- Institution: University of California San Diego, Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition (USA)
- Title of the practice: Playworld activity “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”
- Country: USA
- Source: Experimental study. Baumer, S., Ferholt, B., & Lecusay, R. (2005). Promoting narrative competence through adult–child joint pretense: Lessons from the Scandinavian educational practice of playworld. Cognitive Development, 20(4), 576-590.
- Age of children: 5 to 7 years old
Main characteristics of the practice
This practice is part of an experimental study wich attempts to provide experimental evidence about the developmental outcomes of a playworld practice.
Playworld activities are conceived as an educational practice that includes pretend play, dramatic performance of a text from children’s literature, and visual art production. It is a form of guided pretense in which children are intensively supported by adults who bring their experiences to the play activity. The adults contribute interpretations and ways of dealing with different problems through live enactments of the text and iscussions, as well as through the use of aesthetic forms (scripts, props, stage effects, costumes, etc.).
They created an experimental intervention consisting of a playworld practice which incorporates all the essential elements described by Lindqvist (The Aesthetics of Play, 1995) and Hakkarainen (Narrative learning in the fifth dimension, 2004): joint adult–child dramatization of a text from children’s literature, general discussion, drawing, and free play.
The study contrasted this practice with a control intervention (based on traditional school practices when reading a text to the whole class: reading, writing, and discussion as a whole class, in pairs and individually, and occasionally drawing as well). The intention was to create a school activity around a certain text enhanced by adult participants, but lacking dramatization and play. The two interventions were matched (same number of sessions, same number of adults and children, and the use of the same text), isolating the effects of play and dramatization, the central aspects of the playworld intervention.
General goal of the practice and specific objectives
The general prediction of the study was that participation in the playworld intervention will improve children’s narrative competence. Their specific hypotheses were:
- There will be a significant increase in the narrative comprehension between the pre and the post-test in the experimental group, as compared to those in the control group.
- Children in the experimental group will produce significantly longer narratives in the post-test than in the pre-test, and compared to the lenght measures on the control group.
- There will be a significant increase in the measure of linguistic complexity between the pretest and the post-test narratives in the experimental group, as compared to those in the control group.
- There will be a significant increase in the narrative coherence scores between the pre-test and the post-test narratives in the experimental group, as compared to the control group.
The study was divided into three phases: pre-treatment, treatment, and post-testing.
In the pre-treatment phase (aproximately 1 month), they conducted classroom observations and assessments of children’s narrative competence. After the preliminary test measurements, both teachers started to read the The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe aloud to their entire class for a period of 10–20 min, three times a week.
The treatment phase lasted 14 weeks in wich both groups take one session per week with an aproximate duration of two hours.
For the experimental condition, every session started with an enactement of a part of the book, followed by a general discussion that lasted aproximately 30 minutes. After that, children were able to choose between either drawing, painting or pretend play with the props that the actors had left around the classroom
For the control class, teacher continued to read the book in a way similar to that of the pre-treatment phase, for a period of 10–20 min per session. After this, there was a teacher-guided discussion about the text and/or other related matters for approximately 20–30 min. Next, the children engaged in silent or partner reading, according to their reading levels, for 20–30 min. During the final portion of each session the children drew pictures and wrote stories.
In the post-testing phase there were conducted assessments of actual children’s narrative competence (duration not specified).
All activities for both groups were conducted in their regular classrooms while the assessment procedures were conducted in an empty classroom individually for each student.
Description of procedures and methodology
Both the experimental and control groups were put in the same pre-treatment condition, consisting of classroom observations and the pre-test of narrative skills.
After the preliminary test measurements, both teachers started to read “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” aloud to their entire class for a period of 10–20 min, three times a week. Investigators established that both teachers handled the reading activity in a similar manner: first, they would read small portions of the text, reading dialogue using particular voices for each character, and usually reading in an exaggerated emotional tone. After each reading they engaged the children in a question-asking activity, either about the text read or about the children’s speculations concerning the next portion of the story.
Playworld practice (14 sessions of the experimental intervention, once a week and for approximately 2 hours). Each session consisted of enactment of the text followed by discussion and then free play or art activities. During these sessions, the teacher did not read from the book. Each session started with the four researchers’ enactment of portions of the text. During the seventh session, the teacher joined the researchers in the enactment, and during almost one-third of the sessions both the teacher and the children joined the researchers in the enactment. The enactments involved not only props and costumes but also some combination of staging that appealed to the children’s senses of touch, smell and sound.
After the enactment of the text, there was a general discussion that lasted approximately 30 min. During this discussion, children were asked what the acting was about and they were also invited to share their experiences and comment on what they had observed. The children often raised questions and offered answers as well. The teacher-guided the discussions and the children, sitting in a circle, spoke in turn. Next, the children were able to choose between either drawing, painting or pretend play with the props that the actors had left around the classroom.
