Play discussion revisited: Re: LCHC play words meeting notes 4-18-05

From: Ana Marjanovic-Shane (
Date: Wed May 18 2005 - 22:36:02 PDT

April is gone, it is the second part of May. Hopefully, many people's
end of semester frenzy is gone too and maybe we can get back to the
April play discussions. I was re-reading description of the 4-18-05
discussion and conference with Penttie Hakkarainen. Here are some long
due comments:

_Excerpt from the discussion (which you can also find below after these

*__**_"Mike_* referred back to Pentti's four types of interventions
noting that one might distinguish them further in terms of content
(problem solving adventures and folktales), who participates
(professional actors), and purpose (developing narrative skills,
inducing aesthetic reactions). Is there a relationship between the
content and the participation structure? He posed a further question:
How do you measure, outline, or characterize the outcome of what is
being done in the play world?"


_ANA_: I want to make a comment regarding the issue directly above in
the text. Also, toward the end of the discussion the same or similar
issue is stated like this:

"The conversation returned to the topic of how to evaluate, measure the
activities in the play world. Pentti acknowledged the difficulty of
evaluating the play world as it centers on the process rather than the
results of learning. The question of evaluation is relative to the aims
of each play world site."

So far, the descriptions of play episodes are very "thin" (global and
not very elaborate) [despite the fact that they are nice and meaningful
- please do not take this as a criticism!!!] -However, there are many
dimensions that are mentioned: for instance: (a) introduced content; (b)
who participates; (c) purpose; (d) length of play intervention; (e)
props, costumes, stage development; (e) ownership; etc.

It seems to me that before "evaluating" play worlds outcomes, one needs
to develop descriptive techniques such that one can compare different
episodes of play worlds described in this discussion session or in any
other project. The main problem here, as I see it is to develop ways to
describe a process (as Pentti said) rather than a result of learning. It
is the main problem because it is a description of a dynamic,
unpredictable and evolving activity - and yet, if we want to begin any
evaluation, there must be a way to compare them on more dimensions and
in a greater detail then to just note the difference in the length of
time or the level of "professional" expertize in dramatic arts.

In order to describe a process, I think, that we need to think of what
constitutes a *"unit" of a process *- or at least what are *the "points"
in the process* that are significant for the process itself.

One type of the units of a process that Mike mentioned, I think in the
previous discussion, are various *transitions *(from one world to
another) and *points of transformations* (of activities, characters,
participant roles, etc...). For instance in the Narnia series, it is
clear that the transition in the play world and out of the play world
through the cupboard, became something very significant to everyone,
maybe a bit more to the teacher (Tigerr). How are these transitions
doing in the other play worlds in Japan and in Finland? Are there any
other transitions in and out of the play world that should be described.
For instance , Pentti mentioned children's participation in decision
making. Is that decision making done "within" the play world or, do the
children and adults "freeze" the play world in order to "make a
decision" or both? What are the means by which these kinds of
transitions are done?

What other kinds of units of a process would be important for the
comparison of different play worlds? Here I think of particular *"moves"
*by which a play word is built or unraveled, i.e. what strengthens and
builds up the world, and what is a move that destroys and un-builds...


Robert Lecusay wrote:

>Here they are (in the body as well as an attachment). I have also attached
>a copy of Kiyotaka Miyazaki's presentation.
>(Since it's my first time posting to XMCA, I should introduce myself: I'm
>Robert Lecusay, first year grad student here at the LCHC, working with
>Beth, Mike, Sonja, Lars, Tiger, Christian, and Kelli on the play worlds
>project. Nice to meet you all!)
>take care,
>Play worlds Meeting at LCHC
>April 18, 2004
>Kiyotaka Miyazaki Presenting
>This was a joint teleconference between the Play worlds group in Finland
>(Pentti Hakkarainen) and the LCHC.
>After introductions Kiyo began his presentation on the play world project
>he ran in a kindergarten in Ibi, Gifu prefecture, Japan. (See the attached
>file for the full text of the presentation.)
>Briefly, Kiyo described the study site and the general characteristics of
>the project. He noted that the Japanese play world differed from the LCHC
>play world in the fact that it took place over a comparatively short
>period of time (3 days vs. the ongoing weekly interactions) and that it
>involved professional artists (actors, musicians, and a playwright). The
>play world was based on a character that appears in many traditional
>Japanese folktales, Oni the ogre. Over the three day summer play world
>session, the children in the kindergarten engaged with teachers and actors
>in a variety of activities that centered on the theme of Oni: reading
>books, reciting rhymes, playing tag, and drawing pictures. On the final
>day of activities the children, teachers, and actors took part in an
>elaborate, large-scale pretend play activity involving, among other
>things, the "kidnapping" of teachers by Oni, the rescue of the teachers by
>the children, and making peace with Oni.
>Next Pentti discussed what he saw as the four types of interventions
>represented in the different play world projects:
>1. Problem-solving adventures in which the problem solving is part of the
>development of the story (e.g. Narnia)
>2. Play worlds based on classical stories and folktales - Here the problem
>solving aspect is not explicit.
>3. Play worlds involving the collaboration of professional artists.
>4. Dialogical drama approach using puppets (Finland)
>Sonja wondered to what degree the Narnia play world was an educational
>intervention that, for example, helps promote children's narrative
>development, literacy, or oral language skills vs. a production - creating
>an event that changes the quality of children's experiences, their
>experiences of school, of their interactions with their teacher.
>She referred to three "genres" that were at work in the play world:
>- Theatrical techniques for creating suspense (e.g. lighting, costumes)
>- Traditional pedagogical techniques (e.g. small group activities)
>- Activities from children's culture (e.g. drawing, pretend play)
>Pentti added that play pedagogy was theory driven, based on Gunilla
>Lindqvist's reading of Vygotsky's ideas about the aesthetics of play, that
>aesthetic techniques are a way of inducing emotional reactions in
>Mike referred back to Pentti's four types of interventions noting that one
>might distinguish them further in terms of content (problem solving
>adventures and folktales), who participates (professional actors), and
>purpose (developing narrative skills, inducing aesthetic reactions). Is
>there a relationship between the content and the participation structure?
>He posed a further question: How do you measure, outline, or characterize
>the outcome of what is being done in the play world?
>Pentti's approach is to use structured field notes that include
>descriptions of the activity, the participants in the activity, and the
>role of these participants among other things. The notes are examined in
>order to determine the "kind of sense creation that happens with the
>kids." He added that it is also important to note the children's
>contribution to the development of the play world (what they propose
>happens next, the emotions expressed in this decision-making, how the kids
>define the problems in the play world).
>Nilda (in Finland) (Milda? not sure if I have her name right) spoke about
>her work which, compared to the LCHC and Japan play worlds, is more
>structured because of its institutional nature. Second-year university
>students enrolled in a practicum course (Development and Learning through
>Play) visit children (6 weeks - 5 yrs. old) once a week for four hours and
>engage in dramatizations and play activities. The dramatizations
>(currently puppet shows) last about ten minutes then the rest of the time
>is spent engaging with the kids (those who want to participate) in
>self-directed play activities. Observations are made of the type of play
>the kids engage in after the performances and from these observations the
>students and researchers try to understand what ideas were important for
>the kids. Nilda mentioned two examples. One of a girl who over time drew a
>series of drawing that made up a story. The other of an individualistic
>boy who, collaborating with a five year old girl and using all of the
>artifacts that had been created by the kids in the classroom during play
>related activities, put on a puppet show for everyone (the boy invited
>parents!) What was notable about this was the fact that the boy went from
>simply engaging in play to cooperatively organizing a dramatization
>(including telling the audience how to behave).
>Sonja wanted to confirm her interpretation of what Pentti and Nilda were
>discussing: the intervention objectives were not necessarily determined in
>advance but instead emerged in interaction with the children who each
>brought in their own perspectives.
>Nilda responded that her goals and expectations were for the kids to be
>flexible players, to be able to play with others, to be able to create
>narratives in different forms. She then turned to the issue of involving
>professional artists in the play world, arguing that they are necessary
>because they can create and explain art forms in ways that school teachers
>Kiyo returned to Mike's earlier question about understanding the purpose
>of the individual play project. He explained that at the outset of his
>project his purpose was to help children construct imaginary worlds to
>promote the development of imagination as a cognitive tool. This he hoped
>would in turn serve as a resource for the children to draw on in their
>everyday school activities. He went on to note the complications of trying
>to understand the relationship between the everyday school activities of
>the play intervention, noting that teachers, artists, and children have
>different goals. He also argued that teachers play an important part in
>developing children's imaginative activities in part because they are
>engaged with the every day.
>Pentti posed the question: Is imagination mediating between the play
>situation and the classroom situation? And went on to say that play or
>dramatizations do not necessarily translate directly into everyday
>Nilda returned to Kiyo's point, agreeing that the main objective is to
>develop the child's imagination, adding that it is important to create a
>space in which the child feels that he or she can think and do anything (a
>space which begins with play). Imagination, after all, is an activity that
>is necessary in all the subject areas children encounter in school (e.g.
>math, physics).
>Kiyo argued that school teachers mediate the resources that the children
>gain from play through the everyday school activities.
>Sonja asked Beth if she wanted to speak.
>Beth began by describing two moments that impressed her from her visit to
>the Finish play world site, moments that showed the children's sense of
>ownership of the play space. One moment, witnessing the kids rushing to
>take off their coats to begin playing, and another when the kids forced
>one of the actors, who was sick and preparing to return home, to put her
>costume back on to play. Beth continued with anecdotes from the Narnia
>play world. One child who said he hated the story, but only because it
>occurred once a week. He wanted it to happen everyday. Another child who
>was sick and who had to go home, but who cried her way into staying to try
>and participate, but eventually had to leave because she had a fever. Beth
>felt that this enthusiasm had something to do with the fact that the
>teacher is fully participating in the play activity as well, that there is
>space in which the adults and children have a shared sense of space and
>Nilda agreed that in the play situation adults begin to feel and think
>like the children which in turn may give insight into the child's learning
>process. She also brought up the point that children always have to deal
>with the adult world, but in the play situation the adults enter the
>child's world and show their respect for it, there is a recognition that
>learning for children begins from their world, not necessarily from the
>adult world.
>Brian noted the fact that the narratives used in the play worlds contained
>many traumatic situations. He asked about the relationship of these
>traumatic situations to the intense engagement of the children, and how
>this related to the process of choosing the narratives that formed the
>basis of these play worlds.
>Sonja responded that the children insert their personal narratives into
>the main narrative as they begin to interact with the characters of the
>story. She highlighted the example of the boy who wanted to have the play
>world occur everyday, saying that perhaps this was a manifestation of the
>boy's desire for constancy. The boy lives with his grandmother and is only
>occasionally visited by his parents.
>The conversation returned to the topic of how to evaluate, measure the
>activities in the play world. Pentti acknowledged the difficulty of
>evaluating the play world as it centers on the process rather than the
>results of learning. The question of evaluation is relative to the aims of
>each play world site.
>Mike brought up the issue of comparability of, for example, the
>pre-k/k/primary school play worlds to work in high schools, like that
>being conducted by Yrjo Engestrom. What about teacher evaluations of the
>projects? What about examining the children's representations of the play
>world in their drawings?
>Pentti ended with a final comment about evaluations of Finish school
>children showing that they scored high in cognitive abilities but low in

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