Swimming as a Tool to Develop Motivation in Young Children

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Table of contents

  1. Differentiation
  2. Assessment for learning
  3. Motivation

In the last decade, much of the research produced around physical education suggests that teacher behaviour in the learning environment and the type of instructional approaches they use, significantly affect the degree that students learn (VanTassel-Baska, J. 2012). Numerous different teaching styles have been proposed to be the most effective, these can be from when early research concentrated on singular styles such as cooperative learning (Johnson and Johnson 1994, Slavin 1999), to incorporating a more modern approach with a wider range of options (Joyce, Weil and Calhoun, 2004). However, no matter how the styles are conceptualized, the ability to teach in different ways to match the vast array in students, content, and educational goals, evidences how effective teachers should master multiple teaching styles (Kulinna and Cothran, 2003). Throughout this essay, I shall be exploring three of these teaching methods and how I in fact enforced them into my swimming lessons where I taught students from the ages of 5 to 11 of mixed ability, gender, race and socioeconomic backgrounds. When looking at this, I will not only evaluate the success of the different forms of practice, but will also critically analyze my development as a swimming teacher over the course of the semester and if I have conformed to the successful practices effectively.


It is often stated that by virtue of their different backgrounds and past experiences in and of sport, pupils are positioned very differently when in physical education to other subjects (McGarr and McCormack, 2015). One of the best ways to meet pupils’ different learning needs is to deliver the curriculum in a number of different ways. This is to differentiate the vehicle by which skills, knowledge and concepts arrive as well as presenting a range of tasks (Lareau and Horvat, 1999). This is where the concept of differentiation in teaching arises from. Differentiation creates ways in which teaching can ensure that all pupils are enabled access to the skills, knowledge and understanding that is appropriate to their differing levels of learning, and therefore allowing them to attain their educational potential (Laker, 2012). Differentiation has been an educational buzzword for years, although there is not a widely renowned fixed agreement about its specific definition (Bearne, 1996). Despite this, at the heart of advancing the physical education curriculum, there has been a substantial focus on developing the use of differentiation in lessons. This is due to the perception of structuring different activities and designing relevant learning experiences will mean that teaching actually accommodates and provides for pupils varying levels of skills (Laker, 2012). Still however, many traditional thinking teachers hesitate to weave differentiated practices into their sessions as they predominantly perceive they lack the time, while also stating they have minimal professional development resources, and administrative support (Hootstein, E. 1998). However, growing interest in this field of education reveals differentiated Instruction has a positive effect on student engagement and motivation (Konstantinou-Katzi, Tsolaki, Meletiou-Mavrotheris Koutselini, 2013). Not only can motivation and learners understanding of concepts be a prime advocate of differentiated practice, but having lessons with tiered ability grouping incorporate differentiated learning materials, has been evidenced to decrease the gap between lower and higher level students. Lower ability students’ achievement is enhanced through collaboration with higher ability classmates, and these two groups being in the same lesson is only possible via differentiation (Schofield, J.W. 2010).

Throughout my personal experiences during this term, there have been particular components of my teaching which have led to me developing techniques incorporating the criteria of differentiation. The beginning of the term saw me consistently having a set lesson plan that was rather rigid with no space for flexibility. My thought process behind this was to be organised and convey a sense of authority as previous research has demonstrated that the authoritative style is associated with better behavioral, and academic outcomes (Baumrind, 1967). An example of this during my first lesson was when a student, swimming on their back, couldn't progress from two floats on either side of their body, to one above their head, like the rest of the class. As this specific task was my only progression through this stage of backstroke, the child who had a different ability level to others became disengaged and forfeited the learning process due to the task being something they couldn't apply themselves too. Upon reflection of this interaction, a much more effective approach would have been to incorporate a different teaching progression that was more relative to this students swimming ability, having one float above the head and then one at the side for support for instance. By doing this the students grasp on the learning task is significantly increased as once teachers provide information it only becomes knowledge when learners can process and apply it (O’Brien Guiney, 2001). A new found awareness of the differences in abilities that will be in my lessons, progressed my approach into tailoring lesson plans to incorporate all levels of skill through the implementation of different teaching styles, methods and strategies. Throughout the module, I found myself becoming more confident in my teaching to the learners. Week by week I found myself implementing more differentiated teaching to groups of mixed ability learners constructing an applicable creative environment. To do this successfully, especially with new children, I ensured that I was aware of student’s capabilities by setting them a general swimming task. From this I could evaluate their abilities individually then improvise on my plan to ensure that through each stage of the lesson, that each pupil has the same learning opportunities as every other pupil. In effect, establishing inclusion for all, as this is the fundamental reasoning behind differentiation (Whipp, Taggart and Jackson, 2012).

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In conclusion, to principle of differentiation, it is a key concept in instruction in order to maximize the learning potential of each student (Tomlinson, 2001, 2003). It gives the diverse range of needs in an average class, the variety of teaching methods that are required to ensure all pupils are learning within a modern, relevant and engaging curriculum. (Whipp, Taggart and Jackson, 2012). Over the module, not only has my expertise in swimming teaching improved, but also my capability to select appropriate teaching styles and strategies for each individual student, after considering the variances in readiness levels, interests and learning profile preferences. Looking at my progression, I am pleased to have employed the process of going into lessons with an open mind and being prepared to simplify or even complicate teaching tasks I’d planned. This can be evidenced in the substantial progress of students of all strengths through the teaching block.

