UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

The role of the teacher during free play in preschool Breen, Patricia Edith 1996

Your browser doesn't seem to have a PDF viewer, please download the PDF to view this item.

Item Metadata

Download

Media
831-ubc_1996-0195.pdf [ 3.31MB ]
Metadata
JSON: 831-1.0054836.json
JSON-LD: 831-1.0054836-ld.json
RDF/XML (Pretty): 831-1.0054836-rdf.xml
RDF/JSON: 831-1.0054836-rdf.json
Turtle: 831-1.0054836-turtle.txt
N-Triples: 831-1.0054836-rdf-ntriples.txt
Original Record: 831-1.0054836-source.json
Full Text
831-1.0054836-fulltext.txt
Citation
831-1.0054836.ris

Full Text

THE R O L E OF THE T E A C H E R DURING FREE P L A Y IN PRESCHOOL by PATRICIA EDITH B R E E N B . E d . , The University o f Calgary, 1964  A THESIS S U B M I T T E D IN P A R T I A L F U L F I L L M E N T OF THE REQUIREMENTS F O R THE D E G R E E OF M A S T E R OF ARTS in THE F A C U L T Y OF G R A D U A T E STUDIES (Centre for the Study of Curriculum and Instruction)  We accept this thesis as conforming to the required standard  THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH C O L U M B I A A p r i l 1996 © Patricia Edith Breen, 1996  In presenting  this thesis in partial fulfilment of therequirementsfor an advanced  degree at the University of British Columbia, I agree that the Library shall make it freely available for reference and study. I further agree that permission for extensive copying of this thesis for scholariy purposes may be granted by the head of my 'department or by his or her representatives.  It is understood that copying or  publication of this thesis for financial gain shall not be allowed without my written permission.  Department of  fafy,  SJMJ/JJLM)  The University of British Columbia Vancouver, Canada  DE-6 (2/88)  ii  ABSTRACT  The purpose o f this observational study is to examine the role o f the teacher during free play in preschool. The specific objectives are to document: the duration and extent o f supervisory, facilitating and housekeeping duties; various aspects o f teacher-child interactions such as reason, location, language mode, duration o f the exchange including number and gender o f children; and to determine i f boys and girls are equally demanding o f the teacher's time and attention. The nature o f unsolicited attention is recorded and the teacher's responses to given situations are noted to determine i f gender differences exist. Successive naturalistic observations o f six different teachers were undertaken at four separate preschool centres in Vancouver, Canada. A n attempt was made to seek a representative sample o f both teachers and schools. Extensive field notes documenting the teachers' duties, behaviors and interactions with the children provide the observational data. This data, comprising some thirty hours of observations, was analyzed and interpreted with reference to the above research questions. The data shows that these six teachers spent an average o f 80 percent o f the free play period in classroom management. That is, they were predominantly involved in housekeeping, facilitating and supervising the play environment interspersed with momentary and fragmented interactions with children. The remaining 20 percent o f the time, the teachers were engaged in sustained  Ill  interactions (over 2 minutes) with the children. The sustained interaction data shows distinct variations along gender lines. While language facilitation was the main reason for teacher/child interactions, definite gender variations were reflected i n the reasons for interaction, the nature o f the verbal exchanges, as well as the duration and boy/girl ratio o f the interaction episodes. When the context o f the interactions was considered it was apparent that approximately one third o f the teacher/child interactions were in the area o f art activities, while the teachers' presence in other areas o f the play environment was significantly less well represented. The study concludes that the teacher's role during free play was predominantly one o f managing the environment. This preoccupation with making sure that the play scene proceeds smoothly and harmoniously left little remaining time for more educationally valuable interactions with the children.  iv  TABLE OF CONTENTS Abstract  ii  Table o f Contents  iv  List o f Tables  v  List o f Figures  vi  Chapter One  Introduction: The Problem  1  Chapter T w o  Review o f the Literature  7  Chapter Three  Methodology  29  Chapter Four  Analysis o f the Results  36  Housekeeping, Supervisory and Facilitating Role  Chapter Five Bibliography Appendix 1  37  Teacher-Child Interactions  39  Sustained Teacher-Child Interactions  46  Interactions and Gender  51  The Teacher's Role  56  Discussion and Recommendations  58 . 72 77  LIST OF TABLES  Table 1  Sustained Teacher-Child Interactions  48  Table 2  Sustained Teacher-Child Interactions: Context  50  Table 3  Sustained Teacher-Child Interactions: Time and Gender Distribution  52  Teacher-Child Interactions: Gender Distribution  54  Table 4  VI  LIST OF FIGURES  Figure 1  Teacher-Child Interactions: Reason  41  Figure 2  The Role o f the Teacher During Free Play  57  Chapter 1  The Problem  Few would dispute the critical influence the early years of childhood have on subsequent development. It is not a question of whether early childhood education has an impact, but rather to what degree and in what ways early experience shapes the attitudes and behaviors of children. As architect and facilitator of the preschool environment, the teacher plays a critical role in shaping this early experience (McLean, 1990, Montessori, 1974). Bernard Spodek (1985) writes: ... teachers are central to all activity. Directly or indirectly, they control much of the activity and are responsible for all that occurs to children during school. They must respond to their many needs as they become apparent during the day. They must assure purposeful activities that produce educational benefit for the children, (p. 1)  ,  2  In spite of the magnitude of this responsibility, in both theory and practice much ambivalence surrounds the preschool teacher's role. Teachers grapple with priorities on a daily basis, performing a delicate balancing act between the objectives of their broader curriculum goals and management strategies dictated by the here and now. Running parallel to the practitioner's dilemma is the debate among educational and developmental theorists. They too, provide little agreement as to how teachers can effectively extend children's play to facilitate growth in development areas. In addition, much research seems remote and of little practical significance to the everyday concerns of the preschool teacher. This lack of relevance and consensus offers little assurance for the practicing early childhood educator and the question remains: What role should the teacher play during free play in preschool? This question has been addressed by many educational theorists and conclusions vary substantially according to the psychological theory upon which their construct is based. Social learning theorists such as Bandura (1963) and Hymes (1981) emphasize the importance of the teacher as a model, while the adherents of the behaviorist psychological school adopt a more instructive approach using positive reinforcement to  3  reward desirable behaviors (Dickinson, 1987). Those who adopt an ecological approach see the teacher as the provisioner of the environment, a "behind the scenes" presence that fine tunes and adjusts the setting to promote desired educational goals (McLean, 1990). Maturationists such as Gesell, Ilg and Ames (1949) recognize and honour developmental stages of growth. For them, the teacher assumes a nurturing role providing opportunities and encouragement to support the child's natural unfolding development but does not become directly involved in the children's play. In contrast, proponents of the humanist psychology school view the teacher's role as that of a facilitator, helping children identify and solve their own problems. This approach sees the teacher more actively involved in the children's play using focusing questions to clarify thinking and feelings (Spodek,1985). Another, more cognitively oriented approach articulated by Weikart (1986), among others, advocates that the teacher assume an interactionist role, helping children develop skills, assume responsibility and take initiative (De Vries, 1987). The above overview demonstrates there is little consensus among theorists regarding the preschool teacher's role. Yet, these varied theoretical underpinnings have influenced early childhood practice and are  4  embedded in teachers' belief systems in fragmented ways. Theoretical viewpoints on the teacher's role in free play run the full spectrum from non-intrusive to direct intervention and instruction, making it difficult for teachers to perceive a clear direction for practical action. The ubiquitous gap between theory and practice is apparent in the early childhood community as teachers seldom look to the research community for answers. Their decisions are generally based on their own practical knowledge and experience or that of colleagues rather than grounded in reliable developmental or learning theory (Monighan-Nourot, Scales & VanHoorn, 1987; Spodek, 1985). Traditionally, educators have recognized the importance of children's play in affective and cognitive development and in keeping with this philosophy most preschool programs today provide a free play component. Increasingly, though, teachers find it difficult to defend and articulate the value of play when parents and, to some degree society itself express concerns about academic success. As Monighan-Nourot, Scales and Van Hoorn (1987) write, "Many teachers are so frustrated by the pressures to 'jump start' preschoolers that they feel they can do nothing to justify play in their curriculum" (p. 120).  5  There is, however, a general acceptance among many theorists and early childhood educators that play is the avenue of learning for the preschool child. If so, then the question remains: How can teachers effectively support children's play and accomplish developmental goals as well? Intimately linked to this question is the necessity for teachers to be well versed in their role and able to articulate the educational value of play. Before the fundamental question of the teacher's role in children's play can be properly addressed, it is necessary to have a better understanding of what actually goes on in a typical preschool free play environment —something obvious but largely missing from the existing discussion on this topic. The intent of this study is, therefore, to examine the role of the teacher during free play in preschool to determine what exactly takes place in the course of the regular preschool day. The specific objectives of the study are to document: 1. the duration and extent of supervisory, facilitating and housekeeping duties, 2. various aspects of teacher-child interactions: reason, location, language mode, duration of exchange, number and gender of children, and  6  3. the teacher's interactions with children to determine if boys and girls are equally demanding of the teacher's time and attention. The nature and duration of unsolicited attention is also recorded. The teacher's responses to given situations are noted to determine if gender differences exist. These objectives rest upon the notion that only by observing teachers in actual practice can we determine how teachers function in the complexity of the classroom culture. The reality of the preschool environment is that there are many overlapping concerns that can only be fully understood and appreciated with extended observation and documentation of the teacher's interactions with children. Naturalistic observations of the "teacher in action" provide a window through which one can assess the teacher's role during free play as it is acted out. By constructing a clear picture of what takes place in six different preschool classes during free play, insights may be gained that will form the basis of possible recommendations as to how teachers can truly enrich and extend children's play.  