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CHAPTER ONE
BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY
1.0

General Introduction
This research study is aimed at interrogating the question of play-based learning approaches in early childhood settings through a focus on teachers’ perspectives. The specific focus will be teachers in senior infant classes in the Irish context. It is believed that early childhood teachers face some dilemmas in the implementation of play-based learning approaches. However, this is against the backdrop of the full theoretical understanding and awareness by teachers on the critical importance that learning through play has on the child’s holistic development. A qualitative approach has been adopted for the study. In order to gather information on the subject matter under discussion, apart from the desk research, interviews will be conducted to get the views, perceptions and opinions of the selected nine primary school teachers in senior infant classes within Dublin.

1.1

Background Information
Play is widely recognized as a major route to learning, especially in children’s early years. According to French (2007), play has been identified as one of the key contexts for children’s early learning and development. The ideological, philosophical and educational principles generated by the works of Rousseau, Dewey, Frobel, Montessori, Isaacs, Vygotsky, Bruner and others is viewed as a base on which play and learning is centered on (Bruce, 2010; Nutbrown, Clough, & Selbie, 2008). It is argued that play is a key to a child’s learning and development. As reported by Daoust (2007), the inclusion of play is a key component of the unique nature of early childhood education. Children are viewed as active, inquisitive and playful; therefore it seems natural to have play-based learning as performing a vital role in early childhood education. The underlying assumption is that,- play forms the basis of childhood development (Bruce, 2010; Frost, 1992; Fromberg & Gullo, 1992). Research also indicates that children learn best in an environment that allows them to explore, discover and play (Beaver et al., 2001; Daoust, 2007; Samuelsson

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&Johansson, 2006). Because of this, early childhood education curricula frameworks have incorporated play as a means of learning for children (Haddad & Unesco, 2002; Karlsson Lohmander & Pramling Samuelsson, 2003; Lindberg, 2003; Samuelsson & Carlsson, 2008).

Although there is a general understanding that learning through play is the main emphasis in early childhood education settings, recent research studies pertaining to the role, purpose and value of play in early childhood education and care curriculum continue to be debated upon (Murphy, 2006; Hayes, 2007; Wood & Attfield, 1996). The insistence on the use of play-based learning in early childhood education in Ireland is well documented as evident from the curricula documents (Hayes, 1993, 2003a). Therefore, it is for this reason that Hayes has observed that the Irish early childhood education system is underpinned by the tradition of child-centered approaches that employ play-based learning. However, literature review ( Dunphy, 2008; Hayes, 1993) and research studies (Murphy, 2004; OECD, 2006) on the Irish early childhood education suggest that learning that is based on play especially in infant classes is under threat. The perceived situation is that, the teachers are either underutilizing or simply not using the play-based approaches due to various reasons. Therefore, this research study is aimed at finding out the views, opinions and perceptions of the teachers on the theory and practice of play as a means of learning for children in a practical classroom situation. The senior infant class in the context of Ireland will be the focus of this study.

1.2

Research Questions
The following will form the research questions:
1.2.1

Main Question
Is the practice of play-based learning approach in Irish senior infant classes under threat with regards to the application of theory to practice based on the views, opinions and perceptions of primary school teachers?

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1.2.2

Sub Questions


What are the understandings of the theories of play as a means of learning by primary school teachers in Irish senior infant classes?



What are Irish primary school teachers’ perspectives in practice on the relationship between their understandings of the theories of play as a means of learning and classroom practices in senior infant classes?



Are Irish primary school teachers in senior infant class faced with any constraints in classroom practices on using play as a learning tool?



What role should teachers take to enhance and support play as a means of learning in senior infant classes?

1.3

Research Objectives
The following are the research objectives split into the main and the specific objectives.
1.3.1

Main Research Objective
The main aim of this research study is to explore and ascertain whether the practice of play as a vehicle for learning in Irish senior infant classes is being threatened with regards to the application of theory to practice based on the views and perspectives of primary school teachers.

1.3.2

Specific Research Objectives


To explore the importance of play for young children as a means of learning from the perspectives of teachers.



To identify, if any, the constraints faced by early childhood practitioners in the implementation of play in the classroom based on their theoretical views, with a particular focus on senior infant class, and suggest possible remedies.



To identify the different ways in which senior infant class teachers can enhance play in the classroom settings.
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1.4

Scope of the Study
The research study on the views, opinions and perceptions of early childhood educators on the theoretical and practical understandings of the importance of playbased learning will be restricted to Irish primary school teachers in senior infant classes. Since it is a small scale qualitative research survey, only nine teachers from selected primary schools within Dublin will be used as respondents.

1.5

Rationale for the Proposed Study
In Ireland, early childhood education covers the period from birth to six years. The provision is diverse and fragmented, spreading across the child care and education sectors (OECD, 2006). Whereas those children below 3 years are being provided for in different and diverse child care facilities, those from 4 years and above are found in the primary school system in what is called infant classes. Infant classes that are taught by qualified primary school teachers are divided into junior (4 year-olds) and senior infant (5 years-olds) (Government of Ireland, 1999).

The Irish early childhood education system is believed to be strongly grounded in the principles and philosophy of child-centered models that utilize play-based learning approaches (Hayes, 2003a). Play is viewed as a key pedagogical means in early childhood education (Daoust, 2007; Frost, 1992). Because of this, early childhood education curricula frameworks have incorporated play as a means of learning for children (Wood & Bennett, 1997). Research studies indicates that children learn best in an environment that allows them to explore, discover and play, observes Samuelsson and Johansson (2006). However, recent research highlights a continuous debate on the role, value and purpose of play in early childhood education curricula frameworks (Wood &Attfield, 2005; Murphy, 2006). Also research findings suggest that early childhood educators face a number of constraints in the use of play in the classroom, especially in reception classes (Lindon, 2001). It is also believed that the Irish early childhood education system in infant classes is faced with similar challenges with regards to the use of play-based learning approaches by teachers. It is perceived

that teachers either underutilize or simply do not use the play-based

learning approaches due to a number of factors ( Dunphy, 2008; Murphy, 2006; OECD, 2006)
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Therefore, based on the above issues, this research study will explore the different views, opinions and perceptions of the teachers on the theories of play as a learning tool and classroom practices especially with a focus on senior infant class. 1.6

Research Significance
First of all, the findings from this research study will contribute to an understanding of whether senior infant class teachers are aware of the importance and the benefits of play-based learning and to what extent this approach is utilized in classrooms. A second contribution will be that, since it is perceived that Irish primary school teachers in senior infant classes are faced with dilemmas with regards to the use of play-based learning approaches, the study will therefore shed light on those possible challenges. A further contribution will be able to bring out the views and opinions of teachers on how best this approach can be enhanced or supported in senior infant classes. Therefore the research findings to be obtained from this study will be of major significance to a number of stake-holders in the early childhood education system.

1.7

Research Dissertation Structure
The research dissertation structure consists of six (6) chapters. The first chapter on the background to the research study. The second chapter (Chapter 2) is dedicated to literature review and the theoretical framework.

The third chapter (Chapter 3)

outlines and discusses the research methodology. It explains the approach adopted in order to provide answers to the research questions. It also covers issues of ethics and research limitations. The fourth chapter (Chapter 4) focuses on the presentation of the research findings. The fifth chapter (Chapter 5) gives the discussion, and finally the sixth chapter (Chapter 6), is the conclusion, recommendations, future research and implications for practice based on the discussion in the main body of the report.

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CHAPTER TWO
LITERATURE REVIEW AND THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK
2.0

Introduction
This chapter presents the literature review based on the different perspectives of the scholars and researchers alike on the subject of the use of play in early childhood education settings. The definition and importance of play for children will be covered first. Thereafter, the chapter will briefly discuss the child-centred model. The Irish context in relation to the promotion of early childhood education through play in its curricula will follow. This is with a view to provide a picture of the system since the research study is based on the Irish context. The remaining part covers the discussion of the topic on the mismatch between theory and practice (the rhetoric-practice debate) in the early childhood education settings as practised by teachers. Finally, the chapter will explore ways in which class teachers can support play-based learning in their classroom situations.

2.1

Defining Play
Although play is commonly seen as childhood activity, locating a definition can be a daunting task, observed Samuelsson and Johansson (2006). Vickerius and Sandberg (2006, p. 37) highlight this challenge as follows, “One difficulty that exists when it comes to a definition of play is that there is no common conception about what play is”. Equally, Sutton-Smith (1997) contends that play is an inherently and deliberately ambiguous concept. Most of the researchers agree to the fact that, putting a definition on play is very difficult (Anning & Edwards, 2006; Fisher, 2002; Hughes, 2009; Kalliala, 2006; Moyles, 1989; Pellegrini & Boyd, 1993).

However, it is not the intention of this paper to go into the detailed theoretical perspectives of the definition of play. In simpler terms, play, commonly referred to as the work of children, is seen as an activity that is central in the lives of children. It consists of those activities performed for self-amusement that have behavioural, social and psychomotor rewards (Beaver, 1999). It is child directed, and the rewards come from within the individual child. As children grow and develop, also their ability to

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engage in play behaviour evolves from simple to more complex. By the time they reach pre-school age, they are able to engage in a level of play that can greatly promote their learning if carefully implemented (Bodrova & Leong, 2003; Christensen & Kelly, 2003; Essa, 2010; Fromberg, 2006; Hyder, 2004). 2.2

The Benefits of Play for Children
From infancy, children use play to promote their own learning; they do not have to be persuaded into playing (Jackman, 2011; Lester & Russell 2008). Through play, children are able to learn and develop in many different ways. Play provides children with the opportunity to interact with others, both adults and children, at an appropriate level. This in itself helps children acquire the necessary skills for getting on with others and becoming part of the group (Beaver, 1999; Beaver et al., 2001; Santrock, 2009).

Research indicates that children learn best in an environment that allows them to explore, discover and play. Illustrating this point, Samuelsson and Johansson (2006, p. 53), write:
Children learn best when they are captured by something that occupies their involvement in such a way that the surrounding world ceases to exist-the child focuses on something he/she would like to solve or to know more about. Play is an important part of a child’s holistic development. It is closely tied to the development of the socio-emotional, cognitive, language and physical behaviours (Fromberg&Gullo, 1992). Wood (2004) has alluded to the fact that, - play enhances language development, social competence, creativity, imagination, and thinking skills. In addition, Frost (1992) believes that, “Play is the chief vehicle for the development of imagination and intelligence, language, social skills, and perceptual-motor abilities in infants and young children” (p.48). In this regard, one would argue to say that through play, children develop and refine motor skills, experience the joy of mastery, and build self-esteem. According to Jean Piaget, play helps in the development of symbolic thought, language and literacy, and logical-mathematical thinking (Van Hoorn et al., 1993). Play is seen to be at the centre of cognitive, social-moral and a

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sense of self development.Sollars (2003) also acknowledged the importance of play as a tool for developing children’s holistic development.
2.3

A Brief Overview of Play-based and Child-centred Approaches
According to Brennan (2012, p.161), “The term ‘play-based approach’ or ‘play-based curriculum’ is used to describe an approach to ECEC that recognises that children learn through play and build on their play experiences to promote further learning.” It is argued that this approach responds to children’s abilities, interests and negotiations. The approach places the child at the centre of learning (Cannella&Viruru, 1997).It is believed that the play-based curriculum over the years has been drawn from the works of Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, and later on the works of Vygotsky’s socio-cultural theory (Langford, 2010; Brennan, 2012). In the childcentred approach curriculum, the main aim is for the child to learn how to learn, “to acquire the skills of synthesis and analysis, of evaluation and generalisation, of communication and reception of ideas and knowledge” (Ross, 2000, p. 138). According to Bernstein (2000), the learning that takes place in the child-centred classroom is mainly done through a continuous active discovery and experiential activity on behalf of the learner.

2.4

Theories about Children’s Play
There are several educational innovators across Europe (see Appendix A: Instrumental Theories of Play) and in other parts of the world that exerted a long term impact on early childhood education thinking (Nutbrown, et al., 2008). Although their exact ideas differed in one way or the other, they still shared a commitment to what would now be called a more child-centred approach.

Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852) and Maria Montessori (1870-1952) in the context of play
According to Lindon (2001), these two innovators did not value children’s play in itself, but they wished to use the potential of play for the educational purposes. Lindon further points out that, Froebel and Montessori are sometimes misleadingly seen as people who elevated play into the prime means for children to learn. It is

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argued that neither of the two developed learning materials, and supported the educational philosophy of promotion of play itself. However, what they aimed for was to support training, self -discipline, orderliness and good habits. The materials were supposed to be used in a particular sequence and in a carefully structured educational environmental situation. The new element of their approach was that children were believed to learn best through self-directed activity that was supported by intrinsic motivation (Anning, Cullen, & Fleer, 2008; Anning & Edwards, 2006b). More importantly, both innovators broke away from the perception that children needed to be driven by adult instructions and rote learning.

John Dewey (1859-1952)
The works of John Dewey which emphasised the ways children act as co-constructors of their learning, became popular in the USA around the 20th century. Dewey saw the children as being active agents in shaping of their learning experiences and environments (Wood &Attifield, 1996).

Rudolph Steiner (1861-1925)
Steiner’s belief was based on community education and the importance of maintaining good relationships between the teacher and the children (Tassoni, 2007). His quest was also on good diet and proper rest for the children. The teachers were encouraged to have an eye on the children as they interacted. The children with special needs were also encouraged to take part in the community education and to feel being part of the other children.

Margaret McMillan (1860-1931)
McMillan came up with the idea of a nursery environment in which the outdoors was as important than indoor learning. She was concerned with the wellbeing of the children who lived in poverty. Like Montessori, she was also influenced by the works of Seguin (Lindon, 2001).

McMillan is said to have made a direct link from the home-based learning of privileged children to the more detailed positive nursery environment for the less privileged. Her concern was on diet, lack of fresh air and lively physical exercises that 9

blighted the chances of poor children. With her sister Rachel, they set a camp for improving the health of girls aged six to fourteen years from slums areas in Deptford, South London. Later on, this idea was extended to the younger children. This open air nursery allowed children to move freely. It was equipped with real tools which children were using (Lindon, 2001; Tassoni, 2007).

Susan Isaacs (1885-1948)
It is argued that Isaacs was different from those innovators mentioned above. She was very influenced by Anna Freud and Melanie Klein, both of whom were practising psychoanalysts. However, Isaacs moved on from this view and became involved in education. She valued children’s play because she was of the view that it was important for creating imaginative meaning and had intellectual value. According to Isaacs, these were the starting point in the movement towards discovery, reasoning and thought (Hayes, 1993; Lindon, 2001; Nutbrown et al., 2008). Nevertheless, she accepted that fact that symbolic and fantasy play was a release for children’s feelings. Isaacs is said to have not believed that play was the only way in which children discovered and learned. She strongly felt that it had a very important role in bringing a balance in children’s emotions especially in the early childhood education (Lindon, 2001).

Chris Athey and schemas
The idea of schemas as proposed by Piaget was further explored by Chris Athey. She applied this idea to observation of children’s play and her practical ideas have since acted as a guide on how adults can support play(Brennan, 2012). 2.5

The Irish Context in the Promotion of Learning through Play in Early Childhood Education
Play as a means of learning has been evident in the early childhood education system in Ireland. The curriculum documents as will be shown in the following discussion clearly recognise the role of play. They also place the child at the centre as being unique and requiring a child-centred approach for a holistic development to occur.

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2.5.1

Access and Provision for the Infant Classes
The provision of early childhood education and care services in Ireland, which is provided by both public and private sectors, is diverse and fragmented and spreads across the child care and education sectors (Hayes, O’Flaherty, & Kernan, 1997; OECD, 2006). With regards to children aged 3-6 years, all the 5 year-olds and just over half of the 4 year-olds attend infant classes that are found within the primary school systems (Government of Ireland, 1999; Hayes, 2003b). The infant classes are divided into junior (4 year-olds) and the senior infant (5 years-olds) that normally operates from 09:00 to 14:00 hours (Government of Ireland, 1999).

2.5.2

Curricula used in Infant Classes
The new Primary School Curriculum 1999 (Ireland & National Council for Curriculum and Assessment 1999) that is used in primary schools, covers ages 4 to 12 years. Therefore, the infant classes utilise the same curriculum. In this document, the focus is on the child as an active learner, with each subject area encouraging active leaning processes (Hayes & Bradley, 2008; Murphy, 2006).

However, in addition to the primary school curriculum, the infant classes have another curriculum framework that was published in 2009 known as Aistear: the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework (Daly & Forster, 2012). According to Kiely (2012), Aistear which is a new curriculum framework, is for children aged from birth to 6 years. It is argued that Aistear is play-based and child-centred, and therefore is used in the first two years of primary school.

