Listening to students’ silences–a case study examining students’ participation and non-participation in physical education

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Background: For years researchers have been engaged in revealing the impact of the hidden curriculum in physical education (PE) on students’ participation and non-participation. The hidden PE curriculum encompasses the knowledge, the relations, the assumptions, the norms and the beliefs that students unconsciously and unintentionally learn through the process of education. As the hidden curriculum reinforces particular values and attitudes among students in a very subtle and often unnoticed fashion, it limits students’ possibilities for becoming aware of, and thus reporting, how the tacit messages communicated through the hidden curriculum impact on their position of participation and non-participation. Thus, in this article, we argue that examining students’ silences, that is the things students do not voice, is significant for the understanding of the impact of the hidden curriculum on students’ participation and non-participation in PE. Purposes: In this article, we aim to develop insight into students’ silences in order to elucidate how aspects of the hidden curriculum serve to reinforce some students’ non-participation in PE. Much attention has been devoted to particular values and attitudes unintentionally transmitted by teachers in PE. However, in this article, we examine how the everyday exchanges between the students themselves may also convey a hidden set of meanings, that impact on students’ actual experiences of the PE curriculum, and thus mitigate the intended effects of students’ participation. Research design: The backdrop for this article is a single-case study carried out in a multi-ethnic and co-educational secondary school in Denmark from January to December 2014. The article draws on material collected through focus group interviews with 7th grade students (including participant-diagrams filled out by students) along with observations of their PE classes. The observations took place once a week throughout the whole calendar year. Findings: In the article, we point to students’ intentional silences that are highly reflective of the normative expectations negotiated within the peer group. In addition, we show that the pressures toward social conformity have a direct impact on the positions of non-participation intentionally taken up by some of the less socially respected students in PE. These students were highly aware that how they behaved in PE and what they voiced in the interviews might have consequences for their peer group connections within PE and for their social reputation among peers outside of PE. In addition, we add to the current literature on student silence by pointing to a category of non-privileged silences. These silences revealed that a minor group of students were not aware of or had not recognized their position as non-participants in PE. Moreover, they appeared unable to imagine that things could be different and to voice a desire for change. Conclusions: We argue that our findings reveal critical aspects of students’ non-participation that would be difficult to access if we did not listen to, hear and attempt to understand students’ silences. In order to extend the knowledge base on students’ participation and non-participation in PE, we hope that this article may also encourage other researchers to let students’ silences breathe and speak.

TidsskriftPhysical Education and Sport Pedagogy
Sider (fra-til)371-386
Antal sider16
StatusUdgivet - jul. 2018

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