Tracking Student Outcomes Through Instructional Choices in Physical Education


  • Brianna Kleitsch Tempe Elementary School District and Arizona State University
  • Pamela Hodges Kulinna Arizona State University



learning, elementary, self-determination theory


This study used self-determination theory to provide a better understanding of learner motivation in a physical education program. Students participated in a sports unit with choice in activities, equipment, partners, and competition as opposed to a traditional teacher-led activity unit. The objective was to determine differences in motivation and perceptions of physical education in grade school children. An alternating treatment design was used in which students experienced both a teacher-led unit and a student choice–driven sports unit. Fifty fifth-grade students from a suburban school in the Western United States participated in this study. Students were assessed through a number of parameters: physical activity enjoyment, situational motivation, fourth- and fifth-grade student attitudes toward physical education, pedometer readings, and interviews. This study used t tests and repeated-measures analyses of variance to explore differences based on condition (i.e., choices and/or teacher led) and gender, as well as common comparisons (i.e., trustworthiness measures) for the interview data. Students displayed significantly higher enjoyment ratings when they had the choice condition second (from the alternating treatment design), immediately before posttests, and boys rated enjoyment of physical education significantly higher than did girls. In another measure, the group with choices of the hockey unit was predominantly more active in the sport than those participating in the teacher-led activity. The interview themes elicited the following responses: (a) students expressed a desire for instructional choices, but not in team selections; (b) students loved sports, but they also wanted more fitness; and (c) students identified and valued instructional choices. The findings suggest that competence plays a critical role in physical education, and when students can choose the level of competition and play in small group games, they feel more competent, play more, and have higher enjoyment ratings within the physical education program.

Author Biographies

Brianna Kleitsch, Tempe Elementary School District and Arizona State University

Thew Elementary School, Tempe Elementary School District, and Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, Arizona State University

Pamela Hodges Kulinna, Arizona State University

Professor of Physical Education in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.