In a classroom visit to Mrs. McKinzie’s class this week, I had the great fortune to happen in during Lego Literacy Centers. In corners of the room, mixed gender and ability groups of kids were working in collaborative groups, planning, staging, role-playing with their mini-figure alter egos, and developing literate story lines through an engaging and developmentally appropriate activity!
Learning through play is not only natural, it is a natural part of literacy development. Rehearsing, through external role-playing or as an internal thinking process is a critical aspect of literacy development. The externalizing of literacy thinking is referred to as “oracy”.
The role of oracy in the classroom can, then, be seen as performing two key functions.
Firstly, it can provide opportunities for learners to develop and extend their oral repertoire. This can also give them chances to orally rehearse sentence structures and vocabulary that may in turn become part of their written language. This may be particularly important if learners have limited oral repertoires.
Secondly, talk can be seen (particularly in social constructivist models) as key to developing thinking. In these models, learner (to learner or to teacher) talk gives learners opportunities to explore understanding and develop strategies for problem solving. These two elements are, of course, closely interrelated, rather than discrete, elements.
Of equal or paramount importance is the fact that children develop language competency in a social context and negotiate their world views with others through these activities. Professor Anne Dyson, formerly at UC Berkeley and now at U. Illinois, emphasizes the importance of play in literacy development and learning in a social context within classrooms. Whistle for Willie, Lost Puppies, and Cartoon Dogs: The Sociocultural Dimensions of Young Children’s Composing or Toward Unmelting Pedagogical Pots
When we consider the opportunities that we create for children to interact with each other in a society that is increasingly diverse and increasingly global, teachers can facilitate meaningful language development and thinking skills. Through interaction with others who are different from us in so many ways, we help students development open-mindedness and help them consider and choose other possible ways of seeing the world and we help them to consider expanding their concepts of their roles in it.
It was exciting to watch the active language and social negotiation through play and literacy while Mrs. McKinzie’s students, c0-created lego worlds. The magic of this medium brought girls and boys together in a way that might not be usual, presenting opportunities for them to experience, negotiate and reflect upon perspectives that might ordinarily be gender biased, through socially enforced segregation or the gravity of gender-based play.
So, not only did this organized learning opportunity provide for social learning, but it provided a highly collaborative and interactive sharing of language schemas, vocabulary and thinking skills. Many of our NRE teachers use Legos and other stimulating media to develop and extend learning opportunities in fun ways! Just another of the many fabulous learning experiences occurring everyday at NRE!