A Spectrum of Teaching Styles

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A Spectrum of Teaching Styles

Alex Sporticus


“Teaching needs to be deliberate as we don’t want to succeed at random, but we want to gain a deeper understanding of our successes and failures.” (Mosston, 1966).


Mosston and Ashworth’s Spectrum of Teaching Styles (SoTS) offers PE Teachers, both novice and expert, a clear framework of teaching within the subject. Specifically it provides a unified theory and shared language about the structure of teaching, which allows an individual to develop a repertoire of teaching styles. This repertoire of styles provides the PE Teacher with many benefits, key amongst them in my mind is aligning teaching to learning outcomes and adapting to what emerges within the act of teaching. If you wish to know more I highly recommend both Teaching Physical Education 1st Online Edition by Mosston and Ashworth (2008) and The Spectrum of Teaching Styles in Physical Education by SueSee, Hewitt and Pill (2020).

There are a number of key insights from the SoTS that transcend and are useful whether a PE Teacher explicitly draws upon it to inform their planning, teaching and reflection or not. They are:

  • Teaching is a chain of decision making
  • A non-verses perspective to teaching approaches
  • Teaching is episodic
  • Teaching is for democratic purposes


Teaching is a chain of decision making

This is the axiom, or truth, that Mosston (1966) built the SoTS upon – “…teaching behaviour is a cumulative chain of decision making – of deciding among known choices. The absence of decisions about various aspects of a lesson also reflects decision making – a decision not to make decisions about some aspects of the lesson.” As he highlights decisions are being made before, during and after every lesson, that these decisions are responsive to the dynamic relationship between teacher, pupil and subject matter and that these are what fundamentally shape the experience of PE.

The PE Teacher is first and foremost a pedagogical decision maker. This means making intentional and deliberate decisions about the why, what and how of PE, with those decisions always informed by deep knowledge and understanding of who they are teaching and contemporary research and evidence. It is about understanding the purpose of their actions and that no decision is ever truly perfect as there will always be tradeoffs to be made by selecting one course of action over another. This is what I recognise to be the central skill of good teaching in PE.


A non-versus perspective of teaching approaches

A versus paradigm is one that sees everything in opposition, for example “individualization is pitted against socialization, the cognitive movement against the affective movement, direct vs. indirect instruction, the humanists vs. the behaviorists” (Mosston and Ashworth, 2008, p. 2). This is a narrow and limiting perspective for PE, especially if one wishes to take a more holistic approach and develop the whole person. No one style, method or model can accomplish all the intended learning outcomes across a range of developmental channels within a PE curriculum or respond to what emerges within the daily course of teaching and learning.

Instead the SoTS advocates for a paradigm shift from versus to non-versus. That all styles have value and their place, but to judge that value the PE Teacher needs to always consider purpose and whether it is meeting the needs of the child. It is less about personal preference and more about being clear about intentions, what the evidence suggests and being deliberate about aligning teaching approach, student capability and subject matter. This perspective can be expanded out to include other PE models and approaches, for example both Gamification and Digital Video Games Approach have a place within the PE Teachers toolbox, and key to using them well is understanding for what purpose they were designed for and how they might assist the child’s learning and development.


Teaching is episodic

Effective PE Teaching requires coherent nested planning. Planning is a deliberate thinking process where the PE Teacher develops an ‘intention for impact‘ by drawing upon a range of information sources (knowledge of children’s capability, previous experience, theory, research and evidence etc.). The planning is nested as it simultaneously considers the macro (the purpose of the curriculum and its long term aims) the meso (the aims of schemes of work and how they link across years) and the micro (the lesson itself). It is coherent when the micro impacts on the meso, and the meso impacts on the macro.

The SoTS views teaching as episodic, which breaks the micro down from a lesson into smaller chunks. As SueSee, Pill and Hewitt (2020, p. 20) explain “An episode is a unit of time within which the teacher and the learner are engaged in the same T-L style, heading towards the same set of objectives.” A length of a teaching episode could be a minute or last an entire lesson, depending on the children’s capability and the subject matter that is being taught.

Thinking of teaching as episodic (and planning as nested) can help the PE teacher intentionally plan each moment without losing the coherence to the bigger picture. It focuses on the details of teaching and learning within the flow of a lesson, without getting trapped within those details. Episodic teaching and planning can lead to more attentive actions that consider the needs of the children and more congruent to learning outcomes. Finally it allows for a way for PE Teachers to interrogate their own practice at multiple nested levels.


Teaching is for democratic purposes

If teaching in PE is to lead to children and young people taking responsibility for their own physical personhood, physical activity and physical wellbeing, then curriculum, teaching, learning and assessment must look to scaffold and support their independence. The SOTS is a process of moving towards independence – as moving from one style to the next calls for an increase in the quantity and the quality of the decisions by the students. This can be extended to an aim of the curriculum, task design and teaching behaviours.

This is because Mosston (1966) views education as a planned series of dynamic behavioural interactions between teacher and child, so that the child increases the capability to make informed decisions about their own destiny. At the heart of the SoTS is that teaching and education is for democratic purposes – “The education of the free, independent person must be a freeing process, a process so deliberately and elegantly developed that the students dependency on the teacher gradually diminishes until the free student emerges.” (Mosston, 1966, p. 17).

If we wish the outcome of an education to be a free person who contributes to society through being a democratically informed citizen, then we need a physical education that values and supports independence – which is the ability to make choices based upon one’s own convictions and the strength to act upon those convictions. PE is just as much about growth so that a child becomes a fully functioning human as it is knowledge, skill and behaviour needed to live a physically active lifestyle.


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