Recent decades have seen an upsurge of interest regarding the use of constructivist and situated theories of learning as theoretical frameworks with which to validate and legitimise the currently favourable teaching models of Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU) and Sport Education (SE). Despite this extensive interest, there has been a dearth of research examining the theoretical assumptions about learning and cognition that underpin these theories of learning. Of particular concern, is the lack of explicit referencing to the work of seminal constructivist theorists, whom despite rarely being cited within TGfU and SE literature, are deemed to have a determining influence on the ideas currently presented. This situation becomes particularly problematic when one considers that the meaning of the term ‘constructivism’ is contentious, with many researchers commentating on the bewildering array of ‘theories’ that claim to be ‘constructivist’. Indeed, some have suggested that the term ‘constructivism’, as well as the label ‘constructivist’ have become so diverse and confusing that they no longer provide any useful information (Light, 2008; Phillips, 1997). According to Matthews (2000), part of the problem is that “a good deal of constructivist writing is theoretically undernourished” (p.164) with the term ‘constructivism’ being used loosely and with no clear definition. This point is echoed by Davis and Sumara (2003) who suggest that this slippage in meaning may be a result of various ‘mistranslations’ of the theoretical assumptions about learning and cognition that underpin constructivist perspectives; and arisen as a result of an increased proliferation of materials claiming to be ‘constructivist’ that bear little resemblance to the ideas and tenets of seminal texts and research publications.
In light of these concerns, and in relation to Davis and Sumara’s recommendation that theorists and researchers become more “attentive to the ways in which their ideas are being taken up and translated” (p. 138), this research study sought to uncover the impact and influence of constructivist theorising, through conducting a critical examination into the ‘languaging’ of the term ‘constructivism’ within TGfU and SE research and scholarship. The purpose of this research was to shed some light on the meanings attributed to ‘constructivism’ within TGfU and SE research and scholarship.
To do this, a twofold research methodology was employed. First, the theory of Social Network Analysis, together with the methods of citation analysis, were utilized to identify those texts which are prominent and influential to current conceptualisations of the term ‘constructivism’ within TGfU and SE research and scholarship. This entailed systematically analysing 102 journal articles, books, book chapters and full conference papers and visually mapping the citation practices employed by researchers when ‘defining’, ‘applying’ and/or ‘justifying’ ‘constructivism’. Analysis of these citation patterns revealed an over reliance on secondary sources, with the work of seminal constructivist theorists occupying minor and peripheral roles within current conceptualisations. Furthermore, the use of ‘citation counts’ (Lindgren, 2011) assisted in identifying the prominence and impact of various TGfU and SE scholars; with the work of Kirk and Macdonald (1998) identified as the most highly cited physical education text within the network population.
Second, in order to examine critically the ways in which constructivist and situated theories of learning were drawn upon and ‘languaged’, the linguistic features of Kirk and Macdonald’s (1998) text, were examined further through the use of Postman’s (1989) ‘languaging’ framework in combination with the ‘thinking devices’ of interpretive repertoires and Bakhtin’s (1984) dialogism. This analysis revealed three main ways in which Kirk and Macdonald talked about learning from a ‘constructivist’ perspective: namely that learning is an active process; learning as situated and social; and learning as a legitimate, meaningful and authentic practice. Furthermore, the term ‘constructivism’ was found to be ‘languaged’ in ways that were complex and multivoiced, with Kirk and Macdonald utilizing a variety of perspectives in their attempt to demonstrate that constructivist theories of learning “have the potential to contribute to new theoretical perspectives on learning ... that can regenerate school physical education” (p. 377). In particular, the writings of situated learning theorists were found to have the most determining influence on the way in which Kirk and Macdonald ‘languaged’ ‘constructivism’; with the voice of Jean Piaget asserting only a modest influence on the definitions provided; and the voice of Lev Vygotsky notably absent within Kirk and Macdonald’s discussions.
This examination into the ‘languaging’ of the term ‘constructivism’ highlighted the extent of the influence that constructivist and situated theories of learning have had on TGfU and SE research and scholarship. In particular, Kirk and Macdonald’s inclusion of constructivist and situated perspectives, as well as their attempts to draw attention to students’ learning within physical education has subsequently provided the field of physical education with new theoretical perspectives from which to analyse and understand learning. This, in turn, has brought issues surrounding the learner and learning to the forefront of discussions. Yet, in spite of these generative possibilities, there are a number of cautionary tales that should be heeded by researchers wishing to utilize these theories of learning to ensure that the term ‘constructivism’ does not become devoid of meaning and analytic value. In particular, there is warrant to suggest that Kirk and Macdonald’s decision to embed and include situated learning theory under the constructivist banner has inadvertently drawn the field of physical education into the confusion of meaning that currently surrounds constructivist perspectives within broader education debates. Likewise, the shift to view legitimate peripheral participation through the broadened conceptualisation as authentic practice also has the potential to be problematic. In order to overcome these concerns, this research concludes by calling upon physical education researchers and scholars to celebrate divergence and resist oversimplification when attempting to understand and utilize learning theory.
Finally, this thesis highlights the productive possibilities offered through the utilization of various citation and discourse analytic approaches to examine critically the taken-for-granted assumptions and meanings attributed to the theories drawn upon in the field of physical education. In particular, the utilization of citation analysis to visually map and trace the citation practices employed by researchers provided a novel approach to understanding the complexities of the knowledge construction process. Moreover, the utilization of discourse analytical procedures generated a number of significant insights and understandings into the ways in which constructivist and situated theories of learning were ‘languaged’ within TGfU and SE research and scholarship, while simultaneously proving to be powerful and transformative to my own developing understandings of the complexities, sensitivities and intricacies of language, language use and meaning making. Thus, highlighting the productive possibilities and sophisticated understandings afforded through the utilization of these approaches.