Chapter 2 Review of the Literature For the purpose of this discussion the considerable and varied literature surrounding preschool play and teacher behavior can be organized into the following categories: 1. developmental and psychological theory 2. educational theory 3. applied research  Developmental and Psychological Theory It is apparent that the teacher's role in play is both directly and indirectly influenced by the psychological underpinnings of his or her belief system. Whether consciously or unconsciously, assumptions about the nature of childhood, development and learning are shaped by psychological theory (DeVries & Kohlberg, 1987). Within psychological theory there are four general streams of thought that continue to influence early childhood education particularly as it relates to play (DeVries & Kohlberg, 1987; McLean, 1990). The  8  first, articulated by Gesell among others, encompasses a maturational view of development where growth is seen to be a natural unfolding in predetermined stages. From this child-centred perspective the teacher's role is to create an environment that nurtures and supports this development. Individual freedom is highly valued and the child's rights and happiness are central. The second major psychological viewpoint to influence educational thought is that of psychoanalytic or Freudian theory. Play is considered to have therapeutic value, providing the child the opportunity to act out anxieties using fantasy play experiences to cope with the frustrations of living. Here, the focus rests on the vulnerable nature of children and their right to play without adult interference. For the teacher, it is a hands-off approach. Klugman & Smilansky (1990) explain that Freud cautioned, "Teachers were to watch but not interfere lest they inhibit the full expression of feelings" (p.73).  Erik Erikson expanded upon Freud's  theories to view play as a means to master reality. For Erikson, fantasy play was essential to ego development, providing opportunities to practice and experiment (Klugman & Smilansky, 1990).  The third stream of thought is represented by those who adhere to the cultural transmission theory. This ideology has evolved from John Locke's notion of the child as a "blank slate," the idea remained central to Thorndike's laws of learning and later to Skinner's stimulus-response theory. Engelmann's programmed learning based on conceptual analysis can be seen as a contemporary manifestation of this assumption (DeVries & Kohlberg, 1987). Identified as the behaviorist school of thought, proponents see education as a logical series of controlled interventions. The teacher's role is to create the learning environment to promote the acquisition of skills deemed important to society. Positive reinforcement, direct instruction and practice are integral components in the learning process. In contrast to the maturational point of view, this is not a childcentred approach as the teacher's agenda takes precedence over the child's agenda. Educational aims are determined by cultural or societal consensus. The fourth psychological theorist to influence educational thought was Jean Piaget. Piagetian theory saw play as central to the child's intellectual development. As DeVries and Kohlberg (1987) write, " ... knowledge evolves from an internal psychological core through an  10  interaction or dialogue with the physical and social environment rather than by direct biological maturation or direct learning of external givens from the environment" (p. 7). This cognitive-developmental stream, as expressed in Piaget's constructivist theory, saw knowledge not merely a product of experience but actively constructed by the child as new information is interpreted and incorporated in light of previous knowledge. Through the process of "assimilation" and "accommodation" the child modifies thought structures in response to new experience. For Piagetians, the child is not a blank slate, nor an empty vessel but is viewed as an active inquirer with cognitive patterns in place. This approach sees the teacher more actively involved in the children's play both as a facilitator and guide (Sugarman, 1987). Closely allied to Piagetian theory is Vygotsky's theory of cognitive and language development. He recognized the social nature of learning, and saw great benefit for the child to have the assistance of an adult or a more advanced peer to provide the next step in the learning sequence (David, 1993). Psychological theory such as that outlined above has provided the framework for educational philosophy but in many instances the  11  connection is far from clear. Many educational programs adopt a more eclectic approach incorporating psychological theory when it seems desirable. There are , however, educational schools of thought that have a clearly defined theory of play and hence their impact on the early childhood community has been more strongly felt.  Educational Theory Adherents to the constructivist school of educational thought have translated their theory into early childhood curriculum and practice. Based on the theories of Piaget and Vygotsky, among others, constructivists see the educational potential of play. It is a child-centred philosophy that borrows heavily from the child development tradition for materials, equipment and activities but differs in that it places greater emphasis on the teacher's role in children's play. Using careful observation, the teacher tunes into the child's thinking to determine the appropriate means to reinforce preoperational thought, a precursory stage in the process of achieving logical thought. Without being intrusive, the teacher assumes an active role: providing opportunities, guiding,  12  stimulating, questioning and modeling logical thought and language (DeVries & Kohlberg, 1987). The Bank Street early childhood program deserves mention as it represents an educational philosophy that has been defined as "developmental-interaction." This approach evolved in reaction to what Bank Street deemed to be the over-emphasis on cognitive development by both the behaviorist and cognitive-developmental perspectives. Acknowledging a more wholistic view of development, the developmental-interaction theory argues that cognitive and emotional development are intertwined and inseparable. Rooted in the childcentred, child-development tradition, Bank Street evolved from John Dewey's progressive stream of educational thought. From this movement, it derived the notion that play was the vehicle for experiential learning and the teacher's role was to stimulate thinking. Over time, Bank Street has integrated elements of other theories, making its "developmentalinteraction" approach an eclectic ideology (DeVries & Kohlberg, 1987). The teacher is expected to nurture and guide the child in social relationships and pose questions as well as model and extend language to provoke thinking.  13  Ecological theories of play have influenced early childhood practice by stressing the importance of the physical attributes of the classroom environment. Sutton-Smith (1979), among others, suggests that choice of activities and materials can profoundly affect the behaviors and play of children. Some materials or play centres were seen to elicit longer attention span, more interaction and conversation than others. Seefeldt and Barbour (1986) report studies have shown that a variety of ecological factors influence children's play such as the number and sex of children, play materials available and the adult's role. One example cited is the research conducted by Parten (1971) that showed playhouse materials elicited twice as many complex interactions as did clay, sand or blocks (Seefeldt & Barbour, 1986).  Theories of Play  In addition to psychological and educational theory, there are theories of play that prevail as part of our belief system. As Spodek (1985) notes, such theories have been categorized as classical theories or dynamic theories. The classical theories as defined by Mitchell and Mason (1948) are concerned with the causes and consequences of play.  14  Gilmore (1965) further refined this taxonomy to include the dynamic theories that focus on the content of play (Spodek, 1985). Classical Theories The first classical theory, known as the "surplus energy theory" suggests that humans store up energy and excess energy must be expended, hence children play to burn off surplus energy. This is a commonly held view and is in evidence when teachers suggest that children need to "run it off or "let off steam." The second, "relaxation theory," views play as a means of relaxation, acknowledging the need to relieve the stress and tension of work through recreation. Another classical theory, the "pre-exercise theory," proposes that play is a means to practice basic survival skills. Instinctively the child is preparing for future adult work, hence the content of play often revolves around adult roles. A related notion, the "recapitulation theory," suggests that children's' play progresses through stages similar to the cultural stages in human evolution (Seefeldt & Barbour, 1986; Spodek, 1985). Although the classical theories are not supported by research, they linger in attitudes toward play (Takhvar, 1988).  15  Dynamic Theories The dynamic theories of play include both Freudian and Piagetian theories. For Freud, play was cathartic, a child's way to cope with being small in an adult world. For Piaget, play was vital to the developing intellect, progressing from the practice play of the sensorimotor stage of development, to symbolic play, and finally games with rules. Other dynamic theories of play include the arousal-seeking theory and the theory of competence motivation. The arousal-seeking view suggests that humans have a biological need to seek information and play is the means by which children can keep external and internal stimulation in balance. When the level of stimulation drops below the optimum level the child becomes bored and seeks further stimulation. This arousal seeking theory, writes Takhvar (1988) draws attention to the motivating mechanisms of play. Another dynamic theory of play is Robert White's (1959) theory of competence motivation. He argues that children derive much satisfaction from developing competencies without external reinforcement. The activity of play is self rewarding (Spodek, 1985). Other dynamic theories have focused on different aspects of play but all share the belief that play is significant to development and has definite educational value.  