TIC TALK Podcasts

Exploring personal experiences of inclusion

TIC TALK 23: Dr Marty Block

A podcast with Dr Marty Block
Dr Marty Block

Dr Marty Block

Inclusive PE

Dr Marty Block is one of the leading authorities in inclusive physical education in the world. He is widely published and currently President of the International Federation of Adapted Physical Activity. We caught up with Marty at EUCAPA in 2014. If you are interested in how to make your PE class inclusive – then listen in!

Transcript of the Podcast with Marty Block

Peter:

Welcome to Tic Talk, it’s a great pleasure to have in front of me Marty Block. Now, Marty, I will tell you a bit of a story that I think I’ve told you before. About 20 years ago, it would be, when I was first engaged to develop and redevelop an activities manual for children with disabilities in Australia, one of my first jobs in Australia. The textbook that I used most of all has become like a—it’s like one of these days, it’s like the book at home that I need to wear white gloves. It’s like an antique, it falls apart every time I open it. I can’t remember the exact title but it was the inclusion of children with disabilities into regular physical education classes, yearbook, and when was it introduced, Marty?

Marty:

The first time was 1994, it’s the third edition now and we’re getting ready to have a new edition coming out in 2015.

Peter:

Oh wow, looking forward—I was working with the original in 1994 edition that was to—and like I said, now I pick it up and it would fall to pieces—apart because I used it that much, it was the basis of my work. And so it’s a really great pleasure to eventually, 20 years later, catch up with you and have a good 15 minutes here. Marty, can you explain your position at the moment and a little bit about your history to people listening?

Marty:

Sure, I’m a professor at the University of Virginia and we have a master’s program in adapted physical education and we also have a doctoral program where we train future college professors in adapted physical education and I’m very proud to say we’ve produced, Dr. Luke Kelly and myself, probably about 10 to 15 really high qualified adapted physical education professors, including (01:53) who is the new president of the European federation. So we’re very proud of that. And I’ve been at the University of Virginia now for about 24 years, before that, I was at Northern Illinois University for two years. And before that, I was doing my studies and I taught for five years at a school for children with disabilities in northern Virginia near Washington, D.C. and also very involved with Special Olympics, from coaching at the lowest level to working with the international office on some programs.

Peter:

You also gave a keynote here as well at the EUCAPA conference. In there, you sort of talked a little bit about the challenges of, still, in 2014, the challenges of inclusion of children of disabilities into regular physical education. Some of those challenges, I was thinking during your presentation, haven’t changed that much in the past 20 years. Why is that, do you think?

Marty:

I think part of it is that we haven’t changed how we prepare future physical educators. I was talking to someone earlier about the history of inclusion and the early 1990swhen this was being promoted as a great model. They promised that there would be preparation and training for general education staff, we’re not just going to dump these kids in there, we’ve done that before and that didn’t work. We’re going to really prepare you. Well, no one ever did any preparation, so since the 90s, at least in the U.S., the physical education teachers go to university and they take one course in adaptive physical education and it’s not enough to prepare them and so we’re really letting them down. So we shouldn’t be surprised that we still hear that physical educators say that they’re not prepared, they don’t feel competent, they’re nervous about this whole process. So I think we’re failing them at the university level.

Peter:

So what do you think the kind of solution to that might be? You are creating, yourself, some solutions to that but it requires a lot more, doesn’t it? The task is almost so big.

Marty:

It is and I think many universities just don’t have the faculty to provide quality training, that’s one of the problems. And again, my solution is—I just think this idea with the technology now is to create little podcasts, similar to what you’ve done with the Inclusion Fit Club, which are wonderful, we’ve actually used some of those in our research, but little podcasts that can really speak to the physical educators taking the course for example, in basketball. So you learn how to teach dribbling and passing and strategies and things like that, and then you add this little podcast that says okay, if you happen to have a child in a wheelchair, here’s some simple little modifications. If you happen to have a child with a visual impairment, here’s some modifications. So I think that type of thing—and then you have to add some discussion pieces with it, some chances to share, some things where the student has to stop the video, write some things down, similar to what you’ve created. I think those things are a way to help.

Peter:

Yeah I think these days it’s easier than it was 20 years ago, there weren’t so many opportunities to assist people that we have now. So perhaps we’ll talk about a few of the simple strategies because a lot of people involved in education, school education, listen to these podcasts. So what are some of the simple strategies that we can use to look for if someone is suddenly presented with that scenario of we suddenly have a child with a disability come into the class? That kind of unexpected ad hoc arrangement that does still happen quite a lot.

