Learning Together: Talk and Embodiment in Mexican and Indigenous Mexican Heritage Children’s Peer Play Interactions in Preschool
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Learning Together: Talk and Embodiment in Mexican and Indigenous Mexican Heritage Children’s Peer Play Interactions in Preschool

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Early childhood educators believe that children learn in peer play, particularly through sensory experiences and the body (listening, observing, tactile experience, movement) as they explore themes and topics that are of interest to them (Piaget, 1936, 1962). Research has shown that, to coordinate action and attention, adults draw upon embodied resources, such as eye gaze, pointing gestures, the physical doing of actions, and physical arrangements of participants’ bodies around materials enabling them to build on one another’s actions (C. Goodwin 2018; M.H. Goodwin & Cekaite, 2013, 2018 Mondada 2014; Streeck 2002), as well as verbal resources. However, although a few studies have examined the role of embodiment in the coordination of action and attention among children learning together (de León, 2015, 2017; M.H. Goodwin & Cekaite, 2018; Johnson, 2017; Kyratzis, 2017; Melander, 2012a, b), there is a need for further research, especially given studies showing cultural variation in the organization of attention and learning. Children in many cultures of the world, including several Mexican and Indigenous Mexican communities, learn predominantly through keen attention and participation in ongoing adult activities, rather than through explicit face-to-face verbal instruction by adults, in what has been called “first hand learning through intent participation” (Rogoff et al. 2003; Paradise & Rogoff, 2009). In this study, I analyze, episodes of children working together in activities during free play and centers time in their preschool classroom or outside on the playground, drawn from a larger study. The preschool serves predominantly Mexican and Indigenous Mexican families, a historically underserved group in California. Drawing on methods of conversation analysis (Sacks, Schegloff & Jefferson, 1974; C. Goodwin, 1979), I examine how the child peers coordinate action and learn with one another. For characterizing learning, I draw upon practices described by Charles Goodwin in his work on “professional vision” which, “consists of socially organized ways of seeing and understanding events that are answerable to the distinctive interests of a particular social group” (1994, p. 606, 2018). Charles Goodwin was dealing with professional groups such as archeologists and policemen doing their work together. I apply these practices (e.g., “coding”) to understanding how children in peer play interactions achieve what I call “domain vision,” which consists of the socially organized ways of seeing and understanding events that are consistent with the knowledge or desired results in developmental domains (e,g., math; language and literacy) that all children are expected to achieve in the California preschool educational system given sufficient support, as codified in various documents of the California Department of Education (e.g. the Desired Results Developmental Profile, or DRDP, 2015). I examine the practices and verbal, as well as embodied, resources by which children achieve a shared domain vision together in peer play interactions. I also examine the practices and resources they use to coordinate the action between them. Episodes fell into two main types, those in which children use a combination of verbal and embodied resources, and those in which children use mainly embodied resources with little verbalization. In the first type of episode, children coordinate their action and achieve shared domain vision together (e.g., identifying parts of a spider and their biological functions) by using the general set of practices described by Charles Goodwin (1994, 2018) for building professional vision, such as coding “which transforms phenomena observed in a specific setting into the objects of knowledge that animate the discourse of a profession”; and highlighting, “which makes specific phenomena in a complex perceptual field salient by marking them in some fashion” (C. Goodwin, 2018, p. 408). Even in these episodes, children rely heavily on embodied resources, for example, arranging themselves into “ecological huddles” (Goffman 1964), pointing to salient features of the environment, and demonstrating relevant actions, such as how to write the letter “t”. In the second, more non-verbal set of examples, children coordinate action and arrive at shared domain visions of the objects they are using mainly through embodied practices, such as following the peer’s action through eye gaze, shaking their head to index lack of understanding, and using various pointing and encircling gestures. Second, children share responsibility in these episodes, fluidly shifting between “observing helper” and “knowledgeable performer” roles, similar to learning patterns described for Indigenous Mexican communities in prior research (Paradise & De Haan, 2009). These findings help identify several practices by which young children coordinate action and learn and achieve domain vision together in preschool peer play interactions. They underscore the importance for teachers of attending to the granular level of detail afforded by conversation analysis in assessing children’s learning and competencies. They also point to the need for educators to become aware of the many different ways that children learn and build action together, including ways that rely on embodied resources.

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