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A study of the element of play in the teaching of composition

Thomas Alan Batt, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The work of play theorists such as W. D. Winnicott, Gregory Bateson, and Erving Goffman suggests that the element of play has intriguing potential for the teaching and learning of writing: repositioning students in relation to dominant discourses, providing an avenue for risk-taking and experimentation, and offering students and teachers a subtle means to negotiate social roles. However, play as a discrete subject has drawn little attention in composition studies, and as yet there has been no attempt to enact a curriculum that deliberately foregrounds the element of play in all aspects of a composition course. The study described in this dissertation fills this gap. In Chapter 1, I discuss interdisciplinary theories of play in relation to work done in composition studies and develop a provisional definition of “play.” In Chapter 2, I present the methodology I used in this study, which focuses on three sections of a first-year composition course I taught during a single semester. In Chapter 3, I describe the curriculum I designed in light of the theories discussed in Chapter 1. I also relate my observations on how the curriculum was received, comment on my own experiences of play, and discuss spontaneous play initiatives. In Chapter 4, I present and discuss student reactions to the play activities as expressed in written reflections, individual and group interviews, and other artifacts. In Chapter 5, I focus on the identity negotiations of three students as these negotiations related to play in classroom discourse and their formal essays. Finally, in Chapter 6, I draw together, complicate, and extend the central themes of the previous chapters by discussing them in the context of the key questions that guided the study.

Subject Area

Rhetoric|Composition|Language arts|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Batt, Thomas Alan, "A study of the element of play in the teaching of composition" (2003). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3096264.