16  Applied Research In addition to the above broadly defined literature categories of psychological and educational theory, there is a miscellaneous literature centred on the teacher and play that is relevant but does not fit easily into a distinct category. For the purpose of this study, it will be loosely defined as applied research because it is more directly related to classroom practice. The shift is from the literature of theory to the literature of practice. A characteristic of this literature is that the focus is upon applied practice and the philosophical underpinning, if there is one, is implicit. This discussion will shed light on the teacher's role as it pertains to the actual free play environment. Various aspects of the teacher's responsibilities will be reviewed from establishing and maintaining a play environment to facilitating and guiding play. Play intervention strategies are addressed as is the importance of language and questioning techniques. Establishing a Play Environment The first role the teacher performs is that of setting the stage for play. Determining the allocation of space is an important aspect of the play environment. Teachers must consider traffic patterns and how to  delineate play areas so that social interaction will be encouraged. These elements have a direct effect on the flow of movement and communication in the classroom (Van Hoorn et al., 1993). Space must also reflect the need for small intimate play areas as well as areas for solitary play. Klugman and Smilansky (1990) note that tables and chairs often occupy much space, impeding the free flow of activities. In addition, the predominance of tables and chairs conveys the impression that structured "school type" activities hold a higher priority.' Knowing how to use space to maximize play is an important aspect of creating a play environment. Temporal factors further influence play. Christie and Wardle (1992) found in their study of free play that low-level play occurred when there was insufficient time. Their study found a minimum of thirty minutes was necessaryforchildren to organize and initiate complex play scenarios. Mature group dramatic play or intricate block building and construction never developed in short play periods. Limited play time meant children engaged in functional or parallel-dramatic play and more unoccupied and transitory behavior was witnessed.  18  Selecting and planning curriculum is another important responsibility for the teacher. Being well versed in child development the teacher can plan activities and select materials for play that are developmentally appropriate (Bredecamp, 1987). The quantity, assortment and range of materials have a direct bearing on play. Insufficient materials have a limiting effect on play as does the choice of props in given situations. For example, younger children aged two and three prefer realistic props for dramatic play whereas more mature dramatic players aged four and five prefer less specific materials that can be used in a variety of play scripts (Van Hoorn et al., 1993). Providing additional play accessories at the appropriate time can indirectly influence the nature, direction and extent of the play episode. Teachers should exercise caution when introducing props or modeling their use as research demonstrates this may inhibit divergent thinking and stifle creative problem solving on the part of the child (Monighan-Nourot & Van Hoorn, 1991). Facilitating and Guiding Play Setting the stage for play is one aspect of the teacher's role. Yet, many teachers would agree that their role would be more aptly described  19  as facilitator. A facilitator not only sets the stage for play but also assumes an indirect role in supporting the play by maintaining the environment, helping children resolve problems themselves, providing assistance when asked and giving encouragement and guidance. Facilitating play entails careful observation to assess and respond to both social and ecological Cues. Teachers assume a more direct role when they interact with children in their play. "The key role of the teacher here is in modifying the natural spontaneous play of children so that it has educational value while maintaining its qualities as play" (Spodek, 1985, p. 184). A continuum of strategies is possible from the unobtrusive methods of "scaffolding" to the more direct method of "play tutoring" (Van Hoorn et al., 1993). The teacher's presence may be a sufficient scaffold to focus the play while environmental cues provide the framework, hence the scaffold for certain play themes. How and when to intervene are important elements of scaffolding as is the timing of its removal. In guided play, the teacher's role is more involved and direct. One method of guiding play is what Griffin (1982) calls the "artist apprentice" role. In this role, the teacher may help remove clutter so play can proceed  20  constructively or in another capacity she may protect the play space of one group by redirecting others to another area. Sometimes it is necessary for the teacher to intervene as negotiator/peacemaker to help children resolve conflicts. Other aspects of keeping the peace may entail helping a child enter the play by suggesting a new role or by offering new ideas to expand the play. At other times, it is necessary for the teacher to be a parallel player by modeling an activity or use of an item while on other occasions play can be guided from the sidelines as a peripheral participant. A more direct role for the teacher occurs when the teacher becomes a full participant modeling both appropriate language and behavior. The extent of the continuum is represented by that of play tutoring. In this capacity, the teacher sets the agenda by modeling and directing the play. This method of intervention, based on the research of Smilansky, is most commonly used for children whose play lacks complexity (Van Hoorn et al., 1993). Spidell's (1989) research suggests that adult participation increases the cognitive complexity of play, although she cautions that the timing of the intervention is critical to its success or failure. In guiding play for educational purposes, much attention has been focused on the teacher's use of language. As Cross (1989) states, most  21  early childhood programs place a high priority on language and emergent literacy on the grounds that they are important for social and cognitive development as well as later scholastic progress. Many prominent researchers have stressed the role of adults in promoting language and thinking in preschool children and argued that the opportunity for direct interactions with adults is one of the most important contributions a preschool program can make to children's later development and success at school. (Cross, 1987, p. 134) Teachers do most of the talking in preschool, employing more nonconversational exchanges than conversational interactions . Exchanges involving genuine dialogue between teacher and child were less frequent (Clark, 1988; Cross, 1989). Clark's (1988) extensive report of preschool centres in Great Britain found there was little evidence of sustained and uninterrupted conversations between adults and children. Moreover, teachers used an excessive number of quiz type questions rather than genuine inquiries that make cognitive and linguistic demands of the child. Following up on the study by Wood and Wood (1983) that found teachers asked more closed questions than open questions, Allerton (1994)  22  examined open and closed questioning styles with nursery school children and found that closed questions, with an implied answer are easier to answer but are unlikely to stimulate further dialogue. On the other hand, open questions, particularly verbal-reflectives, encouraged more conversation and divergent thinking on the part of the child (Allerton, 1994). Closed questions having an appropriate answer leave the interaction in the hands of the adult while open questions are in the hands of the child. Allerton concludes that open questions give the teacher insight into the child's perspective, allowing the adult to respond in ways that support and extend cognitive development. Not only does the teacher's language affect cognitive functions it has a profound impact on the gender socialization process. Research indicates boys have a greater salience (Greenberg,1985); they also receive more instruction on how to do for oneself, more open-ended questions, more of the teacher's positive and active attention (Sadker, Sadker & Donald, 1989). Furthermore, boys receive more attention for assertive, negative behavior while girls receive positive reinforcement for compliant, cooperative behavior (Klugman & Smilansky, 1990). The research of Hendrick and Stange (1991) suggested that boys interrupted  the teacher more frequently than girls and teachers interrupted girls more often than boys. The excessive use of male-specific pronouns in teacher language tends to further raise male salience and marginalize female experience (Gelb, 1989; Sheldon, 1990). As Seefeldt and Barbour (1986) remind: Teachers are powerful reinforcers of stereotypes. They have been found to interact with girls in ways that differ from their interactions with boys, which leads to the perpetuation of gender role stereotyping and negates development of a positive self-image for both sexes, (p.396)  Another significant role of the teacher during free play is that of observer/supervisor. Careful observation is necessary to determine if the physical arrangement of the room serves the needs of the players and whether the chosen activities are sufficiently stimulating or are frustrating for the children. Observing play provides valuable insights, enabling the teacher to tailor the program to better support growth in all developmental areas. One major aspect of this role is overseeing the environment to assure that it is safe and free of hazards. For the teachers profiled in  24  McLean's (1990) study, maintaining a safe, conflict free environment was a paramount concern. Without exception, educational goals were compromised by the immediate demands of the here and now. Spodek (1987) also found that classroom management was the main focus of preschool teachers, significantly outstripping concerns for learning and development. The above demands of the here and now are in part the result of the complexity of the preschool setting. In every classroom there is an intricate network of situational factors. McLean's (1990) study confirms Doyle's (1977) earlier work that found the preschool environment multidimensional and unpredictable with many different concurrent demands on the teacher's time. In Spodek's (1987) study of the thought processes underlying preschool teacher' classroom decisions, he found that few theories used by the teachers were grounded in reliable knowledge of child development or learning theory. Instead their decisions were "rooted in a form of personal practical knowledge" (Spodek, 1987, p. 206). Attitudes toward play profoundly affect the role the teacher assumes and this is why we must return to the question of the teacher's  25  supporting belief systems. In the final analysis, it is the teacher's views regarding the educational value of play that determines the degree of involvement. As DeVries and Kohlberg (1987) write: ...if teachers aim to promote development in children, it seems essential that they be clearly aware of the assumptions about stages of development and how these influence teaching. If a teacher assumes that stages are hereditary and predetermined, and little influenced by adults, he or she is likely to teach differently from a teacher who assumes that the child's experience is crucial in getting from one stage to the next in a solid and healthy way. (p. 13)  The first thing apparent from the foregoing discussion is that there is a diverse literature scattered across the general subject of the teacher and preschool play. The second factor immediately clear is the lack of consensus among psychological and educational theorists as to the most effective role for the teacher during free play in preschool. Also noticeable and running parallel and largely unconnected to this academic discussion, is a significant body of literature regarding classroom practice.  