What is #PhysicalLiteracy: My Journey

What is #physicalliteracy- My Journey

I know, I know. It’s been a while since I last posted, I swear that it is for a good reason #HereComesTheExcuses.

Recently I was giving a presentation at a #teachmeet here in Dubai (you should follow this on twitter @dxb_pe) and I spoke about Physical Literacy and its role in assessment in Physical Education. When I looked at the crowd I was a bit took back by the “what are you talking about” looks I was receiving from the crowd. Did I just toss out a buzzword to these people?

To be honest when I first heard of physical literacy I thought just that. Great, another buzzword that has been thrown into the realm of physical education. Probably just another way to integrate reading and writing into a course that should be focusing on developing an understanding of a quality active lifestyle, movement competency, motivate to be active and develop social skills that will benefit them for a lifetime. As it turns out, physical literacy is just that.

So what is Physical Literacy?

The concept of physical literacy all started with someone doing a bit of research and looking for a way to create a high-quality physical education culture. In 2001 Margret Whitehead introduced this concept and since then it has been picking up momentum throughout the physical education and active living world.

There have been many different definitions of physical literacy (just google it and you will see), but this one is one of my top five:

Physical literacy can be described as the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for engagement in physical activities for life” -Whitehead, 2016

Looking at the definition physical literacy is not just about being a gifted athlete, it is about being able to be active for life and understand its benefits and applications. The only thing I would add to that definition is to include a variety of environments and activity contexts. Physical literacy does not just take place in a gymnasium or fitness center, it can be seen everywhere!

How Can Physical Literacy Impact My Physical Education Program?

Physical Literacy has the potential to have a huge impact on your program. It has the potential to be integrated into your planning and curriculum delivery, assessment and communication with students, and the way that the school community can perceive the value of your program and its importance. This is all possible because physical literacy is a concept, not curriculum. It provides PE programs the endpoint that can help guide them to creating and developing a quality program that meets the needs of its students and school community.

With this in mind and the Whitehead’s definition of physical literacy, a quality program should strive to create individuals who have the motivation, confidence, competence, knowledge and understanding to continue on their own physical literacy journey when they leave. It’s almost like having the baby birds leave the nest, you develop the ability for them to be successful without your guidance.


This concept directs all of my planning by keeping the big picture in mind. It helps me plan units and lessons that effectively develop the students ability to be physically literate (please note that this does not mean the physical skills, there is MUCH more to it than that). When I started to initially look at how could I work backwards from end result and structure benchmarks that could guide my development and progression of lessons I got a little frightened. This turned out to be a HUGE task and I was not sure how I could make that happen. Thankfully I came across this framework from the NSW Education out of Australia: Physical Literacy Continumm

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Click on the link above to get a eyes friendly version, or just use a magnifying glass…

Taking a look at this framework really helped me further my understanding of this concept of physical literacy. It considers the developmental needs of the students and provides some great benchmarks to ensure that when the students leave the program that they are capable on completing their physical literacy journey after their school years. Since being introduced to this framework I have been using it to create developmental goals for the students and also to develop ways to introduce remedial physical literacy development for those students who are demonstrating gaps in their development.


Integrating the concept of physical literacy has also had a huge impact on the way I look at assessment for my students. I has caused me to be reflective and to create the goal that each assessment method should be helping students develop the tools they need to continue their physical literacy journey, not just tell the student what they can and cannot do. This has been tricky for assessment in PE because in the past it has been very skill and participation focused, qualities that are simple to assess. Physical Literacy offers a much more comprehensive way to assess where a student is at in their journey by taking a look at four domains:

  • Physical Domain (Physical Competence)
    • Fundamental skills development
    • Fundamental skill performance
    • Tactics
    • Development of Physical Fitness
  • Affective Domain (Motivation and Confidence)
    • Confidence
    • Fun and Enjoyment
    • Motivation
    • Persistence and Independence
  • Cognitive Domain (Knowledge and Understanding)
    • Understanding of skills and context
    • How to perform
    • Use of tactics
    • Knowledge of activity contexts
  • Behavioral Domain (Engagement in Physical Activity)
    • Cooperation and collaboration
    • Leadership
    • Communication
    • Inclusion/Teamwork

There is a metric ton of great research out there and each piece offers a different view on the domains of physical literacy development. In my journey I have used the concepts from Dr. Dean Dudley, Dr. Vicki Goodyear, and my good buddy Dr. Doug Gleddie to help  design my own framework of the domains and their qualities based on the developmental needs of my students. This framework will be used to help guide assessment practices and challenge the students to take part in the assessment process and not just the subject.

What Does This Mean for the Future?

I have to say that at this point I am more than excited to bring this understanding and integrate it into my practice with a new group of students next year. Designing the learning journey with the students, fully integrating this concept into the activity selection and structure and having the students be an active part of the assessment process and creating quality tools to communicate where they are at in their physical literacy journey actually makes me feel giddy! Ultimately, this will help create the physical literacy culture that we need to compliment the academic literacy and social/emotional literacy development that is already happening here!

And of course, I am excited to share this with you!! Thought I forgot about you didn’t you?

One thought on “What is #PhysicalLiteracy: My Journey

  1. Pingback: The PE Playbook – April 2017 Edition – drowningintheshallow

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