EXERCISE AND QUALITY OF LIFE
Volume 2, No. 2, 2010, 43-49
TOWARDS SUSTAINABLE DIDACTICS
, Simone Digennaro, Stefania Manzo and Erika Vannini
Faculty of Sport Sciences, Department of Sport and Health Sciences,
University of Cassino, Italy
The concept of sustainability is usually linked with environmental issues. Accepting the
idea of the body as an inner environment, it is possible to outline a more sustainable approach to
sport didactics that doesnít jeopardise the youth's later willingness for sports. The red thread
running through the theoretical references and didactic examples is a way of teaching that
privileges communicative to functional/thermo dynamical aspects. The sustainable didactics is
the synthesis of several methodological approaches developed in the in the field of Sport for All.
sustainability, didactics, sports for all
In the last 30 years, in Italy, the almost total lack of official research activities on P.E.,
essentially due to the absence of a Faculty of Sport Sciences, has been counterbalanced by
studies and research
(often home-made ones), carried out individually by teachers and
researchers. Many of these free-lance researchers have been active leaders in the development of
didactic studies regarding Sport-for-All. As new Courses or Faculties of Sport Sciences have
been established (2000), several of these researchers have been invited to carry on their work at
the Faculty of Sport Sciences of the University of Cassino, with the aim of systematizing the
relevant knowledge they were bearers of.
As a recognised Faculty, we have welcomed these individual studies and developed a
new approach in P.E., which is that of sustainability in sport practices. Our Faculty is
experimenting this theoretical-applicative approach in the training of its students and this method
is being adopted also in the training of schoolteachers and sports operators in collaboration with
UISP, the largest Sport for All association in Italy. The concept of sustainability applied to P. E.
and sport didactics leads us to define as sustainable those didactics that do not jeopardise the
youth's later willingness for sports. (Borgogni, Geri, & Lenzerini, 2004)
Corresponding author. Faculty of Sport Sciences, Department of Sport and Health Sciences, University of Cassino,
Campus Folcara ñ Via S. Angelo 03043 Cassino,
© 2010 Faculty of Sport and Physical Education, University of Novi Sad, Serbia
A. Borgogni et al.
The approach has its theoretical references in:
Merleau Pontyís (2002) study on phenomenology, in particular his analysis on the relation
between body and perception and on the deep communicative sense of the meaning of
gestures: ìthe communication or comprehension of gestures comes about through the
reciprocity of my intentions and the gestures of others, of my gestures and intentions
discernible in the conduct of other people. It is as if the other person's intention inhabited my
body and mine hisî. (p. 215). As sports experts, we can find in this text the qualitative
explanation of almost every sport tactic related to sociomotricity;
institutional pedagogy, paying particular attention to the idea of cooperative learning and of
ìactive classroomî, developed by Freinet (1990), who emphasized the concept of active
learning in a democratic setting. Freinet theorised the respect for the childís integrity, thus
bringing real life into the curriculum and reaching both motivation through meaningful work
and freedom from coercion. The didactics of Freinet connect us with the idea of cooperative
games as a basis of every disciplinary learning;
relational psychomotricity, particularly the approach of Lapierre and Aucoutourier (1973).
They draw their educational attention on the relation between mother and child, between
teacher and child and amongst children: this relation is as much important as what is taught.
The non-directive approach, the relevance of the act of listening, and the body language are
other peculiarities which strictly link their approaches to body practices and sports;
the latest studies on neurophysiology concerning the role of emotions in learning processes, to
mention but a few names Damasio (1994), Edelman (1987), Goleman (1995), Le Doux
(1996); they have highlighted how emotions can change a neural map, thus demonstrating the
relevance of an optimal learning environment, also referring to Vygotskyís zone of proximal
development, which strictly depends on the possibility to cope with emotions. Our field of
knowledge is more than others connected with emotions; any performance at any level
depends on the emotional condition of the pupil, often exposed to the gaze of the teacher and
of the other students.
The world of sports is often unable to read the consequences of its behaviour on external
environment (for example in relation to the environmental impact of a sport event or to eco-
sustainable practice), with perhaps the only exception being that of some very big events.
