Course:KIN366/ConceptLibrary/Characteristics of an Effective Learning Environment

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Movement Experiences for Young Children
KIN 366
Instructor: Dr.Shannon S.D. Bredin
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Important Course Pages
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When developing a physically active lesson plan, it is critical to acknowledge the elements that make an up an effective learning environment so that students are motivated to learn and participate in the lesson. Using a model for creating an effective learning environment that was developed by Gail Wilson, Senior Instructor in the department of Kinesiology at the University of British Columbia, as a guideline, this wikipage will examine and break down the following 7 principles that make up a successful learning environment: Fun, Inclusive, Developmentally Appropriate, Organized, Safe, Purposeful and Active. In order for the environment to benefit each and every student, all 7 principles must be well thought out during the lesson planning process, because all principles are co-dependent for achieving success (Wilson & Mills, 2013).

Principle #1: Fun

Fun is defined as something that provides amusement. Students are more likely to be engaged and motivated to participate and learn more, when physical activity is fun. Unfortunately, the aspect of fun is often neglected because lesson plans are seldom mindful of the needs and wants of the participants. To make an environment fun, it is essential to tailor the lessons so that each student is optimally challenged in that they are not only able to experience the thrill of success within the activity but they are also challenged enough to avoid boredom. This concept is known as optimally challenging the student, and it occurs when the developmental characteristics and abilities of the learner are matched with the characteristics of the activity (Wilson and Mills, 2013). This can be accomplished by educating oneself on the participant’s current abilities, interests, past experience and genetics so they know what aspects of the activity should be modified to suit their needs. Additionally, instructors should also be sensitive to everyone’s different rate of maturation. Fishburne (2005) table of Developmental Characteristics can be a useful guide to help with lesson planning; however, it is important to be prepared to adjust the lesson plan if the participants are not at Fishburne’s predicted maturation level. Lastly, participants must also be provided with opportunity to make choices and feel valued. When a student feels valued and important, while also being successful, they will be more confident in their athletic ability, which may have the potential to lead to life-long activity (Wilson & Mills, 2013).

Principle #2: Inclusive

Design of Activity

An inclusive physical activity provides a balance of opportunity for all participants in the class as well as valuing each participant and his or her decisions in order to help the students achieve a more meaningful experience (Kasser, 2013) To make a learning environment inclusive, instructors should be conscious of the activities they design and the language they use so that the class is able to accommodate diversity, is gender equitable and culturally sensitive. This is especially important when teaching a group with varying physical and skill abilities in a class. For example, a student who may not be familiar with a particular sport may feel excluded from the rest of the group on account of their lack of skill. In a game of basketball, for instance, some students will be more proficient with the required skills and will, therefore, pass only to students of perceived equal caliber that will help their team win. As a result, it is easy for less experienced students to feel excluded from the game. If the instructor is to able to adapt the game of basketball by implementing a rule that requires everyone on the team to touch the ball before shooting, the game would be more inclusive and would avoid highlighting anyone. This type of modification also ensures emotional safety, which is a key factor in promoting an active lifestyle. It is stated by Athanasios Papaioannou (1998), that when a task or learning a goal is salient, success is defined as personal improvement; young children ascribe high value to effort and skill development and are ultimately motivated without any external rewards because they are achieving their own goals. Creating an active culture that emphasizes personal improvement over winning should be continually reinforced to promote lifelong physical activity. Modifications can also help create an optimally challenging environment by providing options for making the activity harder or easier. A simple modification, such as increasing or decreasing the size of a ball in a catching drill can have an effect on a participants’ success. The students that have difficulty catching the ball with two hands in a synchronized fashion will experience more success with a larger, lighter ball. With this slight modification, students will develop confidence in their catching abilities because they are able to catch with correct technique (Wilson & Mills, 2014).

Lanuage Used

Instructors must be careful with the manner in which articulate themselves. In a class that has both boys and girls with varying skill levels and abilities, an instructor is advised to use neutral words to avoid inadvertent bias. For example, instead of addressing a class with both boys and girls as “guys,” he or she should address both sexes to avoid neglecting the females in the class. Additionally, to further protect emotional safety, instructors should avoid games that have genders against each other or with rules that one must pass to a girl before shooting. This not only highlights the female students but it also indirectly calls attention to a potential inferior skill level (Wilson & Mills, 2014).

Principle #3: Developmentally Appropriate

Is the Activity Age Appropriate?

