Transcript of Play-based pedagogy – supporting young learners, Part 1

Play based pedagogy – supporting young learners, Part 1 video (43:32)

Jacqui Ward – Early Learning Coordinator, NSW Department of Education – Welcome to our play based pedagogy session today. My name is Jacqui Ward and I'm here with my colleague Donna Deehan.

Donna Deehan – Transition Advisor, Curriculum Early Years and Primary Learners –We're going to take you through the play based pedagogy part one today supporting young learners and there will be a part two upcoming, so keep your eyes out.

Jacqui Ward – I'd like to begin with acknowledgement of country. I'd like to pay my respects to Elders both past, present and future generations on all of the different lands that we meet today. Paying respect to Aboriginal people with us today as well.

The session outcomes for today are that learners will explore the evidence base and theories behind play based learning.

Develop an understanding of how students learn through play, and analyse the implications of play based pedagogy for teaching and learning in supporting student outcomes remotely.

These are the links to the Australian professional standards for teachers. I'll let you read through those. Mainly focusing in on how students learn and using teaching strategies, in this unique climate of learning from home.

Starting off today with setting the scene like to read a little quote from William Butler Yeats, 'Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.' That quite really typifies play based pedagogy and the idea that the sky is the limit for children and it's a great way to engage young learners.

Play-based pedagogy a lot of the evidence base in this session today is drawn from the Queensland Department of Education foundations paper. In Queensland, they call play based pedagogy, age appropriate pedagogy and basically these paper summarises the review of international literature and research identifying elements of effective teaching and learning in the early years of school. Will include this link in the resources today with the session. So if you'd like to do some further reading, I highly recommend the foundation paper. It also links heavily to another professional learning session that we have on offer, which is focusing in on age appropriate pedagogy and unpacking the specific strategies that the foundation paper recommends. So have a lookout for that professional learning.

Thought we'd start off today with unpacking the terminology. There's lots of definitions out there for a wide range of the things we're talking about today, so in understanding play based pedagogy, it's a great idea I think to start from the same definition of things like pedagogy. The foundation paper states that pedagogy can be viewed as the active teaching and the values, ideas and knowledge that shape it or the relationship between the teacher in the learner. In particular, personalising learning in ways that culturally responsive and inclusive. Again, those are key factors in our current environment where children are learning from home because we want to make sure that what we're providing is culturally responsive and inclusive. Another key document that will be talking about today is the Early Years Learning Framework, which is the framework that supports curriculum decision making in the early childhood, and it defines play based pedagogy as a context for learning through which children organise and make sense of their social worlds as they engage actively with people, objects and representations. This idea that children learn through play is a fundamental core concept to early childhood pedagogy. And as we all know those early childhood use run from birth to eight. So very much appropriate for the early years of school.

The paper also talks about what is effective pedagogy according to the research and this is a summary of the key message from the paper about teaching and learning in the early years. Some important considerations include that there's a balanced repertoire of pedagogies needed, including between holistic development and academic goals. So recognising that play based learning is fundamentally underpinned by an understanding of developmental psychology and a whole range of other theories as well as the academic side. That there's a balance between child initiated and adult initiated learning experiences and it's not really about, it's not one or the other. It's really that balance or that sweet spot in between. There is quite a role for explicit teaching within play based learning, but there's also a role for intentional teaching responsive teaching that's underpinning where children are interested to take the learning. Another key messages that positive relationships amongst teachers and peers that motivate learning, social collaboration, engagement and enjoyment, that's a key factor. That playfulness should provide learning and teaching interactions that high quality verbal interactions are needed for sustained shared thinking in collaborative learning. Those are very much 21st century skills there. That idea of sustained shared thinking and collaborative learning. They very much supported in a play based pedagogy because there's opportunities for children to work in smaller groups, larger groups and to mix between groups depending on the areas that they're interested in. Adult leadership and scaffolding is needed for cognitive challenge and the development of higher order thinking. So the teacher plays a pivotal role in really responding to where the players going and taking that learning further and deepening the conceptual knowledge and the understandings of children by posing those important questions, provocations and resourcing the play and taking it where it needs to go. There's another key factor is opportunities for active learning and needed in real life, imaginary, spontaneous, and planned experiences. So play based pedagogy looks like a whole lot of things. A whole lot of experience types. Again, where there's an investigation of a real life thing, and there is some strong links I think there to stem learning. Imaginary and spontaneous experiences, strong links across the curriculum there, but in particular the creative arts and planned experiences that you might have where the general capabilities particularly in literacy, in numeracy, are embedded throughout those planned experiences. So those are some key factors there.

