Learning To Read Play

I have been reading the book Visible Learners: Promoting Reggio Inspired Practices in All Schools by Mara Krechevsky, Ben Mardel, Melissa Rivard and Daniel Wilson. In an early discussion with a colleague we focused on the following quote in the forward by Deborah Meier.

I have enjoyed following the Reggio Emilia work but am sometimes put off by the amount of documentation involved. In Visible Learners I came to understand how documentation serves many different purposes, all focused on making the student and his or her learning more visible. It is this visibility that enables parents and teachers, teachers and students, and teachers and other colleagues to join together better in making the world more visible to the student. We can see with our eyes and be blind to what is in front of us far too easily in most classrooms…

Deborah Meier, Forwards to Visible Learners


This raised the question how do we use documentation to make learning visible and further, do we use documentation to see deeper, to ‘see what is in front of us’.

I thought back to four years ago when I first joined the Early Years teaching team. One of my driving questions that pushed me to make the shift to Early Years was the question of how do we learn through play. On one level it is obvious. When in a healthy, nurturing environment, children intrinsically play. This is their natural mode to engage and explore with the world. But how was I to meaningfully leverage play for learning without taking it over and turning it into something else. I think I was focused on the rhetoric of play for identity. To teach through play, I decided I needed to learn how to read play.

The people I reached out to with the question, where do I go to learn to read play, kept coming back to me with the same answer, check out Fairy Dust Teaching. I signed up for their Deep Play: The Architect of the Brain workshop. In that I found this graphic depicting the stages of play.



On the left it lays out stages of play. On the right it provides provocations to engage and scaffold the play, and if done right, without taking over the play. In the centre is described the cognitive actions that are being activated in the different stages. This is what I was looking for. But how do I utilize this knowledge other than in a passive, reflective way? How do I make the implicit explicit. For that I created the following document.



On the left are the stages of play. On the right are prompts to the teacher pointing to provocation I can put forth. This became my training wheels as I began to intentionally learn to both read a child’s play and to engage in play with them – scaffolding without taking over. It gave me a tool to engage in the learning moving it forward. In this way the documentation became truly formative, using the documentation to inform the next step. It was also a tool to develop shared understandings, I could share the documentation with co-teachers and parents. Starting with this document we began to create a shared language to discuss play in our reflections and planning.



A Play Story

Here is a narrative of one play journey we were a part of as we learned to read and scaffold play.


Assessment phase: Looking at what is there to do?

There was a student who was new to the school and new to India. This was her first time out of her home country. She spent a long time in the Assessment phase, looking at what is there to do. She would roam around the play spaces moving between the blocks to the dolls to the water table, to the books.


Fascination stage: what can I do with it?

One day she became fascinated with a pair of scissors. These were the colourful plastic kind that cut zig zags and wavy lines. She cut designs, and patterns. She cut strips of paper just to cut strips of paper. She cut card paper, she cut tissue paper. She tried to cut cardboard. It didn’t work.

Occupation stage, how can this fit my plans?

Then, a few days later, the scissors became a hairdresser’s scissors, and she began sitting her peers down, interviewing them as to how they wanted their hair cut as other peers started lining up for their turn, as you would do at a hairdresser. The discussions, the rich vocabulary and the connections she was now making with her peers were beautiful and enriching. I remember one conversation where a student of African origin noted how her hair was “scrunchy and bouncy” like her mom’s and her sister’s hair was but her friend, who was of european origins, hair was straight and “not scrunchy.” This student noted that her hair was like her mom’s and her sister’s. This student driven inquiry into ethnicity and similarities and differences was beautiful and honest.


Articulation Stage, how can this be transformed?

This began to spur on grade level wide projects. The hairdresser was so busy, she now needed a cashier. Money was starting to be cut out and labeled. She was so busy she needed an assistant who would counsel customers on the hair styles they wanted so when they got to the hairdresser they already knew what they wanted. The play dough pizza shop was starting next door exchanging the same money. Then, the lockdown started and it all stopped. I wish I had been wise enough then and comfortable enough in the Zoom classroom to help create the space for this to continue. This is the current nature of my challenge. Any ideas are welcome.


The continuation of the quote above reads,

…But the careful and shared documentation that is described on these pages makes it harder to maintain the view that such documentation is a luxury—a time-consuming form of public relations. In fact, such documentation can, in the long run, be a time-saver when learner and teacher get a clearer picture of what is going on. Continue reading

Flippin report cards

The Flipped Classroom The term flipped classroom has been in vogue in teaching circles over the last couple of years. In short, it means traditional school work becomes homework and homework becomes school work. For example, traditional school work such as listening to lectures and taking notes becomes homework where the students might watch lectures posted on a You Tube channel or read the lecture posted on a class blog. Then when they return to school the next day what would traditionally be homework such as answering comprehension questions become class work. The difference is that this process is not done in isolation, instead the students answer the questions together, collectively in a dialectic challenging and supporting each other. In this way they can be said to be enacting the sociocultural perspective on education where knowledge is not a product of the individual but is socially or jointly constructed – but that’s a whole blog post on its own. (Click here for an example of the flipped classroom in action by one of the teachers from Colorado who many credit with the idea) The Flipped Report Card report card graphic-page0001I got to thinking about this after I found myself sitting in Darjeeling last Christmas recovering from an acute case of report card fatigue.   I know I am not the only one who gets this.   As report card time approaches, teachers begin to write math comments, science comments, behavior skills comments… We all get better at it as time goes on, we get more organized and we get more systematic in our approach but we are still faced with report card season. As I sat there I had the crazy thought that there had to be a way to spread the work of report cards out equally over the semester and more importantly, there had to be a way to integrate the report cards much more effectively into the daily life of the class so they are an active part of the learning process and not some detached third person reflection. I thought, why not have the students write their own report card comments at the beginning of the semester, revisit them together with the student mid-semester and then finalize them together at the end. In this way, the report cards would become:

  1. part of goal setting.
  2. authentic writing opportunities that are published at the end of the semester.
  3. an opportunity for the students to take ownership over their learning.
  4. a way for the students to become involved with the contents of their report cards and a way to ensure that there are no surprises at the end of the semester.
  5. a way for the students to have a greater ability to explain the content of the report card to their parents and to engage in a meaningful discussion as to its contents.
  6. to take more ownership for the results of their reports.

When I returned to school after the holiday I gave the idea a try. I told my Grade Five class to write the learning skills comment that they wanted to go home in their report card at the end of the semester. I also gave each student a copy of the behavior skills rubric that I used to help generate their marks and told them they are welcome to copy statements off of the rubric. One caution is that you would need to ensure that the students are writing their comments based on the expectations taken from the curriculum that they will be assessed by. I conferenced with each student mid-semester and again at the end of the semester. I only had to make a few alterations to the comments the students wrote about themselves, on average they were pretty spot on. A few students were too easy on themselves and a few students were too hard on themselves.

This year, I have moved to a Grade One class. How to modify this to work with this age group, will be the topic of another post – mostly because I haven’t figured that one out yet.