There are two factors that one must consider when creating a lesson that is developmentally appropriate learning environment. The first factor entails the age level appropriateness of the lesson plan (Bredekamp & Rosegrant, 1992). This acknowledges that each child passes through developmental stages of learning at different rates. According to Fishburne (2005), there are four domains of learning: physical, motor, social, and cognitive. The physical domain focuses on the growth and development of body systems that occur as the child develops, while the motor domain concentrates on the development fundamental movement skills such as running, jumping, skipping, leaping, galloping, hoping etc. (Nichol, 1994) The domain that encompasses the development of an individual’s ability to communicate and interact with others is known as the social domain (Rink, 2006). The fourth domain, cognitive domain, involves changes and development of intellectual skills such as thinking, memory and problem solving (Boyd et al, 2009). Each of these domains interacts with one another. For example, as a child grows he or she will increase in size (physical) and will therefore have to adapt his or her fundamental movement skills to his or her new body size. In addition, he or she will have different opinions towards the opposite sex (social) and will gain the ability to be more creative (cognitive). These four domains are constantly changing as an individual grows and it is the instructor’s responsibility to be knowledgeable of development in order to tailor the lesson to optimally challenge each unique individual to enhance self-esteem and promote future active lifestyles (Wilson & Mills, 2013).

Is the Activity Individually Appropriate?

The second factor that the instructor must consider when creating an optimal environment is whether the lesson plan is individually appropriate (Bredekamp & Rosegrant, 1992). This involves all individual factors such as learning styles, maturation, ability level, past experience, genetics and motivation level/interest, all of which can affect the individual’s rate of development. In regards to learning style, there are three types of learners: visual, auditory and kinesthetic. Visual learners learn best by observing demonstrations, charts, images, or written instructions. Auditory learners, on the other hand, learn best by listening to verbal instructions while kinesthetic learners learn best by actively participating in demonstrations. An instructor therefore should be aware of the diversity in learning styles in the class and strive to accommodate them all with his or her instruction. This can be achieved by verbally explaining a demonstration with kinesthetic participants while the visual learners watch. Maturation is a process of changes that occurs within the body, which is commonly observed by skeletal growth and puberty Malina & Bouchard, 2004). The timing and tempo of maturation varies the most between individuals (Malina & Bouchard, 2004). Timing refers to when maturation events start to occur, while tempo refers to the rate at which maturation progress (Malina & Bouchard, 2004). Some students may have difficulty adjusting to their body changes and therefore may require more practice time to adjust skills learned (Malina & Bouchard, 2004). For example, a student may become uncoordinated due to a growth spurt and will require more time to adjust to the new size of his or her body. Ability level is connected to the experience that the student has. If the student has had the opportunity to practice a given skill, their ability level will be higher than if he or she is learning a new skill for the first time. Genetics refers to the genetic make-up of the individual. This is an aspect of the individual that the instructor cannot change. As a result, it is up to the instructor to make the necessary modifications to ensure that the student can still experience success regardless of pre-existing genetic condition. The last factor an instructor must consider in the process of developing a lesson plan is the motivational and interest level of the participants. Motivation concerns the affective characteristics of the learner, which refers to the direction and magnitude of the learning behavior. It is not only up to the instructor to present the activity in a captivating way, but also to create modifications so individuals can experience success (Wilson & Mills, 2013).

Principle #4: Organized

Organization is another key to a successful learning environment because the more organized an activity is the less likely students will become distracted, bored and inactive. This will lead to students engaging in physical activity for longer and more consistent periods of time. There are two components that a teacher should acknowledge and organize to create an effective lesson: learners, equipment, time and space (Wilson & Mills, 2013).

Organization of Learners

Organization of the learners requires arranging the students in the most efficient and effective way so that they can all see and hear the instructions, in addition to having enough space to complete the activity. Examples of student arrangement are scattered, in a line, in a circle or in a semi-circle (Wilson and Mills, 2013). To avoid highlighting of any student, scattered formation is the most effective method of organization; however, in order to engage the students in the back row it is important to move around the group or change line positioning. Another consideration is the way in which learners should be grouped. Grouping is an organizational procedure that is used to divide students into groups so that learning is facilitated (Lynn and Ratliffe, 2013). When grouping the students it is important to reflect on the purpose of the activity so that one can determine the size of the groups and the individuals in each group. Some studies state that it is optimal to separate groups on skill level while others believe that group ability should be evenly mixed (Lynn and Ratliffe, 2013). As a result, instructors should specify their grouping method in the lesson plan in advance so that individuals all feel included with maximum participation. If the goal of the lesson plan is affective oriented, it is important that the instructor avoids grouping based on common characteristics because the goal is to encourage participation with all individuals regardless of their sex, ethnicity, socioeconomic status etc. Additionally, it may be effective to separate friends so that students have the opportunity to interact with others while being physically active. All in all, each grouping procedure should be efficiently planned to avoid confusion, safe time, and reduce disruptions (Wilson & Mills, 2013).

