I was reviewing an old notebook and came across the following quotation taken from L. S. Vygotsky’s Mind in Society.
Could one suppose that a child’s behavior is always guided by meaning, that a preschooler’s behavior is so arid that he never behaves spontaneously simply because he think he should behave otherwise? This strict subordination to rules is quite impossible in life, but in play it does become possible: thus, play creates a zone of proximal development of the child. In play a child always behaves beyond his average age, above his daily behavior; in play it is as though he were a head taller than himself. As in the focus of a magnifying glass, play contains all developmental tendencies in a condensed form and is itself a major source of development.
And my little note:
This is amazing!
Since I’ve been teaching adults mainly, I haven’t really thought about play that much. I’m even embarassed sometimes to ask my adult students to do things that are more playful. But after reading this chapter and pondering over my attitudes when I play, I realized that many times I myself “behave beyond my average age” cognitively speaking. But also quite the opposite too; being an adult I also behave below my average mental age when I play (sometimes).
Being below (and not above as Vygotsky said) makes me less self-critical and less self-demanding perhaps, which in turn enhances my creative thinking greatly, and paves the way for a kind of learning that is many times more memorable. The so-called ZPD (zone of proximal development) has perhaps been wrongly associated with ‘growth’ and in ‘going up’ and its facilitators (teachers, caregivers, etc) as ‘pulling up’ the cognition of others. And in adult learning, the ‘up’ things are often taken as the ‘serious’ things; therefore, few people are able to see learning as it happens in play, which in fact does place learning in the background.
But as we know so much learning happens in the background anyway that it’s just a matter of acknowledging it and raising adult learners’ awareness that play can help them perform above their level and that it can open new spaces for learning.
That’s what I thought — about 3 years ago. Reconsidering the issue today, I still have some questions.
In theory, the question I have is how much these Vygotskyan principles which were primarily brought about from studies of child development can be transferred to adult learning. There are lots of examples in research, that I know. But I lack examples in my own practice, which makes me think that:
In practice, I just have to do it and find the answer myself. The question is: when will I try it, with whom, and how?
Maybe you could help me with the ‘how’ part, i.e. how do I incorporate play (beyond business role-plays) with adult learners of English as a Foreign/Second language? And most importantly, how do I make it NOT look like it’s only fun for the sake of fun?