pedagogy of play
Select an item by clicking its checkbox
The “I” That Teaches - A new video project that invites senior scholars to talk about their teaching lives. These scholar-teachers candidly discuss how religious, educational, and family backgrounds inform their vocational commitments and, also, characterize their teaching persona. From the vantage point of a practiced teaching philosophy we get an intimate account of the value and art of teaching well.
We begin this series with an interview with Dr. Victor Anderson, Vanderbilt School of Divinity. The title for this project comes from a lecture that Prof. Anderson delivered at Wabash College.
Click here to watch all episodes of "The "I" That Teaches" on YouTube
Play in Creative Problem-solving for Planners and Architects
Date Reviewed: July 11, 2017
As the title indicates, this book is intended for those in the fields of urban planning and architecture. That said, with some translation, this slim volume is a helpful resource for those who seek to include more creative pedagogy in their theological and religious studies classrooms. I can imagine theology and religious studies professors using this book to inspire their own use of play in the classroom and to persuade skeptical colleagues of the value of play within the academy.
Author Ron Kasprisin defines and defends the role of play in teaching and learning with passion and precision. Rooting his concept of play in the pedagogical theories of Friedrich Froebel (founder of the German kindergarten movement), Kasprisin describes play as “ self-activity, enjoyable, sensory, wondrous, and thoughtful” (4). Play is “experimental, flexible” (60), and dedicated to “creative problem-solving” that “requires openness . . . divergent thinking, and an appreciation for ambiguity and complexity” (62). He extols its power to unlock creativity thanks to how it “disables fear, failure, and creates voluntary intentions” (7).
Kaspirin’s consideration of how play overcomes fear and unleashes creativity (in Chapter Two, “Object Learning through Symbolic Play” [35-38 in particular]) could stimulate new directions in how faculty promote critical thinking within students and how to encourage and absorb diverse perspectives within class discussions. Similarly, his exploration of how the studio environment nurtures play and its attendant creativity (Chapter 5, “Setting the Stage-Play Environment”) offers fresh ways to create classrooms with a high tolerance for failure and consequent high innovation. Key throughout is Kasprisin’s conviction that play offers a legitimate method of student-directed learning at all levels of education.
The final four chapters (“How Do Designers Play,” “Object-learning with Play-tools/Skills,” “Object-learning Applications in Design and Planning,” and “Integration of Digital Technologies and Crafting Processes”) are the ones most closely written for those who teach students of urban planning and architecture. A careful reading of the Introduction, first three chapters (“Creative Problem-solving (CPS) for Design and Planning,” “Object-learning through Play: Object-learning, Constructivism, and Self-learning through Symbolic Play,” and “The Gifts of Friedrich Froebel”) and Chapter 5 (“Setting the Stage – Play Environment”) is likely to suffice for professors in other fields. In those chapters, Kasprisin lays out the qualities and functions of play and the value of creative problem-solving in education. His insistence that technological methods short-circuit creativity is of special interest to me. As one who resists the encroachment of technology at every level of education, I found his discussions of the limits of technology illuminating and affirming.
I was surprised that the theories of Maria Montessori were not mentioned as her theories of early childhood education have also taken strong hold in a segment of American education. Influenced by Froebel, Montessori embraced a similar ethic of sensory learning and offers a range of materials for children to engage that is wider than Froebel’s. If you are persuaded by the value of play, her thought will provide additional resources for consideration.
Play and the Human Condition
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
Thomas Henricks’ Play and the Human Condition provides a valuable guide to the academic study of human play. Henricks has been teaching at Elon University since 1977 as a sociologist. He has been studying human play since his PhD dissertation, which explored the relationship between sports and social stratification, and he has over thirty years of academic publications in play studies. In this volume, Henricks attempts to advance his thesis that “play is fundamentally a sense-making activity and that the broader goal of this process is to construct the subjectively inhabited sphere of operations and understandings called the self” (209).