26  This applied literature is disparate and its foundation typically rests upon pragmatic observations rather than psychological or educational theory. Perhaps this is explained by the reality that many researchers have little recent experience in the classroom and most early childhood teachers have very limited exposure to developmental and learning theory. The translation of theory into practice is an old and vexing problem that persists. As Klugman and Smilansky (1990) observe: ... for early childhood education in particular the gap between practice, beliefs, and theories has been increasing. At the same time that the research literature on the value of play appears to be expanding geometrically, the presence of play in early childhood classrooms has been dwindling impetuously, (p. 237)  In addition to the gulf between theory and practice, there seems to be little articulation in the literature relating to child development and early childhood education. Unless there is some synthesis in the academic literature as well as some attempt to present this research in terms that are meaningful to practitioners in the field, early childhood  education fails to benefit. In short, it appears that the research makes very little difference to what goes on in most preschool classrooms. A close examination of the literature also reveals that there are few studies that specifically pertain to preschool education, and even fewer which focus on the preschool environment as it functions on a day to day basis. There exists an even greater paucity of relevant research drawn from Canadian experience. While the extensive interpretive studies of Clark (1988) and McLean (1990) of preschool teachers provide insights into the realities of everyday life in preschool centres, their findings must be qualified as they emerge from a view through a British or Australian lens. An observational study examining the role of teachers during free play in Canadian preschool settings remains to be done, and it is this specific gap that this study proposes to address. Beyond going a small way to fill the void in Canadian academic literature, the study may help provide a clearer view of how preschool teachers support and facilitate play in a naturalistic setting. These observations will hopefully furnish insights into teacher behavior and responsibilities, permitting possible recommendations as to how early childhood educators can enrich the play experience of preschool children.  28  A greater appreeiation of the teacher's role may also help determine how to more effectively link both theory and practice so that daily classroom decisions are grounded in complementary psychological and learning theory.  29  Chapter 3  Methodology  The general focus of this study is the role of the teacher during free play in preschool. To address the specific questions relating to the teacher's interactive patterns, supervisory and facilitating duties a qualitative observational study in the ethnographic tradition was undertaken. An emergent research design evolving over the duration of the data collection was employed so that minor adjustments could be made in response to unforeseen situational factors. A naturalistic observational method was chosen as the most appropriate and accurate means to determine the teacher's role as it exists in the complexity of the day to day preschool environment. This approach provides a richness to the data collection not so generally available to any other single research method (McLean, 1990; Regan, 1985). To minimize intrusion into the normal free play routine, careful attention was paid to the role of the observer in the classroom. Both from the perspective of the teacher and the children, specific strategies were  30  employed to reduce observer impact. To increase overall participation and help the teachers feel more comfortable with the research project each was initially contacted in person or by phone and briefed on the purpose and framework of the study as well as given a written profile of the observer and an outline of the purpose, objectives and methodology of the proposed study. The intent of these measures was to clarify and familiarize the participants with both the research proposal and the researcher so that both parties would share similar expectations and that observer credibility could be established. It was also felt that these preliminary strategies would help develop rapport and trust with the participating teachers. A relaxed teacher can be expected to perform in a normal fashion and thereby exhibit more typical classroom behavior. Before the observation schedule commenced, a preliminary visit to the classroom was made to acquaint the children with the observer in order to lessen the effect the observer's presence would have on the regular free play routine. The duration of the observation schedule rests on the belief that continued attendance in the classroom on consecutive days would likely mean that both the teacher and the children would become  31  accustomed to the observer, producing a clearer and more dependable vision of the free play scene. Naturalistic observations of six teachers at four different preschool centres in the city of Vancouver, British Columbia provide the data for this study. Participation was strictly voluntary and each teacher was assured anonymity. Teachers selected were the supervising teacher in each setting, since they are the individuals who have the full responsibility for the children and the preschool program in their respective schools.  1  Participants were also selected to include a range of teaching experience and settings. This offered the opportunity to consider experience as a factor in the character of teacher interactions. The sites were chosen in an attempt to achieve a representative sample of preschool settings in the city of Vancouver. One of the preschools was part of a community centre in a culturally diverse neighborhood. Here, two teachers with over ten years of experience were in charge of the centre and the class observed was a four-year-old group with a significant English as a Second Language component. For most of the children this was their second year with the teacher observed. The  ' In British Columbia, supervisor is the term used for the teacher in charge of the preschool.  32  second preschool centre observed was a private preschool located in a middle class residential district. This centre was operated by a parent board and was staffed by a supervisor with over fifteen years of experience and an assistant who was a recent college graduate. The class observed was a four-year-old group, many of whom were in their second year at the preschool. The third centre, located in a mixed residential and commercial area, was a parent participation preschool where parents assisted the teacher who was in her seventh year of teaching. This too, was a four-year-old group with most of the children in their second year at the preschool. The fourth setting was a university research centre for preschool children with each class staffed by a supervisor and an assistant. The three different teachers observed in this setting were in charge of mixed three and four-year-old groupings, with one teacher having more than ten years experience and the other two having less than five years experience. Each. of the six teachers was observed on five separate occasions during the free play portion of the program. In general, the observations were scheduled on consecutive days to provide continuity in the assessment of the teacher's role in the normal pattern of free play. Four  33  of the teachers were observed in April and May and the remaining two teachers were observed in the following November. Approximately thirty hours of observations provided the data for this study. A preliminary trial run confirmed that the checklist format devised to increase reliability was too cumbersome and inefficient to be practical and it was therefore abandoned in favour of taking extensive field notes that would provide more descriptive detail, clarification and depth to the observational data. To minimize intrusion and to encourage broader participation and a more natural environment no recording devices were used. A low profile in the room was maintained although it was necessary to move occasionally so that interactions could be closely observed and dialogue noted. During each free play session notes were taken describing the teacher's actions and interactions. A careful log noted time intervals and the nature and sequence of the teacher's role in the course of the free play activities. Whenever possible, verbal exchanges with both children and adults were recorded. To provide additional context to teacher/child interactions the following aspects of the exchange were documented: reason, location, duration, language mode, number of children present including the boy/girl ratio.  34  While the free play session was still fresh in the observer's memory, the field notes were transcribed each day and the opportunity taken to provide further elaboration and refinements to the observational data. In total, this observational data generated over seventy-five pages of descriptive detail regarding the teacher's role during free play in preschool. The observational data were analyzed by inductive means to determine emerging patterns and themes. The field notes were examined, sorted, and organized in various ways within the context of the thesis objectives. Common threads were noted as well as irregularities that did not seem to fit. The assembled data were tabulated and the results interpreted. In an effort to achieve some triangulation of the results in this study, another early childhood educator was selected to examine the field notes using the identical criteria. This reviewer's assessment and conclusions show agreement with the author in the order of ninety percent. It is appropriate to conclude this statement regarding methodology with a brief outline of the observer's professional background. The  35  purpose is to offer additional context that may further help the reader assess the quality of the observations and the discussion which follows. In addition to over thirteen years of teaching experience in various preschool settings, the researcher has had formal training in observational techniques as well as considerable practice observing in preschool settings. My experience as an early childhood practicum supervisor combined with the opportunity to conduct a pilot study examining the interactive patterns and play choices of preschool children has helped to refine observational strategies. This observational experience also permits an understanding of the foreshadowed problems inherent in qualitative research.  36  Chapter 4  Analysis of the Results  This chapter focuses upon the presentation of the observational data. Organized around the three previously stated questions concerning the role of the teacher during free play in preschool, the assembled results document: 1. the duration and extent of supervisory, facilitating and housekeeping duties, 2. various aspects of teacher-child interactions: reason, location, language mode, duration of exchange, number and gender of children, and; 3. the teacher's interaction with children to determine if boys and girls are equally demanding of the teacher's time and attention. The nature and duration of unsolicited attention is also recorded. As well, the teacher's responses to given situations are noted to determine if gender differences exist.  37  Following the discussion under each of these headings, the commentary addresses the larger topic of the teacher's role during the free play component of the preschool program.  