Danielle SaltersMaster’s student Danielle Salters is leading research with kinesiology professor Sara Scharoun Benson into attitudes toward inclusive physical education. The project focuses on teachers in training.

Study focuses on attitudes toward physical education that includes children with disabilities

When UWindsor’s Danielle Salters taught elementary school in London, England, she encountered children who had never participated in physical education with their classmates.

“Students with special needs were given another activity and told to go off and play by themselves,” said Salters. “I insisted on including them, and for some, that was a first.”

Perspectives on inclusive physical education (PE) are likely formed during a teacher’s own education, says Salters, a Master’s of Human Kinetics student who earned bachelor’s degrees in HK and education at the University of Windsor. So, together with UWindsor kinesiology professor Sara Scharoun Benson, Salters has begun a study on the next generation of teachers’ attitudes about the subject.

Dr. Scharoun Benson and Salters have been awarded a $10,000 research grant from the WE-Spark Health Institute, an agency founded by the University of Windsor, Windsor Regional Hospital, Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare, and St. Clair College to fund and share local research into health and well-being. It is one of five UWindsor research projects funded under WE-Spark’s Igniting Discovery grant program this year.

For the study, Salters is interviewing kinesiology students and students in UWindsor’s Bachelor of Education program, comparing the information gleaned from each group. Kinesiology students were also invited to complete an online questionnaire assessing attitudes about inclusive PE. The researchers plan to publish papers on the insights they gain and share their findings with the faculties and community agencies.

There has been little research on how teachers in training — called pre-service teachers — feel about inclusive PE, Scharoun Benson said.

“Literature to date has generally focused on the perspectives of in-service teachers, and research on pre-service teachers has primarily focused on teacher training programs,” said Scharoun Benson. “Pre-service teachers have different educational and experiential backgrounds, resulting in mixed feelings towards inclusion.”

In Ontario, most elementary PE classes are delivered by generalist teachers, instead of PE specialists with a background in kinesiology or physical education, Scharoun Benson said.

“Kinesiology students who may be interested in or intent on becoming a PE specialist teacher may have different perspectives than pre-service generalist teachers.”

The study builds on the work Salters has done in a graduate course with Scharoun Benson where she assessed pre-service teacher attitudes toward inclusive PE with an online survey. It meshes with Scharoun Benson’s research focus on motor development in children.

It has been well-established that PE and sport, when taught properly, can improve the participants’ quality of life, health, and well-being, Scharoun Benson said.

“Yet research has demonstrated  PE teachers generally lack confidence and do not feel prepared to teach inclusive PE. As a result, students with disabilities often find themselves in disjointed, non-participatory PE classes that undermine the right to a full educational experience.”

Salters said she hopes her research changes that.

“There are always ways we can include children with disabilities,” she said. “What we want is to increase the awareness of the importance of inclusive PE.”

—Sarah Sacheli