Henricks organizes this book into an introduction and nine chapters. He begins the introduction with three questions that guide his work: “How do we discover who we are? How do we determine the character of the world in which we live? And how do we decide what we can do in a world so configured?” (1). The introduction provides a rationale for studying play as well as an overview of the book.
The first three chapters explore general models of play. In Chapter I, Henricks explores the difficulties around establishing a definition for play as he reviews several modern definitions. He presents six ways of understanding play: as action, as disposition, as experience, as context, as interaction, and as activity while he connects each model to their major theorists. The next chapter presents how play is different from other patterns of human behaviors including ritual, work, and communitas. The final chapter in this section develops a theory of play that centers upon self-realization. Henricks notes that “play best teaches people how to conceive self-directed lines of action and to mobilize varieties of resources to realize these ambitions” (89).
In the middle of the book, Henricks devotes five chapters to various aspects of play including psychology, the human body, physical environment, social life, and culture. After focusing on the mind in his chapter on the psychology of play, Henricks turns to the human body and play in Chapter Five. While examining animal play, he concludes “play integrates symbolic and physically based meaning systems. . . play is a form of consultation between matters manifest and latent, known and unknown. In consequences, players extend and secure their understanding of themselves” (137). Next, he engages the physical environment and social aspects of play, because as he explains, “play is complicated by the presence of more than one player” (161). Chapter Eight builds upon the foundation of the earlier chapters to explore culture and play. This is an important chapter that engages the work of Geertz, Deerida, and Gadamer to list a few.
Henricks’ final chapter weaves the various themes of the earlier chapters together to support his thesis. He examines the relationship between play and freedom. He concludes that “if play has a legacy, it is its continuing challenge to people of every age to express themselves openly and considerately in the widest human contexts” (227).
Play and the Human Condition is a well-developed and scholarly text. Henricks engages a wide range of disciplines and carefully builds his arguments. The book offers a detailed road map to professional play literature that will be very useful to any scholar researching in this field. Except for a few terms, like communitas, this volume is accessible for the non-specialist. Theologians and graduate students should have no problem understanding and engaging this text in fruitful dialogue.
This volume would be a good addition to major theological libraries. It is especially important for scholars and programs that explore ritual studies and hermeneutics. Chapter Four, on play as therapy, gives a foundation for this important approach to clergy who want to explore this avenue of pastoral care and counseling.
Knowledge Games: How Playing Games Can Solve Problems, Create Insight, and Make Change
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
The first section of this book is devoted to working through the complex definition of what constitutes a “knowledge game,” and more specifically, what does not. Schrier’s book is a substantial literature review of the vast – and rapidly growing – field of games that contribute to knowledge production. “Knowledge games,” by her definition, are “the set of practices, contexts, designs, and relationships that emerge from and around those games with a goal or sub-goal of generating new knowledge about humanity, society, the universe, and any previously unknown phenomena” (26). In contrast to games such as “citizen science games,“ “crowd games,” “collective games,” “participatory games,” and “human games,” Schrier takes great care to delineate that she is exploring only those games which seek to produce knowledge, solve authentic, applicable problems, and/or “generate new ideas and possibilities for real world change” (25).
A few of the games she examines include those she designates as “cooperative contribution games” (Happy Moths, Citizen Sort, Reverse the Odds), “analysis distribution games” (VerbCorner, Who Is the Most Famous?, IgnoreThat!, Apetopia), “algorithm construction games,” (The Restaurant Game, Foldit, EteRNA, The SUDAN Game, Which English?), and “adaptive-predictive games” (SchoolLife), although she notes this final category is not yet robust, being instead “the next frontier of knowledge games” (30-31).
