University of Limerick
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'Carving a new order of experience' with young people in physical education: participatory action research as a pedagogy of possibility

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posted on 2022-11-21, 15:27 authored by Eimear Enright
The purpose of this study was to work with a group of disengaged teenage girls to understand and help them transform their self-identified barriers to their physical education engagement and physical activity participation. This study was premised on a conviction that young people have unique perspectives on learning and life, that their voices warrant not only to be heard but to be acted on, and that these young people (disengaged teenage girls in this case) should be partners in any efforts at reimagining physical education. The study took place over three years in a designated disadvantaged, citycentre, girls’ school. It was framed methodologically, theoretically and philosophically by a feminist Participatory Action Research (PAR) orientation, and engaged forty-one teenage girls as co-researchers and curriculum decision makers. Participatory methods (photovoice, timelines, poster making) were used to generate data with the participants throughout this study and were supported by more traditional ethnographic techniques (participant observation and interviews/guided conversations). Five research questions guided the study: 1) What methodologies are most successful in facilitating the students in explicating their ideas about physical education and physical activity, and in engaging them in curriculum design? 2) What were the students’ perceptions of their involvement in physical education and physical activity at the beginning of the PAR process? 3) What does the process of negotiating a formal physical education curriculum look like? 4) What happens when we engage with students to challenge formal physical education curricular boundaries and connect with students’ physical culture outside of school? 5) How does increased involvement in decision-making impact on students’ engagement with physical education and physical activity? Findings suggest that participatory approaches to research and curriculum making can serve to promote students’ meaningful engagement in the critique and the reimagining of their physical education and physical activity experiences. The girls in this study, when provided with guidance and encouragement, rose to the challenge and took ownership of their learning, and doing so was a positive, energizing and exciting experience for them and one in which deep learning occ urred and deep insights were produced. This transition to ‘carving a new order of experience’ was not without challenge however, and both students and adult allies needed support in persevering beyond the transition and the novelty of initial excitement.



  • Faculty of Education and Health Sciences


  • Doctoral

First supervisor

O'Sullivan, Mary





Department or School

  • Physical Education and Sports Science

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