Síolta, The National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education, that was launched in 2006 is another framework that is available for the first two years of primary school (Donohoe& Gaynor, 2011). Síolta’s main purpose is to improve the overall quality of early childhood services for both children (birth to six years) and the families. It covers all the early years settings

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including infant classes in primary schools (Duigan, Fallon, O’Dwyer, Schonfeld, & Walsh, 2007; Donohoe& Gaynor, 2011).
2.6

Theory versus Practice of Play-based Learning in Early Childhood Settings The implementation of play as a means of learning in the pre-school stage can be challenging at times to teachers (Katz, 1995; Thomas, 2000). However, one of the most important things to do by pre-school teachers if they want to improve the quality of play in their classroom settings is to confront these challenges and dilemmas that exist about introducing a more play based curriculum. The following presents some scholarly works and research studies that interrogate the use of play-based learning approaches and some of the dilemmas and challenges faced by pre-school teachers. 2.6.1 Some Challenges and Dilemmas

One of the challenges faced by practising early childhood teachers is the notion that play does not have defined outcomes. Hence this presents a problem in trying to apply play as a learning means in the classroom. According to Fisher (2002, 2008), the early years teachers in the UK have identified the skills, the concepts and knowledge that the children should acquire by the age of 5. Based on this, then there is a strong concern that if the teachers do not plan for and cover the curriculum in a structured manner, the children will not achieve all their Early Learning Goals. In the same vein, there is a fear that if children are playing, they will then learn something completely unpredictable (Fisher, 2002; Wood, 2004). However, Fisher (2008, p. 132) pointed out that, “By definition, play has no defined outcomes and adults can have no idea what learning will take place when children are engaged in playful experiences”. Hence, that is the major worry for teachers. In as much as they want to fulfil the learning outcomes as stated in the curriculum, use of play as a leaning means looks uncertain in achieving that. Hurst (1997) also observed that, although most often play is viewed as an approach in which the child makes sense of the world, there are problems for teachers to demonstrate the contribution that play makes to children’s progress. Therefore, teachers should bear in mind that, whenever children are

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playing, learning is taking place. The role of teachers however, is to be observant and take note accordingly of the learning that is taking place. Another challenge faced by teachers is the need to cover the curriculum. This becomes practically impossible if a play-based learning approach is used for all the teaching and learning activities. Most often, teachers are preoccupied with wanting to cover the curriculum (Anning, Cullen, & Fleer, 2008; Saracho, 1991). However, with use of play, this fit becomes difficult to attain. As discussed above, use of play means taking a long time to cover the planned activities. Hence teachers have the challenge on their hands on how to balance bearing in mind the benefits of using play as a means for learning. However, if teachers really want the children to learn, then they have to utilise play approaches.

2.6.2

Rhetoric-Reality of Play-based Learning: From Research Studies According to Murphy (2006), the necessity for a child-centred approach to the education of the young children has rarely been in dispute in recent years. Murphy argues to say that, such an approach has formed the ‘bedrock’ of Irish primary school curricula for the past thirty years. However, he contends that the degree, to which these principles and approaches have been embraced by teachers and implemented in the Irish classroom, remains less clear. Based on this perception, Murphy undertook a study to ascertain the apparent mismatch between the ‘inspirational’ national curricula and the ‘enacted’ classroom curriculum. This study considered the data regarding attitudes to curriculum and current methodological practices gathered from a nationwide survey of Irish Infant teachers.

Murphy (2006) observed that, despite

over thirty years of child-centred

curricula, the options gathered from the nationwide survey of Senior Infant teachers appear to indicate that the practice in Irish infant classrooms remains traditional and teacher-focused. Hayes (2003a) earlier also had observed that, despite the acknowledgement of the important role played by play in infant classes, this is not evident in observed classroom practices. Murphy equally discovered that a large lacuna between curriculum theory and practice appears 13

to exist. He also found that certain identified features of Irish primary education appear to be militating against a more faithful implementation of the child-centred practice. Most of the issues centred on lack of availability of appropriate equipment and resources in infant classes coupled with a high pupil-teacher ratio, which appeared to make the provision of a child-centred approach difficult. A further reason for the failure to implement the principles stated in the curriculum appeared to be that, teachers’ assumptions and understandings about play and child-centeredness differ from those upon which the curriculum is constructed. It was observed that, many teachers appeared to see play as a discrete classroom activity rather than an allimportant methodology. Hewes(2010, p. 1) also shares a similar observation: As early childhood professionals experience increasing pressure to be accountable for learning as well as developmental outcomes, the long blocks of time devoted to free play in many early childhood programs are disappearing, crowded out by a focus on pre-academics as the foundation of school readiness. ‘Free play’-the kind of play that children control and direct themselves-happens in the leftover time, when there is nothing ‘more important’ to do.

Similar findings to those made by Murphy (2006) were noted by the OECD visiting team (OECD Directorate for Education, 2004) on Irish early childhood education on need to developing appropriate pedagogies. The OECD team noticed that in infant classes in primary schools, there is a key recommendation to improve the quality of service. One of the aspects related to quality is the reduction in the teacher: child ratio. In addition, the OECD proposed that a more active pedagogy should be developed for the younger children. This is supposed to entail learning that is not didactically imposed, but a more child-centred approach. The report stresses the importance of teaching using play.

Maria Guha (1996 cited in Lindon, 2001, p.157) seeks to suggest that, perhaps a distinction ought to be made between what she calls ‘play as such’ and ‘play in schools’. She explains for example that, “The kind of play we seek educational justification for is the meeting ground where children and teachers 14

share intentions”. Guha however makes a strong case for giving play a place in schools, both in the nursery and primary years. She is of the view that, there is need to address some of the major concerns that arises when discussion of children learning through play fails to acknowledge the related assumptions about where the play takes place and to whose purpose.

Guha (1996 cited in Lindon, 2001) has observed that, most often teachers are not sure of the messages they give children about play. She argues that, most times, teachers use it as an incentive for having finished the work. That is to say, when children are through with their work, then they can go and play. Or whoever finishes first, then that child is rewarded with play. In addition, these teachers could be faced with the imposition of learning goals and inspection regimes that can often lead to a retreat into formal methods owing to lack of confidence in the teachers’ own abilities, contends David, et al., (2000 cited in Pugh & Duffy, 2009). It is also stated that such a similar effect was observed in New Zealand (Cullen, 1996 cited in Pugh & Duffy, 2009).

Joy Roberts (2000 cited in Lindon, 2001) shares the same concern with that of Maria Guha. Roberts reported that the expressed philosophy that children learn through play is not necessarily shown in daily practice in reception classes. She is aware though that, usually there is much pressure on reception classes to show measurable learning for the young children at the beginning of their schooling. Roberts and his colleagues interviewed head teachers, teachers, classroom assistants, children and parents from ten primary schools in north-west England. It was found out that the people who taught in reception classes had their own dilemma they faced. According to their beliefs, they really wanted the children to exercise genuine choices and direct their own learning. However, they felt the pressure to ensure that children covered the full curriculum and could be seen to learn in all areas. This approach led to greater adult attention being paid to the more formal activities. What was common was that, more freely chosen play was now an option once children had completed the directed tasks, often work-sheets (Lindon, 2001). As a result, for those children that struggled to finish were therefore likely to have less time for self-chosen play. Such a situation made Roberts to note that, 15

teachers are at risk of over-directing the more formal work for children and being under-involved in play.
The views based on the theory and practice shows a tension between what is bein

aid and what is actually being practised. According to Wood and

Attfield (1996), the commonly held view

that pre-school teachers do

encourage learning through play is more of a myth than a reality. A study that looked at quality provision in reception class (equivalent to junior infant classes in Irish context) showed some contradictory views between what teachers planned to do and the practice on the ground (Wood & Attfield, 2005; Wood & Bennett, 1997). Although teachers had indicated in their aims that they were going to use play as a means for learning, only six per cent of the learning activities conducted fell under this category and these were regarded as:

…very limited and very limiting. The teachers appeared to have low expectations of it, often acting as a time filler, and far too frequently there was no clear purpose or challenge, a lack of pupil involvement, very little monitoring or attempt at extension. In other words, play tended not to provide learning experiences of an acceptable quality (Bennett and Kelly, 1989, p.79 cited in Wood &Attfield, 2005, pp.9-10).

From the above observation, Bennett and Kelly (1989 cited in Wood, 2004) concluded that, the view that play acted as a means of learning in early childhood setting had attained the status of a commandment, but it is a commandment that is far more observed in the telling than in the doing. In most cases, the gap between the theory and the practice poses as a major weakness of play in early childhood settings. Arising from this viewpoint, Bennett et al., (1989 cited in Wood &Attfield, 2005) conducted a study that was based on teachers’ thinking and classroom practice among nine reception class teachers. The study was done over the duration of one year with a focus on teachers’ beliefs and theories about the role and value of play, how they planned their lessons for play in relation to the curriculum, and the factors that might have been constraining in their practice.

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The findings from this study seem very relevant and challenged the theory and practice held by teachers. It showed some of the reasons for the rhetoricreality contradictions. For instance, while teachers defined the planned play as child-centred or child-initiated, in fact play was structured by time, resources, the learning environment, the planned or anticipated learning outcomes and pressure from the national curriculum. A similar view held by Reed and Canning (2010) was made that, while pre-school teachers appreciate the role of play as being at the heart of every child’s learning, this is often overshadowed by the infrastructure of targets and standards. In the study by Bennett et al., (1989 cited in Wood &Attfield, 2005), it was reported that free play was often noisy and disruptive, with the children doing their own activities, rather than those planned by teachers. In this study, although it is argued that teachers valued play as a medium for learning, the other curriculum priorities meant that they had to neglect their role in ensuring that play was a success. In the same vein, they ended up spending less time assessing or understanding the concept of learning through play. Pressure from colleagues, parents and the National Curriculum meant that they had to show evidence that children were learning and therefore progression and achievement. Play was not seen as a source that will show evidence of learning at this stage. Therefore, it is said that teachers found it extremely difficult to understand the patterns of learning and activity in play because they did not have the time to carry out observations, discussions and reflections, and consequently do some feedbacks in their implementation into subsequent planning. Some notable challenges observed in this study were the classroom layouts, lack of resources, the class sizes, and the lack of adult support as some of those that intervened between the theory and practice of play as a means of learning held by the teachers.

Nevertheless, despite the many challenges, the teachers in the study were said to provide some interesting models of how they integrated play into the curriculum. In conclusion Bennett et al (1989 cited in Wood &Attfield, 2005, p.11) were able to note “…that achieving good quality play is resource intensive, and requires high levels of pedagogical skill and organisation, as well as time and expertise to observe, assess and interpret the meaning of 17

children’s play behaviours and activities”. Also they observed that, for the rhetoric-reality gap to be addressed there was need for a more secure theoretical and pedagogical underpinning for play to address some of the dilemmas and challenges encountered so as to improve the status of play in the early years programmes.

Wai-Yum (2003) carried out a research study that was aimed at ascertaining thedialectical relationship between the theories of play and the real classroom practices by Hong Kong pre-school teachers. The larger study was centred on getting the actual holistic viewpoint of teachers’ sense making process in the effort to implement play

as a vehicle for learning. The

information was obtained from six in-service teachers as

case studies in

point.
From the six pre-school teachers, Wai-Yum (2003) observed a great gap between the theory and the practice in play and learning. Although all teachers claimed to use play in their teachings in the interviews in Wai-Yum’s study, what was observed from the practice was not consistent with this. What was found was that, all the teachers were using mainly didactic and teacher dominated approaches. Also it was noticed that the children were always put into groups for nearly half an hour for a particular theme and then followed by smaller groups where they practised some writings of Chinese characteristics. What was considered to be free choices was only for a few minutes ranging from 5 to 10 in different corners of the classroom. These were only available when children had finished the assigned activities by the teachers. Another important observation made from the study by Wai-Yum was that, teachers treated each learning area as a separate domain and did not sufficiently attempt to integrate and synthesise the different aspects of learning. 2.7

How do Teachers Support Play within their Pedagogical Approaches? Adults have an important role in children’s play to ensure that the maximum benefit is gained from it (Hurst & Joseph, 1998). As teachers move towards a curriculum that better reflects children’s lives, it is appropriate that the guidelines are borne in mind as proposed by Curtis and Carter (1996). The following are the guidelines proposed 18

by Curtis and Carter (1996). In the first place, the environment should be planned as the teacher’s basic curriculum by organising the space and materials in an accessible, attractive and inviting manner. There have to be enough choices and possibilities for the children. Secondly, the teacher should have open spaces where children can combine different activities. Being rigid on the part of the teacher with certain rules will not help the children. In the third place, the role of the teacher is to allow children to become truly absorbed in activities of their own choosing. That means, less interrupting of significant play. Interrupting children’s play will defeat the goal of extending children’s attention span and independence. Fourthly, as most of the children’s activities tend not to end, it will be advisable to keep cleaning and tidying as an option. This will provide opportunities for continuation of the same activities in the next day or week. In the fifth place, in trying to build a community of learning, it is advisable to encourage children to refer to each other. Young children need to see themselves as competent and resourceful beings. As a teacher, if you see a child needing help, point out another child who might be able to help. Even in cases of conflicts, such an approach could work. The ideal is to model, support and coach these interactions so that children can develop dispositions and skills to see each other as a resource. Finally, the teacher should be constantly on the look-out. Most often, before intervening in children’s play activities, the teacher has to think twice (Curtis & Carter, 1996).

The adult needs to plan and set up the activities carefully, interact with children during the activity and monitor what is happening through observation. In the play environment, for instance, there are some important considerations in developing a positive environment. Beaver et al., (2001) pointed out that, repetition and a provision of a variety of activities are important. Learning activities that accentuate the senses and playfulness that can be incorporated into play, should be encouraged, affirms Frost, Wortham and Reifel (2008). For social and socio-dramatic play, children should be allowed to engage in a wide group of peers to encourage child-initiated relationship.

When children are deeply involved in play activities, most often some teachers wonder what their roles will be. Some of course can take this as an opportunity to chat with fellow teachers, while others could start preparing for the next day’s activities, 19

still others can find it fit to chat and consult with parents. Jones and Reynolds (1992) and Broadhead and Burt (2012) however, have suggested that there are a host of things a teacher can do while the children are playing. Before play activities commences, it is the responsibility of the teacher to provide the physical environment, the stage setting and all the props. This makes the teacher an active planner and player in playful learning environments, according to Broadhead and Burt (2012). Apart from providing enough props, enough time and adequate spaces (Hayes, 1993) too should be provided for children to play. In the process of playing, conflicts could result amongst children. The teacher’s role will be to teach conflict resolution skills amongst children (Jones & Cooper, 2006;Isenberg & Jalongo, 1997; Sayeed & Guerin, 2000). Hence the teacher will be seen as a mediator. The teacher too can take part in the play. There are cases where children will involve and assign a particular role to the teacher. Such an opportunity can be taken by the teacher and utilised in a productive manner. It could be an opportunity to interrupt and teach certain concepts or ideas to children.

When children are playing, the teacher can take that as an opportunity as well to represent children’s play. They can write some notes that represent what they see, to be used in their developmental summaries, parents’ meetings, and curriculum planning (Jones & Reynolds, 1992). This note taking can serve as communication to adults. Teachers too can make notes of children’s play and language as communication to children as well.

In as much as teachers are responsible for teaching, they are equally responsible for assessing the growth and development of children and communicating this to both parents and school authority (Curtis & Carter, 1996; Hurst, 1997; Jones & Reynolds, 1992). The on-going observations especially when children are actively playing provide an avenue for assessing children (Pellegrini & Boyd, 1993). Such a situation allows focus on children’s abilities rather than on what the child has not yet mastered. The assessment being conducted through observations also helps in the curriculum planning. Therefore, this enables the teacher to be a planner (Jones & Reynolds, 1992) as he or she looks at the possibilities of an emergent curriculum.

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2.8

Summary of Chapter Two
The chapter has looked at a number of important issues. Apart from looking at the definition and significance of play to children, the chapter has endeavoured to explore and discuss the child-centred model as well as presenting an overview of the Irish context on the role of play in its early childhood curricula. Furthermore, the chapter has discussed in detail the controversy surrounding the application of play-based learning approaches in the classroom environment. Last but not the least, the issue of how to enhance play-based learning by teachers has been discussed as well.

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CHAPTER THREE
RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
3.0

Introduction
The main objective of this study is to gather the views, opinions and perceptions of senior infant class teachers on the place of play in classroom situations. In particular, to explore whether teachers are faced with any constraints when it comes to implementing play-based learning approaches. This chapter therefore, provides an overview of the nature of research undertaken, sample size and sampling technique adopted. In addition, the chapter describes the research tool used and how the information gathered was transcribed and analysed. Furthermore, it also covers issues of ethics and research limitations.

3.1

Nature of Research
This research study explored the views, opinions and perceptions of senior infant teachers with regard to the theoretical and practical implementation of play in senior infant classes as a means of facilitating learning. Considering this topic, the empirical fieldwork adopted a phenomenological approach (qualitative) that was aimed at exploring the subjective experiences of senior infant teachers. As Denscombe (2007) claims, the phenomenological approach generally deals with people’s perceptions or meanings, their attitudes, beliefs, feelings and emotions. Hence a qualitative method has been chosen to achieve depth.

