Kathleen Roskos at John Carrol University, Cleveland Ohio
The role of play in literacy development um well let me just say this that really when we look at the role of play literacy development we can look at three really broad areas. We can look at um uh the role of play in terms of language. Uh children of course when they play they like to use a lot of language and to talk to one another assume roles etceteras and in using that language that build that helps to build a very strong base and foundation for literacy. Now another major area where you can see the role of play in literacy is in terms of environment and this is an area I think we’ve done a lot of work with in the last decade or so. Because we’ve seen that by enriching that environment with uh reading and writing tools with books with print with uh wonderful literacy props that uh children take great delight in playing with these uh items and in showing what they know about literacy and what they can do. So the environment can be really enriched to support literacy. The other area that I think sometimes we don’t think about as often that play helps and serves and works with literacy is in the area of narration. A good time playing aside from like chase play or rough and tumble play is having a good story a drama that children like to invent and in doing that they uh again they take on roles they go through a number of action but there’s usually some problem there is a need to solve something and they actually create a story on the spot and that kind of story making the mental activity of doing that with peers um actually can serve children quite well when they have to invent or follow stories in a medium like print. So these three ways really the role of play is important in the early years for language it is a great opportunity to use language. But I have to just say here, as we all know sometimes that language can border on the silly with children in play. Uh so language is one area, environment is another, the play environment enriched, and then lastly the opportunity to make up stories with ones peers is uh a way that it enhances literacy.
All right again this is going to move us into this this looking at the knowledge’s that children develop in play moves us into a little more complex areas. Um but really and again I want to try to do this in a way that I think will help to make it clear. When we look at procedural knowledge we sometimes can call that know how. I know how to do that. Uh when we look at declarative knowledge we often talk about that as being know. I know that I need to sign your name on a check. I know that uh I need to read those words in order to know what to do and of course strategic knowledge is sort of like knowing when to use your know how and your knew your know that to get something done. So that’s know how, know that, know when which is procedural declarative strategic. Now how does play figure into that? Well in a very interesting way because again in play children take on roles they they demonstrate what we call routines and they also solve problems so if we we were to put play under sort of a little microscope or look at it very carefully we can see that children in routines that they will take on in play they show their know how. So what’s a routine? Well I’ll be they um waitress and you be the customer and as the child goes through the routine they show their know how with literacy. They’ll show they know how to make out the order. That they know how to give you a check. And in fact they’ll tell you quite quickly when you’re not you’re not in role very well. So routines that children do in play are very good ways we can look at their know how and they can also of course teach each other know how. Another area when we go to another kind of area of knowledge that children are developing about literacy we can look at their roles where they often will show they know that. They will they will show that they know certain facts and ideas about literacy and they do this because in a role they have to sort of tell you what your--- my role is. I’m the guy in charge of the cash register and I know that I need to do these things and I know that you need to sign your name here and I know that you need to give me two dollars. So they declare so to speak their knowledge and they state out the old the old actually verbally express what they know about literacy. So roles bring out the declarative knowledge that children have about reading and writing and again they can learn from their peers uh some of that declarative knowledge because their peer will tell them the facts. And when we look at the problems that arise in play, the strategic uh knowledge, there’s usually some sort of um like I said before when we’re talking about uh uh story making there will be a problem that arises where something can’t get done like uh or that they’re they’re they don’t know something so then they have to draw on their strategic knowledge knowing when to use their know how and their know that in order to solve the problem. Like they’ll sometimes say in play does this say open or does this closed and then and then a peer might say no it says closed no it can’t say closed it’s says open see it’s got ppp. All right so they’re they’re using their know how and their know that in order to solve a problem and there are big problems in play and little problems in play that need to be solved in order for the play to proceed. So again if we were to you know come up close on to play and really look carefully at r—r--- routines, roles and problem solving we can see evidences of literacy knowledge. So that’s sort of how I would you know begin to explain some of the knowledge that children demonstrate in play.