Nevertheless, in this article our intention is to draw the attention to the incapacity of sports world
to grasp the consequences of its politics on the body, meant as an inner environment. This
limited perception is true from a physiological and psychological point of view and also from the
perspective of sustainable didactics, which will be the centre of my analysis up to the end of this
From a physiological point of view, doping is only the most evident expression of the
lack of sustainability of a performance in time. From a psychological side, also referring to
Hardman (2008), we can trace the absence of sustainability in the result-oriented pressures made
on children and youngsters, in the exclusion and in the unwillingness to recognise real
responsibilities in the drop and burn-out phenomena of the less able students from sports. In the
perspective of ecological didactics, it is interesting to underline the features of sustainability
discernible in some didactic approaches.
Towards sustainable didactics
The approach we are proposing can render practicing sport sustainable for four reasons:
not compromising the possibility of future sport activities from an anatomical-physiological
viewpoint; highlighting the ethical aspects of sports while facilitating a reflection on sport
practice; inducing a balanced relationship with the inner environment
- the body
facilitating advancing to other sports or recreational sports practices; maintaining the motivation
to practising different kind of sports since the activities are conceived as non-excluding.
The approach, explained in several books published by various researchers of our group,
is based on three interwoven pillars: oblique methodology, the concept of ìsubjectively
difficultî, situational methodology.
is based on the teacherís ability to create situations which every
student can manage to get through. Obliquity is an approach that allows every athlete/student to
work at their own level, therefore with a higher possibility of success of their actions. Every
student possesses different abilities: a teacher facing this situation can choose to introduce only
one level of difficulty which few students can overcome or a case with several levels of obstacles
which everybody can get over in accordance with their personal skills.
In practice: a situation is oblique when every one in the group can do exercises at
different/personal levels but feeling involved in the same activity; a situation is not oblique if one
or more students, on the basis of their various grades of capability, practice different activities.
The concept of obliquity recalls that of the individualization of teaching and derives from that
branch of pedagogy which aims to the integration of the disabled in physical activities. Every
situation can be ìobliqueî, it only depends on the teacherís ability of observing and
programming in this direction.
The concept of obliquity is strictly connected with the background of the savoir-fare and
success of all group members apart from their personal abilities. This background is linked to the
possibility of properly answering to the teacherís requests; there is obliquity, if the request is one
for the whole group but there are several different yet successful ways to answer it. The obliquity
is fostered if there is attention to the experience of every student, if the current idea of mistake
can be revised, if the didactics allow the possibility of a multiple choice (Canevaro & Rossini,
Obliquity means, here, suggesting situations of exercise in which all students can practice
according to their
own level of difficulty
The ìdifficultyî represents and defines the frame of the
educational work. Every act of learning is difficult, and stands in that area which is still unknown
to the pupil; the ìobliqueî teacher undertakes the responsibility of making this new step
perceived as achievable. Everyone can easily agree up to this point: a correct didactic
progression should imply and allow a gradual improvement of the learning process from a lower
to a higher level, from easy to difficult. This approach corresponds to the learning progression
structured in levels, which is widely used in taxonomic planning. According to Figure 1, a pupil
going from level ìAî to level ìBî should follow a linear process made of fixed steps.
A. Borgogni et al.
Learning path structured in levels.
This kind of approach can work only until we physically meet the pupils and their
different abilities either in classrooms or in sport clubs. A possible solution to this extreme
diversification could be that of finding an ìaverage difficultyî for everybody, but it would
probably be too difficult for someone and too easy for someone else. From a didactical
viewpoint, we can solve the problem in three different ways: suggesting individual learning
processes or processes restricted to groups of the same level; applying the oblique methodology;
using the ìhelp relationî whereby a more able student facilitates his classmatesí learning. We
affirm that suggesting situations in which everyone can confront and eventually overcome his
personal difficulties is the appropriate educational approach in the majority of the situations.
In Figure 2 we can observe the representation of a learning path structured by frames or
as a net.
In this case, in order to reach progression, the pupil needs to choose between several
alternatives. The net here represents the ìproblem situationî which allows everybody to stay in
the same educational situation but exercising at his/her own level of difficulty. A question for the
auto-assessment of teachers could be ìHave I been able to suggest situations and exercises which
have valorised the differences and abilities of everybody?
Towards sustainable didactics
. Learning path structured by frames or as a net.