Marty:

One of my favorite models—and to be honest with you, I’ve thought about this many times and I’ve never put a name to it, it’s called differentiated instruction. One of my colleagues at the University of Virginia, Carol Tomlinson in special education kind of coined this term many years ago. But with differentiated instruction, you don’t actually think about a child with a disability, you think about I’m going to present different levels for all the children in my class. I think if we can sell that to regular educators and physical education teachers, that it would be much easier to include someone who presents even greater challenges. Let me give you a quick example.

So you’re teaching children how to do the overhand throw and you have a variety of abilities of these children who were, let’s say, in primary schools. So you have different balls to present and different distances to target, different sized targets and you ask the students to focus on different components of the throw. By presenting this diversity to the whole group, you clearly already are saying I understand I have a large, wide range, from very skilled students who I want to throw a small ball to a small target, to students who are just learning to throw who are going to stand closer, maybe just focus on stepping with the opposite foot and having a very large target. So I’ve already built in this diversity and this range, then when someone says you have to add one more level of diversity, that’s easy to do.

Right now, teachers, I believe, too often teach to the middle with one challenge, we’re all going to throw this way at this one target. And when you say you have a child with a disability, they can’t fathom how make any type of accommodation for that one child. So if you already build in this idea of multiple levels, it’s kind of easy, I think.

Peter:

Yeah it’s kind of a universal design principal, isn’t it, too, that setting?

Marty:

It is, it’s very similar and I have trouble myself a little bit with universal design when I think of differentiated instruction, to me, it really speaks to the education aspect of it.

Peter:

And that’s a method of instruction that’s applicable to all children in all circumstances, male, female, disability, not disability. I mean, it’s just good practice, really.

Marty:

Absolutely and I mean, I don’t know why we don’t do this more. I remember being in primary school myself and not being a very good reader and there were color coded books and you probably remember that too. So when you were able to master the brown book, you went to yellow book, and this was already differentiated, there were five different colored books and each child chose the books or the teacher did, that matched their level and you progressed as you moved forward. That was done in the 1960s, so why we haven’t embraced that now with physical education, you know? Why do we have to all use the same basketball and shoot at the same basket level? Why can’t we all have different things so we all can be successful?

Peter:

It’s a bit left field but do you think a lot of that is because as a society we see sport, we see sport on the TV, we read about it in the newspapers and online and things and it’s a recipe, it’s a card, it’s the way basketball is done, it’s just the way football is done. We’ve got rules and regulations in our head, we’ve got tactics in our heads and that’s what dominates. So to think outside of that takes a bit of effort.

Marty:

I think so and I’m not sure and I think we do try to present these models of differentiation at the teacher preparation programs but I always wonder in my head that the typical physical educator, who is that? It’s often an athlete, someone who’s played sports and they have their rule book, the FIFA rule book in their back pocket, this is how you play soccer. It’s 11 on 11 and you use this ball and these are the rules and for them to say wait a minute, why can’t we use different balls, why can’t we have three balls in the game? Why can’t we have four different goals? Why can’t we do different things, have zones where people can be? It’s just a leap sometimes when you’re that elite athlete and you—it’s difficult for you to translate. Kind of like, I’m terrible at math and I imagine someone who teaches math isn’t going to be a terrible math teacher, they’re going to be very gifted at it and so they may be frustrated and not understand why someone can’t pick up math skills. And a phys ed teacher is the same thing, they look at a child and say why can’t you run and throw like I can? It was easy.

Peter:

I don’t know, in the states, is the curriculum such a way that it promotes that kind of singular rule book type presentation, instruction? Is that the way it works?

Marty:

I can’t speak to all universities, I know our teacher preparation doesn’t do that, we have a very good pedagogues who teaches those fundamental things. But one of the downsides in the states is we have condensed our curriculum in most universities where you take a course in team sports. So in that 14 week course, you’re supposed to learn how to teach and how to master basketball, football, soccer, volleyball, softball, team handball and so you’re really getting one or two weeks only in each course. So now we’re putting that person out into secondary school and now they’re supposed to teach a volleyball unit for six weeks and I don’t think we’ve prepared them how to do that, let alone modify it for a child with disabilities. So again, there’s very big flaws in the system, I think.

