10 SES 09 D, Research on Values, Beliefs & Understandings in Teacher Education
This paper presents the findings from a research project which investigated the playtimes of primary school children in England focusing on children’s views of playtimes, the role of adults and the children’s use of playground space. The paper is contextualised within a situation where the last 30years has seen a frenetic and constant pressure upon classroom-based learning in schools that has influenced the detail of curriculum, groupings, assessment and school governance (Ball, 2017). This situation is in contrast to the relatively limited changes made to playtimes which have been subject to a form of ‘benign neglect’ with little attention given, few expectations and an absence of prescription. Initial teacher education courses reflect the focus on within-school processes, however this work aims to offer a wider view of the teacher’s role.
Questionnaire data and playground plans were gathered by pre-service teachers (PSTs) in English primary schools focusing on the children’s views.
The role of PSTs as researchers is important as the children may not view them as having the same status or power as the class teacher (Madge, 1997).
The research findings demonstrate children’s generally positive feelings about playtimes with a more mixed picture related to the play space available and the role of adults. However, there is a minority of students who struggle with playtimes, peers who recognise the social challenges playtimes present and a significant minority who would prefer an alternative to outdoor play.
The paper discusses if these concerns indicate whether changes to playtimes should take place, why and how this change might be effected. If we accept that playtimes play a crucial role in the development of social relationships for all children (Mc Namara et al, 2015) it would seem pertinent to give consideration to possible changes to this aspect of the school day. The links between the value of playtimes in the socialisation process, the development of friendships and the protective value of friendships to a child’s later mental health are well-documented (Sakyi et al, 2015). These interconnections and current concerns about children’s mental health (Children’s Society, 2018) would support paying more overt attention to this aspect of the school day. Indeed McNamara (2015) warns of the potential damage to children with limited social skills of being repeatedly exposed to a challenging playtime scenario.
How we might effect change to enable children’s socialisation is problematic. Playtimes have a distinctive role in children’s experience of the school day (Blatchford and Baines, 2006): on the one hand children are the experts on their playtimes and adults might need to cede some control but, on the other hand, this is countered by the knowledge we have about children’s social development, the potential of playtimes to cultivate that growth and the risks associated by missing or misdirecting those opportunities.
A further challenge to intervening in playtimes is the tension between surface recognition of its potential for the development of children’s social and emotional skills and the limited attendant knowledge of teachers with regard to those areas of development (Murray and Passy, 2014). By focusing PSTs’ attention towards playtimes this research begins to address that knowledge.
The findings and discussion are presented from the perspective of the cultural expectations present within English initial teacher education and teaching. The background to the study and the discussion are contrasted to the differing cultural mores that surround teachers and playtimes within other European contexts (Beresin, 2016, Larsson and Ronnlund, 2016).
The research was carried out in First (4-8 year olds) and Primary (5-11 year olds) schools in the North East of England. The data was gathered by PSTs who were completing their 38 week Masters level course which led to a Post Graduate Certificate in Education and Qualified Teacher Status. The PSTs are both insiders and outsiders to the research process. They have the advantages of insiders as they are familiar to the children and thus less noticed and they also have some contextual knowledge and therefore possess a more nuanced understanding of behaviours than an outside researcher (Alveson, 2003). The PSTs are, however, also ‘outsiders’ as they are transient and whilst they have some knowledge of pupils and the school context they do not have long-held allegiances to the school’s practice nor, potentially, fixed opinions about individual children. The tasks aimed to provide the PSTs with the opportunity to reflect upon playtimes: the perceptions of key stakeholders; the organisation and rules, and the interface between their detailed knowledge of one setting and one group of children and, through key readings, the wider research in this area. A range of tasks were devised to effect the aims above which included a pupil questionnaire, informal observations of morning and lunchtime play using an observation schedule developed by the author, discussions with the class teachers about the purpose and organisation of playtimes and the completion of a playground plan. The tasks aimed to provide a broad understanding of playtimes and playgrounds that would be shared in a taught discussion post-placement. The focus for this paper will centre on the responses to the questionnaire which were used to seek the views and experiences of the school children. Additional data related to annotated plans of the playground will be referred to where necessary. Data was gathered by PSTs from 119 Key Stage 1 pupils (aged 5 to 7) and 351 Key Stage 2 pupils (aged 7 to 11). The questionnaires prepared for the KS1 and KS2 pupils included ordinal scales for children to rate their general feelings about morning playtimes and lunchtime playtimes and their most recently experienced morning or lunchtime playtime. Additional data was collected from PSTs in the teaching session that followed their first practicum where they discussed the different contexts of play. One area of interest was the PSTs’ awareness of pupils who regularly struggled with playtimes.
For a majority of children playtimes are a positive, enjoyable feature of their school day. However for a small minority playtimes prove difficult. Further, over a quarter of KS1 pupils and almost a fifth at KS2 wanted an inside alternative to the perennial event of outdoor play at lunchtime. Our research also highlighted that children recognise the social challenges of playtimes whether they largely enjoy the playtime experience or not. They demonstrate an awareness of the complexity and challenge of the social expectations of playtimes which is echoed in their view of the adult role in both supporting social encounters and ‘policing’. Our research also highlights the complexity of the interaction between the social aspects of playtimes, the adult role and the play space available. Playtime experiences matter to children, they impact indirectly and directly on their developing social and emotional lives and on their academic experiences and outcomes. As teachers (still) trying to work within an holistic view of the purpose of schools there is a need to understand playtimes, to respectfully intervene to offer opportunities for social development and to tailor that intervention to the needs of the particular context using evidential data. The English context provides both affordances and constraints to potentially change teachers’ interactions with playtimes. The perspectives from other European playtime contexts can serve to support this change. This research has proposed that on-going consideration needs to be given to the status and involvement of the researcher. PSTs are ideally situated to carry out this research and there is a clear argument for the power of researchers’ first- hand experiences. Having witnessed playtimes and their aftermath, they are able to offer a deeper level of understanding of the context observed whilst avoiding some of the issues related to status, power and respondent expectations (Alveson 2003).
Alvesson, M. (2003) Methodology for Close-Up Studies- Struggling with Closeness and Closure. Higher Education, 46 (2) pp.162-193 Ball S. (2017) The Education Debate, Bristol Policy Press. Beresin, A.(2016) Playing with time: towards a global survey of recess practices. International Journal of Play, Vol 5, No 2. Blatchford P. and Blaines, E. (2006) A Follow –Up national survey of breaktimes in primary and secondary schools. Final Report to the Nuffield Foundation. Larsson, A and Ronnlund, M. (2016) The Conceived Schoolyard: A Comparison between Sweden and France. Paper presented at ECER, Dublin, 2016. Madge , C. Raghuram, P. Skelton, T; Willis, K and Williams, J (1997) Feminist methodologies: politics, practice and power in Women and Geography: Explorations in Diversity and Difference. London: UK, Prentice-Hall. McNamaraa*, L, Vaantajaa,E, Dunseitha, A & Frankli, N. (2015) Tales from the playground: transforming the context of recess through collaborative action research International Journal of Play Volume 4, Issue 1, ps 49-68. Murray, Jean & Passy, Rowena (2014) Primary teacher education in England: 40 years on. Journal of Education for Teaching: International research and pedagogy 40, 5: 492-506 Sakyi, Kwame, s, Surkan, Pamela, j., Fombonne, E. et all (2015) Childhood Friendships and Psychological difficulties in young adulthood: an 18 year follow-up study. European Child Adolescent Psychiatry Journal Vol 24 (7) 815-826. The Children’s Society and the University of York (2018), The Good Childhood Report, Children’s Society, London.
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