During the drawing sessions, the researchers joined the activity, drawing their own pictures, but they did not instruct the children on how to draw. During free-play, the children, the teacher, and the four researchers took the costumes and props from the performance and used them either for pretend play that related to the book and the performance, or for pretend play that related to other topics. In all the sessions the teacher was in charge of the classroom, either in the role of the teacher or as a character in play.
The control condition consisted of conventional school practices concurrent with the experimental intervention, there were 14 sessions of the control intervention. These sessions also lasted approximately 2 hours. The key difference between the experimental and the control classes was the lack of pretense and dramatization in the control group, where the teacher continued to read the book in a way similar to that of the pre-treatment phase, for a period of 10–20 min per session.
After this, there was a teacher-guided discussion about the text and/or other related matters for approximately 20–30 min. Next, the children engaged in silent or partner reading, according to their reading levels, for 20–30 min. During the final portion of each session, the children drew pictures and wrote stories. Four research assistants from the university participated in the activities, interacting with the children in a friendly and supportive manner. In all the sessions the teacher was in charge of the classroom.
Pre- and post- narrative testing
Pre- and post-tests, measuring narrative competence, were administered to the experimental and control groups. The testing procedure was adapted from Shapiro and Hudson (1997) and Cain (2003). Graduate students who were not involved in the project tested the children individually in an empty classroom. Each child was presented with five black and white pictures that depicted a specific story when arranged in a particular sequence. The story was taken from a picture book which none of the children had seen before, and the five pictures depicted a problem situation about a man whose house became flooded. The pictures were placed out of sequence and the child was asked to arrange them in order (comprehension phase). The child’s arrangements were recorded. After this, the tester asked the child to tell a story based on the order the child had provided (production phase).
Each testing session was videotaped, transcribed and coded. The transcripts included speech only, as transcription of non-verbal behaviour was left for further analysis. The transcripts were coded by two researchers who did not know the identities of the children who had produced the narratives. Children’s narrations were coded for length (number of words used to explain the events in the pictures), linguistic complexity (number of subordinate clauses included in each narration), coherence (type of event structure depicted in the child’s description of the pictures ) and comprehension (whether or not the child placed the picture cards in the order that matched the canonical order).
Each narrative was given a score from 1 to 3. A score of 1 was given to descriptions that simply described events in the pictures without any indication of a sequence of events. Descriptions which showed a causal and temporal relationship between 2 pictures were given a score of 2. Descriptions which included more than one causal and temporal relationship between 2 or more pictures received a score of 3.
Video-recorder, computer, projector.
Book “The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe”, C.S. Lewis.
Costumes, drawing material, other materials directed to sensorial effects on the representation (i.e. snow, leaves, etc.)
Description of the final product
The final product of the study were the drawings and stories produced by children both in experimental and control conditions. Also, the investigators’ transcriptions and coding of pre-test and post-test measures (video recorded).
The analysis of narrative competence, pre- and post-test scores in the experimental and control groups indicates significant increases in measures of narrative comprehension, narrative length and coherence for the experimental group. We conclude from these findings that the playworld practice promotes the development of narrative competence in at least these three areas.
How children took part in the practice
Children took an active role during all conditions in the practice (experimental and control). In the experimental condition, their role was more free and playful than in the control condition.
Strengths and critical points of the practice
While experimental data demonstrate that a significant change in narrative competence took place for children in the experimental group, they do not deepen into the mechanisms related to this change.
One way to uncover these mechanisms is to examine qualitative data of children’s non-verbal behavior in the test situation, that indicate that differences in the test scores between both conditions were not the only differences between the two groups: there also appeared to be differences in the ways that children approached the test situation and constructed their stories. In the narrative post-test situation several children from the experimental group—but none from the control group—inserted elements from their own experience into their story (e.g., by suggesting that the man in the pictures is worried about his homework). Some of these children also manifested identification with the character in the story by using their bodies to act out events in the story.
These findings may also have implications for understanding the ways in which adults can support children’s play. The playworld practice is an activity in which adults and children play together in an organized manner around educational topics. The study contributes by providing a model practice which fosters both children’s pretend play and their narrative competence during the early grades of elementary school.
How the practice fostered children’s narrative competence
By enacting the text of a novel with children they created a space into which children could freely enter to actively explore different aspects of the novel, including the characters and their goals, setting, plot and actions. All this can become a good tool to work on aspects of empathy and identification with characters (and by extension partners) with different types of difficulties.
INCLUDED – Digital Storytelling for Inclusion