Making Space for Play: Tapping into Children’s Play Personalities

LFA2018-Christine-HertzBy Christine Hertz, 2018 Literacy for All Featured Speaker 

Teaching children to read, write, spell, communicate and think critically is challenging work, but it is doesn’t have to be serious work. Teaching and childhood are messy, unpredictable, complex, and inherently steeped in curiosity, wonder and joy. As literacy teachers, we can get caught up in planning responsive lessons, delivering rich instruction and meeting benchmarks. Sometimes, we get so caught up that we temporarily lose sight of the children that are right in front of us.

Last year, while teaching a group of first graders a word study lesson on the silent e rule, I watched as a child carefully placed the letters T-A-P-E on the magnetic board in front of her. Next, she picked up her magnetic E and twirled it through the air. She leaned in close to the rest of the word and then pretended that the E was whispering to the magnetic A. A big part of me wanted to say, “Just go ahead and make the word, please.” But instead I, too, leaned in close and asked, “What’s that E saying to the A?” She looked up at me and said very slowly, “Time to be lonnnng.” We both cracked up. In just the first few minutes of the lesson she had invented a playful narrative that helped her remember the spelling pattern and cultivate tiny moments of joy and spark in her learning.

Stuart Brown, author of Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul writes, “Play seems to be one of the most advanced methods nature has invented to allow a complex brain to invent itself.” Brown has found that there are very distinct ways people like to play.  He calls them play personalities. Identifying your students’ play personalities (or having them identify their own) is as simple as identifying the things that bring them the most pleasure, when they seem to lose time, and they can feel their creative juices flowing. Knowing your students’ play personalities can help you empathize with their very powerful human drive to play. They need play to feel happy, safe, and challenged– to feel like they belong.

Here are Brown’s eight play personalities and some ideas for incorporating them into your classroom:

Stuart Brown’s Play Personalities In the Classroom
Joker: The Joker loves to make people laugh. Their play “always revolves around some kind of nonsense.” (66) Find opportunities to give the jokers in your class time to make you all laugh. You could offer “open mic” moments in morning meeting, ask for silly sound effects during a read aloud, and provide unstructured times when jokers can entertain, laugh and be silly.
Kinesthete: This player “find themselves happiest moving.” (66) This isn’t just athletes, either, this can be the person who thinks best when walking. Incorporate a love of movement into the day with dance, yoga, flexible seating options and plenty of space for big movement. You might offer your writers a quick walk to generate ideas or weave whole-body movements into read alouds or shared reading.
Explorer: The explorer loves discovering new things: mental, physical, and emotional.(67)

 

Engage with your students over a shared sense of wonder. Incorporate opportunities for inquiry and exploring the community into their learning. Offer as much student-driven choice in reading and writing workshop as possible. Teach strategies for reflection to celebrate moments of learning and discovery.
Competitor: This player loves to turn everything into a game, and to win! (67)

 

Tap into the competitor’s love of challenge and drive to win by creating a game out of even the most unremarkable tasks, strategizing about what reading and writing moves would be most effective, and (always) encouraging good sportsmanship. You could also have them help organize a March Madness of favorite books or a class story slam.
Director: “Directors enjoy planning and executing scenes and events.” (67) Use the director’s love of organizing and planning to help orchestrate special events, units, and experiences for your class. You might have your directors plan end-of-unit celebrations, class bulletin boards, student-led book clubs, or open house events for families.
Collector: The collector enjoys the act of gathering, collating, organizing, and admiring objects and experiences. (68) Focus this passion for collecting on your classroom community. Have students document the year in photographs, curate a treasury of beloved stories, and keep portfolios of their work. You might have them use apps such as SeeSaw to digitally collect memories of the year or put them in charge of curating a shelf of the class’ favorite books or books that align to current units of study.
Artist/Creator For the artist, “joy is found in making things.” (68) Carve out time to make things not just for but with your students. You might have your students co-construct bulletin boards and charts or experiment with different genres of writing and ways to express their ideas.  You could even teach your students new art habits and practices (or have them teach the class!) just like you would writing lessons or reading strategies.
Storyteller:

 

The storyteller uses their imagination in all things, and also loves reading and watching movies. (69) Leverage the love of story to bring play and imagination into every area of the day. Invite storytellers to retell inspiring moments from the classroom or beloved stories and use their imaginations to inspire fellow writers. You might help them remember strategies and skills by incorporating little stories into your lessons.