I think we need to get across some some some important messages to parents and teachers. Uh I’m going to sort of and this is really in a two-fold way play is important for literacy. It’s important because it provides an opportunity to play with it. To play at being a reader and a writer. To play with the tools. To solve problems with reading and using reading and writing as problems solving means. It is a wonderful opportunity because it’s play and we have to remember that I mean it it it’s on the child’s own terms and so parents I urge them always let your children play at these roles let them play with the materials and you know and also play with them so that they can see sort of the the uh the aspects of print and also some some of the fun you can have with it. That said we also I think the message I like to give to parents and ch— and teachers is play is important because it’s play for plays sake. You know people need to play. Children need to play and in our society today we um sometimes in our rush to have children be intellectual to have them be academic whiz’s to have them all on one particular level. We may take away some of this time to play and I I would urge that we not do that. Play is necessary for us as people and mostly for children. So it has great great potential as opportunities for literacy and it has great great potential for opportunities as persons. So I just wanted to sort of you know share that with you about play.
Inventive heuristics you now what I have to ask you totally what you’re sort of like I these I these like little discoveries that children make in play is that what you’re talking about. Well I uh that’s an interesting complicated term. I the discoveries that children make in play come come from their need to accomplish something to make the play work so they may struggle with how to get their name down accurately because of a demand by another player so there for they might say well how do I make that b and I have to make a b how do I make a big b and so their peer might say we have to go like this and like this and like this and actually does some teaching to that peer right there. Um sometimes they may have to invent some kind of form in order to uh to solve a problem or they need to make use of different materials like uh we need to have I have seen children use the a telephone and the cradle where the ph where the phone sits where the speaker sits and that will become not a telephone but it’s a place to put the credit card. So you like put it down c--- and like that and that’s how you know that you you’re using a credit card. So I mean they do these kind of inventive things these little discoveries they make during play in order to accomplish their goals of their play and they can do this with print and they can do this with uh functions of literacy uh as well as uh other aspects of of tools that they have in the environment.
Well I think that teachers are learners to begin with. And I maybe that is where I begin that I guess I really truly believe that people are interested in learning. I don’t care what they do. Um teachers are interested in knowing about children and adolescence. They’re interested in their work. I really must say that most teachers that I’ve worked with are interested in these things. They want children to do well they want their students to do well. We’re in this work because that’s our passion. So their they want to learn about this. Now sometimes creating the conditions where I feel safe to learn about this where I feel I have something to contribute to learn about this um where I feel strong to say about by work uh about it in this particular situation. I think that’s it’s setting those conditions that is important uh for teachers as learners. I really am always astounded by how much knowing teachers bring to different aspects of work that we do. We do know a lot it’s it’s the conditions we create to let what we know come out so that we can share with others. So I think I guess it’s creating the conditions would be my my sort of thinking on that along those lines.
Well I think I I one of the uh most important things probably is that you feel that you are in a setting uh with others who are going to listen to what you have to say that they really treat you with regard and that they appreciate your-- your particular stance and your particular circumstance. And so I think it’s crea-- it’s more the sort of interpersonal relational kinds of or a sense of of a being a participant that need to be created in these conditions to begin with. I guess see if he’s apart of that uh regard, respect, uh acknowledgment. But what also needs to be there is a little spark a little bit of puzzlement a little bit a little on the edge of challenge so that it gets you thinking and so that the best of what you do know can be brought out and we can think about it. We can dance around it so to speak. So it cannot can’t be so safe that we sort of sit around and like oh aren’t we all great type of thing. There has to be challenge also so that we are sort of sparked to do some to to talk about controversies and so forth.
