pedagogy of play
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Years ago I devised a classroom demonstration, to use early in a semester when trying to help students become more aware, first, of the multiple dimensions of religion and, more importantly, of the ways in which diverse analytical lens for comparing and contrasting religion in a “toolbox for critical thought” ...
As a teacher trained in textual analysis and the religious practices of living human communities, the language of images, videos, and recorded sound are not my mother tongue. Yet, I know that for my students, communicating in an era where these visual forms of communication are the lingua franca of ...
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.