In this research study, there was an element of deskwork involved in the gathering of information in order to complement the fieldwork as well as helping the analysis of the data. Deskwork entails the in-depth examination of previous research and relevant literature on play as a learning tool.

3.2

Sampling, Sample Size and Selection
The non-probability sampling based on the purposive method was used to select the nine (9) research participants that were obtained from six (6) selected different National Primary Schools teaching in senior infant classes.

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Such a purposive

approach was preferred over random sampling due to the category and the small number of the research participants (Burton, 2000; Denscombe, 2007). The category of the research sample was based on infant teachers working as senior infant teachers in National Primary Schools. Therefore, the purposive sampling approach was an ideal method to only select individuals who were directly involved in the field of research study. Davies (2007, p. 146) pointed out that, “Qualitative research sampling procedures are not as clearly defined as they are when you are gathering a survey sample intended to be accurately representative of its population.” Also it has to be noted that, it was a purposive approach taken since it was based on the setting up of a collection of deliberately selected cases that was aimed at studying a phenomenon of interest in the most constructive manner (Bell, 2005; Walliman, 2005). 3.3

Data Collection
The method used in collecting data was semi-structured interviews. As part of the different types of research interviews, they allow the interviewer to be flexible in terms of the order in which the issues are considered, and more importantly, Denscombe (2007, p. 175) stated that, “…to let the interviewee develop ideas and speak more widely on the issues raised by the researcher”. In other words, the questions used were open-ended thereby allowing for open-ended answers as well with the emphasis on the elaboration of the points of interest by the interviewee (See sample semi-structuredinterview schedule in appendix B). The questions in the semistructured interview schedule were derived from extensive reading of the literature which generated specific topics of interest to the research project so as to find a solution to the research question. Basically, this data collection tool allows for an indepth provision of information especially that which relates to the individual’s opinions, feelings, emotions and experiences (Holliday, 2007; Morse & Richards, 2002; Wilkinson, 2000).

3.4

Procedure in the Data Collection
The nine (9) selected research participants as shown in the table below were drawn from six (6) National Primary Schools within Dublin. However, fifteen (15) schools in total were contacted either through telephone calls or e-mail, but only six (6) were able to provide the research participants.

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Table 3.1 Research Participants- Senior Infant Class Teachers Respondent Gender
R1
R2
R3
R4
R5
R6

Female
Female
Female
Female
Female
Female

R7
R8
R9

Female
Female
Female

Length of service in
senior infant class
7 months
1 year 6 months
2 years
7 to 8 years
3 years
18 years (reception and
infant classes)
3 years
6 months
2 years

Type of qualification
attained
Primary school teacher
Primary school teacher
Primary school teacher
Primary school teacher
Primary school teacher
Primary school teacher
Primary school teacher
Primary school teacher
Primary school teacher

(Source: Field data by the author)

The participants were given some advance noticeof the areas to be discussed during the interview, but not specific questions through the school principals as the ‘gate keepers’ (see sample information letter in appendix C). With this approach, it was envisaged that it was going to allow the participants to reflect and not to be caught off-guard during the interview session.

Before the commencement of the interview, the interviewees were reminded of the purpose of the study again and of the time involved. Any other issues such as definitions were clarified at the outset (Homan, 1991).

3.5

Semi-structured Interview
Questions included in the interview were based on the main research question with its subsequent sub-questions. Therefore, the main broad outline of the topics covered in the interview included the length of teaching as a senior infant class teacher, the type of curriculum being used and whether the introduction of Aistear and Síolta had any significant impact on curriculum delivery. Other topical areas included teachers’ understanding of play- based learning approach; its importance and its benefits. In addition, perceived challenges, possible ways of overcoming such constraints as well 24

as suggested ways of supporting play based learning approaches in the classroom, formed part of the topics.
3.6

Data Analysis
Once the data was collected from the sample, it was put through a process of transcription, coding and analysis (Barbour, 2007). Though in qualitative analysis there are no set rules as eluded by Barbour, in this research study, the information from the interviews was transcribed and sorted into categories (Blaxter, Hughes, & Tight, 2006). Each participant was assigned a code (R1, R2, R3, R4, R5, R6, R7, R8, and R9) and all the identifying information was removed from the transcripts, ensuring anonymity (Seidman, 2006). A number of themes and sub-themes were identified and each piece of relevant information was coded under those categories. In order to make the work much easier at this stage, the semi-structured interview followed a certain pattern that was similar to all the 9 participants. The content was further analyzed and used in the writing up of the summary. However, expressions such as ‘yah’, ‘ehm’, ‘mmmh’,’ahm’ and repeated words were removed in writing the research findings in Chapter Five.

The last step in the data analysis process was verifying the data such as re-checking of the interviews, transcripts and the codes. The idea, Denscombe (2007) argues, is to ensure credibility, validity, reliability and objectivity.

3.7

Ethical Considerations
The issue of becoming aware of the ethical aspects in qualitative methods have grown considerably over the past decade (Punch, 1994; Hopf, 2004; Christian, 2005 cited in Flick et al., 2007). What is of cardinal importance is to note that issues of ethics do not just arise at the stage of gathering information, but rather that they run throughout the whole process of designing and then doing the research (Hanssen, n.d.; Sapsford & Abbott, 1996).

The Dublin Institute of Technology (2009) guiding principles on ethics prescribe the principles one should observe whilst carrying out a research. Therefore, in conducting the research, the ethical guidelines were observed. These guidelines help the

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researcher to safeguard and protect the interests of the research participant and also recognise any conflicting concerns that might arise (Marshall & Rossman, 2010). Based on this, the research area was fully explained both through letters and verbally to the participants. It was explained that the main purpose of conducting the research was purely academic and therefore the information to be gathered was going to be used as such. Issues of confidentiality, anonymity and privacy were spelt out and respected at all times.

The information collected was held in the strictest confidence, and the participating respondents were only assigned codes (no identifying information was used). The respondents were told of the option for opting out at any stage of the research without giving any reason. Written consent was required from all the participating respondents (see appendix D). Flick et al., (2007) indicated that, at the time of accessing the participants with the view to gather information, it is very important to have some kind of an agreed contract that should be signed by both the respondent and the researcher. Furthermore, Flick et al., states that the consent form should clearly spell out the topic, purpose of the research and expectations from the participants. In addition, the consent form should also state the issues of confidentiality and anonymity to be guaranteed. Flick et al., further say that the issue of the possibility for withdrawing at any stage by the researcher and whether results will be given or not to the participant should be stipulated as well.

3.8

Research Limitations
Due to the qualitative nature of the study, the sample population involved was small. As Davies (2007, p. 148) observed, “With qualitative research, your aim is not to emerge with findings that are statistically representative of a given population but rather to explore subjective patterns of personal, group or organizational experience”. Therefore, the information obtained from the respondents is not in any way representative of the entire views of senior infant class teachers in Ireland. Another limitation of the study is that, it only adopted semi-structured interview method to collect information. The main reason of using this method was to focus only on senior infant class teachers’ perspectives on the place of play-based learning approach in classroom situation. The researcher considered including observations 26

within the classroom but overall it was felt that the challenge of accessing participants was quite significant, given the pressure on teachers at the end of the academic year to complete their curricula. It was feared that this challenge would jeopardize the success of recruiting a sample. It was also felt that as the primary objective of this study was to access the views, perspectives and feelings of teachers and to document these in a meaningful way, it would be more appropriate to focus on semi-structured interviews with these teachers.

3.9

Summary of Chapter Three
This chapter was aimed at explaining and justifying the nature of research adopted for the research study. It has also covered the method used to select the sample for study, data collection procedure and explained how the data was analyzed. Ethical issues as well as research limitations have been covered.

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CHAPTER FOUR
PRESENTATION OF FINDINGS
Opinions are like wrist watches, everyone’s watch shows different time from other, but everyone believes that their time is accurate (unknown)
4.0

Introduction
This chapter provides extracts of opinions, views and perspectives of primary teachers with different lengths of experience as shown in Table 3.1on page 22 in senior infant classes on the place of play-based learning approaches. However, all nine detailed transcripts are found in the appendices (E to M).

4.1

Curriculum used by Teachers in Senior Infant Classes
All the nine respondents indicated that they are using the new Irish primary school curriculum 1999 which is a revised edition. However, most of the teachers interviewed are now combining this with Aistear as this has now impacted on the curriculum delivery in one way or the other.

…this has impacted as right now I am combining the knowledge gained from Aistear together with the primary school curriculum to deliver my lessons (R8).
In the same vein, it appears the use of Aistear in addition to the new Irish primary school curriculum 1999 has brought about great benefits in the sense that the children are now enjoying the lessons.Given that Aistear puts greater emphasis on the importance of play and activity in children’s learning, the positive effects on children were highlighted as follows:

…I think it improves, definitely because I have done it with Aistear and I have found it as more enjoyable and children are now using language more. So it has a good impact on children (R5).

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The new Irish primary school curriculum 1999 being used is believed to be based on a subject centered approach. Because of this, the introduction of Aistear has brought about a different dimension to lessons delivery as reported by some respondents. Aistear has an impact on the way we now teach. We are coming from the background of having subjects in the primary school curriculum which are taught in a formal way. But with Aistear, it tells you to bring these together and teach them at the same time (R9).

However, some respondents expressed their uncertainty with regard to the impact of Aistear and felt that they were not quite sure of its impact yet. The general feeling was that, it was relatively new and teachers had not yet become comfortable with it. It also appears that the way it has been explained in schools has not been clear to some of the teachers.

Aistear came to our school one or two years ago. I think the idea of Aistear is very good because it sets standards for school… But maybe the people who came here didn’t explain the role of Aistear very well… (R4). Despite the uncertainty shown by some teachers in the implementation of Aistear alongside the new Irish primary school curriculum 1999, teachers still expressed their optimism that in future Aistear will have a greater impact in curriculum delivery. This optimism could be as a result of some of the immediate positive impact seen in using Aistear.

I think it is going to impact strongly as time goes on as people become comfortable with it (R6).
I think it will impact in the coming few years in the Irish curriculum. At the moment we have just started using it …and I think with more time we will get used to using it and finding the best approaches. Personally, I think if you could use it within your own classroom, it is very useful throughout the day as we use a play classroom to kind of incorporate Aistear in the entire day. I think it is very good because children will enjoy the time they are using Aistear and they don’t realize how much they learn themselves (R1).

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4.2

Theories of Play as a means of Learning
The teachers were asked about whether they had covered theories of play as a tool for learning during their training as primary school teachers. At the same time, questions on their understanding of play-based learning approaches; its importance; its benefits on children and teachers as well as its negative effects in cases where it is not applied in the classroom, were asked.

4.2.1 Inclusion of Theories of Play as a means of Learning in Teachers’ Training Generally, all the teachers acknowledged that theories of play as a vehicle for learning was included in their training programme though at different levels of intensity.

I would say we covered that part on theories of play as a means of learning for children in class though not much. There was a module that had a component of play theories (R7).
The new Irish primary school curriculum 1999 used in primary schools consists of different subjects. All the teachers during the interviews indicated that during their training they were generally trained in the implementation of the same subjects contained in the curriculum. However, they were not trained specifically on how to integrate the subjects using theories of play as a means of learning.

…we covered areas of play and learning but only in a very small part. It was more curriculum based English, geography, maths, science… It was more for teachers upwards. It wasn’t really for junior classes… (R4). I have trained as a primary school teacher. But when I trained a while ago, you wouldn’t have that as something you were trained in (R3). However, the components covered on theories of play regardless of the depth had made a difference in way teachers deliver the curriculum. Teachers are able to plan and include play as a means of learning in the curriculum delivery.

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…these theories of play were covered though not detailed, but I think it gave me an insight into the use of play in the learning situation. That is how now I can use play to teach children (R8).
The idea of teaching using play is something I am very comfortable with maybe because I think that is the way children learn (R6)

4.2.2

Teachers’ Understanding of a Play-Based Learning Approach and its Importance
Although teachers interviewed showed different understandings of the playbased learning approaches and its importance in the classroom situation, it appears they all agree that this approach places the child at the centre of learning. Generally all teachers are of the view that, play-based learning allows the child to take an active part in his or her learning through engaging with friends and objects around.

…my understanding of play-based learning would that, children would learn through play realizing that play is used as tool of learning and children are being central in their own education…and would be some kind of discovery way of learning through things in their own way (R1).

…play is central in the learning. That is putting an emphasis on play during the planning of lessons. It is more like children are learning through play (R7).
Basically, for play-based learning, I would expect that the children will take part in independent play learning (R4)
I think it is an approach that is used to teach using play. What I mean is that, the type of learning that is conducted through some form of play (R8).

Furthermore, some teachers indicated that play-based learning approach was very important in the classroom situation because it made teaching meaningful. It is a way

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in which children can learn in a meaningful way as they are engaged as opposed to being just taught.
I think children are coming into school and all they want and they really know what to do is play. So to get a real meaning into what you are trying to teach them it has to come somewhere they understand and that is the main thing. Through play, they experience the world and that is the way they relate to things (R2). In addition, teachers interviewed observed that a play-based learning approach has shown that children gain a sense of autonomy and self-directed learning. I think it is really important for children because they get to express their own opinions and they get to have a proper feeling of how things work, and they do it in a social way as they are mixing with other children. It develops a lot of other skills that you might not develop if you were in class that wasn’t using play-based learning (R1). 4.2.2.1 Benefits of play-based learning approach for children All the nine respondents interviewed suggested that a play-based learning approach had immense benefits on children. For example, teachers mentioned that, during play-based learning, children develop a sense of enjoyment; it creates an opportunity to develop relationships, to succeed and to explore. In addition, children learn how to negotiate, resolve conflicts and to share. For me I think play is natural to children. I believe it is the way children learn, I think when they are playing, and they are exploring what the world means to them. And I think they learn so much in relation to how things work, how relationships work, how they can become in- charge of themselves, how they find out what they want to find out, how they just enjoy their lives as learners (R6).

Furthermore, teachers in their narratives indicated that this approach promotes the skills of communication (language development), creativity as well as imagination. The approach also fosters self confidence in children.

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I just find that the children are more involved and they pick up more on the oral language, oral language is improving a lot, and they use those words in situations. They communicate better and then they pick up learning better (R5).

I find that the children begin to understand the lessons very well. Also concentration and imagination is promoted as the children use the learner corners in the class (R8).
I think that is good for building confidence where there is a conversational flow which is nice to see. They develop confidence to ask questions and are not shy to hold back (R1).
4.2.2.2 Benefits of a play-based learning approach for teachers Teachers interviewed have generally observed that a play-based learning approach has immense benefits on their part as well. The overall feeling obtained from this approach is a great sense of satisfaction on the part of teachers derived from this approach knowing that it works and children are learning in a meaningful way. For example, teachers stated that, when they see children deeply engaged, seeing them learning from their mistakes, resolving conflicts on their own, and having a sense of control, makes teachers proud and satisfied.

…you would really see children enjoying learning and that gives the teacher great satisfaction. To see friendship, empathy and sympathizing with each other and conflict resolution and knowing that they don’t need teacher to sort things for them, they could do it for themselves (R3).

…when I see them learning from mistakes, when I see them feeling a sense of control in what they want to do, I would feel much happier as a person who is working in this set-up (R6).
During play-based learning, teachers mentioned that it creates an opportunity for teachers to assess children as they are engaged in playful situations.

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…during playing, as a teacher you can use that time to assess the children’s abilities (R7).
The approach also helps quite a great deal when teachers are faced with young children who cannot express themselves well in oral language and are instead provided an opportunity to express themselves through drawings. This method also reinforces learning in children.

For example, in literacy project…children are supposed to write a piece of their own news… but because the children are too small, they find it very hard to think about what to write. So another way of having them writing is to use play (R4)

Also the approach provides an opportunity to cover many subjects given that the New Irish school curriculum 1999 consists of specific subjects.
Also I see this method as being important because it allows you to cover so many subjects at the same time. But again I would say that is where the challenge comes in as well. It takes time and it is difficult to state how much time went to say maths, English, geography and other subjects. But the benefits are immense on the teacher (R7)

4.2.2.3 Possible negative effects of not utilizing a play-based learning approach for children
All the nine teachers interviewed expressed some concerns on the part of the learners if a play-based learning approach was not utilized in classroom. Teachers cited limiting children’s imagination and creativity as an example of this. In addition, they observed that skills such as communication (language development), negotiation and conflict resolution could be affected in children.

…you are limiting the use of child’s imagination throughout the day and I think as a young child, their imagination need to be stimulated (R1).

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Those skills such as negotiating and ability to share and communicate will be affected. I think children will lose interest in learning (R9). For weaker children, it was observed that these children could easily lose out for lack of support especially if in junior infancy they are just being taught by teachers at the top of the class, as would be the case in a more teacher-centred approach. …especially for children who are a little bit weaker or a little bit less inclined to be engaged, I feel those children could lose out. They might develop bad habits for the whole school career (R2).