Um in my work with teachers when we’re when uh which I really regard a lot of professional development as opportunity for intellectual activity and engagement. Um I think the key idea there is working with concepts and working toward understanding. We we want to we do need times we need to work with technical matters like how do I work the projector. How do I work the power point? How do I actually do a uh uh uh um word sort? Okay. But that aside a large part of our professional development should be intellectual in nature grappling with ideas grappling with concepts. Picking taking the concepts out and saying what does that really mean and I uh well I sometimes when I work with teachers I talk about lets walk around that concept and really so we really know it let’s unpack it. So to me it is dealing with con conceptual understandings. It’s being critical with respect to those concepts. It’s coming away from them in a and talking about them in a way that I can do with my own words. I don’t necessarily want to use Kathy Roskos’s words or another individuals words. They have to become my own words to express that concept. And lastly that I’ve taken those ideas and I can now see them how they can press into my practice. How do they begin to impact my work and that’s what I view as intellectual activity in terms of professional development.
Professional development is you know actually our whole I our whole look at professional development is rather recent. If you think about it you know, I’m an old teacher and I’ve been at this working as in my in my career as teacher for along time and when I first began teaching we never talked about professional development at all and you know we hardly ever engaged in any really and so for a long time that wasn’t around then we had staff development then we had training and now we talk about professional development so I think it’s a young in a sense it’s a young area so to know what would be the the best features I think we’re learning I think we have a lot to learn about it. Uh we do know a few things though. We know first of all that it’s it’s as I was talking a little bit earlier it’s it’s very helpful to begin with teachers uh sharing their knowledge and where they are and respecting that and moving from that to to other levels so it’s really regard for the participant. Secondly it needs to be sustained. You can’t have a good intellectual conversation just in a fleeting moment it needs to take place over time to build up trust and um a willingness to share ones thinking. So we know that needs to happen. We know it should include challenge that uh we we do want to as a resolve the experience we want to know more and we want to be able to do more. We know also it means to be real in the sense that it needs to confront and deal with the realities of classroom practice. We can have the most beautiful techniques and ideas but we have to think about how they work in the hurly-burly of the classroom and so we have to be willing to get at that level also in the professional development that we do. So I guess those would be some characteristics I would see that come to the floor for me at this point and time. Although I think we still have quite a bit to learn about good professional development.
Again uh because teaching is complex work and um uh it’s unpredictable uh and and because also it’s uh the all the different factors that are involved in good teaching lessons in good lessons that we might deliver and work with it’s helpful to plan with more then one head, with more than one mind to have others begin to look at those plans and to think aloud with others so that they can bring to light for you something that you’re not seeing or they can underscore something that you are seeing and they really say go forth with that. Um they can bring in new ideas uh for doing a particular activity. They may have resource materials that could help you and save you a lot of time. So collaborative planning is sort of like um uh distributing the work so to speak so that not only the the hands on work but the mental work of building and designing good instructional sessions. Uh so I I think working with others, collaborating allows that to happen. Teaching doesn’t need to be a solo act it can the the actual physicalness of it can be but the actual work that went on to bring it to the to the presentation stage doesn’t need to be. And I think sometimes it’s better off when it’s not actually.
Professional development in literacy again and I think we need to begin looking at this uh along a continuum perhaps um all the way from and I and I you know really what I would call technical kinds of sessions which are just fine especially in the early stages of learning a particular teaching technique or an instructional technique and so we can do those and we can have and to me they should be short, swift and to the point, uh and and uh in there get what I need to get and let me go back and practice. Uh and then we can move to uh what we might call study groups where we can bring together people, teacher, around a particular area of interest uh have a set of materials that we study together and we we collaborate and talk together. We can move then to a more um sophis--- uh not necessarily sophisticated but maybe a more complex kind of form where you would have um individuals from uh who who know more a more informed other who works with the group to help that group really grapple again with ideas and concepts to a new level of understanding to coaching professional development as coaching where I actually have uh someone who who is skilled skillful who works with me shoulder to shoulder and helps me refine my performance to higher levels of performance as a teacher. And I think we can all bene-- benefit from that. I I’ve often wished in in my work that I would have at uh even in the university people who could work with me to refine my practice at that level uh because certainly because teaching is complex and it is um delicate that we always have need to refine it uh and I know also if we’ve ever arrived really cause it’s it’s and it’s unpredictable too you never know who your you know your well your students. So I guess it’s a long arrange I would see and so in literacy in in literacy education we need all these multiple kinds of ways in order to be engaging in professional development all the way from the technical to a study group to um working with uh in a almost course like kind of format to uh very intensive coaching and of course all the others that we always do such as conferences and you know attending things uh professional develop--- professional organizations. No single one of course would suffice you need multiple opportunities in professional development in literacy. So um I’d like to see us look at this in a more multiple way whether than a singular way um in terms of professional development.