Peter:

Yeah there is. One of the challenges and questions that we’ve dealt already in the Inclusion Club, it comes back and we’re still discussing, is how much is knowledge of impairment itself important for, say, a regular phys ed teacher? How important is knowledge of disability in terms of instruction? Is it important at all or is that—

Marty:

I’ve gone back and forth with this myself, you know, and interestingly, when I first thought about writing my book, and you’re probably familiar with the first edition, we don’t have any disabilities in there, it’s all very broad. And this next edition, we actually are going to have disabilities because that’s what the college professors say, they teach autism, they teach an intellectual disability but my view has always been that if I tell you as a physical education teacher, you’re going to have a child with Down syndrome in your class, that means nothing to you. If you have a child with cerebral palsy, it means nothing to you in terms of how do I make modifications?

Now if I said to you, you have a child who has very limited upper body strength and you play basketball, you would think, okay well they probably can’t make a regulation basket, they probably can’t lift a regulation basketball and so that’s the language I think a physical educator needs. And so that’s what I would promote, is these functional things, strength, coordination, speed, so speed is an issue for this child who’s going to—he has Down syndrome but that doesn’t matter, he’s much slower than his peers and you’re playing a tagging and fleeing and dodging game. We need to accommodate that or this child’s not going to be successful. That’s the way I think.

Peter:

Well that’s the true environmental model way of thinking, that it’s the requirements of the activity and instructional style, those sorts of things.

Marty:

Your tree model, perfect.

Peter:

Yeah it’s the kind of tree model, tree model stuff. Part of that though, just to stretch that one a little bit is—the argument is that it gives people confidence, that they say okay, I understand a little bit about Down syndrome, therefore that gives me a little bit more confidence to do these other things. So maybe that in that sense is worthwhile.

Marty:

Yeah again, one would argue that in my class, I talked about Down syndrome for about 15 minutes, there’s just so much to cover in an adapted physical education class. I showed a picture, I showed a video, I’m not sure if that’s enough. And I had an interesting conversation with Pat Flannigan from the Institute of Technology at Tralee and he provides lots of hands-on experience with—for students with disabilities but in some cases, it may be you work with a child with Down syndrome and a child with autism and so you have some good experiences, you feel confident. But does that translate to now you’re a physical education teacher and you have a child who’s in a wheelchair or you have a child with a visual impairment.

So we had a good discussion. I do think it makes you feel a little bit more confident and I think you’re willing to try if you’ve had these experiences but again, I think—I don’t know. I’m more in favor of this general model of let’s look at the functional limitations that the person has and let’s try to accommodate those.

Peter:

Yeah in relation to what you’re actually doing as opposed to any preconceived ideas of what you can’t do.

Marty:

Exactly.

Peter:

What do you think, Marty, as we’re starting to wind up, what do you think—you’ve been in the field for a long time now—

Marty:

Yeah it’s scary to think.

Peter:

In the future, let me ask you that future question, if—as in Australia and in all parts of the world, more children with disabilities are coming into schools, that is the worldwide trend, has been for some time. You notice, you said it and it’s my experience too, in the past when there’s been waves of that happening that there’s been a lack of support for a regular teacher to accommodate children with disabilities in a regular school. Are we ever going to get that right? If we have more and more kids with higher support needs in regular schools, there’s going to need to be support in regular schools and phys education will not work and it will be a negative experience for people if there’s not that level of support. Do you think we’ll ever get it right?

Marty:

I hate to sound negative, I’m a very optimistic person but I don’t think we’re ever going to get it right. I think there’s never going to be enough time in the curriculum to prepare future teachers but with this technology model, I think that’s what’s going to be good is that teachers and this younger generation is so good at finding things and Googling things. There’s going to be podcasts, whether it’s Infusion Club or other things—Inclusion Club or other things, they’re going to say wow, I have this child with a—I do it myself, I go on YouTube to find stuff so I can see in the future someone who has a child in a wheelchair and you’re teaching cricket and Australian thinking, I have no idea how to do this and you do wheelchair cricket and boom, pops up videos. And you go okay, I can do this, this isn’t that hard. So I think that’s going to—I don’t think we’re going to change our teacher preparation model but there’s going to be a lot more resources available for people to find quickly.

Peter:

Brilliant. Because I heard you say something yesterday that I thought was—it was so simple but it was so right that if people try, these days you can find out how, 20 years ago you couldn’t really find out how, you were mostly isolated. If people try these days, there are ways to find out how.

Marty:

So that’s the key. How do we get people to say I’m willing to try? And so whatever we do in our teacher education program, that’s the key. I don’t know the answer or how to do that but if we can get people to say you know what, I think this is the right thing to do and I’m willing to try to make it work, we’ve made it.

Peter:

Well power to you, Marty Block, thank you very much for the 20 years of help which set me on the course a long time ago, your work there, so it’s been a great opportunity to catch up this time, Marty, so thank you very much.

Marty:

My pleasure, thank you.