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‘Crazy Ideas’: Student Involvement in Negotiating and Implementing the Physical Education Curriculum in the Irish Senior Cycle

Donal Howley, Deborah Tannehill


The aim of this study was to examine senior cycle students’ views on their involvement in a process of curriculum negotiation and implementation and how the methodologies they experienced affected their investment in and ownership of the physical education curriculum. The study was conducted in an urban co-educational comprehensive school. The participants composed of a class of 24 students, (12 male/12 female), ranging from 15 to 16 years of age, the physical education teacher and the teacher-researcher. Throughout the study, participants engaged in negotiation and discussion pertaining to their physical education experiences as well as selecting, implementing and participating in a variety of activities and a student designed curriculum unit. A number of research instruments and procedures were adopted to gather data from participants which were then analysed and used for discussion by the teacher-researcher. Student involvement in negotiating the physical education curriculum in the Irish senior cycle had a positive impact on participants in this study in a variety of manifestations. Increased dialogue and collegiality allowed students and teachers to re-design their physical education curriculum, making it more relevant to their lives. Opportunities for decision making and responsibility increased students’ ownership, investment and participation in physical education. Opportunities for effectively eliciting student voice and student involvement in negotiation requires teachers and students to experience a shift from traditionally perceived roles to more collegiate, innovative, facilitative and constructive roles in physical education. Student involvement in selecting, critiquing and negotiating activities evoked a spirit of inquiry, critical thinking, problem solving, self-reliance, initiative, and enterprise within them. In particular, it heightened respect and cooperation among teachers and students, valuing each other’s perspectives and the considerations that needed to be acknowledged in selecting, negotiating and implementing activities.

The findings suggest that curricula constructed by and with students as opposed to for them can increase their investment and ownership and evoke responsibility rather than disengagement and alienation.  If the vision of senior cycle education is indeed one which “sees the learner at the centre of the educational experience” (Overview of Senior Cycle Education, 2009, p. 10), then student voice and involvement in negotiating the curriculum has a fundamental role to play not just in physical education, but in all senior cycle subjects.



Student Voice; Physical Education; Curriculum Negotiation; Curriculum Implementation; Change Agency

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