Housekeeping, Supervisory and Facilitating Role  Structuring and maintaining the play environment occupied a significant amount of the teachers' time and attention. As the teachers had many overlapping concerns, it was often difficult to establish a clear demarcation between housekeeping duties and interactions with the children. Yet, by highlighting housekeeping, facilitating and supervisory duties and tabulating intervals of elapsed time it was apparent that the teachers spent on the average approximately 51.3 percent of their time involved in classroom management. The amount of time teachers devoted to the above named duties in this particular sample ranged from 38 percent to 64 percent. Within a five minute interval the following scenario is typical: ...teacher gets out clay at table. Tells nearby boys who spill magnet items to pick them up. Goes to shelves to get more magnets for them. Stops to admire a bracelet a girl has come to show. Instructs boy with painting to put his name on it and hang it on the drying rack. Sits at the art table (one side painting with water colours, the other side clay) and marks  38  attendance record. As children try the clay they talk about using their muscles. Gives girl suggestion on how to flatten the clay. Acknowledges girl at adjacentplaydough table when she reports that she is making a pizza. The teacher replies that it reminds her of the pizza song and she proceeds to sing "I am a pizza..." while finishing the attendance register. A close examination of the observational data reveals that the teachers seldom remained in one place for more than two minutes. The interaction data also supports this finding by illustrating that sustained interactions involving dialogue with children for at least two minutes occupied approximately 20 percent of the teachers' time. It therefore follows that more than 80 percent of the teachers' time was involved with structuring and maintaining the play environment, supervising the setting, facilitating activities by providing assistance and guidance or focusing attention to sustain the play. Supervising the setting was a top priority for all of the teachers and was clearly manifest as they regularly glanced around the room. Conversations or stories were often interrupted to survey the total scene or to respond to play scenarios happening elsewhere. Safety was also a top concern as children were frequently reminded of hazards, told to be  39  careful and to walk not run. All six teachers were quick to react to potentially dangerous situations.  Teacher-Child Interactions  Figure 1 summarizes the data of all teacher/child interactions. The numbers at the top of each column represent the frequency in each category. It must be understood that these numbers refer to interaction incidents and not the number of individual children involved. The total population of children upon which the table is based is: 107 children (55 boys and 52 girls). As Figure 1 illustrates, the reasons for interacting with children have distinct variations along gender lines. At the same time, the data suggests that the primary reason for the teachers to interact with all children was to facilitate language. This focus on language development was evident in both short and sustained interactions. Questioning techniques and simple statements were the predominant method employed by the teachers to encourage verbal expression on the part of the children. It should also be noted that, although not the explicit reason for the  interaction, language facilitation was an integral part of most exchanges between the teacher and child. To illustrate this focus on language, the following interaction episodes are presented: ... the teacher stops to chat with a boy who is drawing flowers. A bouquet of roses brought to school by one of the children are situated in the centre of the table. The teacher invites another boy to join them. To focus attention, she comments and asks questions about the flowers: "Are the buds open or closed? What colour are they? How many buds do you see? " In the course of the discussions she introduces vocabulary such as buds, stems, leaves, petals, thorns as they closely examine the roses. ...a boy calls "Look what we have made, . " The teacher goes to see the bridges six boys have built with blocks and boards: "What is going across the bridge? ... What is the bridge going across? " When a boy replies salt water the teacher asks: "What animals live in salt water? ... Wow, it must be a huge bridge to cross the sea. " Twenty minutes later the teacher returns to validate the block builders efforts in bridge building.  41  O)  c  re o.  O r-  O) m D) _ S, £ | •£ c re 1  O  re Q. Q  .• 2 > Q CL Q) CO re '-5  D) "  .55 T3 CD -Q =5 >. o .£ = re > .J-£O) 2 {/)D t-i-re . S S> x 2 QJ * **-S— « Q L I CL ^: < cd d ci ui CD Q. = O) = '> O CL '> . . ' S C ' 5 O O Q . O 0 )  5 ° o 3  The second most important reason for the teachers to interact with both boys (rank 3) and girls (rank 2) was to provide encouragement and support. A common strategy for the teachers was to sit near a child or small group of children asking questions and making suggestions to focus and extend the activity or play episode. An example of a teacher using this strategy is as follows: The teacher moves to monitor three boys playing in a big refrigerator box. "Scott, Scott, the box will break. " as boy rocks the box. "Oh, it's B.C. Transit. Is it a Bus?" The teacher crawls into the box when the box starts rocking again. She remarks, " Maybe you need some tickets for the bus. Who's going to be the ticket taker? " The teacher goes to the shelves and returns with paper punches, and paper for the boys. She remarks that she will look for a small box for the tickets and soon returns with an ice cream pail and cuts a hole in the lid and leaves it with the bus driver. While facilitating play was the second reason for teachers to interact with boys, it was apparently not deemed so important or necessary for girls (rank 5). Facilitating play as defined in this study meant that the teacher was in close proximity asking questions, offering suggestions and creating new roles for children who hoped to gain entrance to the play scenario. A major aspect of such facilitation was the addition of new play materials or the restructuring of the play space. In many instances the  43  teacher played a mediating role to guide or redirect potential conflict and in general keep the peace among the players. An illustration from the observational data is as follows: The teacher talks to two boys about including a third boy in their play. " Maybe, Sam would like to join you. Perhaps, he'd like to put on a shirt and be a policeman like you. " The teacher focuses the play by asking if the boys need walkie talkies. She then cuts paper towel rolls in sections for each boy telling them that they will have to put on the buttons with the felt pens. The teacher directs all three boys to the table with felt pens and they begin making walkie talkies. Providing assistance was the next most common reason for interaction with both girls (rank 3) and boys (rank 4). Throughout the thirty separate observations the six teachers were repeatedly involved with helping children put on paint smocks, dress-up clothes, tying shoes, providing or locating requested materials, helping children put away finished art projects, getting drinks of water, assisting children with toileting, hand washing and nose blowing. Validating effort and achievement ranked closely behind as a reason for interaction. All the teachers acknowledged the children's accomplishments and successes and positive reinforcement was given for perseverance and task completion. As one teacher remarked to children  44  making paper towel roll telescopes: " I like the way you are helping one another. An extra pair of hands is always a help." In the area of extending thinking and problem solving the data reveals a considerable difference in teacher response for boys and girls. The observations show that these teachers were much more likely to involve boys in solving problems and that boys were more frequently asked questions that stimulate further thinking and discussion. Examples of such questions were: "How can you make it wider?" responding to boys building with blocks. "Do you know what you are doing when you add water?" the teacher asks a boy painting with water colours. "What do you think we could use?" "When you are finished crying, we'll think of something to do?" All such open-ended questions elicit a further response on the part of the child, promoting thinking skills such as speculation, observation and investigation. By contrast, closed questions such as: "What's on your pizza?" or "Do the bubbles feel soft?" or "Who will look after the baby?" only require a single word response and are less likely to evoke further dialogue or divergent thinking. Closed questions were commonly posed to all children but were particularly evident in conversations with girls.  45  Guiding appropriate play behavior was another reason for interaction that revealed a significant difference between girls and boys. By over a two to one ratio the teachers were more involved in guiding appropriate behavior and mediating conflicts with boys (39 instances) than they were with girls (16 instances). Two examples from the data are: "Kevin, if you bring something to school you must be willing to share it. I think Shawn will be very careful with it. If you don't want to share, you must put it in your cubbie." On another occasion, the teacher asked three girls playing in the pretend centre to keep the little pieces on the table and to use the fruit instead. "Remember the other day when we had to pick up all the little pieces? Don't make yourself too much work. ... as long as you're willing to tidy it up. You think about how much work you want to do, Sarah." It was also apparent the teachers were concerned with the need to help children assume responsibility and take initiative. The observational data suggest that this expectation fell equally upon both boys and girls. Most children were generally encouraged to do for themselves, take care of their belongings and to make their own play choices.  46  The final category of interaction to emerge in this study involved teacher instruction. It was common for all the teachers to instruct children in how to do a particular art activity or to suggest strategies for doing puzzles or to provide letters so a child could write his or her name. A good example of this was a teacher stopping at the pretend office to instruct a girl in the use of the typewriter and to help her find the letters to type the names of her family. Another time, a teacher asked a girl who came to show the wooden beads she had strung: "Is it heavy or light? How many red beads did you use? What colour do you have most of? Teachers regularly quizzed children about colours, numbers, letters and shapes as well as capitalized on opportunities to expand factual knowledge and vocabulary. As Figure 1 demonstrates, teacher instruction was a more common occurrence for boys than it was for girls.  