So why is play-based pedagogy important? I think we need to consider the characteristics of young learners in the remote learning context. And again, this is one of the reasons that this professional learning was developed. Play based pedagogy is going to be crucial for teachers in those early years of school to engage with children. In terms of the fact that direct instruction is limited, you might be meeting over Zoom or Skype or Facebook private groups. You might be using a range of strategies, but the direct instruction component is quite different from face-to-face teaching. Families will be facing competing demands for their time. So this, if you as a parent need to prioritise your time, how will you do that? And maybe you might be supporting those older children, so there's opportunities, I think to think, how do we support families to engage with play based pedagogy? Play is familiar, accessible and enjoyable for children. So it's an ideal context for learning in this remote setting, because children are more likely to engage in a very natural way. And I think play is something that families feel comfortable with. I'm sure there's many families out there today that are thinking I'm not as confident with, more explicit ways of teaching learning concepts, all of those sorts of things. So that's where we need to consider how play-based pedagogy is going to be a key success factor in this learning from home time.

Again, I think it's important to think how to curriculum and pedagogy interact. And I think curriculum is definitely the 'what' of teaching, and pedagogy is definitely the how. Explicit teaching as I mentioned before, has its place, in the play-based delivery doesn't change the 'what' of the curriculum, so you still concentrating on that content, still concentrating on the syllabus outcomes and the scope and sequence of learning as well as assessing learning. It's just being delivered in a different way. In quality teaching programs, learning through play won't just be rhetoric, but will be a core tenant of your approach and a well defined aspect of how you teach the curriculum. Again, there needs to be a core commitment I guess, to that notion that this is the way young children learn best. It means your lesson plans identifying objective and you'll develop an activity or activities or experiences to achieve that.

Will move on to our next section which is developing an understanding of how students learn through play. Play is the context for learning. It provides opportunities for discovery, creativity, improvisation and imagination. Play provides children with self initiated and self directed opportunities to engage with syllabus content in an integrated way. For example, playing around playing in the mud presents opportunities for literacy and numeracy school development, environmental awareness, and mathematical and science concepts to name just a few. It also provides opportunities for developing well-being and understandings of social situations in relationships. It allows children to self regulate, negotiate conflict, share their perspectives and cultural understandings. And it also provides an opportunity to develop those future focus skills as I mentioned before, such as critical thinking, inquiry based learning, problem solving, drawing on innovative solutions.

Why is it important? As I mentioned before, there are strong links to theory researching contemporary understandings within play-based learning. It's age appropriate learning for children in the early childhood stage of development, that birth to eight years. Play provides for multi-faceted, multi-disciplinary, disciplinary integrated learning, Dewey, a renowned educational theorist, believed that educational and learning is social and interactive processes. Locke and Rousseau believed in creating a natural desire to learning through play. Vygotsky put forward that children can learn through appropriately spaced scaffolds for learning. The zone of proximal learning, which I'm sure you've all heard before, happens through thoughtfully planned play experiences. And within the one play experiences those zones of proximal learning might be very different, so it's real opportunity to very easily differentiate your teaching through a play situation because of that multi-faceted component of play. Again, some renowned educational theorists Montessori and Frobel believed in children playing the set materials to develop skills. Again that they learn through playing and manipulating play, supports the learning of real life experiences combined with other types of learning.

Theories on play that have evolved. Key points that runs similar overtime include, play's intrinsic, as in children naturally want to play. There's no need to force anyone to play, as I'm sure you can relate yourself. Knowledge and skills gained through play, build on existing knowledge. Again, only a child will know what their knowledge and understanding and awareness of the situation are internally. So it allows them an opportunity to draw on that repertoire of current knowledge to build learning that's more contextually relevant for individual children. Play is emotionally supportive and play is active learning. Which again is a key component for those younger learners according to the evidence base.