Furthermore, children could easily lose interest in their learning and self-esteem and confidence would generally deteriorate.
…lack of interest…this will diminish in children. Self-esteem and lack of responsibility as well will be affected (R8).
I think they would look a little bit repressed…I think it suppresses them if they are not learning through play-based approach (R6).
4.2.2.4 Possible negative effects of not utilizing a play-based learning approach for teachers
Teaching using a play-based learning approach provides an opportunity for children to engage themselves in a natural environment where they are able to interact with friends, teachers and objects. In the process, children are able to develop different skills. Therefore, teachers interviewed felt that if such a situation is non-existent, it would be very difficult for them to assess children’s abilities as well as interesting children to learn. I think you will miss a lot of things that children are capable of doing whilst they are playing (R9).

…I won’t be able to assess my children in a natural way. Normally we use worksheets as a way of assessing children, but children can learn a lot in the

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absence of these worksheets. So in a natural way when they are playing, you can easily see what each child is capable of doing (R7).
In further highlighting the negative effects on the part of the teachers, it was suggested that teachers would not be encouraged in their duties seeing children who are looking depressed.
The fact that you see children depressed for lack of play is not good enough; it does not encourage you as a teacher (R8).
4.2.3

Challenges of using a Play-based Learning Approach
All the nine teachers expressed their concern in one way or another on the difficulties they would encounter when using a play-based learning approach in class. One major observation made was based on the background where the teachers are coming from. Teachers are coming primarily from a background where the type of teaching is teacher-centred with a curriculum consisting of subjects. Also teachers highlighted the pressure coming from the inspectors who expected a certain amount of time to have been spent on each subject. Teachers felt that this was a big problem because when subjects are integrated, it becomes difficult to specify how much time was allocated, say to geography, history, English or to any other subject.

I think it is because we are coming from a situation where it was teacher centered, it was curriculum centered. I think at the moment we are very much driven by curriculum, and I think we have over extended curriculum…I think we had false expectations of what can be done in a given time and I think we have an over focused time-motion study at the inspectorate level (R6).

Based on the background teachers are coming from, most of them have indicated that it becomes difficult to start thinking of how to integrate the subjects together.
…the use of Aistear is relatively new at our school. So we are learning how to manage time and how to integrate subjects (R8).
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…Irish curriculum features a heavy time table…but you have to experiment a little bit and eventually you will find a routine that suits you where you can use play-based learning to you and children to your own advantage (R1). However, the central importance of integration was highlighted by many teachers despite the fact it is time consuming. Teachers observed that integration was the way forward if learning through play was to yield positive results. …the key to me is integrating or incorporating play into the lesson delivery. By so doing, you will find that it will make learning for children enjoyable as they are given freedom to play and at the same time they are learning (R7). There is also this idea that teachers need a bundle of time. A bundle of time to do this, a bundle of time to do that, when talking to teachers they are obsessed with the idea of getting time to do these things. It really need to come to the understanding that learning is integrated in the classroom, but I don’t really think that teachers have picked up that message (R3).

…it is a big shift on how you plan. …you start from scratch and integrate all the subjects within the plans within play. So it means a lot of time for teachers to sit down to plan. You have to try to get all the subjects in the curriculum covered within play (R4).

Teachers were generally in agreement that challenges such as time spent in planning, being alone in the classroom, classroom management and inadequate resources, were key issues that affected the smooth implementation of play-based learning approaches.

Sometimes it can be very difficult if you are the only teacher in the room and you are the only adult. It is not an issue of being independent, but also from the energy point of view. It would be great to have a child care worker. Even to do physical things like changing the socio-dramatic room, I can’t do it alone; I don’t have the energy so children do it for me (R3). One of them is classroom management. It is very difficult if you are alone in class (R9).

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The difficult I had was resources because you had to start from the scratch for all the learning corners (R5).
4.2.4

Suggested ways of overcoming the Challenges
Resource mobilization and further orientation of teachers on the use of Aistear were the main concerns that were raised by the teachers. All the teachers interviewed indicated that resource mobilization is very important if play learning centres have to operate, whereas some suggested further staff development.

…I think for me the centrality of the teacher in the play is important. You have to learn a new way of talking. I think teachers need some kind of professional development… (R3).
On resources as a way of overcoming this problem, some teachers have used parents to provide whatever materials they have at home which they are not using.
I have sourced a few things from friends. I have sent notes home to parents if they have some toys they are not using… (R5).

Some respondents suggested adequate planning and having experience on a number of activities that work and do not.
…I think it has to do with planning and getting experience on what works and doesn’t work (R1).
In addition, teachers felt that it is better to sit together and identify which teachers have certain resources. Obviously it was thought that those teachers who have been teaching for quite a long period of time might have accumulated a certain amount of resources which could be shared with others.

Sit together, and for example if somebody had good years of work and have enough resources, she can pass them round (R4).

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4.2.5

Possible ways of Supporting Play-based Learning Approach by Teachers Although teachers interviewed had different views on how this approach can be supported, the general consensus was on increasing resources to be used in the play centres. Availability of resources was viewed as a key to supporting play-based learning approaches in senior infant classes.

I suppose having resources. …what I would find helpful it would be having all the classes with play centers set-up and maintained so that they are ready to go… (R2).
I think it can be done through having a number of play materials (R8). …is having a real resourced class. That is a very big thing (R1).

Apart from the availability of materials, some teachers observed that parents can act as volunteers since they do not have assistants in the classroom. However, teachers were weary of the type of parents to come and assist as they stated that some parents might not have good language that might help children develop good manners or habits.

…so we need the money and whatever support, say if the parents want to come and help in the play learning centres. The problem is that you need to have parents who have good language so that they don’t go about un-doing what the children have learnt (R4).

In addition to having a great deal of resources, further orientation of Aistear was also proposed by teachers as they felt that some teachers are not yet fully conversant with its implementation.
I think you will need a lot of resources because we have these learning centers. Also teachers need to be properly oriented on the use of Aistear in their classrooms (R7). 4.3

Summary of Chapter Four
The chapter covered extracts of different perspectives of the senior infant class on their understanding of the place of play-based learning approach in senior infant class. 39

Curriculum being used, teachers’ understanding of play-based learning approaches, challenges faced by teachers in implementing play-based learning approaches and possible ways of supporting play-based learning approaches in senior infant classes were the main themes identified and discussed by the teachers interviewed. The main aim of the study was explore to explore whether the senior infant class teachers were implementing play-based learning approaches in the classroom. This is due to the fact that, theories of play have a positive and profound impact on the way children learn in the classroom.

40

CHAPTER FIVE
DISCUSSION
5.0

Introduction
This chapter aims to present the discussion of findings from the research study. The discussion will focus mainly on the main themes that emerged from the research findings in relation to the literature review linking commonalities and identifying differences across the research studies. The findings will be discussed in relation to the four broad themes; curriculum being used, teachers’ understanding of play-based learning approaches, challenges faced by teachers in implementing play-based learning approaches and possible ways of supporting play-based learning approaches in senior infant classes.

5.1

Discussion
5.1.1

Curriculum used by Teachers in Senior Infant Classes
The influence of Aistear in promoting and providing a framework for playbased learning approaches was highlighted in the present study. Apart from using the New Irish Primary School Curriculum 1999 in senior infant classes, the present study has found that teachers are also drawing uponAistearin their practice within classrooms. This is a key finding in the sense that, Aistear which is a relatively recently introduced document and framework, has brought about a significant contribution in helping to promote play-based learning approaches in senior infant classes. Consistent with previous research, the present study found that Aistear mainly advocates for the use of play-based learning approaches for children from birth to six years in Ireland (Kernan, 2007).

As part of the primary school mainstream, senior infant class teachers follow the New Irish Primary School Curriculum 1999. This revised curriculum though subject-based, is believed to be child-centered, thereby recognizing the importance of developing the full potential of each child (Hayes & Bradley, 2008; Murphy, 2006). It is believed that the underlying principle of the 41

curriculum is that, the child should be an active agent in his or her own learning which mostly happens through play (Ireland & National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, 1999). Despite the fact that the New Irish Primary School Curriculum 1999 is based on a child-centered model, teachers’ approaches in class were contrary to this belief as observed in Hayes’ (2003) and Murphy’s (2006) findings. However, with the introduction of Aistear, this research study has shown that senior infant class teachers are now applying child-centered approaches and principles into their curriculum delivery. This key finding from this current research study is contrary to the observation that was made by OECD (2006) that found that, in most of the early childhood settings; children were seen being taught as a whole class while quietly sitting at their tables. Based on the views of the teachers who participated in the study, the implementation of Aistear is still somewhat in transition. The study highlights that Aistear has shown an immediate positive impact on the way teachers interviewed deliver their daily lessons. However,a small number of teachers were not yet sure of its impact although they remained optimistic that in future the impact will be great.

Though teachers

acknowledged that they come from a background of a subject-based approach with the New Irish Primary School Curriculum 1999, they have come to appreciate the positive impact Aistear has brought about. For instance, they were able to state that the children are now enjoying the lessons more because they are now delivered in amorechild-friendly and natural way. Teachers were able to state that Aistear allows for the integration of subjects and presented at the same time in a lesson through some form of play in learning centres in the classroom. This is in keeping with the notion expressed in the literature review (National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, 2009) which emphasizes the need for teachers to be provided with pedagogical guidelines on how to integrate play into learning activities. Teachers in the present study have envisaged a greater impact in future based on Aistear’s implementation. SíoltaThe National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education, whose main purpose is to support all elements of early years practice (Duignan, Fallon, O’Dwyer, Schonfeld, & Walsh, 2007)was not highlighted by teachers 42

despite being asked about its impact on curriculum delivery. It can only be assumed that nothing much has been done in making teachers become aware of this important document despite being launched in 2006 unlike Aistear which was published in October, 2009 (National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, 2009; Kiely, 2012).

5.1.2

Theories of Play as a means of Learning
The key findings from the present study on whether theories of play as a vehicle of learning were included in teachers’ training has shown that all the nine teachers interviewed had inclusion of some aspects of theories of play as a means of learning during their training as primary school teachers. The teachers also reported that they had an understanding of play based learning approaches, its importance and its benefits on children and teachers. In addition, they all stated that, there are possible negative effects on children and teachers if this approach is not used in the classroom.

5.1.2.1 Inclusion of theories of play as a means of learning in teachers’ training From the present study, it has been found out that all the nine teachers interviewed had some components of theories of play as a means of learning in their training as primary school teachers. However, a significant observation made by most of them is that, the depth of the component on theories of play as a means of learning was not detailed enough.However, the background in understanding of theories of play as a means of learning is very important for teachers as they are responsible for children who are below the age of six years.

5.1.2.2 Teachers’ understanding of play-based learning approach and its importance
The importance of play-based learning approaches in placing children at the centre of their learning is also borne out in the present study. What has been observed from the present study is that, although teachers interviewed showed different

understandings

of

43

play-based

learning

approaches

and

theirimportance in the classroom situation, they are all of an opinion that this approach places the child at the centre of learning. One key benefit to a play based learning approach which all the nine teachers interviewed highlighted was that, play-based learning allows the child to take an active part in his or her learning through engaging with friends and objects around. This observation made by the teachers is consistent with research findings outlined in the literature review. The play-based learning approach places the child at the center of learning as postulated by Brennan (2012).

Although there were some variations in the responses, the teachers interviewed showed an understanding of a play-based learning approach that places an emphasis on the use of play as means for learning in the classroom. For instance, they were able to state that it was an approach that uses play as a tool of learning and children are central in their own education. In addition, teachers interviewed observed that the approach places play at the centre of learning. This is in line with the literature review that suggests that, it is for this reason why most early childhood curricula have a component of play and learning included (Hayes, 2003; Ministry of Education and Research, 2008; Sollars, 2003).

5.1.2.3 Benefits of a play-based learning approach for children The immense benefits for children which a play based approach contributes were very clearly highlighted by the teachers interviewed in the present study. All nine respondents interviewed talked of these benefits such as, during playbased learning, children develop a sense of enjoyment; it creates an opportunity to develop relationships, to succeed and to explore. In addition, children learn how to negotiate, resolve conflicts and to share. Based on the understanding of a play-based learning approach by teachers interviewed, the approach was found to be very important with regard to curriculum delivery in class. Teachers observed that, children found it very easy to express their opinions and consequently develop a proper feeling of how things work through some kind of discovery learning. They also indicated that, this approach helps children develop other skills that they might not 44

develop if they were in class that was not using play-based learning. This view is also shared by Ross (2000) who suggested that, in a child-centered approach curriculum, the main aim is for the child to learn how to learn through the acquisition of skills of synthesis and analysis. This suggests that the provision of opportunities for children to experience things on their own so that it aids in making evaluations and generalizationis an important priority for educators. Bernstein (2000) is also of the view that, learning that takes place in a childcentered classroom is mainly done through a continuous active discovery and experiential activity which underscores the importance of play-based learning in the classroom. The use of a play-based learning approach facilitates a child’s holistic development (French, 2007).

The other benefits mentioned by the teachers interviewed from the study pointed to the fact that, the play as a means of learning approach is known to assist in the development of many skills in children. For example, the teachers observed that, language (literacy), forming relationships, conflict resolution, ability to negotiate, amongst others, are some of the skills that children develop through play-based learning approach. Other aspects of development which such an approach supports includeconcentration, imagination, creativity and confidence, as further pointed out by teachers. These findings are in keeping with Tassoni (2007), who claimedthat, play-based learning helps children to explore, create and have the freedom to imagine. 5.1.2.4 Benefits of a play-based learning approach for teachers The key significant benefit for teachers derived from this approach highlighted by teachers is knowingand feeling confident that it works and that children are learning in a meaningful way. For example, teachers stated that, when they see children deeply engaged, seeing them learning from their mistakes, resolving conflicts on their own, and having a sense of control, these aspects of a play based learning approach makethem (teachers) proud and satisfied. The rewards which teachers themselves experienced when using a play-based learning approach were very evident throughout the interview. Teachers equally found play-based learning approach very beneficial on their part. For 45

example, it has been noted that great satisfaction is derived from just seeing children enjoying learning, learning from mistakes and seeing them having a sense of control in what they are doing. One would argue that such an experience is difficult to forget where one learns from mistakes. It makes learning very meaningful and forms lasting impressions for children. Another important point raised by teachers was that, the approach allows for the covering of so many subjects at the same time. However, the literature review (Fisher, 2008) suggests that it is difficult to cover the curriculum if a playbased learning approach is used for all the teaching and learning activities. This is because when using play as a means of learning, learning activities tend to take long to accomplish as pointed out by Fisher (2008).It might also be due to the fact that play is not integrated into the learning activities as part of curriculum.

5.1.2.5 Possible negative effects of not utilizing the play-based learning approach for children and teachers
Awareness of and concerns about a failure to implement a play based approach were also emphasized in interviews with teachers in the present study. The key finding from the study has shown that all the nine teachers interviewed expressed some concerns on the part of the learners and teachers if play-based learning approach was not utilized in classroom. The major observation made by teachers was that, children’s abilities would be limited. As on the part of teachers, they felt that such a situation would be very difficult for them to make informed assessments of children’s abilities as well as maintaining their interesting in learning.

Although there are some benefits of using play-based learning approach, teachers also indicated that if the same approach is not used, there are possible negative effects on both children and teachers. Most clearly highlighted by the teachers was the risk of children losing interest and possible feelings of stress and pressure. This is consistent with Ginsberg (2007), for example, who suggested that lack of play-based learning approaches could lead to increased pressure on children that might result into school avoidance, depression and stress. On the negative effect on teachers, they stated that it would lead to 46

missing a lot of things that children are capable of doing whilst they are playing. In addition, they observed that it would be difficult to assess children. This is in keeping with findings from Bodrova and Leong’s (2003) study. It is believed that during the time when children are engaged in play activities, it provides the teacher an opportunity to make an informal assessment of children (Pellegrini& Boyd, 1993). Information gathered from such a situation could be used to inform curriculum planning as well as building a child’s portfolio.

Therefore, such vital information would be lost if play-based

learning approach was not adopted.
5.1.3

Challenges faced by Teachers when using Play-based Learning
Approaches
The major challenge that the interviewed teachers from the study highlighted was the fact that, they come from a background that supported the use of a subject-based approach. Currently, with the introduction of Aistear which requires the integration of subjects, it has proved to be a major shift in planning as teachers reported. It demands time and resources. However, teachers are encouraged by the results obtained through the use of Aistear in daily lesson delivery as they stated that it makes learning for children enjoyable as they are given the freedom to play and learn at the same time. It is interesting to note that, in the earlier study by Murphy (2006) on senior infant teachers’ practice in classrooms; it was found that it was largely traditional and teacher-focused. Probably this was due to fact that Aistear was not yet introduced and implemented by the senior infant teachers. However, from this study, this is not the case as teachers have Aistear to use which emphasizes and supports play-based learning approaches in classroom. The challenges of overcoming the constraints of time were emphasized by many teachers in the present study. Getting the balance right between play based learning approach and planning that requires integration of subjects was a priority for teachers in interviews. Other challenges reported by teachers from the study were classroom management, being alone in class and inadequate resources. Although the integration of subjects was proving beneficial, another challenge that was raised was that of trying to cover the 47

curriculum and having in mind the inspectors. As observed by Fisher (2008), the need to cover the curriculum is one of the challenges faced by teachers. Most often, teachers are preoccupied with wanting to cover the curriculum (Anning et al., 2008; Lindon, 2001). Certainly, with the use of play, this fit becomes difficult to attain. The use of play involves more time in terms of covering planned activities. Therefore, getting this balance right is a major challenge for teachers. Also the use of play becomes difficult to implement knowing that the inspectors will be looking for records that suggest that the subjects have been covered – again this may only be the case if play is not integrated into the learning. As a way of overcoming this constraint, teachers from the study suggested that unless you are on the same wave-length with the officials, this will still remain a challenge.