As the new year begins and you start to get to know your students, take the time to investigate their play personalities. Chances are each individual student is a combination of the personalities listed above. If your goal is to make our lessons as engaging and as successful as possible, play is the perfect means to do so. Brown writes, “Play is like fertilizer for brain growth. It’s crazy not to use it.”

If you’re interested in more ways to incorporate play and child-centered teaching into your practice, check out my new book with Kristi Mraz, Kids First From Day One, and Kristi’s book, Purposeful Play, co-authored with Cheryl Tyler and Alison Porcelli.

Here’s to a school year filled with joy, wonder & play!


Brown, Stuart and Vaughan. Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. Penguin Group/ New York (2010)

Purposeful Pedagogy Creates Joyful and Independent Readers

By Lindsey Moses, 2018 Literacy for All Conference Featured Speaker 

LFA2018-Lindsey-MosesIn the current state of accountability measures, it is sometimes hard not to get bogged down with what feels like a long checklist of requirements and things that need to get accomplished. While this reality is inescapable, some of the strongest teachers with whom I am lucky collaborate have shifted their thinking from “I can’t get to the instruction I know my kids need because of…..” to “How can I prioritize what I know my students need in my current context?” One of the best ways to do this is developing purposeful independent learning experiences that are representative of real-world reading practices. This is often where teachers have the most freedom in their instruction.

In a typical reading workshop model, approximately 50% of students’ literacy experiences are spent without direct support of the teacher (this is often referred to as independent and/or partner work). The options for this time are endless, but when planning these experiences, I always ask myself, “What do I want my readers to do/know/experience?” and “What purpose does this serve in their reading lives?” Years ago, these questions helped me shift my thinking about independent work experiences. The answer to these questions for me (regardless of grade level) is that I want my readers to read, to love reading, to share reading experiences with others, and to explore, question, learn and grow through experiences with texts. I think the purpose of these goals serves to create life-long readers and inquirers. Purposeful pedagogy helps us work toward that goal.

What does purposeful pedagogy look like in practice?

I spent a couple of years researching and learning alongside an amazing first-grade teacher, Meridith Ogden. When we first started working together, she identified pedagogical goals related to her literacy instruction. Together we developed instructional ideas and a plan for how we would address and research the progress toward these goals. The goals were (1) to have students develop a love of reading; (2) to have students understand that the ultimate goal of reading is to construct meaning; (3) to have students independently applying comprehension skills across a wide variety of texts; and (4) to engage students in meaningful discussions about literature with interpretive responses. Our instructional plans for addressing these goals involved whole-group, small-group, and conferring practices. However, we decided to really focus on supporting those goals and students’ reading experiences by enhancing the purpose and meaning during the independent work time of the reading workshop.

As we discussed how to maximize independent workshop time to meet our goals, we reflected on what we believed was most important. We agreed that we wanted to prioritize engaged reading and talking about reading. So, we did. Kids had choice independent reading and partner reading and talking EVERY DAY! We began thinking about purposeful learning experiences to foster independence, and we removed any “activities” that were not things that real readers do. Here are some ways to think about what purposeful learning experiences are not and what they could be:

Lindsey Moses_1

Table from What are the Rest of my Kids Doing? Fostering Independence in the K-2 Reading Workshop (Moses & Ogden, 2017).