Contemporary theory Pasi Sahlberg is a very renowned world speaker, again coming from those Nordic countries that tend to perform very highly on PISA scales and into the OECD reports and Pasi's concepts or key ideas are that the lifelong successive children's based on their ability to be creative and apply the lessons learnt from play. And the other component is that play is integral to a child's education. The importance of play time for children cannot be overemphasised to parents, schools, community and community organisations. So again why I chose the graphic here is that if children miss out on the opportunity to play, so if they minus that opportunity, they're going to be missing out on those key opportunities to draw learning together. We're just going to have a little look at a video. This is one together that AITSL has put together as an illustration of practice. Going to play that for you now. My name is Leah Partridge and I am a kindergarten teacher at O'Connor Cooperative School in the ACT. And I teach four and five year old children. I'd like you to be the reporter again today. O'Connor Cooperative School has a very strong play-based approach and we do a lot of inquiry learning. What can you see down there? When I plan for children, I think about the children's interests and I think about their strengths and what they would like to learn about in order to influence our plan. For example, at the beginning of the year, I asked the children things such as, the children would like to learn about boats and how boats sail and why boats don't sink. So this week in my plan I set up an activity for the children to design boats and think about concepts such as thinking and floating. Other elements that have influenced our whole term plan had been things such as living things, looking at how plants grow. During the investigations morning, I will choose two children who I focus on their learning and I do that over a two day period. So the focus children will get the first day where I get to spend a little bit of time with them and will examine their learning and think about where we would like to go to next and then during that time, I then can set up the environment for the next day to support that child in their development. We did, we started the day at the flower table and why did we start at the flower table? What will we experiencing and experimenting at the flower table? To see what would happen if we put flowers in different coloured water. But I get to explore that, I get to spend that little bit of one-on-one time with them and I can really say that at the end of the day I know my children in individually on a really good level. And I like seeing how your practicing your lower case letters, and your capital letters. It's wonderful. I'm also influenced by the philosophies of Reggio Emilia. And so to me, a big aspect of the learning environment is that the environment is setup irresistible way. The environment is setup very intentionally with lots of thought. I plan tables based on developmental areas. So there's lots of different areas for the children to choose to play in and lots of different areas that I can scaffold the children's learning. Today I gave Ava the challenge. I said I'm giving you a challenge. And I said 'Can you try and write your thoughts, what you observed, your thoughts, down as a sentence?' And have a look at Ava's great writing. She thought about how to write her friends name - Mia. Where did you find Mia's name? Or did you know it because she's a really good friend? I know it because she told me lots of times. But I thought it was supposed to be 'Mia'. That's okay, isn't it? It's alright if it's a little bit, if it's a long way around just because we're learning to write, and when we learn to write, we sometimes make mistakes. And Matilda made 'a', 'a boat'. Can we hold it up so everyone can see? Beautiful. Well done. So we might be able to show Ava your name on the wall, Mia. Like a person? Tell me about why you think it might look like a person. Each week I try and think about magical moments that happen around the room, but things that happen around the room that show me the children's learning and I put that into a learning story. It begins with a story, and it's actually a narrative story, so it's written by me to Hugo. For me, the next part after the story is probably the most important part - it tells me what learning happened here. And I like to reflect on the learning dispositions because we know that they are important skills that children need to have, such as problem solving skills, being able to cooperate, being creative. At the bottom, I write down a concept such as, "where to next?" and so then this is my plan. I hope you enjoyed that video.

We have a little task that's embedded within the session today. Having a think about what types of learning did you identify in the play examples in the video? Think about a time when you notice children playing, reflecting on the types of things you thought they were learning in that experience and completing the forms that we have embedded making note of specific key learnings. You may like to have a discussion with a colleague about your reflections.

Donna Deehan – We'll move on to what it looks like in practice. So play-based pedagogy is about putting experience before the content.