5.1.3.1 Suggested ways of overcoming the challenges
Resource mobilization and further orientation of the teachers on the use of Aistear were the key concerns that were raised by the teachers. All the teachers interviewed indicated that resource mobilization is very important if play centreswithin classrooms have to operate, whereas some suggested further staff development.

Some of the ways of overcoming these challenges as suggested by teachers was continuous staff development and having well-resourced classes to support the learning centres. This is in realization that Aistear is relatively new and therefore some teachers are not well-versed in its application as some teachers indicated. Having an extra hand in the class was also pointed out. However, teachers interviewed had indicated that they have relatively smaller classes of fifteen children as opposed to the findings by OECD Directorate for Education (2004) and Murphy (2006) which had reported higher ratios of teacher to child. Nevertheless, teachers were of the view that it takes a lot of time and energy to set-up the play-learning centres; hence an extra person would be required to assist.

48

5.1.4

Possible ways of Supporting Play-based Learning Approach by Teachers Although teachers interviewed had different views on how this approach can be supported, the general consensus was on increasing resources to be used in the play centres. Availability of resources was viewed as a key to supporting play-based learning approaches in senior infant classes.

According to Hurst and Joseph (1998), adults have an important role in children’s play to ensure that maximum benefit is gained from it. The major way of supporting play-based learning approach by teachers was having a class that was well resourced. As teachers reported that, with these learning centres in place, there is a need for a great deal of resources. With the availability of learning materials, it was anticipated that learning was going to be enjoyable by children. It is through these learning centres were children engage in different activities that assist in the development of different skills. Also it was suggested that teachers require proper orientation on the use of Aistear in their classroom as this document is relatively new and therefore most teachers are not yet properly acquainted with its implementation.

5.2

Summary to Chapter Five
The chapter involved a discussion that was centred on the present study findings as well as linking with the literature review by highlighting some commonalities and differences.

49

CHAPTER SIX
CONCLUSION, RECOMMENDATIONS, FUTURE RESEARCH AND
IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE
6.0

Introduction
This chapter is aimed at presenting the conclusion, recommendations, future research and implications for practice based on the research study carried out.

6.1

Conclusion
Play-based learning approach is an important and ideal pedagogy in early childhood practices. It is believed that play in itself has a value that is intrinsic to the child as it helps in holistic development of the child. The learning that takes place during play is integrated. However, though play-based learning approach is important for children’s learning, the findings from previous research study observed that senior infant teachers faced some dilemmas in the implementation of play-based learning approaches. However, this is against the backdrop of the full theoretical understanding and awareness by teachers on the critical importance that learning through play has on the child’s holistic development.

Therefore, this research study was aimed at interrogating the question of play-based learning approaches in senior infant classes in the Irish context. In order to explore whether the practice of play-based learning approach was under threat with regards to the application of theory to practice, a research study was undertaken seeking the views, opinions and perspectives of nine senior infant class teachers. These teachers obtained through a purposive sampling method, were drawn from six selected primary schools within Dublin. Apart from the semi-structured interviews used, there was an element of desk research where the relevant literature was obtained. The research study has come up with a number of findings that are related to teachers’ use of playbased learning approaches in senior infant classes. With regards to the curriculum being used by teachers, it has been observed that, apart from the New Irish Primary School Curriculum 1999, they (teachers) are also applying Aistear. The use of Aistear has shown an immediate impact on the 50

curriculum delivery and this was expected to be immense in future. It has completely changed the approach to teaching. Instead of the traditional and teacher-centered approach as reported from the previous research studies, teachers are now utilizing child-centered approach.

Teachers have shown an understanding of play-based learning approach which they are using in their curriculum delivery. Although the understanding stems from their initial training as primary school teachers where components of theories of play as a vehicle for learning were covered, the introduction of Aistear has further enriched this understanding. Because of this, teachers have indicated tremendous benefits being accrued from this approach, not only on the part of children, but also on their part. For instance, it was reported that children have come to enjoy learning as it is done in an environment depicting a natural atmosphere. Through the play centres, children are ably to explore, interact, use language, learn how to negotiate and resolve conflicts. As a result, teachers are encouraged and develop a sense of satisfaction when children are engaged in play activities knowing that learning is taking place. It was also reported that this approach allows for easier assessment of children and consequently aids in curriculum planning.

With such great benefits, teachers were of the view that if this approach is not utilized, negative consequences will result such as loss of interest in learning and limiting children’s potential.

The play-based learning approach has its own challenges as observed from teachers. In the first place, teachers acknowledged the background where they are coming from which is based on subject-centered approach. Therefore to change to integration of subjects as prescribed in Aistear, it has proved to be a very big shift in terms of planning. The approach requires a great deal of time to plan and organize the play learning centres in class. In the same vein, it requires a great deal of resources to fully operate and run the play centres. Another challenge highlighted was the expectation of school inspectors that was contrary to teachers’ approach to subject integration. Class management was one of the challenges encountered as teachers work alone without assistants. However, despite all these challenges, teachers indicated that they take solace in the fact that the approach brings out a great deal of benefits to both children and teachers. Therefore, in order to find solutions to some of these 51

challenges, they proposed for an addition of assistant teachers as well as staff development especially on Aistear implementation. Although the class size is one adult to fifteen children unlike in the previous studies which indicated higher ratios, teachers still felt that there is need to have an assistant if this approach has to work. Apart from having an extra person, teachers observed that play-based learning approach requires a great deal of resources if it has to be supported in class. Therefore, it can be concluded that, teachers are applying their theoretical understanding of play as a means of learning in a practical classroom situation despite the reported challenges they do encounter in its implementation. Also play-based learning approach,especially with the utilization of Aistearin senior infant classes, has shown an immediate positive impact that is deemed to be greater in future with regards to its importance and benefits accrued from its application. 6.2

Recommendations
Based on the observations and findings from this research study, the following are some of the recommendations to make:
1) A continuous staff development is required especially on the application of Aistear.
2) There is need for additional staff in senior infant classes. 3) A great deal of resources is required for play-based learning approach to be successful.
4) Senior class teachers need to be oriented to Siolta, The National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education document as well.
5) Officials (inspectors) need to be made aware of the implications of adopting and using Aistear in addition to the New Irish Primary School Curriculum 1999 by senior infant class teachers.

6.3

Future Research
This research study serves as a basis from which the findings could be used to stem future research interest. In this regard, future research should address the limitations pointed out in this conducting this research. A large sample size to represent a greater diversity of senior infant class teachers could be used in future research possibility 52

utilizing a quantitative approach. In addition to the in-depth semi-structured interviews, classroom observations should be adopted as methods to further studies related to this topic.
6.4

Implications for Practice
The research findings from this study provide a great deal of importance and benefits that comes out of the application of play-based learning approaches in the practical classroom situation. The information is not only invaluable to senior infant class teachers, but also to school and ministry officials.

Senior infant class teachers are challenged to implement play-based learning approaches because of its importance and benefits which both teachers and children can gain. The constraints or challenges observed can be alleviated not only by the teachers themselves, but also with the assistance of the school officials. These are people (school principals) who teachers can immediately turn to in case of needing help. Therefore, as outlined above under recommendations, school principals have a major task in ensuring that teachers are supported so as to make play-based learning approaches a success.

The government officials from the inspectorate section should be made aware of the challenges that come with the implementation of Aistear that advocates for use of play-based learning approaches.

The essence being that, all concerned people-

teachers, principals and inspectors-should be ‘speaking the same language.’ In so doing, undue pressure and anxiety would be eased or removed from teachers as they plan to integrate subjects to be utilized in play learning centres. As pointed out, it is very easy to inspect single subjects delivered unlike having several subjects integrated and delivered. Therefore, if inspectors are aware of this challenge and how to carryout inspection during such lessons, it would help teachers greatly in lesson delivery. Ultimately, all concerned parties should be aware that it is not just a question of covering the curriculum, but children experiencing learning how to learn.

53

6.5

Summary to Chapter Six
The chapter highlighted on the study’s conclusion, recommendations, future research and implications for practice.

54

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Appendix A: Instrumental Theories of Play
View of play

Source

Date

Suitable learning environments-outdoor play

Pestalozzi

1805

Educative play; child-centred approach

Froebel

1837

Play to develop inner life; multi-sensory learning

Montessori

1900

Play as rehearsal for future adulthood

Groos

1920

Play as an expression of inner conflict

Freud

1920

Play is children’s work

Isaacs

1958

Play as means for learning

Piaget

1962

Bruner

1974

Practice play; symbolic play; play with rules

Vygotsky
Piaget

1978
1962

Play on a spiral curriculum; learning through first-hand experiences

Bruner

1966

Play dispositions

Katz

1967

Play reconciles children’s inner lives with external reality

Plowden

1967

Play is emotional and a means to control fears

Paley

1978

Play as a cultural tool; socio-cultural learning in ZPD; supported by Vygotsky

1978

adults
Ludic (explorative) and epistemic (creative) play

Hutt et al

1989

Play as a spiral of learning

Moyles

1989

Play and schema

Athey;

1989

Nutbrown
Socio-dramatic play important for cognitive, creative and socio- Smilansky

1989

emotional abilities
Play as a process with no product-free-flow play

Bruce

1989

Levels of involvement

Laevers

1996

Teaching through play

Bennett

et 1997

al
1996,
Wood

2005

&Attfield
Playfulness

Parker-Rees
65

2001

Play on a social continuum

Broadhead

2004

Play to promote self-self-regulation and meta-cognition

Wood

2005

&Attfield
2005
Whitebread
(Source: Brock, Dodds, & Jarvis, 2008, p. 28)

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Appendix B: Semi-Structured Interview Schedule
1.0 For how long have you been teaching as a senior infant class teacher? 2.0 Could you tell me about the curriculum you are using with the senior infant class in your lesson delivery?
3.0 During your training as a primary school teacher, were theories of play as a means of learning included?
4.0 What is your understanding of the approach known as play-based learning? 5.0 Has the development of Aistear and Siolta impacted on the delivery of the curriculum in the senior infant class? If so, could you tell me a little about how this is so? 6.0 In your opinion, is a play-based learning approach important? Why do you feel this way? 7.0 To what extent are you using this approach in your class? 8.0 In your view, what are some of the benefits for children of using a play-based learning approach? 9.0 What are the benefits of such an approach for teachers?

10.0
Based on your view, are there any negative effects that might arise as a result of not using play-based learning approach for children?
11.0
And for teachers, any negative effects?
12.0
In using play-based learning approach, are there any challenges or constraints you are faced with, and if so, what are some of these?
13.0
One such challenge that has been highlighted is that teachers tend to think of making time to fit play into the curriculum rather than putting an emphasis on integrating play as a learning tool. What is your view on this?

14.0
How can these challenges be overcome or minimized in your view? 15.0
How can play-based learning approach be further supported in the classroom situation? 16.0
Can you think of any general comments worth mentioning which we did not cover regarding the use of play-based learning approaches in infant classes?

Thank you very much for your valuable time in taking part in this interview!

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Appendix C: Introductory Letter

Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT)
40-45 Mountjoy Square
Dublin 1
20th March, 2012

The School Principal

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN
Dear Principal,
Re: Letter of introduction: Roland NawaMuchanga
The above mentioned person is a student undertaking an International Masters in Early Childhood Education and Care (IMEC) at the Department of Social Sciences, Dublin Institute of Technology, 40-45 Mountjoy Square, Dublin 1. As part of the requirements for the fulfillment of an award of a Master’s Degree in this programme, he is required to undertake a substantial master’s dissertation on a topic of his choice falling within the sphere of study.

The title of his master’s dissertation is “The Place of Play-Based Learning Approaches in Irish Senior Infant Classes: An Exploration of Teachers’ Perspectives.” The main aim of his study is to explore teachers’ perspectives on whether it is feasible to implement play as a means of learning in Irish senior infant classes. In particular, he is interested in the theory versus the practice of play as a learning tool in senior infant classes, specifically:

 To explore different perspectives on the relationship between teachers’ theories of play and learning and classroom practices
 To identify, if any, the challenges or constraints faced by the teachers as they try to implement the theoretical understandings of play in the classroom settings.  To identify possible solutions to overcoming the challenges faced. In order to gather the necessary information, Roland would like to conduct a short interview with teachers of senior infant classes. As stated above, this is an academic research study exercise and, therefore, all the information to be obtained will be used purely for this exercise. All ethical considerations whilst conducting his research will be observed and confidentiality will be ensured. For any further information and queries, you can contact Roland on 0894267072 or email him at rolmu@hotmail.com. Thanking you for your time and assistance, Yours sincerely

_____________________
Dr. Ann Marie Halpenny, Lecturer in Psychology, Department of Social Sciences, DIT Tel 353-1-4024255 Email: annmarie.halpenny@dit.ie
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Appendix D: Consent Form
This research study is entitled “The Place of Play-Based Learning Approaches in Irish Senior Infant Classes: An Exploration of Teachers’ Perspectives.” The main aim of the study is to explore teachers’ perspectives on whether it is feasible to implement play as a means of learning in Irish senior infant classes

All participants have an option of ending their involvement in the study at any particular stage. As a research participant, you do not have to answer any questions that you deem not comfortable with, and therefore, you are at liberty to remove any information you think should not be included. At all the stages of this study, confidentiality and anonymity will be maintained as this research is primary and purely meant for an academic purpose only. Should a copy of the interview transcript be required, this is going to be provided.

This copy therefore endorses the research participant’s consent to take part in the research process including the consent for the researcher to audio-record the interview proceedings. Declaration by Research Participant…

I agree to take part in the research and consent to be interviewed as well as be audio-recorded. I have read the above information and fully understand its implications. Signed (Research Participant): _____________________________________________________ Date: _________________________________________________________________________

Signed (Researcher): ____________________________________________________________ Date: _________________________________________________________________________

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Appendix E: Interview with Respondent 1 (R1)
I Welcome to this interview!
R1 Thank you!
IFor how long have you been teaching as a senior infant class teacher? R1 As a senior infant class, I have been teaching since September…about seven months, ah as third year from my college but as first year as a senior class teacher. I Ok, so which curriculum are you using right now as a senior class infant teacher? R1 Ah, the Irish curriculum which is a new curriculum since 1999, ah it has subjects because it is a new curriculum English, Irish, Maths, and science, geography, history, SPHE, art subjects, visual arts, and drama.

IAlright, so I believe you are trained as primary school teacher? R1 Yes, as a primary school teacher which means you would teach the ages from about the 4 years to 12 years of age, and the 8 years within the primary school within Ireland, and so you are qualified to teach all those 8 years and depending on which class you are given you teach that class from September until June.

I So I guess during your training you did cover the theories of play and learning? R1 Ah, we would have the covered the theories of play and learning but I think when you do come out of college and you are actually using play to teach as a method, ahm after teaching children you get a better experience outside college rather than learning about it. But within college I think when you put into use you get a better ideas of how to use it.

IMmm, so what is your understanding of the approach known as play-based learning? R1 Ah, my understanding of play-based learning would that, children would learn through play realising that play is used as tool of learning and the children are being central in their own education and would be some kind of discovery way to learning through discovering things in their own way. ISo has the development of Aistear and Siolta impacted in any way in the curriculum delivery?

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R1 Ah ah, I think will impact in the coming few years in the Irish curriculum. At the moment we have just started using it (Aistear) since Christmas time and and ah I think we more time we will get used to using it and finding the best approaches. Personally, I think if you could use it within your own classroom ah it is very useful throughout the day as we use a play classroom to kind of incorporate Aistear in the entire day, ah I think better time is lost in the senior infant day. I think it is really good because the children will enjoy the time they are using Aistear, they don’t rely on how much they learn themselves. Yes, ah you kind of covering enough of oral language especially ah ah teach the language that children might not have used if you were using a very structured lesson because the place is still structured at the same time ah you are able to teach the language ah you are also able to mmh able to enjoy the experience as well as a teacher with the children ah instead of the being really the teacher in charge the children are in charge of their own learning through the play. IThank you very much. So eh in your view, is play-based learning important? R1Ahm, I think it is really important for children because ahm they get to express their own opinions and they get to ahm proper feeling ahm as to how thinks work, and they do it in a social way as well so they are mixing with other children, and it develops a lot of other skills that you might not develop if you were in a class that weren’t using play-based learning and also the age group that play-based learning is used for ah you need that for children that might find it hard to access the curriculum if it wasn’t play-based.