Assessment for learning

Modern day education recognises formative assessment is needed for goals to be met and improved upon. This means assessment is integrated into the timeline of skill development so the teaching can be improvised to the students’ needs making the learning process relevant. (Tolgfors and Öhman, 2015). A common referenced form of this category of assessment is assessment for learning (AFL), which can be defined as any assessment where in which its main ethos is to promote pupils to learn continually, supporting their acquisition of skills, by sharing learning goals and criteria with them. Making it dissimilar to traditional forms of assessment that primarily serve the purposes of ranking skills summatively. (Black et al, 2002). AFL highlights that assessment should be an essential component of the teaching and learning process. Concentrating on the way teachers can actually create and plan for their learning environment and its outcomes will promote relevant engagement so that students can progress their learning to the maximum output (MacPhail and Halbert, 2010). As a knock on effect of integrating this approach, students are given the opportunity to naturally adopt the skill of being self dependant learners and consequently autonomous lifelong learners (Gipps, 2002).

AFL reflects recent advances in knowledge of how learning takes place and the importance of assessment in the promotion of learning, commonly noted as an ‘alternative assessment’ devoted towards support for learning rather than the measurement of learning (Crossouard et al. 2004).


There has been a developing concern around the number of children and young people adopting sedentary lifestyles (Biddle, Sallis, Cavill, 1998). Drawing on this perspective, an area of significant interest to current educators is to optimize the motivation of young people in Physical Education settings. This allows potential for there to be a greater number of the general population taking part in physical activity for their wellbeing and health. Broadening teachers and coaches understanding of the most relevant and effective motivational processes that account for the amount of student investment in PE is needed to do this. (Standage, Duda and Ntoumanis, 2003). Achievement goal theory (AGT) is a concept used often by common day educators that still references research from the 1980s, specifically from Nicholls (1989). The article states how AGT breaks down motivational climate through the use of environmental factors that allow students to perform in a variety of ways to achieve different outcomes (Nicholls 1989). Many theorists recognise two alternate ideas in order to achieve this, they distinguish between mastery goals and performance goals. The former is when a participant is aiming to develop one's competence in a particular skill, then the latter is to demonstrate one's competence by outperforming peers (Ames Archer, 1988; Dweck, 1986). Despite not every researcher having similar theoretical frameworks and also using contrasting labels for the goals they were analyzing, theorists managed to come to the same conclusion around the idea that mastery goals promote greater educational benefits than performance goals, especially for students learning new skills and who suffer from self-doubts (Dweck, 1986). For progressive learning therefore, what most researchers have suggested is that educators invest time and effort in order to develop instructional strategies and practices so that teachers can facilitate a mastery orientated motivational climate (Maehr Midgley, 1991; Roberts Treasure, 1992). To do this, Epstein (1989) composed the acronym TARGET to embody the task, authority, reward, grouping, evaluation, and timing structures of the achievement context. She argues that how a child perceives to tackle a task in a mastery or ego orientated manner, heavily relies on how the teacher actually structures the teaching point at hand. The teachers approach and planning is made even more essential as individuals within mastery situations more commonly adopt the attribute of intrinsic motivation, enjoyment, and continuing motivation for a subject. Contrary to this, its been discovered how external evaluation of an ego-orienting nature damaged continuing motivation, thus reducing the participation and development of skills of learners (Maehr, 1976).

As a swimming instructor, I could see from the early sessions of the semester that due to the students being of a generally young age, the majority of them saw tasks I gave them in a performance based ego orientation light. In the first few weeks, the main body of the class attempted to race and beat their classmates to each side of the pod, when we were simply concentrating buoyancy, allowed me to recognize as an educator changes would have to be made to my teaching to allow some mastery motivation to be adopted. Building on my experience week by week, towards the middle of the semester I became confident enough to trial certain types of games and relay races which would both incorporate some mastery skill focused motivation, along with the young learner’s natural ego orientation so they were still engaged. For instance, when focusing on backstroke, I introduced contrast activities like relay races where you could only swim on your back and were penalized if the key teaching points of the stroke were not followed. Reactions before, during and after these relay activities emphasized how excited the children were to take part. In addition to this, not only was pupil’s motivation increased in order to compete, it was encouraging to see their peer assessment of one another in their teams of how to correctly perform the stroke. Students reiterating to one another the teaching points I gave them earlier, evidently shows how they were motivated within a mastery orientation environment as they are wanting to progress their specific skills to become better.

Seeing how successful and engaged this session made the children, allowed me to further develop similar activities where mastery motivation was incorporated into the task at hand. Furthermore, allowing me to tailor lesson plans and teaching points to become more technical so the students could progress their development into better overall swimmers as they would be more appropriately and specifically motivated to do so.

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