We just kept going back to…what is the purpose of this learning experience? If it didn’t serve the most essential purposes, then we tossed it out. We didn’t have enough time for busy work, worksheets, or meaningless activities (we also just don’t want these to be part of our practice). These types of activities often keep children quiet, but quiet means compliant- it is NOT a measure of literacy learning and development. One of my favorite end-of-year quotes from an interview with a first grader was, “We’re a little loud. That’s because we like to read!” Part of our purpose involved creating a community of readers who read, shared, and talked about texts with peers.

Below is a model we designed to support purposeful independent learning experiences.

LindseyMoses_2.png

We start with establishing routines that help students shop for books they love and are able to engage with during independent reading. This takes time, getting to know kids and their interests, as well as books that are a good fit. We also focus on establishing routines for what we do during independent reading and why- all of this is grounded in what real readers do. We modeled how we shop for books (browsing, looking at the cover, reading a few pages, getting recommendations from friends, etc.). Next, we introduced strategies that would help students be able to read independently and with partners (both fix-up and comprehension). Students could use these strategies as a response opportunity to document their thinking and prepare for discussions with partners or discussion groups. While reading informational texts, students had the same option for documenting strategy use in preparation for conversations, but they also had the opportunity to design their own inquiry projects based on a topic of interest. Finally, we move to collaborative “independent” experiences. We believe there is nothing more powerful than young readers being able to independently collaborate with partners and small groups of peers. We build on the routines, strategies, and response opportunities to prepare them for meaningful engagement with reading and their community of readers.

For us, the key is purposeful pedagogy. We design and support independent learning experiences with a clear purpose that mirror the real work and social interactions of readers. Yes, it is a little noisier and messier than traditional independent seat work, but it is worth it because it allows young readers to develop a love of, connection to, and confidence in reading.

Teach Social-Emotional Skills through Literacy Workshop

by Mike Anderson, 2018 Literacy for All Conference Featured Speaker
LFA2018-Mike-Anderson

Social-emotional learning (SEL) is a hot topic in schools right now—as it should be. It’s increasingly clear that social and emotional skills are the keys to the kingdom—it’s the skill set that employers are seeking—the skill set that’s less likely to be outsourced or automated as our economy continues to shift. Perhaps most importantly, strong SEL skills are correlated with many measures of life-long health and happiness including lower rates of criminal activity and substance abuse and better mental health.

As I work in schools across the US, I hear a common and troubling refrain: more kids are coming to school less school-ready than ever before. Children have a hard time listening to others, making appropriate eye contact, participating in group activities, taking turns, sharing, showing empathy, and making responsible decisions. Many theories are posited by teachers. Parents rely on devices to calm/regulate young children, so they don’t know how to function without a phone or tablet in their hands. Parents themselves may lack key social and emotional skills. In some communities, there are a growing number of children coming from homes where opioids and other drugs are used.

Regardless of the reasons, it’s pretty clear that just as SEL skills are becoming even more important, many children seem to be lacking a solid foundation in these skills. To compound this challenge, teachers are already overwhelmed with all that we have to teach. Many schools are attempting to address the need to teach SEL skills by adopting programs and curricula that emphasize the teaching of SEL skills as an add-on—specific stand-alone lessons and activities to be delivered in addition to academic work. For teachers who are already swamped with too much to teach in not enough time, these boxed curricula can feel burdensome and overwhelming, especially when the required lessons don’t even align with the actual skills needed with a particular group of students!

Wouldn’t it be great if the teaching of social, emotional, and academic skills could somehow come together? What of there was a way to teach these skills as a part of daily academic work instead of on the side?

For those of us who use reading and writing workshops to teach literacy, we’ve already got (at least part of) the answer! There are tons of SEL skills that need to be taught for kids to be successful readers and writers. These are the very skills that they need to learn to be successful throughout school and beyond, and, these are the same skills needed to be successful in most literacy standards! Check out the chart below for a few examples of the overlaps between literacy skills (drawn from Common Core ELA standards), SEL skills, and structures commonly used in literacy workshops.