I Ok, so to what extent are you using the same play-based learning approach in delivery? R1 In my daily lesson?
I Yes in your daily lessons, are you using the same method or or..? R1 Am I using the same method throughout the day outside the Aistear? I Yes…
R1 I think I try to use it ahm in the transitions between the lessons and things like role play outside of Aistear, ahm let’s say for transitions between lessons sometimes a lot of time can be wasted so I might use it for moving between rooms ahm we need to go to the hall for example, I might the child there to pretend they in a role as teacher ahm they have to tell people what to do so they get some kind of sense what to be a teacher and to have some bit of authority themselves. Ahm and it is a little bit difficult when you are in the class room because we do use a certain amount of time for the Aistear its separate from a day. ah as a day school we have to cover a lot of literacy and numeracy so it is hard to use it (Aistear) throughout that whole time. But I think for numeracy especially if you use a math 71

text book children don’t understand in completing an activity. If they simply complete it, it doesn’t mean that children have understood the concepts, so I think hands materials, concrete materials might be used as play based and ahm, sorry, play based way, children can learn a lot through discovery learning, and ahm it will hard to use, to fully incorporate Aistear the whole day because there are so many subjects within the Irish curriculum and time is limited within the day as well and as we only have time from quarter to nine in the morning to twenty-five past one. So you find that to cover everything you find that you can’t use Aistear the whole day, but further that if let’s say 40 minutes was solely Aistear you can fully incorporate play-based learning. I Ok, so are there any benefits on the part of the teacher?

R1 On the part of the teacher?
I Yes…
R1Ahm I think at first you have to think of what you are going to use and you have to plan ahead for your play-based learning to see what the children are interested I and ah you can discover over time if the children are disinterested in what you are using in the play-based learning and ahm you can adapt ahm to make the children interested and you can see what works and doesn’t work. And ahm you can also engage better with the children through play-based learning because you can ask them about what they are doing and you can develop I think the oral language a lot more because you can tell ah maybe you are teaching children who don’t have English as a first language , and ahm you can talk to them and ask them which word they don’t understand you can ahm talking through the language, I think it is really, as for the benefit of the teacher you ask them to discover what need to be ahm taught in developing their oral language, things like that. I think it is really experiencing things as a teacher and then see what really works and what doesn’t work and then and planning ahead as to how you can change things.

IThank you so much for that explanation. But are there any negative effects you might face if you don’t use the same method, either on the part of the teacher or children? R1 I think the negative effects if you didn’t use play-based learning is that ahm you are limiting the use of child’s imagination throughout the day and I think as a young child their imagination need to be stimulated they get them thinking and ahm use of language and a lot more as one thing that will stand out for me is having English as a first language you are limiting them the use of vocabulary you are not making it accessible to the child who doesn’t have English as first language whereas they feel like more comfortable if they were in a situation where they are playing and use the language. Then there is no pressure to using the language that they don’t understand and will eventually develop over 72

time and you can listen as a teachers a lot more than ,ahm and discover what you can do to help them, but if you didn’t had such a situation, you would miss a lot more and hinder the child’s progress from the very early in the school years. And even children who do have English as their first language, they still need a stimulus, so ahm, play would be a good stimulus for getting the child to express themselves more. So I think definitely would develop more social skills, if he didn’t have that ahm and he wouldn’t develop much confidence in the child to be able to be outspoken and ahm to be so self-secured when they are mixing with others as well.

I Ah, thank you so much for the response. Eh, you mentioned that one of the challenges was the use of time, so are there any other challenges which you can encounter using the same method? R1 Ah, with the play-based learning, the challenges would be ahm I am not sure if it is a challenge to make sure that it is very well structured and you have to make sure that you have to know what you want children to know at the end of the week. It is the same way as planning any subject, so I don’t if that’s really ahm a challenge. But you just need to make sure that you are well resourced, ahm and I think some children it might take a while to get into the whole process it might be something that they might feel is very structured at first because they are doing a lot of their own play learning and and it is not the teacher guiding them exactly so it might take them while to get used to the situation, but I think children must be getting into a routine of getting used after a while. And then any other challenges? Maybe for the teacher is to keep a close eye to monitor children when using Aistear groups when they are in different stations to make best of your time, so I suppose the challenge will be the limit of time within the day will be the biggest challenge just that you don’t, you could with more time to to use Aistear and our challenge for whole of us is suppose is that we are moving between different floors to the play room, and so ahm it limits on time would be the challenge I Yah, yah movements I can see it does really pose a challenge… I But one such challenge that has been highlighted is that teachers tend to think of making time to fit play into the curriculum rather than putting an emphasis on integrating play as a learning tool. What is your view on this?

R1Ahm I think I suppose I am using Aistear and the way I have it is time tabled within my daily time table, so but I think maybe you use some of your strategies throughout the rest of your day to kind of incorporate and into being more play-based day general ahm and so is just having that play time specifically for Aistear and ahm I think you have to experiment a little bit and eventually you will find routine that fits you where you can use play-based learning to you and children to your own advantage. But I do feel I suppose ah the Irish curriculum features a heavy time table it tries to cover things you feel to cover everything and I think sometimes when you are planning you want to make 73

sure that you have everything covered and just ah just to say you are covering the curriculum, but sometimes you just have to think more about integrating the play into your daily time table. But I think it takes time and I suppose maybe I just speak from my own opinion as a newly qualified teacher where I had inspectors this year I was trying to make sure that I had all the curriculum covered so I think there is that worry as well, and so you want to make sure that the curriculum is covered and so play comes second in some ways but it’s think of some ways in which you can bring play and integrate so you can find the best approach to using play-based learning in your daily routine in a weekly time table. Yah, that would be my opinion its getting used to it and use using it in a way that will benefit you in a teaching way as possible.

IOn the challenges, is there any way these could be resolved or reduced like in the case of time and moving around..?
R1 On the timing I suppose for next year ahm if I will have an infant class next year, I will try and maybe plan the classroom in a certain way you use Aistear within the classroom, I think that would ahm take away a lot of time going to some places, ahm and I think as well, it would be kind of making cross links between subjects and planning within Aistear so that you can cover everything within the curriculum but also make everything hands on, child-centred and play-centred as well. I think the Irish curriculum is child-centred but it could be a bit more of the junior and a bit more play centred. But I think as new teacher is more about getting used on how could change things so that the curriculum or what you are teaching is more play-based. But I think it has to do with planning and getting experience on what works and doesn’t work. But yah, it will be bringing Aistear in the classroom than going to different classrooms, and yah it’s more a challenge on the time. I have seen it done in other schools being done within the classrooms and it works very well, and it is keeping consistency I think sometimes there are breaks within the week, and ahm and the younger takes time you find that they had missed something, and also if there is a day when you are not in school you find that you had missed something out when they didn’t get to do an activity. So I suppose if you were in the classroom every day, it will easy to adapt that to very child to experience every bit of Aistear and programme. So yah I think it is planning ahead, getting an experience for Aistear maybe in the first years and then know for the next year how to incorporate better in your daily time table and for the long time as well.

I Yah, are there any ways in which this play-based learning can be supported or enhanced in the classroom?
R1 Well, I know I have extra support from outside the class from teachers and instead of taking children outside, we will have a teacher-in class support so sometimes that helps with the timing you want to go to each child and see what they are doing having a second teacher to kind of really enforce 74

what you want to do is really helpful inside the classroom. But I suppose that will be something that is support within the classroom. Ahm another support for the play-based learning will be …I am trying to think…is having a real resourced class. Yah, that is a very big thing. And I think a lot of it having a lot of drama and role play throughout play-based learning so its I suppose just really modelling as a teacher so that the children can see what you are doing so that they can cope you, can imitate you a lot as junior senior infant teacher as you do a lot of things you will do without you even wanting them to do. So its modelling things…ah

I Yah yah…
R1 …and will get into them into a structure of knowing how to play and ….and I think that fully answer the question!
17.0

I Yah, it has. But are there any general comments worth mentioning which we did not cover

regarding the use of play-based learning approaches in infant classes? Anything you have in mind on the same subject of play-based learning?
R1 Yah, we did not cover…I think with Aistear this year, ahm ah ah we started off this year at the beginning is that children were getting used to a little bit different and as the weeks went by they started getting used to be grouped to they got used to the format of of, how things rotate within the Aistear groups in the play stations and then at the end of each day, we will have a review of how what we did, and ahm so what I really got was the way children will question each other and explain about what they did. Kind of tells you if they had learned something from play-based learning if it was beneficial experience or if you really need to be at a station just to help them spot a little bit ahm in turn it helps in development of language the talk they use ahm they are more becoming confident because it is like they are using their view in asking questions and you know and answering children in a proper way, ahm, I think that was something good to look at and to learn and to see how structure , ah you know, I wouldn’t have used it before using a review at the end of the lesson like in that way where you are like gathered around and as a group, and I think sometimes when you do a review out of the play-based learning, children are out pushing their hands up whereas you are around as a group and you are around the station they are kind of asking questions and there is more of a conversational flow than in an authority type of situation. I think that is good for building confidence where there is a conventional flow which is nice to see like they have confidence to ask question and are not shy to hold back. And also I think you really have to have a good structure to it so that children know what they are doing and know what they want. You have to know what you want them to know at the end of the week. They have to know exactly what they have to do when they are at the station or otherwise they are best lost they might be doing their own thing. Give them a little bit guidance, and then they will go about their play and they don’t really know that they are learning at the end of it. So it is

75

interesting to see it. And I think sometimes teachers when they think that it is play-based learning, they are not doing anything and yet they are learning. So give children resources to play with, they are enjoying it at the same time they are learning.

IThank you very much for your valuable time in taking part in this interview! R1 You are welcome!

Key:
I=Interviewer
R1= Respondent 1

Interview held on Thursday, 22nd March, 2012.
Transcribed on Friday, 23rd March, 2012

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Appendix F: Interview with Respondent 2 (R2)
I welcome to this interview!
R2 Thank you!
ISo, for how long have you been teaching as a senior infant teacher? R2Ehm, this year is just one year and I also did half a year in 2011. So one and half a year I Alright, so which curriculum are you using?

R2 Ehmehm, the new Irish curriculum, the revised curriculum whatever you will call it. II suppose you are trained as a primary school teacher? So during you training, did you cover theories of play and learning?

R2 Yes, we had a module of early education and that covered play, and then some ideas on an online course on infant education, ehm incorporated some aspects of play. I Ok, so ah, what is your understanding of the approach called play-based learning? R2 My understanding…ehm is instead of direct teaching that it is more relevant to infants and children that to learn from play because that is their main way of experiencing ahm, so is the most meaningful way to learn in terms of the classroom, and I suppose it is just a method to use like we have designated places. For specific lessons, it is often the best way to do it by starting with games so that they are sought of discovering for themselves ehm in a natural way instead of just being told, you know.

IHas the development of Aistear and Siolta impacted in any way on the curriculum deliver? R2 I mean, I suppose it is difficult I feel because you have the curriculum on one hand and the Aistear curriculum on the other hand and so far they hasn’t really , they are not presented together. As a teacher I find it some kind of difficult at the start because I know I have to follow the curriculum which doesn’t allow as much time for play and then the Aistear kind of tells you something different. So to try and kind of get a balance of the two would definitely inform the way I plan and the way I kind of survey the day. But I think there are some teachers who aren’t aware of Aistear, ehm in general like its importance. So I think the two are supposed to be put together the curriculum and Aistear. They are supposed to be incorporated. I know the guidelines for how long children should be playing for Aistear is quite a long time and in the curriculum doesn’t seem to allow for that time. I 77

mean, I suppose you need to integrate play in all the subject areas. Yah, I would use it I have read through the document and I try to utilise it the best I can. I Ok, thank you. Ah, the play-based learning approach, is it important in your view? R2 I would think so…

IWhy would you think so?
R2Ahm, well as I said, I think children are coming into school and all they want and they really know what to do is play. So to get a real meaning into what you are trying to teach them it has to come somewhere they understand and that is the main thing and that is way they experience the world and that’s the way they relate to things. So they are coming to school and you are just sitting there and teaching them from the top of the class, it doesn’t mean anything to them. They are not learning naturally kind of. So I feel it is important because it is the only way they can learn in a meaningful way and you know, it is the only way they can for themselves something as opposed to just being taught.

ISo, do you use this approach in daily lesson delivery?
R2Eeh, yah, try to!
ISo what are benfits of using the same approach to children? R2Ahm I suppose, enjoyment, because they are bound to enjoy more when it is coming from that kind of play-based in a natural way. Ehm, as well as that it takes more that if they learnt it themselves you know if it is something they have just discovered. I am just thinking of an example of if they are playing with sand and filling containers and they know kind of thing that there is more sand in this one…so instead of the teacher doing it for them and showing them, they are discovering themselves. They are bound to stick more and I think the meaningful the learning is the more it is going to last, you know, it will stick in their brain, it is going to last longer. So, it is more meaningful I On the part of the teacher, are there any benefits for using the same approach? R2 I suppose, knowing that it works and it creates a nice environment in the class and knowing that the kids are learning meaningfully. And it’s a nice time of the day as well when you kind of have the children are playing you can go round and see how they are learning and if they are learning. And also to see them interacting with each other is a good opportunity to see who is taking a back seat and who is dominating the play and you can kind of use that information to change the groups and things like 78

that. It informs you of your planning in that way. I suppose it can be difficult to assess when they working in groups. Sometimes it can be hard to kind of really know are they getting this, are they learning what I want them to learn. Whereas it might be easier if they are just like doing some kind of written task, it might be easier straight away if they are getting it or not. So I suppose, that is not a weakness but something that I am kind of aware when I am using play-based learning approach. Ehm, I would also have something direct to make sure that they got it or not, or whether this child understands it or not. But the benefits are huge, you could see, you could gauge a lot the way they interact with each other and the way they can at their play

I Are there any negative effects on the children if you are not using the same approach? R2 I would say so, especially for children who are a little bit weaker or a little bit less inclined to be engaged, ehm , I feel those children could lose out largely because if they start off in junior infancy and they just being taught by teacher at the top of the class , they just kind switch off and they might develop bad habits for the whole school career you know if they are not immediately grabbed and they are not interested in what they are doing straight away. As well as the social side of it, because if you are not using play in the classroom and the only time to socialise is only in the yard when there is not really an adult to guide them they could lose out socially. They might not get enough opportunity to be eased into sought of playing with another child. Ehm… I What about on the part of you as a teacher, are there any negative effects? R2 Yes, I suppose the atmosphere wouldn’t be nice. Also the, because when you are using the playbased learning approach because it happens in groups the benefits are that you could have different things going on, so you get quite covered, I suppose the flip side, the negative part is that you will be teaching the whole class all the time so you won’t really get to do one topic so you wouldn’t be covering as much material in such a short space of time.

ISo, are there any challenges, you have just mentioned one, but are there any other challenges you will encounter using the same approach?
R2Ahm I suppose organisation is a challenge. You know, I always feel when you have the place set up and have every up and running, it takes a long time a lot of time and effort at the beginning of the year and then throughout the year you wouldn’t have everything up and running. I often find myself thinking well, is this really working, are they really learning anything there or they are just kind messing themselves, you know. So the challenge is to try to keep them focussed and trying to keep them on the task. Then from the kind of classroom management point of view it can be depending on the class, they can a time when the children who are inclined to mess will kind of go a bit off the radar 79

because there is no way of directly kind of watching them. So that is a challenge. I suppose from a creative point of view it can be hard to keep the activities fresh and keep them interesting, keep them relevant and ehm just time, I find for amount of play versus the amount of everything else you are supposed to be teaching it’s a bit of a challenge to make sure you have enough time for play and it’s the right kind of play. Yah, the main one is the organisation of things. Because the Aistear sought of tells you what you should be doing but there is no really practical information in there like this is how you should set up your play, you have the following x, y and z you should be doing in this amount of amount of time, you know. Yah, I think that is some kind of the weakness on the part of the department. There should some way of guidance.

IHaving stated the challenges, are there any ways of overcoming or how to address these challenges? R2Ehm, I suppose, more practical information would be one and that would help the organisation side of it. Ehm, I suppose with time, it is a must a matter of trying to integrate the play into our subjects areas. For instance if out there some of the play centres are covering strands in maths and some play centres are covering strands in literacy in Aistear, in that way you are kind of taking part of the curriculum you are covering and you also getting the time for play. So again, it’s a way of overcoming time difficulty but also requires organisation and kind of forward planning. I Ok, but how can this approach be supported in the classroom? R2Ehm, I suppose having resources. Well what I would find helpful maybe it would be having all the classes with play centres set-up and maintained so that they are ready to go, they are ready to you know, what to set up, kind like pulling resources from here and there because you know it takes so much time trying to gather everything. Resources were maintained in such a way that they would instantly, you know, ready to use come September every year. Well, I suppose also just being organised and setting up the way to go about it, how you are going to group the kids and what activities you are going to use. I suppose if there is some kind of the whole school guidance ehm you know, the whole school agreeing that this is the time junior infancy are playing and this is the time the senior infancy are playing. You have to follow that year to year so that you are not trying kind of making it up as you go along the year. Eh yah and just, I suppose using the play to guide you know, walk around the room to see who is engaged and who is not and why that the resource they are using is the way they are grouped you know. Just keeping any eye, that kind of thing I Are there any general comments you would like to make that are related to play-based learning approach that which we didn’t cover so far?

