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

From: Bremme Don (
Date: Mon May 23 2005 - 09:58:28 PDT

Mike, Ana, and XMCAers:

The discussions of 'unit of process' and what we choose to describe/ignore bring to mind a conversation that both my wife (Linda Polin) and I have recurrently had with other researchers. The conversation has concerned the value of bringing together researchers operating from a common or similar theoretical perspective(s) to discuss their analyses of a common object. The goal would be to examine the ways in which 'the same' theoretical perspective is (or similar theoretical perspectives are) instantiated in several researchers' methodological decisions (e.g., regarding units of process, or what to describe), and what one can observe about the analyses that emerge from these decisions.

The more recent exchange concerning video-audio representation of analyses of objects seems (in part) to raise the question of how such (re)presentations influence audiences' constructions of meanings of analyses. A related question might be whether/how the prospect of including audiovisual with text in later re(presentation) of an analysis influences the descriptive/analytic process itself.

Exploring either the former or the latter issue(s) seems to be an interesting possibility for a conference session, especially one with opportunities for interaction among "presenters" and audience members. Might a session along one of these lines be of interest, perhaps for AERA next year? What do you think?



-----Original Message-----
From: Ana Marjanovic-Shane []
Sent: Sat 5/21/2005 9:30 PM
Subject: Re: Play discussion revisited: Re: LCHC play words meeting notes 4-18-05
I am always in a frenzy i my part of the "real" world. Working in the administration is a round the year work with no semesters, and no breaks. But I do hope that your frenzy finishes.

Anyway, I am also interested in the ways of representing the object of our analysis. I agree with you that audio/video has to become one of the necessary ways not merely to record -- but also to represent. And why not? The technology exists. We need to find out how to use the audio video as a tool of analysis, too. I think that we are at the very beginning, although videotaping started long time ago.
It would be great to start publishing videos or at least excerpts of the videos together with the text.

I also agree that a lot of work has to be done on the descriptive level and that is one of the first forms of analysis. What is interesting to me is what do we choose to describe and what do we choose to ignore. Like, as you mentioned, the emotional aspects of the summer migrant program did not come out in Kris' writing, although they were so plainly visible in the video. Finding out what do we "lift out" for description and what stays obscured and unnoticed, would be the first step of the analytical description, I think. In fact, I have learned from Ray Birdwhistle that there is no such thing as non analytical description.


Mike Cole wrote:

        Seems like people are still in the end of semester frenzy, Ana, at least I know I am! This is exam time for
        grads and undergrads and deadlines for qualifying paper.. Madness!
        I find it hard to imagine strong comparisons across these playworld experiments, although the participants
        seem to have some ideas about it. Beth and I discussed the information contained in field notes and conjunction with/comparison
        with video of the proceedings. A lot of work has to be done on a purely descriptive level just to learn what each kind of represention
        yields within a given play world sequence. I believe that the representations will be complementary.
        I am interested in this general topic of mode of representation of our objects of analysis and what they afford for conclusions, explanations, etc.
        I was impressed, for example, with the fact that while I had read Kris G's AERA talk and I have talked to her about the summer migrant
        program more than once the emotional force of the performance activities did not come through in the written talk (nore, I suspect would
        they come through in an oral presentation) but they NEEDED the video that made manifest the socioemotional force of the activities.
        I hope we can start publishing articles accompanied by web file videos to enrich our ability to communicate about our objects of analysis.
        (Hah-- in our spare time!)
        On 5/18/05, Ana Marjanovic-Shane <> wrote:

                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 comments:

                "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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