Literacy Skills SEL Skills Workshop Connections
  •  Read widely and deeply; devote significant time and effort to writing
  •  Focus, attention
  • Self-regulation
  • Setting and working toward goals
  • Building independent reading and writing stamina
  • Choosing just-right books and writing topics of interest
  • Explain the relationships/interactions between individuals in a text
  •  Social awareness
  • Perspective taking
  • Effective communication
  • Book group discussion
  • Reading conference
  • Read prose and poetry orally with accuracy, appropriate rate, and expression
  • Self-awareness
  • Social awareness
  • Reading conference
  • Writing share
  • With guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing
  • Active listening
  • Growth mindset
  • Seeking and offering help
  • Manage stress
  • Perseverance
  • Writing conference
  • Revision/editing
  • Engage in collaborative discussions with diverse partners
  • Empathy
  • Follow social and ethical norms for behavior
  • Control impulses
  • Book group discussion
  • Reading and writing workshops
  • Whole group discussions

A Few Starting Places

Once you start seeing the connections between literacy skills, SEL skills, and the structures of reading and writing workshop, you’ll be amazed at how many start to become obvious. This is both exciting and overwhelming. If every component of reading and writing workshop involves SEL skills that need to be taught (which is true), and if many literacy standards involve SEL skills to be learned (as indeed many do), and if all students need support in SEL skills (and they do), where do you start?

Weave Small Moments of SEL Teaching into Existing Lessons

Each time you’re about to teach a literacy lesson, whether it’s a whole class lesson, a small group strategy session, or a one-on-one conference, consider social or emotional skills that might be involved. Could students use some advice about how to position their bodies effectively for a writing conference? Might they generate some suggestions for how to regain focus on reading after you’ve been distracted? Would some modeling help students better understand how to ask supportive and constructive questions to help push each other’s writing? Here’s a video of a quick discussion I facilitated with a group of third graders as they were about to engage in a series of partner chats to discuss a book they had read. Notice that this is a simple small moment of teaching—something that could easily be incorporated right into many literacy lessons that you already teach.  

Explore SEL Skills in Literacy Standards

This is an activity you might try on your own, with a small group of colleagues (perhaps as a PLC or grade level team), or even with a whole staff at a faculty meeting. First, choose a set of SEL skills or competencies to use. If your district hasn’t already adopted one, you might use the CASEL framework. Another great one is the Habits of Mind. Next, look through your literacy standards or curricula. Make connections between the two. Which SEL skills are required for students to be effective readers and writers? Which literacy skills and structures are great ways to practice the SEL skills kids need to learn? For a more complete write-up of this activity, check out this blog post.

Brainstorm SEL Skills Needed for Structures of Literacy Workshop

This is an activity I tried one summer while teaching a course through the University of New Hampshire Literacy Institutes. We brainstormed common structures used in reading and writing workshop—ones like sustained independent reading/writing, peer and teacher conferences, book groups, read-alouds, whole class lessons, strategy groups, etc. Then, we generated a list of the SEL skills students needed in order to participate effectively in each structure. For example, in order to have good reading conferences, students needed to know how to sit facing their partner, how to make eye contact, how to ask interesting questions, and how to share about a book in a concise way, just to name a few. These lists that we created provided a great starting point for everyone as they considered what to teach, especially at the beginning of the year when setting up these structures.

These are, of course, just a few ideas, but hopefully they’re enough to get you started. I think one more point should be made. Sometimes, teachers worry that they don’t have enough time to teach students social and emotional skills when they already have so many academic ones to teach. The more you explore the integration of SEL in literacy workshop, the more it becomes apparent that SEL skills areacademic. Many are built right into our academic standards and many more are required to participate effectively as a reader and writer in school every day. In the end, I think it’s fair to argue that we don’t have time not to teach social and emotional skills as a part of everyday literacy instruction!