Organization of Equipment

Organization of equipment is another important factor that is required in a lesson plan. This entails the amount and variety of equipment for the class and how equipment will be distributed and collected. Ideally, participants in physical activities would each get one piece of equipment to maximize participation, however due to financial constraints there is often not enough equipment. As such, it is important for the instructor to create activities so that individuals have the maximum amount of opportunity to use the equipment. Traditional games with large teams and only one ball, such as soccer, will abate engagement because only a few participants will have the chance to get to use the equipment. Rules to encourage equal distribution among players such as requiring the completion of five successful passes with all teammates before scoring will provide a more inclusive environment that engages everyone to be actively participating. Using a variety of equipment is also an effective way to optimally challenge individuals. Students that may have difficulty throwing a handball may find more success with a smaller tennis ball because they are able to grip the ball more easily. As the individual improves his or her skill in throwing a tennis ball, he or she can progress to a handball. Lastly, teachers have the opportunity to encourage more activity by distributing and collecting the equipment in an active manner. For example, at the beginning of the lesson the equipment can be spread out across the playing area so that students are required to move about to actively find a particular piece of equipment. Organization of learners, equipment, time and space will aid in keeping participates active and engaged for longer periods of time (Wilson & Mills, 2013).

Principle #5: Safe

Physical Safety

It is imperative that both the environment and the activities in a lesson are physically and emotionally safe. Students often weigh the benefits of being physically active against the risks of participating such as fatigue, soreness, injury or embarrassment (Kasser, 2013). To establish a physically safe environment, it is beneficial for the instructor to advise the students of his or her safety expectations, such as defining the boundaries and rules of the game (Mosston & Ashworth, 2002). Asking safety review questions at the end of the explanation, as well as using examples of key safety procedures, can catalyze understanding of safety rules. If the perceived benefits of the activity outweigh the perceived risks of physical harm, the student will be more likely to engage in the activity. Other strategies to help preserve safety in a physically active environment include instructor positioning, adequate warm up and cool down within the lesson, proper clothing, equipment, and playing areas, as well as establishing rules of personal space. Instructors should position themselves within the playing area so that can see all individuals at all times. This will prevent dangerous activity and behavior because students know that they are under constant supervision. An adequate warm up and cool down within a lesson plan will also ensure that participants will be physically prepared to engage in activity. An instructor must also make sure that each participant is wearing the appropriate clothing and shoes, that the equipment is safe and working properly and that the playing surface area is free of dangerous objects, liquids or other obstructions. Lastly, the concept of personal space is an important strategy to enhance physical safety. Enforcing the concept that everyone has a personal bubble and that each individual should respect everyone else’s space will dissuade physical contact and encourage students to feel safer when being active (Wilson & Mills, 2013).

Emotional Safety

Emotional safety is also a very important factor to consider when developing a lesson plan because it is the key to promote lifelong participation. An emotionally unsafe environment is one in which a student is singled out, such as an activity where a student can be watched and/or scrutinized by others while performing a skill. If the student is not comfortable with his or her skill level then the risk of embarrassment in front of the class may discourage future participation inside and outside the class. To avoid this, creating activities where students are focused on their skill development is most effective when providing an emotionally safe environment. It is also important that the instructor creates an active atmosphere that helps develop self-esteem. Elavsky, McAuley et al (2005), state that not only does self-esteem act as a determinant of participation in physical activity, but it also is an outcome of physical activity, which can only be enhanced if the environment is emotionally safe. Additionally, physical activity has been proven to influence and be influenced by self-efficacy. With that being said, positive affective experiences in safe environments have an impact on the amount of physical activity executed in later life. Therefore, it is crucial that the instructor creates an emotionally safe environment in which respect for self and for others is a rule that is continually enforced (Wilson & Mills, 2013).