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R2Ehm, I suppose, yah yes the main thing really is that it is so valuable it is definitely the approach that is important to children at that age, and but its just, I think it is should be more formalised way of doing it you know because the curriculum is so specific in all subject areas you know exactly what you need to cover. So I think it would no harm in having play curriculum that sets things in that specific way into junior infancy you need to cover, to provide the following types of play, toys and you need to engage them in the following way. Prescriptive list for teachers so that they don’t have to constantly question if they are doing play or not or whether the children are actually learning or they are not learning. Yes, I suppose generally it is very important. IThank you very much for your time and sharing with me on this important topic! R2 You are welcome!

Date interviewed: 23rd March, 2012

(I=Interviewer, R2=Respondent 2)

Date transcribed: 23rd March, 2012

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Appendix G: Interview with Respondent 3 (R3)
I Welcome to this interview!
R3 Thank you!
IFor how long have you been teaching as a senior infant class teacher? R3eeh, I have been teaching this class for two years. I have taught in infancy classeseeh, this should be my eighth year and it will be my fourth year as a methodology I Alright, so which curriculum are using?

R3 I am using the Irish curriculum, is still the same curriculum we have been using but the emphasis would be on active learning and eh, you know I would still use play learning but not always some of it is structured learning as well. So there is a combination.

I So I believe you are trained as a primary school teacher? Did you cover any theories of play and learning during your training?
R3 I have trained as a primary school teacher yes. But when I trained a while ago you wouldn’t have that as something you were trained in.
II see, but then what is your understanding of the approach known as play-based learning? R3 Right, eeh play is active learning is for the teacher sets up learning structure in the classroom. So the children actually eh they are working together in small teams teacher is in the back ground setting up the learning environment and the teacher co-player with the children and the teacher is central and children play together. The teacher would be doing a lot of Vygostky model, you know this ZPD eh assessing it at a higher level and language would be very central in the programme . IThank you so much. Eh what of the development of Aistear and Siolta, has it got any impact on the curriculum delivery?

R3 When I first suggested using the play methodology I would have used Aistear handbook. I would rearrange the classroom to make play accessible to children. So if you look around the classroom, you will see that things are labeled and that my teacher things are along the perimeter and you could see that the children’s chairs are brought in the centre. There are seven centres around, that is a library, that is a block’s area, sand, water, art area for junk art and painting. I use Aistear to help me set up but not only to organize the room like that, but probably look at resource I have and what resources are needed. For Aistear for me is really very important when it talks about the main themes like the idea of wellbeing that the child should feel well in order to learn. It gives them an opportunity to succeed; it gives them an opportunity to explore, talk. Identity belonging that is another very natural thing and play fosters harmony in the classroom and it fosters friendship and enable each other to work very hard in a communicative. And an area like this one which is socially deprived I think play is very important like for language development. I think this idea as well is Vygotsky that children use language not just to express thought, but they need language to bring thoughts into existence. I think that is very important. And the whole idea of exploring and thinking, children learn a lot more from doing instead rather than sitting down on the tables doing worksheets. So the Aistear would be a framework for me for the Irish curriculum.

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IThank you very much for that elaborate answer. But then what are the benefits of play-based learning approach on the part of the teacher because I think you have explained much on the benefits on the part of the children?

R3 Eh for the teacher, I must say first of all that you might ask, it’s a lot more hard work for the teacher, but it actually ehm you go round and you could see learning going on. So the best part of it is that you could see children, its very worth in that for instance if I teach them in music lesson and they call it a lullaby. They would instinctively sing a lullaby to their baby dolls to get them to stop crying. That is wonderful from the perspective of me. And to see children that would actively learn and children who would enjoy. And there is this idea that children learn by enjoying themselves. But I would reiterate one thing, children are quiet are necessary learning and don’t look happy are necessary learning. But you would really see children enjoying learning and gives the teacher great satisfaction. To see friendship, empathy and sympathizing with each other and conflict resolution and knowing that they don’t need teacher to sort things for them, they could do it for themselves. Independence, eh and also seeing children learning to learn and having the confidence to go. So there are a lot of things independence, tolerance of difference, sympathy conflict resolution, and confidence.

IThank you. Using the same approach, could there be some negative effects if it is not used in the classroom on part of children and teacher?
R3 If not using play, I would compare these children and other children I have seen. These children are very independent and from the language they use in the learning centres has improved greatly like in terms of the vocabulary they use. That is important to me as a teacher that they can take a vocabulary and they are really using in a natural way.

I Are there any challenges or constraints in using the same method? R3 Yes the constraints are eh I have taught for a few months in an early start classroom with a child care worker. And I thought to have another support teacher in the classroom is wonderful. Sometimes it can be very difficult if you are the only teacher in the room and you are only adult not because are independent, but from the energy point of view. From resources, sometimes it is good to have another person but that is one thing. But I just think in infant rooms, we have small classes but it would great for the teacher to have a child care worker. Even to do physical things, like changing the sociodramatic room. I can’t do it alone, I don’t have the energy so the children do it for me. As part of play, children would like to change the play centres, but its difficult I can’t do it alone so the children help me. So the same with play dough, children make that, I don’t do it myself. So the children help me a lot in these areas, that is one way of overcoming the challenges. Another challenge is that, when children arrive first, they had been in various preschools settings and I ask them and they say, al we have playing with dough, we have been in sand, we have been in water, but one boy said, you talk with us, and I think that is very important. My view of play is that the teacher has to be central and you set the boundaries and the children are aware of these.

I Thank you very much. But is there anything else which you would like to say on the same topic we did not cover?
R3Ehm, I think for me the centrality of the teacher in the play and you have to learn a new way of talking is very important though difficult to master. You find yourself intimidating them, drying them up. I think teachers need some kind of professional development, some kind of training that is very important. And I also think that if teachers want play to be part of the classroom next year they need 83

training so that they have to talk as a parent, as a co-learner. Usually you will see teachers standing in front of the class giving instructions, I find that very hard. The whole idea is the centrality of language. So to enable language to take place in the classroom, we really need to got to look at the other things. There is also this idea that teachers need a bundle of time. A bundle of time to do this, a bundle of time to do that, when talking to teachers they are obsessed with the idea of getting time to do these things. It really need to come to the understanding that learning is integrated in the classroom, but I don’t really think that teachers have picked up that message. IThank you very much for your time to take part in this interview! R3 You are most welcome!

Date interviewed: 27th March, 2012
Date transcribed: 27th March, 2012

Key:
I =Interviewer
R3= Respondent 3

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Appendix H: Interview with Respondent 4 (R4)
IWelcome to this interview!
R4 Thank you very much!
IFor how long have you been teaching as a senior infant teacher? R4 Senior infant class I have been teaching for 7, 8 years
I So which curriculum are you using?
R4The Irish primary school curriculum
I Alright. So I believe you are trained as a primary school teacher? R4 Yes, I did my degree in Dublin, and then I did a PTC in Northern Ireland IIn your training, did you cover theories of play and learning? R4 Yah, we covered areas of play and learning but only in a very small part. It was more curriculum based English, geography, maths, science. It was more for teachers upwards. It wasn’t really for junior and senior infancy which I really thought it was a problem with course but that is the way it turned out, you know

II see. But what is your understanding of the approach called play-based learning? R4 Basically, for play-based learning, I would expect that the children will partake independent play learning. First of all in the morning they will come in, sit a little circle, talk about the areas they want to play with, put them into groups. Infants in the early stage, you would put them specific groups, but when they are older, they can choose the groups themselves to be in. We would like to see in the different centres in the classroom. Say you have a home corner, construction corner, sand, water, whatever corners you have got. The children are able to use as much all language as possible in these centres. And the children from an disadvantaged area, you will find that they are lacking oral language. Take for example if they are in the kitchen, instead of saying, tidy up, I would say, put away the utensils. I will also sit with them during play and say, this is really interesting. Show me how you did it. The idea is that, you have to become part of the play as well so that they can easily understand. Whatever word they are missing, you give, whatever they give you, you make a big deal out of it. For if they have done something very interesting, you put it up the wall so that if they want to write about it, they have all the words up there. In play, its important I think, socially. A lot of children again in the disadvantaged area, they don’t get the chance outside. So during play it’s a good chance to develop relationships, they have to learn to share, to get along and they also they also have to learn to resolve conflicts within the groups. At this stage, I this stage I think they are completely ego-centric its just their opinion in mind. So most of the time when they have an argument, I say, ‘solve it yourself, and if you can’t solve it, you are out’. So they solve problems very quickly and after play, I ask how they solved the problem. Yah, I think that is all I Fine, but has the development of Aistear and Siolta impacted in any way on the curriculum delivery?

R4TheAistear came to our school I mean one or two years ago. I think the idea of Aistear is very good because it sets the standards for school things like that. But my view was that Aistear was supposed to 85

start from pre-schools and really begin from there and start play that way. I thought that was Aistear was all about. May be the people who came here didn’t explain the role of Aistear very well, but I know because we had the numeracy and literacy programmes started in our school and we were trying to get them started first before we took on Aistear. But I am not really clear about, but I know itsabout setting standards and achieving targets, I know that some play groups have to have Aistear. But it hasn’t impacted on me.

II think you did elaborate on the importance of play-based learning on the children. But are there any benefits on the part of the teacher?
R4 Benefits for the teacher?
I Yes…
R4 Lots of benefits for the teacher. For example, in our literacy project, the way it works is that, children are supposed to written a piece of their own news. So you tell them, ‘think about yesterday what you did at home when you were not at school’. And because the children are too small they find it very hard to think about what they did, because they are young, immature, so another way of having them writing is to use play, and they know play. So we could write before play and after play. During play, they develop their language further. I think it is invaluable and all children should be doing play because the curriculum in Ireland, especially for small children, it is completely out of touch. You are supposed to have this English, this and that, and they have to move to next subject before they actually get the benefits from learning from play like you know. IOn the same approach, are there any challenges which you normally come across? R4 Yes, definitely, we had a planning day couple of weeks ago and for a teacher it is a big shift on how you plan. Usually you would have say all the subjects planned for the months like English, geography, maths and others. But now you if you are doing the play project, it takes time from other subjects. You have to look at your plan, start from scratch and integrate all the subjects within the plans within play. So it means a lot of time for the teachers to sit down and ask yourself, ‘how am I going to do my lesson?’ You have to try to get all the subjects in the curriculum covered within play. It is time consuming I am sure to start, but once you have done, you have it done you know. If teachers could work, that is if the Government could give us teachers to work together (laughs!) I I think that is one of the ways to overcome that difficult R4 Yah…

I But are there any other ways these challenges could be overcome or reduced? R4 To minimize those challenges we need teachers to come together and we need to be relieved. Sit together, and for example if somebody had good years of work and have enough resources, she can pass them round. Each person could be responsible for one thing, and then rotate them, and cooperation is important amongst teachers. IHow can we support play-based learning approach in the classroom? R4 First for of all as school in Ireland, one luck we have is resources, I know I have friends they are in the country they don’t have toys, the money have to be made available. First of all they have resources because it is a waste of teacher’s time. They have to make things, do things. Once you have 86

the material Roland, you can hit the ground. So we need the money, ahm whatever support, say if the parents want to come and help in the play centres. The problem is tha you need to have parents who have good language so that they don’t go about un-doing what the children have learnt. The other support, ahm, the teachers are generally supportive of each other. IThank you so much. But are there any other issues on the same topic we did not cover you would like to talk about?

R4Mmmh, maybe for the teacher, it is awful lot of work for the teachers, it is really is. But we are lucky but we have small classes with 15 children. So it makes it easier to plan unlike other schools with 30 children, I don’t know how you are supposed to plan. There is no classroom assistance. But the government has gone ahead and says we want to have play and learning in the classroom, it is a lot of work for teachers without assistants. I really what they are trying to do, but it is a lot of work for teachers

IThank you very much for your time!
R4 You are welcome!

Date interviewed: 28th March, 2012
Date transcribed: 28th March, 2012

Key:
I =Interviewer
R4=Respondent number 4

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Appendix I: Interview with Respondent 5 (R5)
IWelcome to this interview!
R5 Thank you!
IFor how long have you been teaching as senior infant class teacher? R5 3 years
I Which curriculum are you using?
R5The Irish curriculum, the primary school curriculum
IYou were trained as primary school, so during your training, did you cover theories of play and learning?
R5 Yes, I did, I learnt child education and some of it was on play I Alright, so what is your understanding of the approach known as play-based learning? R5ahm , it is learning through like through life experiences, ehm, they pick up language and they get to understand the world around them through play.

I Fine, but has the development of Aistear and Siolta impacted in any way on the curriculum delivery?
R5 I think it improves, definitely because I have done it with Aistear. I have found it as more enjoyable and children are using language more. So it has a good impact on the children. ISo, is play-based learning important, if so, what are some of the benefits on the part of the children? R5 I think it is important now that I have seen it in action I think it is very important. Ahm I just find that the children are more involved and they pick up more on the oral language, oral language is improving a lot, and they use those words in situations. They communicate better and then they pick up learning better.

IAlright, now on your part, are there any benefits for using play-based learning? R5 Yah, it makes my teacher better, because I could see them learning with peers and even if there is a lot of preparation, I think it is worth it.

ITalking about preparation, what are some of challenges you normally face when using this approach? R5 The difficult I had was resources because you had to start from the scratch for all the learning corners. You do need lot more equipment. It really need team work for setting. Just the initial set-up I In order to minimize those challenges, how did you go about it? R5 I have sourced a few things from friends. I have sent notes home to parents if they have some toys they are not using, for example.

I Yah, thank you very much. But is there anything you would like to talk about that we did not cover concerning the same topic?
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R5 Yah, I think it is very valuable and I have seen benefits from there. IThank you very much for your time
R5 You are welcome!

Date interviewed: 28th March, 2012
Date transcribed: 28th March, 2012

Key:
I=Interviewer
R5=Respondent number 5

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Appendix J: Interview with Respondent 6 (R6)
IWelcome to this interview!
R6 Thank you!
IFor how long have you been teaching as a senior infant class teacher? R6 I am just back after 5 years doing some training. But I would have experience of over 18 years working in reception to second class and I would have some experience in the school in the junior and senior classes. I have been teaching since 1984 basically it had been in the infant classes. ISo which curriculum are using right now?

R6 Well, I am teaching play in the senior infancy, so it is the standard curriculum which is primary. But because I had started teaching in the reception before junior infancy, I would have been focused in using play as I teach anyway. The idea of teaching using play, is something I am very comfortable with maybe because I think that is the way children learn. I sometimes think that our system formalizes things for children when they are still young. So in the play project I am really happy about that.

ISo meaning to say, during your training you had covered theories of play and learning? R6 We would have done a certain amount, but the thing that stands out for me probably is that, we would have been sent to do play and learning for the under sevens. And but prior to be trained as primary school teacher, I did some work with play cooperation grounds, I would have worked in preschools and to work with clubs with parents and private school children in such play set-ups and youth clubs. So I would have brought that with me from my background into teaching. II see. Has the development of Aistear and Siolta impacted on the curriculum delivery in any way? R6ehm yes, I think it is going to impact strongly as time goes on. I think they could probably have done good studies, ehm that can show people the value of play and so on. And that could help people may be set up play in a way helps them to focus how to plan play and so on. So from that point of view, I think it would have a big impact. And I think when people become comfortable with it they get a lot out of it.

IIf the play-based approach is important as you have indicated, what are some of the benefits on the part of the child?
R6 For me I think play is natural to children, I believe it is the way children learn, I think when they are playing, they are exploring what the world mean to them. And I think they learn so much in relation to how things work, how relationships work, how they can become in charge of themselves, how they find out what they want to find out, how they just enjoy the lives as learners. IThank you so much. What of on your part, are there any benefits using the same approach? R6 Well, I think there is a benefit that you are exploring the world with the children in a way that kind of normal for them, I think when I see children deeply engaged, when I see them learning from mistakes, when I see them feeling a sense of control in what they want to do, ehm I would feel much happier as a person who is working in this set-up. When I see them like they are having something relevant to offer, eh, from that point of view, I see the benefits for myself 90

I But are there any negative effects if you are not using the same method on the children? R6 I think if they would look a little bit repressed, a little bit ehm, just I think it suppresses them if they are not learning through play based approach. Ehm, I would think at the moment we have two sets of learning, at the beginning it would be difficult to get children understand that some other times we have to active and we can be very egalitarian with what we might do we might set things up. And sometimes it is the formal type of teacher-pupil; you know kind of listening teaching something. II understand, but are there any challenges or difficulties in using play-based learning approach in the classroom, if there are, what are some of ways in which they can be minimized? R6 I think the whole challenge is telling the children that now we are going to close the situation, we are going to move on, because children want to stay in whatever situation we have at that point, and they would be validated in running it, except that there are other things in the curriculum you need to cover.