Sustained Teacher-Child Interactions To acquire a clearer picture of the interactive patterns, uncluttered by housekeeping and classroom management duties, sustained teacherchild interactions were examined in depth. Sustained interactions were defined as those verbal exchanges involving the teacher and child or  47  children in dialogue for at least two minutes. It should be restated at this point that these exchanges represent only a small portion of the free play period averaging approximately 20 percent of the teachers' time. An outline format was devised to provide a framework for assessing each of the sixty-one interaction episodes and the results are summarized in Table 1. The data summarized in Table 1 lists the reasons for the sustained teacher/child interactions and notes the corresponding number of recorded incidents for each of the categories. The table also shows the number of participants in the sustained interaction data in relation to the total population of children in the study. As with the short interactions, the main reason for the majority of exchanges was to promote language development and extend thinking. Close behind was the teachers' general interest in sustaining and enhancing play episodes. In extending play the teachers were most often involved in restructuring the environment by providing new props, materials or new challenges (45% of the time). The second strategy employed by the teachers was that of being an outside observer providing vocabulary, questions and feedback to guide the play (40% of the time). To a much lesser degree the teachers became an active participant  48  modeling play behavior (15% of the time). An example of a teacher modeling play behavior is revealed in the following episode: ...the teacher goes over to a boy playing with cars on a playmat She sits down with him and enters the play. "Oh, oh, looks like a traffic jam. Maybe I'll take a short cut. " As the boy watches she drives the car making a motor sound. "I think I'll go shopping. "  Table 1  Sustained Teacher-Child Interactions  Reason  Interaction Participants **  1. facilitating language: (extending thinking)  41 *  Boys: 121  2. extending play:  40  Girls:  3. mediating conflicts:  24  4: guiding appropriate play Behavior:  21  5. providing assistance:  20  6. helping to take initiative, assume responsibility: 7. creating opportunities for socializing: 8. creating opportunities for expanding motor skills:  9 6  5  * number of recorded incidents ** total population: 107 children: 55 boys , 52 girls  60  49  Table 1 also illustrates that many of the sustained interactions between teachers and children revolve around guiding appropriate behavior and issues of conflict mediation. Throughout the observations there were 21 incidents when the teachers either instructed or guided children in appropriate classroom behavior. In addition, there were 24 incidents in the sustained interaction episodes that were devoted to conflict management. In most of these cases the teacher modeled verbal strategies to aid the children in resolving their dispute. Removal of the child or physical restraint was required on only two occasions. As in the overall interaction record, many of the sustained interactions focused on providing support and encouragement. That is, a teacher would often sit at the art or playdough table and engage the children in conversation. It was apparent that the teacher's presence helped to maintain interest in the activity as well as attract other participants. This same strategy was often employed to increase perseverance and the level of success with puzzles and small manipulatives. Closely related to the above type of support, the teachers were often involved in providing direct assistance to children. While rendering  assistance the teacher usually took advantage of the opportunity to visit with the child. To a far lesser degree interactions were concerned with helping children assume responsibility and take initiative. There were also six interaction episodes that focused on creating opportunities to further socialization among the children. In five of the episodes there was an effort on the part of the teacher to expand the child's motor skills. As illustrated in Table 2, the data indicate that 34 percent of all sustained interactions were in the area of art activities. The remaining interactions were more evenly dispersed among other areas of the play environment.  Table 2  Sustained Teacher-Child Interactions Context  Location of the Interactions Art activities: Pretend Centre: Building toys/vehicles: Story Corner/puppets/music: Science/cooking: Sand/water: Puzzles/small manipulatives: Computer: Outside/neutral area:  21 9 7 6 6 5 4 1 2  Although not part of the original thesis question, it became apparent during the course of these observations that the language mode used in the teacher-child interactions was another important consideration worthy of inclusion in the data collection. Therefore a decision was made to record dialogue in the field notes when possible and in all the sustained interactions the language mode was documented. The most common language mode used was simple questions and statements. In the sustained interaction record simple questions and statements were used 52 percent of the time, instructional talk claimed 35 percent of the time, while complex statements or dialogue were only recorded in 13 percent of the interaction episodes. There were few negative comments recorded as the teachers were careful to word their responses in a positive manner.  Interactions and Gender The observational data show that in teacher-child interactions there are distinct gender variations. In the overall interaction record the teachers interacted with boys approximately 55 percent of the time, while girls occupied approximately 45 percent of the teachers' interaction time. When the sustained interaction data is separately considered, the gender  ratio is weighted in favour of boys by a two to one margin (121 boys, 60 girls). Again, it must be noted that the total population of children from the six observed classes was 55 boys and 52 girls.  Sustained Teacher-Child Interactions:  Table 3  Time and Gender Distribution  Teacher  Total No.of Interactions  Boys Total No. Time  Girls Total No. Time  Mixed Total No. Time  29min.  17  5min.  15min.  7 (4B3G)  26min.  13  22min.  14 (7B7G)  19min.  12  24min.  12 (7B5G)  D  14min.  3  E  7min.  10  19  38min.  21  13min.  7  61  133min.  76  32min.  14  B 10  Total  14min.  3  4  18min. 15 (8B7G) 39min.  25 (13B12G)  53min. 32 (15B17G) 171min. 109 children  As Table 3 clearly illustrates, girls do not receive an equal amount of the teachers' sustained attention. In fact, three of the six teachers observed did not record any interactions with girls over two minutes while all the teachers logged considerably more time with boys and involved many more individual boys in conversation. It should also be noted that the gender distribution in mixed groups was evenly balanced. The larger number of total participants in the mixed groups of children can be explained by the emphasis on informal story reading by one teacher, as well as two group cooking projects that included several children over an extended period of time. The context or location of the above sustained interactions also deserves notice. The play area and the number of participating children are summarized in Table 4.  54  Table 4  Teacher-Child Interactions Gender Distribution  Context  Girls  Boys  8  20  24  34  Building/Vehicles  2  20  Sand/Water  2  12  Puzzles/Small Manipulatives  3  6  Science/cooking  2  8  11  12  -  6  52  118  Pretend Centre Art Activities  Story/Puppets Computer Total  The data also indicate that the teachers spent more occasions supervising boys in play. The accumulated results are: boys groups (26 occasions), mixed groups (19 occasions), girls groups (4 occasions). Another aspect of the teachers' interactions with children involves physical contact or touching. This contact generally took the form of carrying or holding a child, cuddling, or stroking a child's back. Of the 29 incidents recorded, 24 involved girls while boys were given similar  treatment on only 5 occasions. The field notes record that girls were carried, held on the teacher's knee, cuddled and rocked and held by the hand whereas boys on the five recorded occasions were patted or stroked on the back, one injured boy was hugged, another boy feeling ill was held on the teacher's knee. Unsolicited attention was documented to determine if boys and' girls demand an equal amount of the teacher's time and attention. A tally of the number of interruptions or demands on the part of both boys and girls shows that boys accounted for 45 interruptions while girls interrupted the teacher 26 times. Seeking the teacher's approval was a strategy to gain attention employed by girls more frequently than boys (girls 20, boys 12). It was common for girls to bring finished art work to show the teacher or to model their dress-up costume. There was insufficient comparable data to reveal if teachers treated boys differently from girls under similar circumstances. There were small hints of differential treatment but further more focused study would have to be undertaken before informed comment could be offered.  56  The Teacher's Role As Figure 2 illustrates, the role most commonly assumed by the teachers during free play was that of classroom manager. This role included housekeeping duties, general supervision, structuring and maintaining the play environment. The data show that these responsibilities consumed an average of approximately 80 percent or most of the teachers' time interspersed with momentary interactions with children. Within the remaining 20 percent of the teachers' available time, the sustained interaction records indicate that the teacher's role most often could be described as a play facilitator. The role of the teacher as instructor followed closely behind as the teachers were frequently seen providing factual information and guiding children in how to do a particular task. A supervisory role achieved almost equal importance as the teachers became overseers of the play. On many occasions, this supervisory role worked in conjunction with both the facilitating and the instructing roles. The teachers in this sample were seldom engaged in an observing-evaluating role.  57  CD C  'co  > 8? a> to CL  «  58  Chapter 5  Discussion and Recommendations  The final chapter is organized into two parts. The first section discusses and interprets the data with reference to the three original research questions. The last section presents the limitations of this study and offers recommendations for further research. The observational data clearly illustrate that managing the free play environment was the central preoccupation of all the teachers in this study. The multifaceted and spontaneous nature of the free play setting makes it impossible to establish an accurate time for housekeeping and facilitating duties. Nevertheless, this issue must be recognized as a critical dimension of the teacher's role. Two different methods in the data analysis were used to approach this central issue. On the one hand, the overall time devoted to housekeeping and facilitating duties was estimated on the basis of elapsed time intervals in the observational field notes. From this perspective teachers were involved in class management an average of approximately 51 percent of the total free play period. Yet, within this sample of six teachers there was considerable variation ,  59  ranging from 3 8 to 64 percent, in the time allotted to such duties. It must be stated that these times are approximate as the teachers were often engaged in overlapping duties, such as washing a table and interacting with a child at the same time. In spite of the difficulty of establishing hard data in the complexity of the free play environment, intensive naturalistic observations provide some definite overall impressions. Without a doubt, the observations revealed that managing the here and now was a top priority and perhaps the first necessity for all of the six teachers. The second method of data analysis, and a more precise way to determine the amount of time devoted to class management, is to subtract the sustained interaction times from the total time frame. Since the sustained interaction times have been accurately established as an average of 20 percent, it is immediately apparent that the remaining 80 percent of the teachers' time must be given over to class management and short verbal exchanges with the children. Here, too, one observes considerable variation