Here we can look at the New South Wales syllabus outcomes and how they represented in play, and this is quite an explicit example to think back over what we've talked about already and perhaps picture this in your mind. So the activity would be perhaps wooden blocks, we were listening to that video, then they were talking about different areas set up, so there could be an activity with wooden blocks and measuring tapes, rulers, papers and pencils to record reference books, perhaps with roads or buildings as a provocation to entice play and explain the activity and what the material, what purpose, sorry, the material has. So this directly links with the syllabus links in mass with length, so we're describing mathematical situations and methods using every day and some mathematical language actions, materials, diagrams and symbols. And from the Australian curriculum using everyday language to describe length. So how that learning may look would be that thinking about that we're differentiating the opportunities to engage. So some children might be building roads and some children might be using books as a reference to a building they might want to create. Some students may be measuring the length, some students drawing their construction and some students recording their measurement and just about everywhere in between. So this allows for all participation. It's non judgmental and the teacher still getting information to be able to assess against the syllabus outcomes.

Making the learning visible here in this graphic so we'll just start there where teachers selecting it play experience, analysing the learning opportunities, differentiating the learning for each student. And then mapping that against the syllabus outcomes. So that reflecting on the opportunities in building that scope and sequence and then moving again into your play experience will look a bit different while we're learning from home. So that's going to rely on your communication with the home environment while you're following this progression around to plan.

So we have a little a story here. This was pulled from the Scottish paper called 'Lighting the fire', so I'll just read it through with you and just thinking about what we could prepare and offer for children to learn. So we had a student some years ago who struggled hard with the challenges of dyslexia. Traditional support, only alienated him further. A new teacher decided to try a different approach: she bought in an incubator and some eggs. The nine year old was fascinated. He monitored temperature and humidity and designed charts to document them. He asked questions and borrowed library books, something he had never done. When the young birds hatched, he cared for them, and the project expanded to include other creatures.

So our task related to this little scenario, which is a lovely one to imagine, but we want to think about now what learning outcomes you can identify in that story. And if you happen to be in a staff group, please engage in some professional dialogue what sort of outcomes you can identify there, and if not, if you happen to be learning on your own, then you can record your own feedback for your own further learning.

So just to take to get jump into a classroom perspective on play based pedagogy to help solidify this new information we're taking in, we'll just have a look at one schools journey. Taking on play-based pedagogy, how and why they did it in the outcome. So this story says success story from Toukley Public School on the central coast in New South Wales and how they play-based actually works for them. So the first thing is why? Why did they look to this pedagogy? Why did they invest in making changes and the commitment from the staff. So they were averaging about eight or so students with no preschool education prior. The students are from a low socio-economic background, that's the demographic of that area. They were limited social skills and up to 30 per cent Aboriginal enrolment per year and that particular year of investigating this new pedagogy they had 12 students with confirmed special needs and struggling.

So what they did, they first explored and researched the play-based learning and gained it and understanding. And commitment for staff that this would be student led choices. So that was a bit of a shift in thinking. They introduced an extra fruit break in addition to their other two breaks, which allowed the child, children, sorry, to be able to have that sort of headspace away, and certainly have some nutrition. They engage with parents not only through their P&C, but also parent interactions in the classroom increased and they were invited in. And of course not such a threatening place for parents when they're coming into to seeing engaging play-based experiences with their child, something perhaps that they do at some level at home. The learning certainly concentrated around interest space, which we listen to. It also had video, social schools, of course, were taught through the throughout the day, but particularly afternoons when they had several play afternoons where children could relax and you know use big muscles and move about. The teachers got together in their stage meeting, so there was certainly supporting of a continuity of learning across the couple of classrooms and being an L3 school, some of their changes included, no guided writing except at the point of need. And they still engaged in their explicit teaching of phonics through letters and sounds.

So the data certainly shows some success. There's a minor drop there from 17 to18 but across the three years, 11 percent is a great sort of achievement in that time, achieving level nine and above. So certainly the data shows that there was no lacking in any specific and explicit teaching of literacy and numeracy schools are there certainly managed across all KLAs and met all the outcomes of averaged that they're working towards. I think perhaps there's a little graphic here in the slide. That's just it. A little shop of their classrooms just showing how busy and engaged it looks. And we can certainly hope to that we may see that in the home learning environments. Certainly big box is always entice great engagement at many levels.