ISo is there a way of going round it to solve it?
R6 Well, yah, I think negotiation is a good way of resolving it. What I do with the children is that I sit with them and start asking, ‘how have we managed this, how have we managed that’. So I talk to them that I think teaching time has to be given time as well where I have to explain things and they have to sit and listen to me as well.

IThank you very much. But is there anything you would like to mention that we did not cover on the same topic?
R6 Anything else, yes, I suppose in a way I see people being scared about the whole thing of taking on play as a sort of way of learning. I think it is because we are coming from a situation where it was teacher centred it was curriculum centred. I think at the moment we are very much driven by curriculum, and I think we have over extended curriculum, and I think we had false expectations of what can be done in a given time and I think we have an over focused time-motion study at the inspectorate level. I think that is the biggest problem. I think for example when I do a play approach I can integrate everything into play but I find it more than difficult to be expected to say ok, I gave 75 minutes to this in the week because it is not the way it happens. Ehm, I think as well as people come in and assess the children in a play sort of based situation, I think it would be very easy for people to assess is the learning going on but learning is going on. What skills are children developing, what relationships are children developing, what kind of sense of themselves are they developing. What kind of understanding have they got. I think they can do that in a kind of play based situation. I think the inspectorate is comfortable with play ,ehm, and I think there is this issue of ‘where are your notes, how have you planned everything else. In my planning situation, I kind of go with a skeleton plan and some of the times I would have children assigned to different play areas, and sometimes I give them free range and I go round to see what is coming out for them. And I develop things that comes out of play. But that does not come at the beginning of the schemes of work planned. What happens is that, the schemes develops with what happens with the children and myself. So I would say, my work is very organic and it comes out of what the children were doing in certain ways and scenarios and so on. So then I would decide how do I incorporate my maths lessons in that and the subjects. But to do that, I think it is not being on the same page with the inspectorate with how you do things such as how you write the assessments, plans and so on. So I find that to be difficult sometimes. IWell, thank you very much for taking part in this interview and for your time! 91

R6Its my pleasure!

Date interviewed: 28th March, 2012
Date transcribed: 28th March, 2012

Key:
I=Interviewer
R6=Respondent Number 6

92

Appendix K: Interview with Respondent 7 (R7)
I Welcome to this interview!
R7 Thank you!
IFor how long have you been teaching as a senior infant teacher? R7 Well, I have teaching now for 3 years in the senior infant class ICould you tell me which curriculum you are using in your lesson delivery? R7 I am using the Irish curriculum which is the primary school revised one I The revised curriculum, is that supposed to be the 1999?

R7 yah, yes it is
II believed you are trained as primary school teacher? If so, during your training, did you cover theories of play and learning?
R7 Yes I am. I would say we cover that part though not much. There was a module that had a component of play theories. So I would say, yes, we had covered that part. I Then what is your understanding of the approach known as play-based learning? R7 My understanding of that is, ehm, is that play is central in the learning. That is putting an emphasis on play during the planning of the lessons. It is more like children are learning through play. And I think that is very important for me because it brings the centrality of play in the learning arena. I mean children are given opportunity to interact with the learning materials in a playful situation. In this, I feel that children will learn more without them realizing that actually they are learning. IThank you so that answer. Would you say that the development of Aistear and Siolta has any impact on the lesson delivery?

R7 Well, I guess so. Though I have not yet fully utilized Aistear in my lesson delivery, it allows for integration of subjects, and this done through some kind of play. You know, with the curriculum we are using, it is subject based. That is, the subjects tend to stand out on their own and cannot be taught together. But with the idea of Aistear, it brings together all these subjects together, which could be very good. So, yes, Aistear definitely will have an impact in the lesson delivery in the future. IIn your opinion, is play-based learning approach important? If so, why do you feel this way? R7 Yes it is important. As I said it is an approach that makes play central in the lesson delivery. As you might be aware, children enjoy playing. So as teacher I would take this chance to teach using play. When they are playing, children tend to be explorative and there is a lot of imagination taking place. Language development is one area that is supported through play as well. Ehm, so yes, I would say play based learning is very important.

93

I Fine, you seem to have touched on some of the benefits of play based on the children, but are there some benefits on the part of the teacher?
R7 You mean when using this approach?
IYes please, any benefits on your part as a teacher?
R7 I would say yes. You know, during playing, as a teacher you can use that time to assess the children’s abilities. Ehm, you know, they are some children who are reserved and yet some who are very active. So you can see which children need help in which area. This information also becomes valuable when you are the parents. You kind like develop a profile of a child from the information gathered. Also I see this method as important because it allows you to cover so many subjects at the same time. But again I would say that is where the challenge comes in as well. It takes time and it is difficult to state how much time went for say maths, English, geography and the other subjects. But the benefits are immense on the teacher.

II see. But based on your view, are there any negative effects that might arise if you are not using this method on the children?
R7 I am not sure if I got you well, but I would there are some negative effects yes. For example children will just be exposed to a formal way of learning only. That is, children would have no time to play. Also areas such as language development would not be facilitated very quickly since there is, eh eh no kind of social interaction. I think children would really look sad if they are just made to sit still in their chairs and teacher talks. I think, ehm, yes, the children won’t enjoy being at school. It is like they are in prison-like situation. Which is not good for children’s learning, I think I Thank you for that response. But what of the negative effects on the teacher, would you say the teacher will too face some negative effects?

R7 You mean on my part as a teacher having negative effects for not using this approach? IYes please…
R7 Definitely there are some negative effects. For example I won’t be able to assess my children in a natural way. You see, normally we use worksheets as a way of assessing children, but children can learn a lot in the absence of these worksheet. Ehm, and so in a natural way when they are playing, you can easily see what each child is capable of doing

IWhat could be some of the challenges or constraints you might face in using play-based learning approach in your lessons?
R7 Ah, that is there are plenty of challenges. First of the time factor, you see since you are trying to teach so many subjects at the same, it will mean taking a lot of time to cover all that. And also the issues of classroom management especially like my case where I am just alone in the class. You will need someone to assist you in the class, but if you don’t have someone, it becomes very difficult. I think also children will lose interest in some of the subject where it the teacher is just at the top. Ehm what I mean is that, if for example you just stand there and just issue out instructions throughout, definitely children will feel bored. Children are playful beings, and so they need to time to play.

94

II see. But one of the challenges that has been highlighted is that teachers tend to think of making time to fit play into their lesson delivery instead of placing an emphasis on the integration of play as a learning tool. What is your view on this one?

R7 I agree with that challenge because most often us teachers are preoccupied thinking that we should find time to fit play instead of looking at the integration aspect. As result, you find that teachers have some small components of play times on their timetable. But I think the key to me is integrating or incorporating play into the lesson delivery. By so doing, ehm, you know, you will find that it will make learning for the children enjoyable as they are given freedom to play and at the same they are learning.

I Is there a way of either reducing or minimizing the challenges you have mentioned? R7 Yes I think there are some ways. Luck enough we have small classes but with the coming of Aistear which requires places much emphasis on play and learning, I think it will be good to have an extra hand in the classroom. You see, organization is a challenge especially if you have to think of the learning centres in the class. Integration of subjects as I said takes time and this becomes a major issue with the inspectors because their interest is to see whether you have covered the subjects or not. So I think the inspectors need to be made aware of this so that they don’t put too much pressure on us teachers.

I Is there a way of supporting play-based learning approach in the classroom? R7 I think you will need a lot of resources because we have these learning centres. If these centres are not adequately resourced, children will soon lose interest. So yes, resources are required. Also teachers need to be properly oriented on the use of Aistear in their classrooms. IWell, thank you very much for the responses given. But do you have any thing to say that touches on the same topic we did not cover?

R7 Not much, but I would say play-based learning is very important in a classroom because it allows or it gives children time to interact and play in a natural way. This promotes communication skills and conflict resolution amongst themselves. With the availability or resources, I think children will learn more from this approach, I think.

IThank you very much for your time!
R7 You are welcome!
Date interviewed: 26th March, 2012
Date transcribed: 26th March, 2012
Key:
I=Interviewer
R7=Respondent number 7

95

Appendix L: Interview with Respondent 8 (R8)
I Welcome to this interview!
R8 Thank you very much!
I Could you tell please, for how long have you been teaching as a senior infant class teacher? R8 Well, I have been teaching now for two (2) years in all in the junior infant classes, but with the senior infant class, it is now half a year

I I see, so which curriculum are using?
R8 Right now I am using the primary school curriculum
I You mean the primary school curriculum 1999?
R8 Yes please, the revised primary school curriculum
ISo, during your training as primary school teacher, where the theories of play and learning covered? R8 Yes, these were covered though not detailed, but I think it gave me an insight into the use of play in the learning situation, that is on how I can use play to teach the children. ICould you tell me a little, what is your understanding of the approach known as play-based learning? R8 I think, eeh, I think it is an approach that is used to teach using play. What I mean is that, the type of learning is conducted through some form of play. Children are known to learn very well whilst they are playing. So this approach I think it is very important and useful in the classroom. IWhat of the development of Aistear and Siolta, has this impacted in any way on the curriculum delivery?

R8 Yes, this has impacted as right now I am combining the knowledge gained from Aistear together with the primary school curriculum to deliver my lessons. But I should say that it is not easy as it demands a lot of work on the part of the teacher when it comes to planning. Especially since it encourages integrating subjects, this is a very big challenge I have to come to find. But you know, the results are very encouraging and therefore I get comfort in using this approach. But since it has just been introduced, I think in future it is really going to have a bigger impact in way weeeh teach and how children learn.

IYou have said that play-based approach is very important, do you yourself use this approach and if you do, what could be the benefits on the children?
R8 In my lessons, yes I use this approach. You know, with the introduction of Aistear, it allowed us we teachers to use play based ways in our lessons. Ehm, of course I find that the children begin to understand the lessons very well. Also concentration and imagination is promoted as the children use the learner corners in the class. You know, the learning corner provides opportunities for children to ‘lose’ themselves whilst they are playing. But then as a teacher, you notice that a great deal of learning is taking place in the way they deal with situations on their own. Ehm, for example they able to resolve conflicts on their own and also able to learn for example to be giving each other chance. So for me I see the benefits in using this method. But if you just use formal way of teaching, you can’t see some of these children they can do on their own.

96

IWhat of the benefits on your part as a teacher, could you say there are some benefits? R8 Yah, yes I would say there are some benefits.
I Could you give some examples?
R8, ehm for example as you go round in the learning corners observing children, you are able to see what they are doing and able to assist where possible. But the beauty about whole thing is that, you are able to see the determination and motivation coming from the children as they engage in different activities. Also different skills are gained such as language and ability to, to share or mix well with others. This gives a great sense of satisfaction on my part. You know, some children come from places where they little interact with others and therefore this provides them a chance to exercise this ability, I think.

IAny negative effects on the part of children if you don’t use play-based learning? R8 Yes, I think they are some negative effects. One of the things that comes to my mind is lack of interest. I think this will diminish in the children. You know, when they are playing in the learning centres, there is a lot interested generated amongst themselves. So I think if you take away that, they will depressed, I think. I think also things like self-esteem will be affected, and ehm lack of responsibility as well will be affected. You know, when they are playing, they become responsible for what they are doing, and so I believe if that is taken away, this ability will not develop in the children. IWhat of on the part of the teacher, could you say there are negative effects as well? R8 The fact that you see children depressed is not good enough, it does not encourage you as a teacher. You want to see children who exercise some self-control and able to use a variety of skills, I think.

IIn using play-based approach, are there any challenges or constraints you are faced with? R8 Challenges are there. You know, as I said that the use of Aistear is relatively knew at our skill, so we are still learning how to manage time and how to integrate subjects. You see, ehm, when using primary school curriculum, you know for example how long each subject will take. But when you incorporate them together, it becomes very difficult to know the time for each subject. So time and organization becomes a challenge for me. But ehm, the approach itself is very good, but I think it needs time to get it right. Also I think another issue is that of trying to cover the curriculum. It becomes difficult to cover the curriculum if you are using play-based learning approach I How then can these challenges be minimized or overcome in your view? R8 One way in my view is to generally come to a common understanding amongst the teachers that it is always the issue of covering everything, but it is all about getting children to learn. But of course the officials also from the inspectorate should share the same understanding. I Is there a way of supporting play-based learning in the classroom? How can this be done in your view?

R8 I think it can be done through having a number of play materials. You know, it will be sad if the play corners don’t have enough materials. So I think either the school can buy some or you ask parents to contribute toys whatever they have at home.

97

I Is there anything that you feel need to be said on the same topic we did not touch on? R8 I think I have said most of the issues. But the method is very important and it requires the support of everyone else for this approach to yield fruits

IThank you very much for your time and information provided! R8 My pleasure!

Date interviewed: 27th March, 2012
Date transcribed: 27th March, 2012
Key:
I=Interviewer
R8=Respondent number 8

98

Appendix M: Interview with Respondent 9 (R9)
I Welcome to this interview!
R9 Thank you!
I For how long have you been teachings as a senior infant class teacher? R9 This is now my second year.
ICould you tell me which curriculum are you using with the senior infant class in your delivery? R9 I am using the Irish primary school curriculum 1999
II believe you are trained as a primary school teacher?
R9 Yes I am trained as a primary school teacher
ISo, during your training, did you cover theories of play and learning? R9 I would say yes, ehm, ehm, well we had covered a module on child education which I believe also touched on play and learning

IIf you have covered play and learning, then, what could be your understanding of the approach known as play-based learning?
R9 In my opinion, this a way of teaching that puts the child at the centre, that is child-centred approach that uses play in teaching. It is a method that puts emphasis on play when you are teaching IThe development of Aistear and Siolta, has these two have any impact on the curriculum delivery in the senior class? If so, could you tell a little about it?

R9 I think, ehmAistear has an impact on the way we now teach. You know, we are coming from the background of having subjects in the primary school curriculum which are taught in a formal way, or should I say, structured, ehm way. But with Aistear, it tells you to bring these together and teach them at the same time. Very difficult I would say, but then when you see the children engaged in play freely, you feel it is a good way.

IIn your opinion, is play-based learning important, and if so, why do you feel this way? Could you also tell me to what extent you are using this approach?
R9 Yes, ehm, it is an important approach, I think. It is important in my view because of the room it gives to children to freely play on their own and at the same time, show signs of learning as they engage in play. Children enjoy playing and so this method makes it possible for children to enjoy playing. As I said, with the coming of Aistear, I am able to use this approach in my lessons. I Then what are the benefits on the part of the children if you use this approach? R9 children who shy are made to open up, and ehm those that dominate are easily noticed and quickly I am able to intervene. Sometimes you could see it for yourself as they engage in some kind of negotiation amongst themselves before you even intervene. Language or should I say communication 99

amongst the children is encouraged. Children enjoy exploring and so during playing, you are able to see the enthusiasm coming out of the children
I What of on the part of the teacher, are there any benefits? R9 You mean on my part if I do benefit?
I Yes…
R9 Oh, yah, I do benefit from this approach. It helps me understand my children very well. You know, when they are playing, you come to know each child’s abilities and therefore it helps to decide how to support or further such an ability.

I But based on your view, are there any negative effects that might arise as result of not using playbased learning approach on children? R9 I would say, ehm and ehm, yes there are. Those skills such as negotiating skills and ability to share or communicate will be affected. You know this approach allows children to interact and socialize freely, and so if it is not used, then all these will be affected. I think also children will lose interest in learning. You see, learning becomes more fun if there is some kind of playing involved. IWhat of on your part as a teacher, could you say there are some negative effects to come out? R9 Yah, I think you will miss a lot of things that children are capable of doing whilst they are playing. I in using this approach, what could be some of the challenges you might encounter? R9 One of them is classroom management. It is very difficult if you are alone in class. Also you will find it difficult to realize things that interests children, and ehm, assessment becomes difficult as well. So yes, I think challenges are there. You know, from each lesson it helps to plan for the next lesson and so if you cannot make a proper assessment of each lesson, you cannot plan adequately for the next lesson.

IHow can these challenges be reduced or overcome in your view? R9 For one to properly use this approach in the classroom requires an additional staff. You cannot manage on your own, it is very difficult especially from the start. But I think with time, you can get it. Resources also are needed for this approach or else the children will become bored for lack of play materials

IHow can play-based learning approach be further supported in the classroom? R9 As I said, you need to have plenty of materials at hand.
IAnything else you would like to say on the same topic that we did not cover? R9 Nothing much but only to say that, this approach is very important and with the coming of Aistear, the children will be able to learn in some kind of a natural way. You know, the use of the primary school curriculum encourages the use of formal ways where the teacher just teaches and children listens. We need to see children get involved through play.

IWell, thank you very much for your valuable time in taking part in this interview!

100

R9 You are welcome!

Date interviewed: 2nd April, 2012
Date transcribed: 2nd April, 2012
Key:
I=Interviewer
R9=Respondent number 9

101

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