among the teachers of this sample. While one of the teachers spent a third of her time in sustained interactions with the children, another teacher interacted with the children only 13 percent of the free  60  play period. Aside from the two teachers who had substantially higher sustained interaction records, the remaining four teachers registered results of 20 percent or lower. That is, most of the teachers devoted over 80 percent of the time to housekeeping, supervising and facilitating the free play setting. Yet, it must be noted that for two of the teachers these management duties consumed significantly less time, a difference great enough to speculate that there were contributing factors over and above their diverse settings. Such discrepancy in results suggests that there must be distinct differences in teacher attitudes toward the necessity of maintaining and managing the play environment and the value placed on teacher-child interactions. It also brings into question the overall belief system or the pedagogical underpinnings that guide the teachers' behavior. My own, and admittedly speculative view, is that the differences have less to do with pedagogical divergence than with the near or total absence of a firm pedagogical foundation. In such an environment the always pragmatic needs of management ride easily to unchallenged dominance. The second research question documented various aspects of teacher-child interactions including reason, location, language mode,  61  duration of the exchange, number and gender of children. The most apparent aspect of teacher-child interactions was the fleeting and intermittent nature of the majority of verbal exchanges. The data show that the main reason for interactions was to advance verbal expression but the predominant strategy employed by the teachers to engage children in conversation was to address the children using simple statements or questions with obvious answers. This verbal strategy seldom encouraged further conversation on the part of the child and typically the teacher quickly moved on to someone else or some other task. The sustained interaction documentation demonstrates this same pattern where teachers basically relied on simple statements and closed questions with genuine dialogue an infrequent occurrence. Instructional talk was a common feature of the long interactions, but here again the teacher was in control of the exchange with only limited verbal participation on the part of the child. Of the six teachers observed only two of the teachers occasionally asked challenging, thought provoking questions of the children. Their open questioning style laid the foundation for further dialogue enabling the teacher to gain insights into the child's thinking and understanding. In these examples of genuine dialogue there was evidence of equal  62  participation where both the teacher and the child or children took turns speaking and listening. These results replicate the previous research of both Allerton ( 1993) and Clark (1988) regarding dialogue in nursery school settings. Their studies, too , found that teachers generally rely on a closed questioning style with a preponderance of questions with predictable answers. If, indeed, language facilitation is a top priority for preschool children , then it becomes essential that teachers be informed so that they understand the implications of their questioning techniques and general verbal style. While it is apparent that teachers have clearly assimilated the message that verbal requests should be made in a positive manner, it is clear teachers seem to be less aware of more constructive techniques to facilitate language expression and divergent thinking. The observational data also reveal that more than a third of all sustained teacher-child interactions occurred in the vicinity of art activities. Moreover, this area attracted the greatest number of children. This higher level of participation can be explained, first, by the strong attraction of a teacher's presence and second, the fact that the teachers regularly made a point of collecting children, especially boys, to participate in these activities. Often the teacher would stay close by,  63  asking questions to focus attention and to sustain interest. It is interesting to note that on no occasion did teachers require children to build with blocks, become involved in dramatic play or investigate science materials. If it is conceded that the teacher's presence is a strong drawing card, then perhaps there should be more consideration given to providing equal support to all the free play activities so that a wider range of developmental goals can be met. Furthermore, most art activities demand considerable facilitation and therefore consume a substantial amount of the teacher's time and attention. It could be argued that this ever changing smorgasbord of art activities in the preschool environment comes at the expense of other areas of the curriculum. Perhaps serious consideration should be given to adapting the play environment to permit teachers more time to interact with children. Indeed, two of the teachers observed did organize their time to make room for more time with the children and in no observable way was their free play environment any less well organized or maintained. The next predominant feature of the interaction record was the uneven distribution of attention by gender. Boys not only received more of the teachers' attention but they were the recipients of most of the  64  behavior management. The observational data show that of the 61 sustained interactions 18 were the direct result of conflict resolution or behavior management. The demographics of these 18 interaction episodes were as follows: boys' groups-12, girls' groups-2, mixed groups-4. The overall observational record notes that 39 boys received guidance in appropriate play behavior while only 16 girls required such guidance. The fact that teachers spent more time supervising and facilitating boys' activities than they spent supervising girls' activities further indicates that boys have a much greater salience in the preschool classroom. The data also reveal that teacher instructional priorities for girls and boys are not the same. Boys more often than girls were asked challenging questions and were much more frequently engaged in solving problems. Furthermore, this gender gap was apparent in the amount of instruction offered to boys and girls.  This discrepancy should give  educators much to ponder. Indeed, do girls require less instruction and fewer challenges? Or is this differential treatment the result of teachers paying more attention to maintaining classroom harmony than to the developmental needs of all the children?  65  This brings the discussion back to the role of the teacher during free play as it exists in the complexity of the preschool environment. This research demonstrates that for these six teachers housekeeping and class management were foremost among their free play roles. A complex network of situational factors meant teachers were constantly reacting to many competing demands, leaving little time for extended interaction with children. The unpredictability of the free play situation necessitated constant supervision on the part of the teachers. In all of the classrooms, one of the teachers supervised the group as a whole and if either of the teachers was otherwise occupied the other member of the teaching team was always asked to take over the supervision. Without a doubt, housekeeping, facilitating and supervising were the dominant roles assumed by the teachers in this study. The pattern and character of their activities reveal that for these teachers an interactive role was much less important or less achievable. In most instances interactions were merely reactions to the here and now. The overwhelming impression left from the lingering memory of the teacher observations and from the collected data is that of movement, of teachers in constant ever vigilant activity. In a period of 30 hours the six  66  teachers in this study managed only 61 sustained interactions of two minutes or over. In other words, teachers on average found only two occasions per hour to pause long enough to have an extended dialogue with a child. This means that in a typical class of eighteen children there 2  were few opportunities for sustained interaction with each and every child. Furthermore, it would be fair to speculate that the verbally proficient children have more than their share of the teachers' attention and that those children who especially need language facilitation are often overlooked. The implications bear consideration. The question of the teachers' interactive role raises the much debated issue of whether teachers should intervene in the free play activities of children. Yet, surely it must be argued that teachers cannot afford not to adopt an interactionist role. Teacher intervention can inject intellectual challenge, stimulate curiosity and dialogue into play situations that otherwise may remain contented but repetitive with little verbal exchange (McLean, 1990). Admittedly, the teacher's approach depends greatly on the pedagogical and psychological underpinnings of each teacher's belief system. Like Spodek, Katz, among others, it is also my  In fact, the calculated average of two sustained interactions per hour session is generous since the total number of interactions is weighted or tipped by the much higher score of one teacher. 2  67  experience that many early childhood educators have difficulty articulating their philosophy of play, perhaps suggesting that this has not been clearly thought through. In practice teachers seem to rely more on an eclectic accumulation of beliefs derived from practical experience. The danger in this eclectic approach is that chosen practices may not be complementary and may, in fact, work against achieving overall developmental goals. Ideally, teachers should have a clear understanding of their role during free play and know how they can effectively extend the educational value of the play experience. With the proliferation of programs that promise early academic instruction to preschool children, early childhood educators need to be sure of their role and to be confident that they can not only articulate the pedagogical value of play but effectively support and enhance the free play experience in preschool.  Limitations and Recommendations The results of this study are limited by the fact that the observed teachers can not be presented as a representative sample of early childhood educators in the city of Vancouver. An attempt to achieve broad representation was compromised as the two inexperienced teachers  68  had previously worked with competent and experienced supervisors and therefore could not be classified as beginning teachers. Nonetheless the results of this study show that the level of teacher experience was not a significant contributing factor.  