Don't look now - "Busy, Happy, and Good" is still very much alive
By: Mary L. Henninger and Margo Coleman

Perhaps you have a colleague in your physical education program that fits this description – In this person's class there is almost always a good participation rate with a few students sitting out. The teacher's role has become that of a supervisor who makes sure that the game is played fairly and no one is getting hurt. The students follow directions and seem to be enjoying the class. At first glance, this class appears to be running smoothly and seems effective. Upon taking a closer look, what is really happening? Has the teacher articulated measurable goals and outcomes for the class? Have the students learned the skills the teacher intended them to learn? Are all the activities developmentally appropriate? Is there a way to measure the students' success in the class that is aligned with state or national standards? We really don't know the answers to these questions without taking a more in-depth look at the class, the teacher, and their program. Perhaps what is going on is simply "busy, happy, good."

In today's physical education, "busy, happy, good" is defined as keeping the students active, having fun and behaving. While this is certainly desirable in a physical education setting, a well managed class is no guarantee that learning is occurring. Teachers need to ensure that learning occurs in all three domains relative to their objectives and state and national standards. Despite an increased emphasis on accountability in physical education through the development of state and national standards (NASPE 2004; 1995) issues related to the definition of success in physical education persist. In 1983, Placek found that keeping students "busy, happy, and good" superseded all other learning outcomes in physical education. Unfortunately, this has not changed much despite the development and refinement of the characteristics of a physically educated person (NASPE, 2004; 1995).

In a recent study where 19 K-12 physical educators were interviewed, Henninger and Coleman (2008) found that: (a) Teachers struggled to define success particularly in the psychomotor domain and were very reluctant to "grade" based upon skill development, (b) Assessment in physical education is primarily related to student behavior to the exclusion of health related fitness, psychomotor, and cognitive outcomes, and (c) "busy, happy, and good" (Placek, 1983) is alive and well in physical education today despite an emphasis by national and state organizations to define the characteristics of a physically educated person. In this article we'd like to share some strategies to combat these three findings.

Teachers struggle to define success
Have you ever asked yourself, "How do I know when a student is successful in my class?" Teachers often have a difficult time defining what success means in their particular program. Success is not always linked to student learning, particularly in the psychomotor domain. Few teachers assess whether students are meeting established goals and benchmarks for becoming competent movers in a variety of activities as is mandated by NASPE Standard 1. Common issues raised by many teachers, is that it's unfair to assess students based on skill performance due to lack of time to develop competence, and to differences in student abilities upon entering the class. As a result, it becomes difficult for teachers to define the characteristics of a successful student. The following are some suggestions to eliminating barriers to defining students' success.

Lack of time to develop skill:

  • Do less and do it better. Try to cover fewer units, and spend more time on the areas you wish to develop and assess. Students will be more successful if they can concentrate their efforts on fewer skill requirements. In this way, students can develop foundational skills in a unit before learning more complex skills when the unit is taught again the next year.
  • Teach skills through game play. Another way to better develop skills is to teach skills in a game like context. When students see how a skill is used in actual game play, they will become more motivated to learn the skill and become successful.
  • Change the rules. Don't be afraid to modify game rules to encourage skill development. For example, in a basketball unit, strict enforcement of double dribble rules during game play may hinder students learning how to dribble because the game is constantly stopped and re-started.
  • Start small. Small sided games are also a terrific way to provide opportunities to use their skills in game play.
  • Assessment doesn't always equal grades. Assessment can be used not only for grading purposes, but also to help design future lessons and inform students as to their progress towards success.

Differences in student ability levels:

  • Assessment can be a learning process. Use results from assessments to help individualize learning.
  • Embrace differences. Expect and accept different ability levels. Just like any other discipline in a school, students will be at a variety of developmental levels.
  • Skill is a part of the equation. Skill is a component of success, not the sole determiner of success. A students' grade can be made up of many components. While the psychomotor domain is our unique province, a students success can be measured in a variety of ways including the cognitive and affective domains.
  • Avoid overloading students. Students need to develop competence in a skill, not Olympic caliber performance. Competence means students can participate at a level where they can enjoy participation. If students enjoy participation they are much more likely to engage in physical activity on their own time or even through adulthood.

