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A mind /body exploration of adolescent girls' strategies & barriers to their success or survival in physical education

Jennifer L Fisette, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The purpose of this study was twofold: (a) to explore how adolescent girls perceive and feel about their bodies while they engage in physical education and how they navigate ways to feel comfortable within their own bodies and the physical education environment and (b) to engage in student-centered exploratory projects. Participants were seven ninth and tenth grade girls. Data were collected from focus group and individual interviews, critical incidents forms, journals, and descriptive field notes from observations. Data were analyzed using content analysis and open, axial, and selective coding (Strauss & Corbin, 1998). Results indicated that four primary factors positively and negatively influenced their thoughts, feelings, and experiences in physical education (a) gender issues in coeducation classes, (b) activities offered, (c) 'people' in the class, and (d) public display in physical education. First, the complexity of gender issues in coeducation classes such as; male dominance, gender segregation, and gender stereotypes, influenced their comfort and type of participation in physical education. Second, prior experience and design of the activity enhanced or exacerbated their perceived competence and opportunity for success. Third, friends and other classmates affected whether they socialized and felt comfortable in physical education class. Finally, the public nature of physical education caused participants to fear being embarrassed and exposed their bodies, which allowed them to compare their bodies and skill ability to other girls in class. Collectively, participants' comfort embodied these factors that affected their thoughts, feelings, and experiences in physical education. Participants' comfort influenced whether they did not participate, participated (i.e., blending in), or actually participated. Participants purposely created strategies to thrive or survive in physical education based on their comfort. Furthermore, participants created informational products as a result of their exploratory projects, which were dispersed among faculty and students. Results suggest that adolescent girls are willing to share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences when they are provided a comfortable and safe space where they can engage in discourse among their peers. Adolescent girls have a deeper understanding of how they think and feel within their bodies and their stories need to be told and heard.

Subject Area

Physical education|Curriculum development

Recommended Citation

Fisette, Jennifer L, "A mind /body exploration of adolescent girls' strategies & barriers to their success or survival in physical education" (2008). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3325131.