We need multiple opportunities that will help us come at this um so that our multiple ways of learning and knowing can uh actually um be be brought into service. Uh when we narrow things down so singularly we cut off all these other ways of knowing and doing and that’s not what we want to do with us as teachers either.
It may be easier but it’s not that much fun. And I you know that another thing I’ve always said about our work we have to make sure it’s fun and it’s not fun if it doesn’t have some challenge to it and uh and that we’re kind that we’re constantly trying to become a little bit better at it.
Well we’ve been working with and continue to work with uh uh head start programs uh really looking at infusing literacy into the play environments of head starts and daycare’s and in working with uh we work we had a particular in Philadelphia where we’ve worked with the head start families and uh and the and the sights. What we asked the parents to do and I’ve done this in other locations as well uh is to come in and be participants in the play areas uh of this school uh of the classroom. And um we would set up the cla-- uh the play environment in particular ways. We happen to uh make it like kind of very generic kind of office environment that had you know notepads and pencils and envelopes the very precious little envelopes stamps uh different kinds of of uh order forms and so forth and so on uh and paper and catalogues all kinds of things in there and we really didn’t want to dictate too much to parents what they should be doing in there with their children but just enough to to spark them. And we’d have the parents then join the children in the play area and become co-players so to speak. And as they did that of course they begin to interact with the children and I think sometimes they would be often surprised at how much their children knew about certain things and um we’d begin engaging in little play scenarios with them. So that’s sort of the the situation. It’s really a simple situation in that you just take a play area infuse it with some literacy resources and you also put the parent in that setting and allow the interaction to happen and from that I think parents learned how they could interact with their children and share literacy knowledge in a very playful way and they at the same time came to see that their children in instances knew more than they thought they did. Which made them begin to think my goodness I’m not such a bad parent after all my child knows something that I didn’t even think that he or she knew and made them feel more efficacious as parents and return then of course to that environment. So that’s a very I I kind of went on there but that’s kind of what our study began to look at and examine.
What we learned from these um um studies where we involve parents in a play context with their children is that first of all I think our parents didn’t know that they could use play in these in these ways that it’s that they could become involved in their children’s play in these ways. Um I think we learned that parents have sometimes some very narrow notions of what literacy is. They’re they’re uh absolutely obsessed with the alphabet and um wanting their children know the alphabet which is not a bad thing but they there are other things children can learn. Um I think we came away learning also that parents have a real concern for what they call being patient and they see this as an important marker of good parenting and good interaction with their children and so helping them to see that they are patient uh I think we learned that. Um I think we learned that parents are quite capable of sharing uh a fair amount of literacy knowledge with their children and if they can see that they can do that in these other contexts besides really more formalized ones such as storybook reading or helping children with homework that there again it’s this notion of multiple multiple opportunities that parents should seize these opportunities to do these things with their children. So we learn I think that parents have much to bring that but that also we have much to sort of instigate in parents to see that they can use these opportunities. To inform them that this is possible.