Principle #6: Purposeful

All activities should foster learning; however, in order for learning to occur the activities must have a guiding purpose such as targeting motor, cognitive or affective development. Providing a purpose to activities in which students are motivated to continue to engage and participate in the active setting while also pinpointing certain areas for students to build upon. It is therefore the instructor’s task to tailor purposes to each individual so that success can be achieved. For example, for individuals that have not yet developed the strength or coordination to shoot a basketball, the instructor can reward points for sequential milestones such as hitting the backboard. In this case, all levels of skill are challenged and success can be achieved in a relative, rather than an absolute, setting. It is also an instructor’s responsibility to provide feedback that is meaningful, prescriptive and positive so that students are able to focus on important aspects of the skill. According to Ames (1992), research has shown that a mastery goal elicits a motivational pattern that is associated with quality of involvement that is likely to maintain achievement behavior. In order to foster this type of motivation, the instructor should create learning outcomes so that he or she is able maintain an objective of the lesson to then can later determine whether or not the objective was met. This in turns provides a method of assessment for participant development as well as the development of the lesson or program (Wilson & Mills, 2013).

Principle #7: Active

One of the main priorities of a physical education instructor for designing activities for any age is to facilitate as much active movement as possible. The most common and effective strategy to maximize movement during the lesson involves minimizing instruction time and removing line-ups and elimination games. It is well known that physical inactivity is an important determinant of ill-health and that moderate levels of activity are associated with many health benefits. Consequently, it is crucial that instructors encourage an active lifestyle by providing an environment that facilitates physical activity (Wilson & Mills, 2013).

Minimize Instruction Time

Often at the beginning of physical education class, students are sitting on the floor listening to their teacher explain a game. Often students only listen to the first few rules because they are too excited to get moving, and the teacher therefore has to provide multiple explanations for the eager participants. To prevent this from occurring, teachers can introduce the simplest form of the activity and add rules and progressions as the students become more efficient in the activity. With effective and enforced control mechanisms such as “freeze” and “when I say go”, it will be easy for the instructors to add new aspects of the game. For example, students can be initially instructed to skip into open space within a designated area. Then the instructor can assign two individuals as chasers with the objective to tag other students in order to add a new layer of complexity to the game. With a clear and concise series of instructions, the activity can easily progress into the complex tag game that the instructor would have to spend more time without the incremental steps. Another strategy for minimizing instruction time is to enforce the concept of hustle when assembling the students at the center of the gym or when asking the students to collect the equipment. It is important to encourage students to run in between and during activities so that more time is designated to being moderately active. Without the concept of hustle it, instructors will waste time towards controlling the class instead of being active (Wilson and Mills, 2013).

Remove Line-ups and Elimination Games

Both lines up and elimination games hinder active learning. Similarly, these activities highlight the students that may not be very athletic because they are either the first ones “out” of the game or they are the slowest at completing a relay. This in turn can obstruct the development of self-efficacy, which can ultimately discourage a future active lifestyle. According to Elavsky, McAuley et al. (2005), self-esteem has been considered as a focal aspect of health and quality of life. Elimination games, such as dodge ball, paradoxically encourage athletic students, who are already active, to be more active instead of encouraging the students who need practice to be active because they are eliminated at the beginning of the game. Line-up activities, for instance, relays, also hinder participation because only a few students are active at a time. Often, a lot of time is wasted while waiting for their turn. Therefore, it is up to the instructor to develop activities that promote being active for as long as possible. This in turn will ensure that the students will remain motivated to continue to be active (Wilson & Mills, 2013).


These adapted 7 principles by Gail Wilson are essential tools for developing an effective learning environment for physical activity that promotes an active lifestyle. Integration of these principles promotes positive experiences in which will motivate individuals to be more active not only outside of school but also throughout the rest of their lives.

Common Barriers

There are many barriers that prevent instructors from creating a developmentally appropriate learning environment for their participants. To start, many instructors do not have the knowledge or have not yet acquired the tools to create an environment that incorporates all of the 7 principles. Additionally, integrating these 7 principles requires a significant time dedication, which can be a limited resource for many instructors balancing multiple classes and new students year after year. A lack of funding is also a common barrier, especially when examining the equipment and space for activities. Often, facilities are shared with other programs or other classes, which causes a space restriction and makes it difficult for instructors to teach games effectively and appropriately. A lack of sufficient equipment creates further barriers for instructors by limiting the maximum participation size of a group. Lastly, overcoming students’ negative attitudes towards physical activity due to previous detrimental experiences can also act as a roadblock for instructors trying to optimize the environment for all those involved.


Synthesizing these 7 principles into activities will yield an optimally challenging environment in which all individuals can experience success and be incentivized for continuing future participation. With creativity, instructors can overcome most barriers by developing modifications that will make the activity easier or harder, so that individuals will continue to be motivated to participate. Making movement matter in youth has become a priority for all physical educators. By developing correct fundamental movement skills within children, they can have positive experiences and apply their abilities to other physical activities.


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