Here's an idea this came from Toukley as well, so I'll acknowlege their input and support with a sharing the play-base pedagogy. I mean, it looks lovely, it's visual. An idea that this might be able to be incorporated into the way you plan your lessons already, but it's just it's looking across the week there underneath there's got this, you know healthy living, loose parts, and as further across the page, you can see what the teachers working towards here. So that was one weekly program. And the next one I believe if we can click on to the next one we'll see a sample plan from learning just a little easier to see targeting some fine motor, mass and cultural, of course you, if you choose to program like this, whatever fits in with your existing program, the idea of putting those visuals in is nice for families to receive, if you're sending this home and maybe it helps understand a little bit of where you're heading with what you're doing and identification of some of the skills looking for and of course the outcome links are at the bottom there.

Again, I acknowledge Toukley for sharing their resources with us. This could possibly work as a great literacy plan for kindergarten, year one or two. Across your week with your literacy. So it's just of course, stating the days of the week. There, the text, that's the focus text. The creative writing or response again, something that can be easily engaged in higher, certainly with things like watercolour painting. Under the ABC column there, there are things there that of course the word game boards and things like that would be great for parents to engage in with the children. And some of the more explicit stuff like blends will require a bit more instruction, of course, and or resources that can be made available. The independent writing and manipulative are all linking in, all offering a play-based opportunities, still using a focus text and still addressing outcomes.

And here it goes further, for the course for the rest of the week. Down the bottom because remembering that this is in a classroom environment, they've got their writing learning centres up there with assisted writing tools and what sort of writing tool. Sorry and what not. But you can see how this might be easily adapted to be something to be shared at home to engage the families to support the learning.

So our next task here is to think about the examples provided and how you might build up your own plan. Play-based pedagogy could be incorporated into the curriculum and further into this learning from harm environment that we see ourselves in now.

The implication of play-based learning pedagogy for teaching and learning in supporting student outcomes remotely is what will look at next. So what does play-based pedagogy look like with remote teaching? We've listened to the video. We've had a look at some plans that are happening in the classroom, but transferring that now into a home environment. The teachers can have a small group of children two or three, three or four. Whatever works best, and depending on your class size of course, and can build a profile of each child's strength. In kindergarten of course you've got the transition to school statement and the best start kindergarten assessment which will help you define a disposition of the child and how they fit into the teaching and learning cycle. Your traditional classroom, of course, is replaced with activities or materials that are accessible to the students in the home environment. And this is where a good communication with your parents, carers at home is crucial to know what the children have at their hands to be able to engage in play. And students that are not in the focus group of course, at that particular time, can engage in any other activities you may have planned, something like an outdoor treasure hunt, or perhaps somebody still working on a could be a painting or a drawing from the day before that gives you that crucial time with the focus group children knowing that the others are still engaged.

So the quality teaching framework which we're all very familiar with and we can use the elements within the dimensions to support how we deliver this remote learning in the context of this framework.

So looking at the first dimension intellectual quality and the elements in here identified as deep knowledge, deep understanding, problematic knowledge, higher-order thinking, metalanguage and substantive communication. So if we think about how we put that into practice in a remote teaching situation, we can use that those focus children or focus small group or focus child even, you can use those moments as sustained teaching moments. So you can allocate time for unhurried learning and teaching. And this is where you can give that real one-on-one or one through a small group to be able to really assess and make sure that you're sticking with learning goals for each child. The other practice of course is offering opportunities for children to think beyond or where they're at. So we mentioned before about this design approximal development or learning and setup that further challenges is scaffolding their learning through their online feedback. You'll also be able to cater to different styles of learning. It will be easy to implement a game with the setup of the small focus groups. And I guess to the that will also allow in the home environment if the parents of course it is the new world for the parents also that if while their students are engaged with their one-on-one or the one on small group with you, the teacher, it might support their other children at their learning at home. Of course, if you're aware of what resources the children do you have at hand at home, it will help to make sure that they're learning is more meaningful and real because they're actually engaging with things that are in their home environment that they're very comfortable with.

The next dimension is quality learning environments and the elements identified within this are explicit quality criteria, engagement, high expectations, social support, students, self regulation and student direction. So how that might look like in practicing remote teaching is, consolidating your explicit teaching through or, again organising your students into those focus groups and targeting that area of need. That keeps your explicit teaching on track and where you need to be going. It also allows you, your practice will allow remote student to have input into ideas and interests that'll support that high engagement and allow your assessment. It will also support some autonomous student direction in their discussions with you about what they have available home, what you can see them doing with, how you can adapt the plan to what they have available. Of course, in this situation, ensuring a strong sense of community in the online classroom is crucial. And your collaboration is a teacher and student also needs to be strong. That's going to support your social support keeping your teacher expectations high, of course, it's going to entice engagement, and you know relying on your bank of positive feedback strategies continually to ensure that connection is positive.

