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Open Access Publications from the University of California

More than a Child’s Work: Framing Teacher Discourse about Play


In early childhood education, tension between accountability pressures and romanticized notions of play influences teacher decisions, shapes classroom activities, and determines what counts as learning. Critical discourse analysis shows how discourses of work and play were activated as the teachers analyzed videotaped instances of children’s classroom activity. Microethnographic discourse analysis tracks the interactional frames within the teachers’ discussion. To interpret and justify their classroom practice, teachers voiced a prevalent cultural model, “play is a child’s work,” a naturalized storyline that circulates expectations for how teachers and children should act in school. Shifts between hypothetical, metalinguistic, and play frames enabled participants to self-critically assess their own teaching and to invent ways of successfully fulfilling teaching ideals within competing discourses.

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