A sustainable didactics is one that allows pupils to choose amongst possibilities they can
adapt to their own skill levels. The didactics of the ìdifficultî implies the ability to propose
exercises that will allow each student to find the corresponding optimal area of learning. This
second illustration refers also to Gregory Batesonís theory of Complexity (1972, 1979) and
suggests a change of perspective not only in sport didactics but at a more widespread level. The
didactics of the difficult can also be connected with the definition of the intelligence theorized by
Howard Gardner (1983) as not only the ability to solve problems but as the capacity of
discovering problems and finding the appropriate solutions. The described approach can answer
to this definition offering learning situations in which everyone can elaborate subjective
strategies of solving, but also seeking and discovering problems.
The teacherís capability to observe and listen to the group, as well as her/his ability to
plan and suggest not only exercises but also emotionally relevant situations, are fundamental in
situational methodology. This
methodology of situations
is conceived as the teacherís ability to
ìreadî the level of instruction and adapt his/her proposals to the experience and emotions of the
class. Here, the repetition of learning situations is more important than repeating the action itself.
It goes without saying that in this kind of approach what is crucial is a training of teachers
that can develop their personal and relational skills (Borgogni & Davi, 1993). The sustainability
of didactics must be evaluated both individually, as a possibility to continue practising in the
future, and on a group level; in this case the didactics shall be sustainable when the highest
number of youths shall continue practising sport.
This cultural and applicative foundation has thus far already been used as the basis for a
textbook for high schools, plus a collection of publications aimed at university training.
A. Borgogni et al.
The textbook, entitled ìStrade Maestreî
, (Borgogni, Rossi, Piccioni, Cei, & Bizzaglia,
2002) is intended as a guide for the teacher and is the first example in Italy of a book that has
been specifically designed for teaching Physical Education in the Secondary School and that
promotes the Sport for All approach.
The book highlights the close links existing between pedagogy and the didactics of sport.
It describes planning methods, methodologies, evaluations, relations with other subjects and the
role of the discipline in the state exam. The text also covers many applicative aspects of how to
propose sports using the concept of Sport for All: consideration of diversity, different abilities,
motivation, inclusion and the possibility of providing learning opportunities for all, regardless of
We would like to conclude this article with some examples
Do note that the difference
between a proposal based on the above mentioned three pillars and the ìtraditionalî way of
teaching is very thin:
1) putting the cross bar at the same level for everybody is a ìhorizontalî proposal, whilst
different bars at different levels or the same bar put obliquely is a proposal which allows
everybody to challenge themselves and not to be excluded or feel humiliated while watching
the more capable jumping.
2) Proposing endurance running, often disliked by pupils, drawing their attention on what they
feel by making them fill in simple forms with information such as the heart rate the running
time and the sensations felt, increases the quality of the performance, even if practiced only
once a week. We believe that this result is due to the improvement of the awareness of the
sensations of their body under effort. The teacher intentionally suggests to pay attention
primarily to the sensations felt, rather than to the running time or speed.
3) Whilst two students playing volleyball set the ball, the educator can choose to pay his didactic
attention to the technical features of the movements, such as the position of the body and of
the hands or the way they hit the ball (on time or not), etc. On the other hand, he can
intentionally focus on the relational aspects of the gesture, for example by asking one student
to create difficulties for the other
(relation with the environment/other person) or to
concentrate on his/her own personal difficulties and mistakes
(connection with internal
According to Le Camus (1984) we can distinguish two main trends of this didactical
attention: one, more technical, concentrates on the functional/thermo dynamical aspects, the
other, more relational, focuses on the communicative/cybernetic aspects. The functional one is
more attentive to the technical way of production of a gesture and to the performance achieved.
The communicative sense of that gesture remains in the background. The communicative trend
looks intentionally both towards the outer environment (focusing above all on the relation with
other people, e.g. the one setting the ball) and the inner environment (focusing on proprioceptive
sensations). What I would like to stress here is that while the second approach can include the
first, the opposite is not possible.
The English translation is difficult: ìStradeî means ìRoadsî, ìMaestreî means ìMainî but also ìTeachersî.
Towards sustainable didactics
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Submitted November 25, 2010
Accepted December14, 2010