Teaching Games For Understanding (tgfu) & Vygotsky’s Social Constructivism

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The final piece of grey literature which will be summarised is about TGfU by Henry Dorling. This will also take into consideration aspects of Vygotsky’s social constructivism concepts in how the two can work alongside one another. The piece of grey literature will be explored upon as it states reasons why TGfU should be advocated, why it is criticized upon and how it can be applied in coaching. Dorling (2015) expresses the link between TGfU and constructivist teaching practices stating:

“Games-based approaches, which claim to promote active involvement in problem-solving through gameplay and game progression, and the use of questions, discussions, and reflection, have attracted strong interest due to links with constructivist teaching practices”.

From this crossover between the two, it begins to emerge that they complement each other as it is better known than individuals learn better from activities being posed towards them, being actively present in them and not passive, intertwining the two together (Dorling, 2015). TGfU originates from Bunker & Thorpe (1982), where they produced an approach for teachers, predominantly in secondary to provide a game-based approach to teaching. Conversely, social constructivism is shaped mainly around the Zone of Proximal Development where a task has been set for a group of individuals, where this task is of high difficulty, however, it can be mastered with the aid of an individual, in this case, a teacher/coach (Vygotsky, 1962). However, it only seems that Dorling has briefly touched upon how powerful constructivism can be within TGfU, showing early on within the grey literature that this may lack depth in terms of this approach.

Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU)

TGfU is well articulated within teaching and coaching as it has multiple positives and focuses, one of the main learning outcomes it strives to achieve is cognitive learning (Allison & Thrope, 1997; Solomon, 2003). Dorling (2015) elaborated upon what the ‘basic premise’ of TGfU is by stating “The basic premise of TGfU is the use of a games-based approach to learning skills, which gives the participants more aware of where and how to use these skills, rather than merely performing them in a sterile, drill-based environment”. Madingo et al (2007) reinforces the point made previously by Dorling as they agree that it is a learner-centered model of teaching where it is used to provide learners with the technical and tactical skills which are necessary for those participants to succeed, both pieces of literature reinforce this point similarly, this can also be reinforced by Bunker & Thorpe (1986) with the TGfU model. Roberts (2011) advocates a very similar stance as, through TGfU, this encourages the coach to use questioning within their practice to challenge the participants mentally, for them to learn technically and tactically in their area of sport. Through questioning the participants to pose a challenge, Dorling (2015) articulates that this approach is effective as it provides game understanding and ties in with constructivist teaching practices. TGfU is used in the younger age-groups of sport as this is a more effective way for the participants to learn due to this approach giving them a variety of ways to learn, through being present in a game-relation situation, it provides them with game realistic scenarios in what could occur (Kirk, 2005), providing an element of fun for the participants in this environment of as it mirrors the positive aspects of ‘real sport’ and being present in a game-related environment allowing them to learn freely (Hastie & Curtner-Smith, 2006; Light, 2016).

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However, as Dorling (2015) has well critiqued the technique, he has failed to find a link between TGfU and guided discovery as both approaches are very similar. Even though he implemented problem-solving as one aspect which is it, he fails to recognize that a TGfU approach seems to fall into the majority of the latter in Mosston’s Teaching Styles Continuum (Mosston, 1966) as TGfU poses a lot of these authentic techniques to challenge the participants. Hopper & Kruisselbrink (2001) articulates that TGfU has a direct link with problem-solving and guided discovery in the participants making decisions on what to do and then how to apply it. Dorling similarly stated this, however, this was very vague in his literature, lacking in clarity and only providing one aspect of referring to the Mosston Spectrum (1966), beginning to question that due to this lack of depth provided in some aspects. Although in many ways Dorling and the academic literature has crossed many paths agreeing with one another, it still has gaps and lacks some depth, however, to a degree, it stands up to scrutiny and reinforces many of the above points relating to the academic literature making it credible to a degree.

Vygotsky’s Social Constructivism

Social constructivism has been explored by multiple academics, it has a heavy emphasis towards learners actively participating within a coaching environment as a way of social learning (Hua Liu & Matthews, 2005), a statement in which Dorling agrees with as the game-based approach which articulates questioning and active involvement in the environment of TGfU is in alignment with the constructivism aspect (Dorling, 2015). A key element in Vygotsky’s work was the implementation of the Zone of Proximal Development, this scaffolds instruction and development in sports in certain aspects (Chaiklin, 2003). Vygotsky (1978) described the ZPD to where actual development was taking place, to then challenge the participants through the guidance of the coach through problem-solving around other or more capable peers. There are three key components of the ZPD, these are: what the participant can do unaided; what they can do with help, and what they can’t do, Wass & Golding (2014) demonstrate the diagram below. This diagram is set in place to challenge the participants to try and work outside of their comfort zone where they can conduct a skill unaided to where they may need to be assisted to then progress, this can be working in groups where the ability is mixed, suggesting the participant to the get a better understanding of the skill from a higher-performing participant and can also help out a lower-performing participant (McLeod, 2007). As social constructivism is demonstrated through means of interaction between a teacher and a participant (Powell & Kalina, 2009), this is making the environment more participant centered for them to learn creatively, Dorling (2015) advocates this as he states that he agrees strongly in allowing the participants to learn in such environments which challenge their communication, decision making and to provoke communication from them to increase engagement.

Conversely, Dorling fails to involve Vygotsky in his work and totally dismisses him as a part of the process. With few links throughout his piece such as linking the TGfU process to be strongly attracted to constructivist practices, he lacks in developing upon this statement in terms of additional information about constructivism, or what sort of constructivism can be well affixed in the environment. Furthermore, lacking in the implementation about the ZPD (Wass & Golding, 2014), Dorling vaguely refers to it as he talks about how all in the environment are working with one another and making their own decisions, through mentioning working with one another this very vaguely touches upon the ZPD as in a group environment there is a more capable peer/teacher who will be operating at a higher level, from this it will bring out that participant from their comfort zone and to challenge themselves (Wass & Golding, 2014). Therefore, with Dorling failing to articulate any sort of specific social constructivism strands directly in his work, lacking in depth, validity and not providing any sufficient evidence about the theory in any way, it severely lacks in standing up to scrutiny within academic literature as he has only vaguely touched upon certain parts of it, little of his work recognizing constructivism, however in other vague chunks of his work he has fragmented statements about constructivism without recognition, showing a potential lack of understanding and the grey literature not being credible for social constructivism.

Relation to own coaching

In my current coaching environment, I believe that I employ a TGfU stance to some degree, through applying different game scenarios which are realistic and which can occur at any time in a game situation. Taking into consideration the age groups I coach regularly, I could incorporate more game-based approaches (GCA’s) within my own practice as this will give an element of fun to the participants which Dorling (2015) aforementioned as part of his central pillars to coaching. With these GCA’s, it begins to instill a notion of positivity in the environment, starting from the coach down to the players as the coach is providing a fun, eccentric session, following on, the participant’s response to this will be positive and take to this method as it is non-directive and more creative (Harvey et al, 2014). ZPD as previously mentioned is a key framework for a coaching practice, which, I use to a small extent. For myself to implement this more successfully, I can push the participants to progress further than they thought in the session, becoming more innovative as a coach, as well as the participants developing new knowledge and potentially new skills within the process. However, for myself to improve as a coach in this instance, I may need to enroll myselfinn some coach-education CPD events to refresh myself with new content, updating my current philosophy potentially and through gaining these new ideas, new sessions with a better format could be delivered. Where in which I can access these courses can be down at my local country football association for my specific sport in where I can choose a credible and key event for me to then to access and gain more insight of a new topic area. 

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