18 SES 12 A, Exploring Health and Learning in Physical Education
Schools, and in particular physical education (PE), have been increasingly recognised for the role that they play in promoting healthy, active lifestyles amongst children and young people in light of the public health agenda (Cale and Harris, 2005). Within the context of England and the United Kingdom (UK) more broadly, Cale and Harris (2011) note how various governmental policies, strategies and initiatives have highlighted the role that schools should be playing in health promotion, with PE often overtly mentioned within these. Indeed, the National Curriculum for PE in England makes explicit reference to the role the subject should be playing in promoting health, with ‘[ensuring] that all pupils lead healthy, active lifestyles’ currently being one of the four overarching aims of the subject across all age groups (Department for Education, 2013, p. 1). It must be noted though, that whilst the present study focuses on England, it has relevance to countries across Europe and globally, with the school being viewed as a suitable setting for health promotion in many nations (O’Sullivan, 2004).
Although schools have been recognised for the role that they can play in promoting health to children and young people, concerns have been raised by some as to how effectively they might currently be promoting this (Cale et al., 2016). Indeed, there is a growing body of literature which expresses concerns over what school-aged children and young people know and understand about leading a healthy, active lifestyle and their conceptions of what it means to be ‘healthy’ (see Harris et al., 2016 for an overview). This research has found that children and young people can have narrow and limited conceptions of ‘health’, as well as gaps/errors in their knowledge and understandings of healthy, active lifestyles (ibid). Calls have been made for further research in this area, specifically focusing on what children and young people have to say about ‘health’ (Hooper et al., 2017). However, exploring pupils’ conceptions can be a challenging endeavour, and there is a need for innovative techniques/tools to be employed when researching the concept of health with children. This paper is methodological in nature and reports on how drawings were used within the main phases of a study exploring pupils’ conceptions, knowledge and understandings of healthy, active lifestyles.
Drawings have been widely used within educational research and have been utilised extensively to support researchers exploring a range of topics with children and young people (Einarsdottir et al., 2009; Freeman and Mathison, 2009). Within PE specifically, a number of researchers have utilised drawings as a technique/tool when researching with children (e.g. Knowles et al. (2013); Parker et al. (2017). However, with the notable exception of McWhirter (2014), there is a lack of considered critique of the approach. As such, in line with recommendations from Punch (2002) for researchers to engage in critical reflection when using participatory methods, this paper seeks to consider how drawings were applied as a research technique/tool, the possibilities and opportunities they afforded the study, and the challenges they posed.
The theoretical framework underpinning the study draws on the work of Foucault. Specifically, it uses a Foucauldian discourse analysis to explore the data, drawing on a framework proposed by Willing (2015), and informed by theoretical insights from Arribas-Ayllon and Walkerdine (2017). Burrows (2010, p. 148) notes how ‘drawing on Foucauldian concepts can help us to understand the complex ways in which power and knowledge operate to produce conditions of possibility for ‘being’ healthy and/or ‘doing’ health in any particular context’. As such, such an analysis seemed most appropriate for this study.
The wider study adopted a case study approach involving two schools from the East Midlands region of England. Semi-structured focus groups were conducted with 60 Year 7 pupils (11-12 year olds) at each of the two case study schools between October and December 2015 and June and July 2016. Pupils each participated in two semi-structured focus groups, one during each of the data collection periods. Focus groups were typically conducted with groups of six pupils and were between 45 and 75 minutes in duration. The study adopted a participatory approach in an attempt to engage children and young people within the research process in a more meaningful way (Coad and Lewis, 2004). The supposed benefits of employing a participatory approach to research with children and young people have been widely acknowledged. It has been proposed that participatory approaches provide children and young people with the opportunity to ‘shape’ the research agenda (Thomas and O’Kane, 1998) and in doing so, it is claimed that children and young people are empowered to participate (Waller and Bitou, 2011). Further, participatory approaches have been suggested as being particularly useful in researching more complex and/or abstract social phenomena (Thomas and O’Kane, 1998), with McWhirter (2014) noting how useful such approaches can be for researching ‘health’. Finally, participatory approaches are also considered to be more ethically appropriate for research with children and young people, as they facilitate ‘voice’ within the research process (Gallagher, 2008). A range of participatory techniques/tools were utilised within the focus groups, in order to generate discussion and to elicit pupils’ conceptions, knowledge and understandings of, healthy, active lifestyles, with one of these being drawings. As part of this task/activity, pupils drew/wrote what ‘health’ meant to them, before discussing this with their peers within the focus group, in line with a ‘draw, write, tell’ approach (Angell et al., 2015). An approach such as this is advocated by Fargas Malet et al. (2010), as it enables participants to interpret their drawings for themselves, ensuring that researchers do not misinterpret meaning (Horstman et al., 2008). The focus group discussions were audio recorded and subsequently transcribed verbatim to generate transcripts for analysis. Data (pupil drawings and transcripts from the associated focus groups) were organised within NVivo 10 and analysed using a Foucauldian discourse analysis.
