Play : a study of preservice teachers' beliefs about a complex element of early childhood education
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Using one-on-one interviews, classroom observations, and document analysis, this basic qualitative study (see Merriam 1998) examined preservice teachers' beliefs about play and the influences on those beliefs. Research for this study focused on seven preservice teachers enrolled in an early childhood through grade four practicum course at a small private university in south central Texas. Using Nespor (1987) and Vygotsky (1986) as frameworks for transforming the collected data (see Wolcott, 1994), the findings of this study indicated that multiple influences--such as experiences before and during teacher education, feelings, ideals, and universal assumptions--worked in concert to shape the preservice teachers' beliefs about play. And, these influences set the foundation for the content of the preservice teachers' beliefs. Specifically, for the preservice teachers, play seemed to have multiple meanings that fluctuated and were at times contradictory. These defining qualities suggested that the preservice teachers had not fully synthesized their beliefs about play. This study's findings came about because two frameworks instead of one were used to describe, to analyze, and to interpret the preservice teachers' beliefs about play. Together these frameworks provided insights into the preservice teachers' beliefs about play and the influences on those beliefs that neither framework could have provided alone. Specifically, the findings of this study reveal challenges and opportunities for early childhood teacher educators. On the one hand, the multiple meanings, fluctuations, and contradictions present within the preservice teachers' beliefs about play highlight the challenge of defining and conceptualizing play within teacher education. On the other hand, the broad set of influences that shaped the preservice teachers' beliefs about play and their complex interrelationship suggest that by using multiple frameworks to explore preservice teachers' beliefs about play, by viewing preservice teachers' beliefs as an asset to their learning about it, by identifying the sources of preservice teachers' beliefs about play, and by engaging in one-on-one discussions with preservice teachers about their beliefs, teacher educators have the opportunity to address this complex element of early childhood education in their programs with the hopes of ultimately influencing their preservice teachers' practice.