The second section of Schrier’s book tackles the challenging question of “why” knowledge games. That is, in what ways might knowledge games contribute to problem-solving? What kinds of motivation to play exist within these games, which are often produced very cheaply and without access to the million dollar production budgets of games in the entertainment world? Further, to what degree is social interaction nurtured or constricted by such games? Schrier acknowledges that these are complicated questions that require deeply contextual responses. She does not really offer answers, instead choosing to sketch out a brief summary of relevant research findings that point to principles related to motivation and games.
The final section of this book turns towards “perspectives, potentials, and pitfalls” to be found in the midst of knowledge games. While Schrier draws on significant theorists and wider literatures here (for example, Lave and Wenger, Jenkins, Benkler, Gee) she only lightly engages issues of ethics, and leaves entirely untouched pragmatic questions of pedagogy.
This book is not likely to be of much interest to people teaching in the fields of religion or theology, with the limited exceptions of those for whom shared knowledge creation in the midst of significant amounts of data are of pressing concern, or those for whom games are a specific focus. In that case Schrier’s appendices, where she lists categories of knowledge games along with examples, and where she enumerates a significant set of design principles, will prove useful. Aside from those small exceptions, this book is not likely to be pertinent to the readers of Teaching Theology and Religion.
The Grace of Playing: Pedagogies for Leaning into God's New Creation
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
In The Grace of Playing, Courtney Goto offers a project in practical theology for Christian religious education that uses the notion of playing to better understand teaching and learning. Goto distinguishes her project from a formal practical theology of play, where play could be explored as a universal category of human existence. Instead, she works in the line of Paulo Freire’s search to move beyond a traditional schooling model of education towards learning that is more integrated, experiential, and creative. Specifically, Goto reflects critically on the notion of revelatory experiencing through the language and pedagogies of playing. Her focus is on playing as it relates to adult learning, and her investigation demonstrates – both conceptually and through case studies – how playing cultivates faith formation.
Goto is an Assistant Professor of Religious Education at the Boston University School of Theology and a co-Director of the Center for Practical Theology. She writes as a third generation Japanese American United Methodist primarily for an audience of theorists, students, and practitioners who are liberal mainline Protestants. She invites Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Charismatic Christians into the conversation as well, but notes that her advocacy of revelatory experiencing is to be understood in terms of the contextualized perspectives encountered in mainline Protestant churches. This is an important caveat. Theologically conservative readers will take issue with her concept of revelatory experiencing, whereby revelation happens in between persons as they relate to one another (as opposed to approaching Christian revelation as a totalizing meta-narrative). That Goto makes her theological liberalism so clear and defined, particularly in terms of her understanding of revelation, is a great service to readers.
The Grace of Playing investigates playing from social scientific, theological, and historical perspectives and offers two case studies for application. After a preface and introduction, Chapter 2 explores psychoanalytical and psychological concepts of playing, relying particularly on D. W. Winnicott to articulate sociologically what occurs in revelatory experiencing. In Chapter 3, Goto turns to theology to build a theory and constructive proposal of play by appropriating insights from Jürgen Moltmann’s Theology of Play. Chapter 4 is a historical accounting of medieval practices of play, including the use of devotional dolls by fourteenth century nuns in the Rheinland, Germany and the practice of holy foolery by those in both Western and Eastern Church traditions. The final two chapters contain case studies of grace-filled play. The first describes the creation of a pretend garden at a Japanese American church for the purpose of congregational reconciliation, and the second briefly recounts a practice of playing with inmates in a juvenile detention center.To conclude, Goto demonstrates that the grace of playing leads a world in need towards God’s new creation.
The Grace of Playing skillfully navigates insights from sociology, theology, and history to make a compelling case for the theological practice of play as a mediating, revelatory experience within Christian religious education. The book is readily accessible for students and practitioners, without neglecting the more technical needs of theorists. For the case studies, Goto deliberately refrains from providing much, if any, direct data; this effectively condenses the reading, but also leaves a sense of wanting to know more about how the grace of playing works itself into and through these unique settings. Overall, the book is a warm invitation for all to play in the fullness of God’s grace.