Sarah and Linda recently spent an afternoon with over 20 principals and school leaders in Taupō to discuss the benefits and challenges of effective teaching through play in the primary school setting. The group represented a broad range of school settings, including both small and large school populations, urban and rural, and schools that were both new to, and experienced in, implementing play pedagogy.
The school leaders reported many benefits observed in their schools by having more time for children to learn through play, including:
- Children happy to come to school and more engaged in their learning
- Increased opportunity for curiosity, wonderment, problem-solving and dispositional skill development
- Reduced behaviour management problems
- Increased oral language skills and pro-social interaction amongst students
- A natural desire by children to want to learn, including an intrinsic engagement in literacy and numeracy
Yet while these benefits were celebrated during this session, the focus of the event was to clarify an increasing misinterpretation of what play as a pedagogical tool looks like in the primary setting. Sarah and Linda shared some descriptors of the type of play that can occur when children have access to appropriate resourcing; extended periods of time for play; and when teachers understand how to achieve a balance of child-led play and moments of direct instruction. Key messages from this discussion included:
- Effective teachers ensure children have direction and control over their own choices within their play
- Effective play pedagogy includes intentional decisions by the teacher at all times, including when and for how long children have control of their own play
- Teachers will have a firm understanding of their children’s developmental stages and urges. They will use this information to plan responses to children’s play.
- Teachers require a significant and deep understanding of the curriculum in a way that they may not have done so previously. Developing this knowledge and application of the curriculum takes time.
- Teachers need ongoing support and time to develop the set of complex pedagogical skills required to teach effectively through play.
All those who attended agreed that while children playing at school was a wonderful thing, the level of skill and understanding needed by teachers as to their role in supporting learning through play requires significant support and ongoing professional development. Sarah and Linda shared recent examples of the PD Longworth Education has provided Kāhui Ako and schools to implement evidence-based play pedagogy and the outcomes of the PD on teacher practices. They reiterated the research that supports effective PD initiatives, and the key message that one-stop only workshop or training-style sessions were ineffective in embedding and sustaining changes in teacher practices over time.
Longworth Education facilitators are trained to ensure teachers are supported to make the connection between what they believe and know about play pedagogy, and how they apply this in their daily classroom practice. If your school or Kāhui Ako is interested in learning more about the PD model used by Longworth Education, or how to apply for funding to support in-school PD, visit: http://services.education.govt.nz/pld/the-pld-service/what-pld-does-the-ministry-of-education-fund/#locally-focussed-pld