It also became apparent that only  confident teachers were prepared to agree to such intensive scrutiny. To achieve as natural an environment as possible the representative quality of the study had to compromised. The study was further limited by the decision not to use video or sound recording devices. Such technical assistance would have provided corroborating evidence, adding credibility to the observational data. An alternative, less intrusive means to strengthen the data would have been to engage a parallel researcher so that observational field notes could be compared and substantiated. These additional methods to corroborate the data would have substantially increased the validity of this work. The broad focus of this study is one of its strengths and advantages but, as is the case with such an approach, this is also one of its weaknesses. The diverse and overlapping nature of the data renders precision difficult and makes it possible in some instances, only to offer broad conclusions and recommendations. The intent of this research was  69  to provide an overview of teacher behavior and interactive patterns within the natural flow of free play activities. The findings point to several possible directions for further research. First, a natural follow up to this study would be to interview the participating teachers to determine if their views on the teacher's role during free play correspond with the reality of the observational data. Interviews would also provide insight into the overall belief system that informs and guides teacher behavior. Second, given the startling deficiency in the frequency of sustained interactions in the free play setting, study should be undertaken to determine if this deficiency is, as I predict, consistent across the various components that comprise the preschool experience. A third area that deserves further examination is a closer look at teacher-child interactions to determine the nature of dialogue. With the aid of recording devices a researcher could more closely analyze questioning techniques and responses as well as the verbal styles of both the teacher and child. This in-depth look at dialogue might be able to provide teachers with better ways to encourage and enhance verbal expression.  This overview of the teacher's role during free play in preschool suggests that it might be worthwhile to devise a comparative study to determine whether there is a seasonal variation in the teacher's role over the course of the preschool year. The observational data in this study show that the two teachers in the fall devoted approximately 77 percent of their time to class management duties, whereas the four teachers observed later in the school year were involved in housekeeping, facilitating and supervisory duties approximately 82 percent of the free play time. While this study shows no significant difference in the amount of time devoted to classroom management, it would be useful to examine this issue further. A fifth recommendation for further research is a more tightly focused study of differential treatment in preschool and the attendant gender implications. In order to acquire comparable data a more structured play experience would have to be planned so that teacher behavior in identical situations could be compared. The apparent difficulty would be the contrived nature of the exercise and the distinct probability that teachers would not respond naturally if they were conscious of the purpose of the study.  71  It would also be particularly useful to examine the structure of the preschool environment with a mind to reducing the overall burden of housekeeping responsibilities. Environmental and other adjustments must be found to free teachers for more educationally valuable interactions with children. Only then will preschool supervisors properly claim the title: Early Childhood Educator.  72  Bibliography  Allerton, M . (1993 ). A m I asking the right questions? International Journal of Early Childhood. 25(1), 42-48. Ayers, W . (1989). The good preschool teacher. N e w York: Teachers College Press. Blease, D . (1983). Observer effects on teachers and pupils in classroom research. Educational Review, 35(3), 213-217. Bredekamp, S.(Ed.). (1987). Developmentally appropriate practice i n early childhood programs serving children from birth through age 8. Washington, D . C . : N A E Y C . Bruce, T. (1993). The role o f play in children's lives. Childhood Education, 69(4), 237-238. Cass, J.E.. (1975). The role o f the teacher i n the nursery school. Oxford: Pergamon Press. Christie, J.F., Wardle,F. (1992). H o w much time is needed for play? Y o u n g Children, March, 28-32. Clark, M . M . (1988). Children under five: Educational research and evidence. London: Gordon and Breach Science Publishers. Clark, M . M . (1983). Early education: Issues and evidence. Educational Review, 35(2), 113-119. G i f t , P., Cleave,S., Griffin, M . (1980). The aims, role and deployment o f staff in the nursery. Windsor, Berks.: N F E R Publishing. Cowe, E . G . (1982). Free play: Organization and management in the pre-school and Kindergarten. Springfield, Illinois: Charles C . Thomas Publisher. Cross, T . G . (1989). Teacher talk in preschool settings. Early Childhood Development and Care, 52, 133-146.  73  Crosser, S. (1992). Managing the early childhood classroom. Young Children January, 23-28. David, T. (Ed.), (1993). Educational provision for our youngest children: European perspectives. London: Paul Chapman Publishing. DeVries, R., Kohlberg, L . (1987). Constructivist early education: Overview and comparisons with other programs. Washington, D . C . : N A E Y C . Dickinson, P. (1989). Educators o f young children: Similar or different? Canadian Journal o f Research in Early Childhood Education. 3(1), 3-14. Dunn, S., Morgan, V . (1987). Nursery and infant play patterns: Sex-related differences. British Educational Research Journal. 13(3), 271-281. Fagot, B . , Hagan,R. (1985 ). Coding o f interactions: Is reliability really a problem? Canadian Journal o f Research in Early Childhood Education. 1(2), 161-167. Feeney, S., Chun, R. (1985). Effective teachers o f young children. Young Children. November, 47-52. Ford, S . A . (1993). The facilitator's role in children's play. Young Children. September, 66-69. Gelb, S . A . (1989). Language and the problem o f male salience i n early childhood classroom environments. Early Childhood Research Quarterly. 4. 205-215. Glascott, K . (1994). A problem o f theory for early childhood professionals. Childhood Education. 70(3), 131-132. Greenberg, S. (1985). Educational equity in early education environments In S. K l e i n (Ed.), Handbook for achieving sex equity through education. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Goldhaber, J. (1994). If we call it science, then can we let the children play? Childhood Education. 71(1), 24-27.  74  Hendrick, J., Stange, T. (1991). D o actions speak louder than words? A n effect o f the functional use o f language on dominant sex role behavior i n boys and girls. Early Childhood Research Quarterly. 6, 565-576. Katz, L . G . (1984). The professional early childhood teacher. Young Children. 39(5), 3-10. Klugman, E . , Smilansky, S. (1990). Children's play and learning. N e w Y o r k : Teachers College Press. Ledingham, J., Chappus, F. (1985). Behavioral mappings o f children's social interactions: The impact o f the play environment. Canadian Journal o f Research in Early Childhood Education. 1(2), 137-148. Lloyd, I. (1983). The aims o f early childhood education. Educational Review. 35(2), 121-126. M c L e a n , S . V . (1991). The human encounter: Teachers and children living together in preschools. London: The Falmer Press. Monighan-Nourot, P., V a n Hoorn, J. (1991). Symbolic play i n preschool and primary Settings. Young Children. September, 40-50. Monighan-Nourot, P., Scales, B . , V a n Hoorn, J. (1987). Looking at children's play: A bridge between theory and practice. N e w Y o r k : Teachers College Press. Moyles, J.R. (1989). Just playing? The role and status o f play i n early Childhood Education. M i l t o n Keynes, U . K . : Open University Press. N A E Y C . (1988). A n executive summary o f colloquium proceedings. Early childhood teacher education: Traditions and trends. Young Children. November, 53-57. Oken-Wright, P. (1992). From tug o f war to "Let's make a deal": The teacher's role. Young Children. 48(1), 15-20. Read, K . H . (1992). The nursery school: A human relations laboratory. Young Children. March, 4-5.  Regan, E . (1985). Naturalistic observations o f classrooms and children: Its function in a study o f teacher beliefs and perceptions. Canadian Journal o f Research in Early Childhood Education. 1(2), 177-182. Rogers, D . , Waller, C , Perrin, M . (1987). Learning more about what makes a good teacher good through collaborative research in the classroom. Young Children. 42(4), 34-39. Sadker, M . , Sadker, D . , Donald, M . (1989). Subtle sexism at school. Contemporary Education. 60(4), 204-212. Saracho, O. (1988). A study o f the roles o f early childhood teachers. Early C h i l d Development and Care. 38, 43-56. Schweinhardt, L . , Weikart, D . , Larner, M . (1986). Consequences o f three preschool curriculum models through age 15. Early Childhood Research Quarterly. 1, 15-45. Seefeldt, C , Barbour, N . (1986). Early childhood education. Columbus, Ohio: Charles E . Merrill Publishing Company. Sheldon, A . (1990). "Kings are royaler than queens": Language and socialization. Young Children January, 4-11. Spidell, R . A . (1989). Play in the classroom: a descriptive study o f preschool teachers' beliefs. Early C h i l d Development and Care. 41, 153-172. Spodek, B . (1985). Teaching in the early years. N e w Jersey: Prentice-Hall. Spodek, B . (1987). Thought processes underlying preschool teachers' classroom decisions. Early C h i l d Development and Care. 29, 197-208. Sugarman, S. (1987). Piaget's construction o f the child's reality. N e w York: Cambridge University Press. Suransky, V . (1983). The preschooling o f childhood. Educational Leadership. March, 27-29. Sutton-Smith, B . (Ed.).(1979). Play and learning. N e w York: Gardner Press.  76  Takanishi, R. (1981). Early childhood education and research: The changing relationship. Theory into Practice. X X ( 2 ) , 86-92. Takhvar, M.(1988). Play and theories o f play: A review o f the literature. Early C h i l d Development and Care. 39,221-244. Tamburrini, J. (1986). Play and the role o f the teacher. In S. Burroughs & R.Evans (Eds.), Play, language and socialization: Perspectives on adult roles. London: Gordon and Breach, Science Publishers. Tegano, D . , Sawyers, J., Moran, J. (1989). Problem-finding and solving in play: The teacher's role. Childhood Education. 66, 92-97. Tudge, J., Caruso, D..(1988). Cooperative problem solving i n the classroom: Enhancing young children's cognitive development. Y o u n g Children. November, 46-52. V a n Hoorn, J., Monighan-Nourot, P., Scales, B . , A l w a r d , K . (1993). Play at the center o f the curriculum. N e w York: M e r r i l l , an imprint o f Macmillan Publishing Company. Wassermann, S. (1992). Serious play in the classroom. Childhood Education. 68(3),133-139. Wolfgang, C , Sanders, T. (1986). Teacher's role: A construct for supporting the play o f young children. In S. Burroughs & R. Evans (Eds.), Play, language and socialization: Perspectives on adult roles. London: Gordon and Breach, Science Publishers.  

Cite

Citation Scheme:

        

Citations by CSL (citeproc-js)

Usage Statistics

Share

Embed

Customize your widget with the following options, then copy and paste the code below into the HTML of your page to embed this item in your website.
                        
                            <div id="ubcOpenCollectionsWidgetDisplay">
                            <script id="ubcOpenCollectionsWidget"
                            src="{[{embed.src}]}"
                            data-item="{[{embed.item}]}"
                            data-collection="{[{embed.collection}]}"
                            data-metadata="{[{embed.showMetadata}]}"
                            data-width="{[{embed.width}]}"
                            async >
                            </script>
                            </div>
                        
                    
IIIF logo Our image viewer uses the IIIF 2.0 standard. To load this item in other compatible viewers, use this url:
http://iiif.library.ubc.ca/presentation/dsp.831.1-0054836/manifest

Comment

Related Items