Investigating the impact of learning through play at school

Last updated: 04-27-2021

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Investigating the impact of learning through play at school

Learning Through Play at School is a pioneering research study that investigates how playful approaches to teaching and learning are applied in the classroom. The four-year study provides an opportunity to expand understanding of learning through play at school in Ukraine and the impact on teachers and students.

The study investigates whether playful approaches to teaching and learning make a difference to the literacy, social and emotional skills of children. It also examines the factors that enable or challenge teachers when applying learning through play.

Learning Through Play at School is a partnership between the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) and the LEGO Foundation. The research study is implemented in-country by the Ukraine Educational Research Association (UERA).

As the lead technical partner, ACER is responsible for the research design, instrument and intervention development, data analysis and reporting for Learning Through Play at School. UERA is responsible for the in-country operations and management of the study, including school coordination and data collection.

Play is critical to child development as it helps to foster a breadth of skills including creative, cognitive, physical, social and emotional skills. Learning through play involves play –children’s interactions with people, objects or representations – as the context for learning. It also helps in language development and self-regulation. 

Learning Through Play at School is the first online professional learning program for early grade teachers based on the LEGO Foundation’s definitions for play and learning to be facilitated in the classroom. It is also the first early grades assessment of capabilities – such as literacy and socio-emotional development – associated with learning through play that is based on these definitions.

The research study has two unique features: a blended online and face-to-face professional learning program for teachers; and a playful and engaging student assessment. Both elements are based on established evidence and an understanding of what works in education research.

Teachers from 10 schools in Ukraine are participating in a two-year professional learning and mentoring program covering the principles, practices and assessment of learning through play at school. The Teacher Innovative Play Program (TIPP) is an interactive learning program that includes a blend of face-to-face and online learning modules, facilitated by an expert pedagogy partner.

Teachers will participate in four mentoring sessions each year, providing an opportunity to review footage of their teaching practice and reflect on their progress. This approach is based on research by Clarke and Hollingsworth that found to inspire and sustain practices, teachers need opportunities to experiment when putting new ideas into action, and to reflect on their impact and success. 

Students of teachers involved in the TIPP will participate in an assessment of the literacy and socio-emotional skills associated with learning through play. Another 10 schools will participate in the assessments and receive access to the training materials at the end of the study. This enables comparison of the impact of learning through play on the students of teachers who have participated in the study and those who have not.

The Literacy and Socio-Emotional Skills assessment is unique. Many standardised literacy assessments for young children involve one-to-one administration of a series of items on vocabulary, letter recognition, oral reading fluency, listening skills and reading comprehension. These assessments can be tiring and stressful for young children. In these contrived settings, some children are not inspired to demonstrate their highest level of ability.

The Learning Through Play at School standardised assessment is administered one-to-one and scored on the spot by trained administrators. The assessment measures children’s literacy and socio-emotional skills using characters, relatable scenarios and story sequences that emulate children’s own experiences. Children use their imagination, tell a story, express their feelings, take the perspective of another, and pose solutions to problems.

The assessment kit includes beautiful artwork and cut out characters for children to hold and play with. Feedback from the pilot revealed that children enjoyed the assessment and wanted it to continue.

Artwork from the Learning Through Play at School assessment, ©Jake Minton (click to view full images).

Learning Through Play at School arose from a global scoping study conducted by ACER and the LEGO Foundation in 2018. The study aimed to understand the prevalence and impact of learning through play at school. It found that learning through play is relevant and applicable to primary school when defined as holistic learning through experiences that are meaningful, iterative, joyful, socially interactive and actively engaging.

Importantly, the global scoping study found that learning through play can be effective in fostering cognitive, social, emotional, physical and creative skills under certain conditions. Sharing an interest in extending understanding about learning through play at school in new geographic contexts, ACER and the LEGO Foundation established the Learning Through Play at School research study in 2019. In 2016, the Ukraine Ministry of Education and Science embarked on a significant education system reform, involving three years of research and consultations about transforming Ukrainian schools. The ‘New Ukrainian School’ (NUS) reform aims to better equip Ukrainian young people with the skills and knowledge they require for the future of work. These skills include lifelong learning, critical thinking, civic engagement, intercultural communication and collaborating in teams. Following a successful pilot in 2018-19, the NUS reform commenced its roll out into all schools. With an initial focus on kindergartens, the LEGO Foundation began working with the Government of Ukraine Ministry of Education and Science in 2010. There are now 15 500 primary schools and 300 kindergartens in Ukraine using learning through play. Twenty schools from five provinces in Ukraine are participating in the Learning Through Play at School research study. It also provides professional learning and mentoring opportunities for teachers in Ukraine. Learning Through Play at School is important in the context of global education reforms that emphasise the importance of skills for 21 century learning and has the potential to be adapted and implemented in other countries in the future. ■ Learn more about ACER’s education and development work.


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