Looking at the beginning teacher and what what can we what would be our expectations and what would be our hopes again I I am very uh interested in and um curious about and hopeful about that that our teachers have conceptual understanding. That they have our beginning literacy teachers have a good grasped of the foundational concepts of literacy development of planning for literacy instruction of of how to teach at a con--- conceptionally now. How to teach about words how to teach comprehension how to teach about writing how to uh in expand vocabulary and that they have a good conceptual grasp also of the relationship between assessment and instruction. That they that they know about assessment tools but they also recognize that the tool cannot do all the work that the the it’s the responsibility of the teacher to make sense of the data that we may gain from the tool. So my first and for most high priority is a conceptual understanding along areas of development, planning, teaching and assessing. But that by itself knowing by itself as we’ve learned would not suffice. They must be able to do in a skillful way. And I’d and I would hope that our beginners have the basic skills of good uh classroom presentation and um uh management and engagement of children and again I would say though conceptional understanding, skillful performance, great but still insufficient. Because because teaching is complex because it is unpredictable and because literacy teaching is particularly complex they must have passion. They need to want there must be a will to teach children well and a commitment because it is difficult work. So we need all of those things at a I would say at a beginning level uh along those three fronts that we know and recognize and that that beginner recognizes are still in stages of development. I am growing and developing as a professional. Uh so uh that would be the areas I would look for and if I could do that with my students uh and uh and have uh even in a modest way most of the time I think I would be quite pleased with myself as a teacher educator.
I think it is really the the realness of of the situation that you are you are working there and with with children uh or young people and you suddenly have a face and a life and an emotion you know to this to reading and writing and I’m I have to just tell you what I think what drove me to continue to work and I hear this from others that I work with with whom I work with, it is that you really really wished you could have done a better job. You sought more knowledge because you could see this child not flourishing under your tutelage and it it drives you to learn more and I’m sure this is true in other professions, physicians who who have lost patients um lawyers who lose law cases uh you just really uh see the reality of it the real consequences of failure on your part or what ever. So I think that’s what has driven me on and I think that’s what um you really have to look carefully at in the work that we do too it’s it’s always comes back to people and the realness of it.
I I again I’m going to go to an area that we don’t often talk about I mean we we talk a lot in our work about um ha—finding the method or finding the you know uh a tools or find uh or some sort of remedy so to speak. Um and not that’s not a bad thing I think it’s a good thing. However what really counts in those instances from my perspective in the work that I’ve done with many struggling reader and writers is the respect for that child or that individual or even that young adult that you’re working at that level as a person. So it gets into that other realm of of um of more of a interpersonal relationship and the belief that that person can do this to a certain degree and secondly has a right to do so. So it’s it come out of a respect and a appreciation for that person. It’s the person more than just necessarily necessarily the process. So that kind in parting that to that individual is what I think can engage that individual and pull that person along. And also it cause you as the teacher to look for solutions to keep searching and yet I think that means so much too also to the the person struggling is that if that person is going to keep searching for me there must be something within me that I can muster up to help along with this and so it’s imparting that’s not easy to do because you get really tired and frustrated just like that individual is. Um you run out of things, there are bad days, it’s it’s the persistence with that and the belief in the person. Now how do we how do we prepare teachers for that I don’t know. I think we have to live it I guess in a sense. We have to really try to show that in our own behavior our own disposition.
Well really I I I do believe that teachers are are key. I believe as you can probably tell from across our entire conversation that um it’s the per it’s the per in the end it’s the peop—it’s the person it’s people. And so I believe teachers are key to excellent instruction and to an excellent profession. Uh what I really work with my colleagues on a lot is to remain and to uh continue to be willing to be intellectually challenged to question ourselves to self examine to um reflect on our work to hold high ideals. Um not to give in to um um well what might seem like a magical solutions. Um I am always pushing people to be to use their intelligence not to become dependent and always to ask well what about this or why that so I’m more for this intellectual curiosity and um an intellectual stance toward things. So if I could have it may way it would be that we would I’m having a hard time responding to this in a sense but I have to start again. Well I I guess I’m trying to say that in my from my view we have to work with people we have to with the teacher and we as teachers have to work with one another and we have to keep be willing to be intelligent and intellectual about our work we cannot let it become eroded by um uh what might be magic bullets or quick fixes or those kids of things. Uh we have to take more charge and be willing to uh deal with the hard problems to solve them so that’s what I guess what my message would be.