Physical education is for students with exceptionalities, too
Minority groups, such as students with physical and intellectual disabilities and exceptionalities, are underrepresented in schools. The oppression of these groups has to be challenged to ensure equity in physical education classes and the school environment as a whole.
As an oppressed group, students with exceptionalities encounter stereotypes that falsely claim limitations or restrictions in performing certain activities. However, many students with developmental disabilities and exceptionalities can successfully participate in physical education classes, with or without accommodations and supports. Physical education teachers have the opportunity to advocate for diversity, challenge stereotypes and change attitudes in the gymnasium and school environment.
Physical education teachers have a lot of freedom to determine what lessons to teach and how to implement activities. However, considering students’ disabilities and exceptionalities is essential in implementing activities that are inclusive. Students with exceptionalities have the same needs and interests as their peers; the difference is that some of these students need adaptations and supports. The goal should be for all students to benefit from physical education instruction by experiencing success and learning physical activities that will build the foundation for lifelong physical activity. All students can gain from the physical, mental and social benefits of being active.
An inclusive physical education program should incorporate activities that measure students’ progress, are noncompetitive and are personalized (focusing on the needs of the students). Incorporating various types of activities (for example, co-operative learning activities, non-traditional activities, dance, fitness, outdoor components) helps improve student confidence and presents opportunities to meet various student abilities.
Physical education classes offer an excellent opportunity for team-building exercises and co-operative learning activities. Instead of competitive traditional sports, students can focus on co-operative activities that are only successful when every student works together. Before the activity, the teacher should explain to students that they have to stay with their group and help their group members reach their goal. Leaving a classmate out is not an option. It is rewarding to see students’ social interactions, participation and behaviour improve during an activity a student enjoys and feels included in.
In a physical education setting, activities should be implemented to encourage students to work together regardless of differences. During activities students should have opportunities to be caring and responsible, demonstrate a willingness to participate with anyone in class and help other students when they’re frustrated. Activities should improve student confidence and present opportunities to modify conditions to meet varying exceptionalities.
For students with exceptionalities, physical education is valuable because it provides an opportunity to build social skills, teaches individuals how to focus on specific goals and how to overcome obstacles. It is important for physical education teachers to change expectations, teaching procedures and activities to ensure all students can be successful in physical education and the school environment.
Taylor Hamlyn writes from St. John’s