Examining the Perceived Needs of Teacher Education Students for Facilitating Play

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Published: 
Winter, 2019

Source: Action in Teacher Education, 41:4, 379-393

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The authors posit that given the value of active play (AP), it is increasingly important for teacher educators to understand and properly oversee opportunities for such throughout the school day.
Further, teachers should be adequately prepared to effectively advocate for time, materials, and support for children’s AP in the school setting.
There is a need for TE programs to produce teacher candidates, and later graduates, who possess the knowledge, skill, and dedication to serve as strong leaders and advocates for AP in early childhood programs and school.
The purpose of this basic qualitative inquiry (Merriam & Tisdell, 2016) is to examine the experiences of teacher education (TE) students participating in an experiential learning environment designed to support AP opportunities for children.
As part of a physical education pedagogy course, participants assisted with recess or physical activity (PA)-based play activities at local schools, community organizations, and child care facilities and were asked to reflect upon their experiences.
The authors pose the research question, “What educational and professional development needs do TE students perceive they needed to be successful in facilitating active play opportunities as future teachers?

Methods
This study used a basic qualitative inquiry (Merriam & Tisdell, 2016) using student reflections (Margolis et al., 2017; Steele, 2015) to explore the experiences of TE students who assisted with recess and PA-based play activities.
By investigating the perceptions of TE students regarding their educational and practical needs in facilitating active play opportunities for children, this study will help frame challenges, lessons, and values of such experiences for research and practice.

Setting and Participants
The current study sought to engage TE students in the assistance of recess (or PA-based play) activity at local schools, community organizations, and child care facilities.
Participants in the current study (N = 43) were TE students enrolled in a Health, Safety, and Physical Education pedagogy course at a medium-sized university in the midwestern US.
This course is offered through the School of Education and serves as a component in the TE programming required of elementary education (ELED) and physical education (PE) major degrees.
With the majority of the TE students comprising the former major, the course has been somewhat modified to focus on the delivery of health-, safety-, and PA-related education and experiences into the regular school day (aside from PE programming).
Its intended purpose is to provide an intermediate level of understanding of the importance and application of the aforementioned health-related topics to facilitate an improved knowledge base and practical application of basic instruction and administration of such throughout Pre-kindergarten (PK)-8 schools, including that within the classroom in the form of lessons, discussions, activities (including PA breaks), and special events/programming.
Attention was also devoted to improving the understanding of the importance and proper delivery of recess.
Among the components of safe, effective recess delivery were discussions based on the inclusion of age- and developmentally-appropriate activity, along with possible modifications and the proper leadership of PA among PK-elementary students.

Data Sources and Data Collection
The primary data source for this study was participant reflections of their experiences facilitating play among children. Documents constitute a major source of data for qualitative studies (Altheide & Schneider, 2013) and using them “as data is not much different from using interviews or observations” (Merriam & Tisdell, 2016, p. 175).
The procedures for analyzing these documents follow similar procedures for analyzing interview transcripts or researcher observations.
The researcher-generated documents were student reflections.
The authors utilized student reflections because we felt this was a way of students immediately capturing their experiences, unencumbered by teacher/ researcher expectations.
Participants were required to assist in a minimum of five hours of recess (or PA-based play) at the PK-elementary level.
They were assigned to prepare in advance and arrive at the local school, community organization, or childcare facility with a preplanned game or activity to be shared with the young students. Upon completing their hours, participants were required to complete and submit a written free writing reflection assignment, evaluating their experience and its impact on their further role, as an educator.
This reflection was open ended and unstructured, encouraging free thought and allowing participants to outline their experiences and deduce important takeaways without being limited to a set of specific questions.

Findings and Discussion
The authors’ findings suggest that participants derived benefit in three primary areas: pedagogical experience, content area experience, and relationship building.
Participants noted the importance of such practical experiences in developing their skills as future teachers, through personal experimentation and direct observation of current faculty members.
Further, participants reported expanding their content knowledge as it relates to effective management and teaching of PA.
Finally, participants reported developing important relationships with the children supervised and adults in the setting.
The authors note that this type of small, practical experience, early in the education major, offered a number of important benefits.
In particular, student teachers reported gaining confidence in the classroom, working with students, and in overseeing PA.
Another outcome was the development of a greater appreciation for the value of recess among student teachers, for which many reported having previously felt underprepared.
Given the number of positive outcomes related to PK-elementary students’ PA participation, from a physical and cognitive health perspective, the authors argue that effective TE must include efforts to improve preparedness for recess programming and delivery.
The authors suggest that TE programs should specifically aim to increase teacher competencies in overseeing PA wherever possible – including encouraging active play in limited recess time and incorporating PA inside the classroom. This may include practical microteaching opportunities to allow student teacher candidates greater exposure and experience during recess or related activity times. These activity times could also be carried over into the classroom, whereby lower-intensity, but still physical, activities could be integrated into breaks and lessons.
The authors’ findings suggest that programs provide benefits to multiple stakeholders, including not only the TE students, but also the PK-elementary students, teachers, and schools.
Further, preservice teacher candidates noted a number of important benefits to their microteaching experiences.
The authors suggest that by integrating such assignments, TE programs could cultivate greater awareness surrounding the importance of PA, its proper delivery, and provide related practical experiences.
As such, recess assistance provides TE students knowledge, experience, and relationship development (with young students, teachers, administrators, and schools), thereby better preparing them to become effective future educators.

References
Altheide, D. L., & Schneider, C. J. (2013). Qualitative media analysis. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Margolis, C. Z., Rohrbaugh, R. M., Tsang, L., Fleischer, J., Graham, M. J., Kellett, A., & Hafler, J. P. (2017). Student reflection papers on a global clinical experience: A qualitative study. Annals of Global Health, 83(2), 333–338. doi:10.1016/j.aogh.2017.04.006
Merriam, S. B., & Tisdell, E. J. (2016). Qualitative research: A guide to design and implementation. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Steele, M. L. (2015). Talking back: a qualitative study of reflective writing in a first-year college composition classroom (Doctoral dissertation). University of Iowa, Iowa City. 

Updated: Feb. 25, 2020
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