Session 166: Should we encourage “play” in our classroom to engage learning?

-Date: Thursday 29th August 2013

Host: Rachel Jones @rlj1981

Session Summary

Play-is-not-always-funLast Thursday’s #UkEdChat topic was ‘Should we encourage play in our classrooms to engage learning?’ with over seventy educators joining in the chat. The discussion was largely in favour of ‘play’ being encouraged in the classroom, however there were some insightful discussion and advocation of ideas around what play might mean, how would it benefit/affect learning and how it could be applied to older learners.

I was interested to see this idea discussed, as I am a sixth form teacher, and I often adapt ideas from EYFS and primary practitioners to encourage higher order thinking skills to foster better performance in A-level exams. In doing this my learners regularly ‘play’, and I was interested to see if this is a commonly encouraged practice or if it is more common for teachers of secondary and onwards to utilise less playful teaching methods that focus on outcome rather than process. I was delighted so many people took the time to participate in the discussion, and share their experiences, views and opinions.

The discussion began by examining if we should encourage play, and if that is a simplified way of saying ‘meaningful engagement or joyful learning.’ Many teachers commented that play is a naturally occurring form of learning that happens from a very young age. There were links made between a sense of purposeful play which causes enjoyment and learning which is then stored in long term memory. It was noted for subjects such as Maths, which can intimidate learners, linking play to learning can make the environment feel safe and thus encourage engagement with a subject that can be perceived as threatening. Many teachers noted the importance of games and play using ICT which can engage learners using mobile devices, which were noted as being successful across various age ranges. There was some debate over if new knowledge can be imparted using play, however it was recognised that it could be a part of practising skills to master them more fully. The skill of the teacher was seen as being pivotal to allowing play as part of a toolkit that teacher can access to allow students to learn.

[pullquote]Play could include hypothesis testing, and competition[/pullquote]We then moved on to think about how play changes as children get older. It was noted that play could include hypothesis testing, and competition. Play was noted as being of value for older children in developing literacy skills, and interesting it was discussed that play can also be hard work, and need not be a frivolous or easy pass time- play noted as potentially being deep, immersive and serious. However it was argued that the mechanism might be remembered rather than the message. Play was noted as being a potential part of bonding, which is applicable to older learners. The use of ICT in play was challenged, as the quality of the output would need it be high to ensure effective learning. It was also noted that many teachers would feel apprehensive about using play as it is tricky to show leaner progress using some playful methods, or at least this is the perception.

We then considered if there should be expectations linked to play based learning. Teachers agreed that play could be a successful starter or plenary, and was part of a toolkit rather than a single effective methods of delivery. It was raised that not all children want to play, and how might be encourage those who are reluctant without alienating individual students. It was noted that expectations could be demanding, with play involving tricky puzzles and so on, and this was agreed with my many teachers. Following this it was noted in order to feel comfortable with play as a learning strategy, adults- teachers need to be also willing to play and perhaps this is a position some teachers would feel uncomfortable with.

[pullquote]Perhaps play could encourage real life skills of working round and collaborating with others.[/pullquote]Is engagement simply play? It was discussed that play can deepen context learning, and that children should learn to work on their own and can be a key to independence. It was challenged if all learners are able to make this jump themselves or might it have to be more teacher led. Perhaps play could encourage real life skills of working round and collaborating with others, this was a popular idea during the discussion.

We then thought about teachers modelling play in the same way they would other positive learning characteristics. In playing with the word play it was noted that may ‘play’ is a less important message than graft or grit. Many became involved in conversations that linked the importance of fun and play at this stage. Play was noted to offer opportunities to build resilience and acceptance of failure too, and many teachers saw that in demonstrating playfulness they could build positive relationships with their learners.

[pullquote]Gamification[/pullquote]We then thought about if play could be a foundation for building relationships- overall teachers agreed that a supportive environment of trial and error was a positive learning environment. It was commented on that teachers are wary of being seen playing rather than teaching and this is something only confident practitioners can achieve. Redrafting writing can be seen as a way of playing with words, and many teachers agreed that play as a concept encouraged acceptance of making mistakes and having the confidence to rectify them. We discussed gamification, and there were links make to learning and playing video games, which can translate to the classroom. It was commented upon the observing play is a great skill- and is the embedding of core skills to benefit the learner holistically.

Pay as being competitive was then discussed, and in particular this was linked to encouraging our learners to take risks. However, teachers felt they are pressured by exams, assessments and observations and might not feel enabled to undertake this type of teaching. Competitive play was noted as improving concentration, and also might encourage learners to use their initiative, but to what end? Do we only really find play fun if. Know we are learning- might our students notice if okay is not effective learning- in particular might this apply to male learners, or all learners who thrive in challenge? This was argued against by teachers who felt that play was an effective way of allowing students to demonstrate knowledge and skills. It was then discussed if there was more okay outside formal education, and if that is its rightful place- finishing with a recognition that play might be of importance for NQTs to consider.

Over 700 tweets- and tricky to condense, so I hope I got the flavour of the discussion right here.

Notable tweets:

@Ideas_Factory: Play is learning on kids terms, free from assessment or scrutiny. Free to choose direction & free to create whatever they want. #ukedchat

@RosalieTalbot: Play is the glue that makes learning stick so long as it is meaningful #ukedchat

@englishlulu: # ukedchat play can be ‘play’ an important part of developing literacy for lowest ability students.

Tweet of the week

@DanRavenEllison : play is not always = fun or silly. Play can be very deep, immersive and serious. It’s massively undervalued in formal education #ukedchat

About your Host

Rachel Jones @rlj1981 is a college educator in Portsmouth. She blogs at

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