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June 12, 2009
So, what have I been doing with myself for the last 6 months? Working myself to the bone so I could funnel the swirling mess of my brain into this:
Working from the principles that development is an essentially playful and social process, through which knowledge is negotiated rather than prescribed, I will be conducting a case study of two separate key stage four classes, focusing on the imaginative, collaborative and transgressive elements of the students’ in-class play. I will be making a detailed observation of these elements of play in the classroom, and through delivering three workshops on the Timberlake Wertenbake play Our Country’s Good will be exploring the potential of play in key stage four childrens’ drama work to act as a collaborative, socially engaged learning medium.
The work of Vygotsky, with his sociolinguistic theory of development based on zones of proximal development (Cole et al, 1978: 86) and the centrality of play (1978: 102) has, along with other constructivist theorists of development, been a huge influence on how we understand learning and teaching. Many of these principles have been applied to great benefit to early years teaching, with Moyles for example observing play “ensures the brain… is stimulated and active. This, in turn, motivates and challenges the participant both to master what is familiar and to respond to the unfamiliar in terms of gaining information, knowledge, skills and understandings.” (1989: 7)
The prevalence of play in writing on early years development has often been coupled with wider statements from theorists emphasising the importance of play throughout our lives: “What most adults fail to recognise… is just how much they themselves play in adult life” (Moyles, 1989: ix) Yet, as Winston identifies (2005: 315) there has been little research into play in older children. Furthermore there exists a lack of concrete theory into how play might progress throughout development, retaining its central place from early years into and throughout adulthood.
The emphasis Vygotsky and others placed on the social construction of knowledge has often viewed the individual in the context of their society; Hornbrook describes how early drama in education practitioners such as Way and Heathcote “saw school drama as a means of restoring the ‘natural’ development processes which play encourages” leading to “an ‘authentic experience’, a so-called ‘deep-knowing’ of the essential truths of the human condition” (1998: 11-13)
This, along with Vygotsky’s understanding of play developing through imagination into a game/rule structure - stating for older children play “becomes a more limited form of activity, predominantly of the athletic type” (1978: 104) - has led to a liberal approach to social education, favouring a psychological/individual understanding focused on the individual coming to terms with and forming their views on the society around them.
I hope to explore through this study the ways in which an understanding of play focused not only on its imaginative, but also collaborative and transgressive qualities can:
a) Show there is no reason for play-based learning methods to stop with early years’ education. Play is not a developmental stage from which we move to accept - or assimilate into - the adult world of rules and work, but a mode that develops as we develop.
b) Focus our understanding of social education. By extending the constructivist approach to knowledge I have adopted in this study we can understand that it is not only society that develops us, but also we who develop our society. The work of Castoriadis explores this through the concept of the social imagination, which he describes as “that which creates society and history… the instituting society [which creates the] language, norms, values, ways of life and death, objects for which we live and objects for which we die” (1997: 269). The writings of Neelands has already begun to make connection between social imagination and drama education, through the principle of the ensemble (2009)
In this way we can move beyond a liberal, individualistic understanding of society in education to one that meaningfully engages and empowers young people to connect with the underlying theories, structures and institutions of their society.
I believe a playful, socially-engaged pedagogy is key to effective drama teaching, and this position will inform my journey as a researcher. However, in addition to researcher, I am also a practitioner, and hence this case study will to a large extent be informed by the methodologies of the reflective practitioner; understanding knowledge in terms of practical wisdom.
As a drama practitioner, my focus here is on the processes of imaginative, collaborative and transgressive play within this subject. However, this is not to suggest drama is the only curriculum area in which these ideas are applicable, indeed Neelands says of the socially engaged objectives of QCA’s ‘Bigger Picture’: “These are not the kinds of objectives that can be delivered in isolated subjects, nor are they intended to be” (2009: 177). And so if anything I would argue for the extension of a playful, socially-engaged pedagogy across the curriculum, yet the scope of this study is such that this paper will work within a drama context.
The current prominence of PHSE and citizenship in the curriculum, as observed by Neelands (2009: 176) in addition to a swing back towards more integrated curriculums and increasing drive for visible, pupil-centred modes of teaching such as the approaches described in Charles Leadbeater’s 21 Ideas for 21st Century Learning (2008) means teachers and other education practitioners many be interested in the outcomes of this study.
Play in older children, as I have already stated, is an understudied area, furthermore Tizard observes social play is another area that would benefit from further research (1977: 126) And so this study may provide an interesting contrast and extension to the wealth of work in early years play and may prompt further research. To this end, my aim within this study is to open out, rather than conclude this path of inquiry.
Hope you're as excited as I am about this. Six hours of field research teaching and 19000 words left to go. Will be keeping you updated :D