Assessment related to behavior
When asked to define student success, teachers frequently resort to discussions of grading policies. Often teachers assess student success relative to how well they behave in class to the exclusion of other learning outcomes. In the study of K-12 physical educators, many participants based their assessment of students on effort, the ability to follow directions, dressing for class, and the ability to work well with others (Henninger & Coleman, 2008). There is reluctance on the part of many teachers to equate success with other learning domains, in particular the psychomotor domain. The most common reason for not assessing the psychomotor domain is that teachers feel it takes too much time to complete skill assessments, and thus takes away from activity time. Here are some ideas to make assessment of psychomotor outcomes easier and less time consuming.

  • Assessment Made Easier. Setting up and conducting time-intensive skill tests that isolate skill from game contexts can take away valuable activity time. Combat this by assessing students when they are in game play. It not only saves time, but is a more authentic indicator of a student's ability in the psychomotor domain.
  • Make it manageable. It's not always necessary to assess every student each day. Instead, select a few students each day and gradually work your way through the class.
  • Use stations. When several stations are set up, make one of the stations an assessment. Placing the teacher at this station allows him/her to assess a small group of students as they rotate through.
  • Be persistent. Assessing is a teaching skill that takes practice. It will take time to become proficient at smoothly assessing a group of students in activity.
  • Be selective. If it's worth teaching, it's worth assessing. Thus, carefully plan units of instruction and the content of those units. Avoid assessing "trivial pursuit" types of content. It's not necessary for students to know the dimensions of a basketball court when they could be learning how to be a better ball handler. A useful question to ask oneself is: "is this information or skill critical to students' success in this activity?" If it isn't, don't teach it.

Still Busy, Happy, Good
There is little doubt that there is still work to be done to improve the quality of many physical education programs. Unfortunately, "busy, happy, and good" (Placek, 1983) is alive and well in physical education today. Being active, having fun, and behaving are all important expectations of students in physical activity, as in all educational settings; the problem is when that becomes the only way that teaching and student success is measured.

  • Don't underestimate your students: Set your expectations high. Students will only give you what you expect of them. If a teacher is satisfied with a class that is busy, happy, and good - that is what he/she will get. Underestimating students' abilities not only limits their progress, but also limits your success as an educator.
  • Don't limit students: Often, the factor that limits students' success the most is the teacher and his/her decisions on content, and how to define success relative to that content. For example, if a teacher believes that students cannot be successful in a dance unit, that teacher will be unlikely to teach dance and will most certainly be reluctant to assess students' dance skills. Students can only learn what is taught and assessed. If no skills are taught, the students have no opportunity to learn skills.
  • Embrace your content: Competency in skill should be an integral component of any physical education program. The unique contribution of physical education is learning in the psychomotor domain. Failure to teach and assess students' success based upon psychomotor outcomes calls into question the legitimacy of our profession and content.

While most physical educators would tell you that their job is to teach students how to play a variety of games and activities, they typically don't relate student progress in the psychomotor domain to student success. Often when asked to describe a successful student, teachers reply with information related to how students earn their grade. Success is also rarely linked to any state or national standards. Definitions of student success should align with district, state, and national standards. Appropriate learning outcomes in the psychomotor, cognitive and affective domains are integral components of quality physical education programs. Teachers who are willing to develop effective curriculums with well defined outcomes are essential for physical education to gain and maintain its rightful place in K-12 school curricula.

Henninger, M., & Coleman, M. (April, 2008). Student success in physical education: Still busy, happy, and good? Poster presented at the annual American Alliance of Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance convention in Ft. Worth, TX.

National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE). (2004). Moving into the future: National standards for physical education (2nd ed.). Reston, VA: Author.

National Association for Sport and Physical Education (1995). Moving into the future: National standards for physical education. Reston, VA: Author.

Placek, J. (1983). Conceptions of success in teaching: Busy, happy and good? In T. Templin & J. Olson (Eds.), Teaching in physical education (pp. 46-56). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.


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