The literate potentials of book-related dramatic play

Rowe, D. (1998). The literate potentials of book-related dramatic play. Reading Research Quarterly, 33( 1), 10-35.

Abstract:

This research, based on two related studies, explores dramatic play and how it may assist young children in understanding the content of stories. One study was a collaborative research project that followed the literacy experiences of a class of 16 two-year-old preschool students over a nine-month period, and the other was a case study of the researcher’s two-year-old son that spanned 13 months. The researcher identified six properties based on her analysis of book-related dramatic play: scope of play, type of connection between book and play, purpose for play, perspective or point of view, sign systems used, and the kinds of social interaction involved.

Key Findings:

During dramatic play, children usually enacted scenes from a book that interested them and not the entire story. This differs from adult-guided dramatic play, which is typically sequential and covers an entire story. The areas of interest seemed to be those that featured favorite scenes or characters, allowed exploration of problematic parts of the story, or helped them connect their lives to the story. Children’s play connection to books ranged from closely following storylines and characters to improvising situations loosely based on the book. Children sometimes integrated play into book reading and discussion events. They would hold toys related to the book during reading, read to imaginary characters, and voice the imaginary characters’ responses.

Children engaged in play alone or would ask adults to be involved as opposed to peers. Involving peers seemed difficult because the other children would have different playscripts, while adults would more likely follow the child’s playscript. Dramatic play was enacted from either the author’s, a character’s, or the child’s personal perspective. Children could transfer parts of the story either directly into their play (e.g. reciting lines verbatim) or through transmediation, where meaning from one system is constructed in another system. Children would translate the language and pictures of the story into others signs, such as drawing from their own lives, for dramatic play.

Significance of the Findings:

This study’s findings show that dramatic play supports both inquiry and expression in relation to storybooks children encounter. Children can explore storylines through the dramatic play and express their understanding as they enact parts of the story. Dramatic play also serves as a supportive medium for literacy learning. Children, through child-guided play, drive their own exploration of stories in an open context that is more flexible than typical academic ones. They build connections with stories in a multisensory manner and engaged in interactions with peers and adults around them.

Methodology:

These research results are based on two related studies. One study was a collaborative research project that followed the literacy experiences of a class of 16 two-year-old preschool students over a nine-month period, and the other was a case study of the researcher’s two-year-old son that spanned 13 months. The researcher’s son was also a member of the preschool class that participated in the study. For the school study, the researcher collaborated with school staff to implement specific curricular changes. They added “text sets,” sets of books related to the class weekly theme that varied in reading level, and “text and toy sets” to the book center mid-year. At home, the researcher read storybooks and supported her son’s connections to books through book-related dramatic play.

The researcher collected data through participant observation leading a reading activity with the students in the preschool project twice a week, taking field notes and videotaping book-reading with discussion and dramatic play events. She also informally surveyed parents about how often they read to their children at home. At home, the researcher took field notes on instances of book-related dramatic play and book-reading events (both structured and unstructured).

The researcher used a constant comparative method for data analysis, coding field notes and video. She analyzed throughout the data collection as well as after completing fieldwork to describe themes that emerged.

Limitations of the Research:

There is a possibility for bias because the researcher is the mother of one of the subjects and her son is in the class under study. It is possible this bias is mitigated because the author used several validity approaches including triangulation of data collection methods, negative case analysis, and checking in with school staff throughout analyses.

Questions to Guide New Research:

What role does child age or development level play in choices about book scope for reenactment during dramatic play? Do past dramatic play experiences with parents and teachers shape students’ approaches to child-guided dramatic play?