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Book Chapter

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Publication Title

A Progressive Pedagogy: Legacies and New Directions


Children's play activities, particularly the development of dramatic scenarios, have been a central focus of developmental-interaction thinking over many decades. To understand the emphasis on play and the specific meanings accorded to it within this tradition, we must go back to the early part of the century and the progressive education movement. In this tradition, play was seen as a mode of learning, not only for preschoolers but for children in the elementary years (Johnson, 1928; Biber, 1984). Therefore, play activities assumed a central place m the preschool curriculum and were developed in relation to social studies in the early elementary years. From the beginning, practice was grounded in a theory of the developing child. In addition, educational practice was informed by an implicit theory of symbolization -namely, the idea that recasting experience in symbolic form (as in play) is not only a matter of expression but a prime means for consolidating, extending, and creating knowledge. As the psychological theory base of the developmental-interaction view was formulated (Biber, 1967; Franklin, 1981; Shapiro and Biber, 1972), a second stream of thinking about play assumed importance. Psychoanalytic thin.king, primarily in the form of ego psychology, emphasized the functions of play as a pathway for personal expression and growth, a means for gaining emotional insight and resolving conflict.

In the first part of this chapter, I consider the view of play held by the founders -- Harriet Johnson, Caroline Pratt, Lucy Sprague Mitchell - and bow this view was realized in practice. The second part of the chapter examines writings by Biber and her associates that attempt to integrate the original lines of thinking with psychodynamic formulations. I will show how the introduction of psychoanalytic theory impinged on, and changed, concepts of play process and medium, sources of material, and the functions of play.

The third part of the chapter argues that certain contemporary developments in psychological theorizing provide new grounding for central ideas about play in classic developmental­ interactionism. These are: articulation of symbolic mediation theory, as represented in the work of Werner and Kaplan (1983/1963) and Vygotsky (1986); a broadened view of cognitive functioning, in particular the idea of narrative as a fundamental way of organizing experience (Brockmeier & Harre, 1997; Bruner, 1986; Wells, 1986); and the theme of self developing in interaction with others, specifically peers, in social collaborative activity.

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