The final dimension is significance and the elements within here our background knowledge, cultural knowledge, knowledge integration, inclusivity, connectedness, and narrative. So again, looking at your practices in the remote situation, engaging with the transition of school statement in your best start kindergarten information. You can utilise this to help with your ongoing planning and it allows you to build on existing skills that you're aware of. Again considering the zone of proximal development when creating lessons. Allowing that knowledge integration to be able to build and scaffold on top of each other. Embracing cultural awareness, of course, and supporting social skills and incorporating all the KLAs across your planning. And connecting with students through your digital relationships to keep that connectedness and inclusivity high.

So perhaps at the start of the day, this is what might happen in a classroom practice in implementing play-based pedagogy. But if we could think of it in the remote environment, perhaps each day could begin with the connecting in moment and then the teacher can explain the daily focus and we'd like to think that our families or parents and carers are also connected there and can be a part of their daily focus. This is an opportunity for further explanations of activities and their purposes that are offered for that day. It's also a moment to reflect with the students on their key learning moments from the day before, and perhaps even have input from the families on key learning moments from the day before or where their child will be headed next.

So how would we know that our students are covering all the outcomes? Well, during this small focus group with explicit teaching, this will help you identify if students are progressing with their individual goals. I think that's a crucial point to be connected with those small group or individual, again depending on your class size to be able to know that you're hitting those outcomes in your planning. Guiding the students to reflect on a consolidate explicit teaching from the day before which we just mentioned, offers a clear structure that the teacher and students will follow together throughout the day. The students can be timetable as a focus student or a small focus group on the fortnightly rostered or perhaps less, again depending on your class size, to ensure that they're receiving that equal teachers support. And this of course helps you identify, again, assessing your students against the outcomes. And during the focus group time, the rest of the class can be investigating a set challenge on a continued project.

So a little reflection and planning here there's English and maths outcomes there from the New South Wales syllabus in the Australian curriculum. And the next slide has a science and PDHPE. So your reflection task is what could you plan for these particular outcomes. Looking at them and thinking back over what we've been talking about, how you'll have some explicit and how you'll have some large group projects or things children are working on.

As we said earlier, here is another story from a public school, Manning Gardens on the mid north coast. And it also helps set the scene a little bit and help think beyond to help with planning. So young student in kindergarten was struggling with being in the classroom environment, generally. He was unable to sit at a desk longer than a few minutes, engage in any content, and naturally looked for distractions. The classroom teacher began a recycling unit of work and introduced a worm farm. The student was intrigued. He told the teacher that he often gardened at home with his father and he enjoyed it. Over time, the student took on responsibilities such as researching correct food scraps, measuring the correct ratio with water, assisting peers to fill their watering cans with the correct ratio for watering and further with assistance graphed plant growth, seedling growth and sharing his newly gained knowledge with his peers. So we can see that this as a task here about what learning outcomes can you identify in the story we just read through, and if you again, if you're on your own, you can jot down your own feedback or if you happen to be in a group learning then you can engage in professional dialogue. Of course, we're seeing in these couple of stories that these students that have difficulty in engaging in it in average a classroom situation perhaps that we relied on before, now with interest triggered support from the classroom teacher, support in the planning, student input into what was going to happen next, we can see many different outcomes. We now have some resources available to that you can access, which is on the screen at the moment.

And we would love to hear your feedback via this QR code please, to provide some suggestions for development of future professional learning. I'm certainly after seeing this we would love to hear where you would like that to go next. What you would like targeted and what you would like to learn more about.

Jacqui Ward – I'll jump back in there. Thank you Donna. Thanks for a great presentation. I hope everybody got a lot out of it. If you didn't, we'd love to hear feedback as mentioned before. Feel free to contact us directly if you have any questions. Our email address is Thank you again. It has been quite a long session so I hope everybody is maintained their interests and engagement. Thanks, Donna.

Donna Deehan – Thank you.

End of transcript

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