The findings support, and contribute to, the growing body of research expressing concerns over pupils’ conceptions, knowledge and understandings of healthy, active lifestyles. The data revealed that many pupils had dichotomous views of health, readily defining ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ practices. Pupils also had a tendency to conceptualise health in negative terms, with many drawings (and the associated discussions) highlighting what not to do to be healthy, rather than what to do. For example, when discussing how pupils might lead a healthy, active lifestyle, typical responses included not eating too much ‘junk’ food and not spending too much time sitting down. Furthermore, pupils demonstrated a preoccupation with the corporeal aspects of health, with almost all describing health predominantly in the physical sense. Allied to this, when considering moderators of health, most pupils spoke almost exclusively about diet and exercise. Drawings proved to be a useful research technique/tool that pupils responded well to and which facilitated productive discussions, enabling pupils to articulate their conceptions of ‘health’. However, that is not to say that there were not also challenges in utilising them. Pupils were evidently familiar with the activity of drawing and had a propensity towards it – this was helpful in encouraging pupils to engage in the focus group initially. Further, the activity of drawing provided pupils with space and time to consider their response to the task of articulating what health meant to them. As Miles (2000) notes, drawings can be particularly useful in this respect as they enable pupils to structure their narratives which can subsequently facilitate more productive discussions. However, whilst it might be assumed that many pupils would enjoy drawing, not all did, and some expressed a dislike of the activity on account of their perceived inability to draw, which they felt would inhibit them in participating.
Angell, C., Alexander, J. and Hunt, J. (2015) ‘Draw, write and tell’: A literature review and methodological development on the ‘draw and write’ research method, Journal of Early Childhood Research. 13 (1), 11-28. Arribas-Allyon, M. and Walkerdine, V. (2017) Foucauldian discourse analysis, in C. Willig and W. Stainton Rogers (Eds.) The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research in Psychology, London: Sage, 110-123. Burrows, L. (2010) Push play every day: New Zealand children’s constructions of health and physical activity, in M. O’Sullivan and A. MacPhail (Eds) Young People’s Voices in Physical Education and Youth Sport. London: Routledge, 145-162. Cale, L. and Harris, J. (2005) Promoting Physical Activity within Schools, in L. Cale and J. Harris (Eds.) Exercise and young people: issues, implications and initiatives. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 162-190. Cale, L. and Harris, J. (2011) ‘Every child (of every size) matters’ in physical education! Physical education’s role in childhood obesity, Sport Education and Society, 18 (4), 433-452. Cale, L., Harris, J. and Duncombe, R. (2016) Promoting physical activity in secondary schools: Growing expectations, ‘same old’ issues? European Physical Education Review, 22 (4), 526-544. Coad, J. and Lewis, A. (2004) Engaging Children and Young People in Research – Literature Review. London: National Evaluation of the Children’s Fund. Department for Education [DfE] (2013) National Curriculum in England: Physical Education Programmes of Study. London: DfE. Einarsdóttir, J., Dockett, S. and Perry B. (2009) Making meaning: Children’s perspectives expressed through drawings. Early Child Development and Care, 179 (2), 217-232. Fargas Malet, M. McSherry, D., Larkin, E and Robinson, C. (2010) Research with children: Methodological issues and innovative techniques, Journal of Early Childhood Research, 8 (2), 175-192. Freeman M. and Mathison, S. (2009) Researching Children’s Experiences. New York, NY: Guildford Press. Gallagher, M. (2008) “Power is not an evil”: Rethinking power in participatory methods. Children’s Geographies, 6 (2), 137-150. Harris, J., Cale, L., Duncombe, R. and Musson, H. (2016) Young people’s knowledge and understanding of health, fitness and physical activity: issues, divides and dilemmas, Sport, Education and Society, DOI: 10.108013573322.2016.1228047. Hooper, O., Harris, J. and Cale, L. (2017) Having their say: Young people on healthy, active lifestyles, Physical Education Matters, 12 (3), 51-52. Horstman, M., Aldiss, S., Richardson, A. and Gibson, F. (2008) Methodological issues when using the draw and write technique with children aged 6-12 years, Qualitative Health Research, 18 (7), 1001-1011.
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