
  • Observational learning
  • Practice
  • Retention
  • Feedback
  • Motor-task analysis
  • Skill transfer

Readiness and Observational Learning

Before Jerry starts teaching a new skill to his students, such as how to jump a longer distance, he has to assess, or evaluate, their readiness. Readiness refers to children's developmental capacity to master a new concept or skill. For instance, Jerry notices that children who can bend their knees deeply, have good balance, and can plan their movement in advance are probably ready to work on jumping.

Next, he focuses on observational learning. Jerry shows his students what it means to jump far by asking them to watch his body and what he is doing as he demonstrates a long jump. He also has them watch other children and, sometimes, videos of athletes performing the skill at hand.

Practice and Retention

After plenty of observational learning, Jerry's students are usually ready to practice a new skill. For instance, right now, his first graders spend five to ten minutes practicing a long jump during each class session. While they practice, Jerry circulates to offer advice and help them understand what they are doing.

Jerry knows that practicing a skill properly leads to retention, or remembering how to execute a skill properly. The body can retain the capacity to perform a physical skill after it has performed it properly many times. Jerry also knows it is crucial to practice a skill in the correct form in order to avoid retention of the wrong habits.

This is why he takes care to monitor and advise his students during the practice phase.

Feedback and Motor-Task Analysis

Of course, part of monitoring his students as they practice means that Jerry also provides feedback, or commentary on how they are performing the skill. When Jerry gives students feedback, he starts with a specific and concrete positive point. This shows his students that he is paying attention to their efforts and strengths, and it orients them to take in his criticisms.

For instance, Jerry might start by saying, 'I notice that you bend your knees really deeply before you spring up for your jump! That's great.' Then he goes on to provide advice to help the student improve. For instance, he might say, 'Try to keep your arms down as you prepare, then move them up with you as you spring forward.'

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