Theses Doctoral

Fear and Crayons: Crafting and Holding Playspaces in the College Writing Classroom

Lemons, Kelly

While methods of creative play are still utilized occasionally in elementary education, by the time students reach college there are fewer opportunities for them to play in order to learn creatively in the classroom. Often, they are bored or uninspired by “traditional” composition instruction, where they read essays and then emulate their structure. Students can sometimes struggle to find ways to compose, both academically and creatively. I have seen in my classrooms the efficacy of giving students more flexibility and freedom in their ways of composing. This project proposes that play—the serious “work of childhood” (attributed to Piaget)—is just as essential in the college composition classroom. Giving students ways to access their imaginations, through visual and multimodal composition, making activities, metaphors, and other infusions of creative play pedagogy in the classroom and beyond—are not niche methods of instruction. Rather, I assert that play-learning helps form thirdspaces of play that I term playspaces.

Specifically, in this dissertation I inquire through teacher/practitioner research to explore these questions:

1) What are some of the possibilities and limitations of play pedagogy for the composing processes of three first-year college composition students and their instructor?
a. How are students using play pedagogy in the learning space? What functions might it serve or not serve?
b. How am I implementing my play pedagogy in our classroom? What does play pedagogy mean for me as a teacher?
c. How does play pedagogy inform the space and spatial understanding of the composition classroom?

This qualitative study examines what happens when play pedagogy is employed in the college writing classroom, using arts-based research (ABR) including narrative inquiry as its main methods. The analysis for my dissertation uses what I’ve termed spatial thematic analysis in the form of longer narrative vignettes to attempt to reconstruct the spaces of play of each of the three students in the study as well as myself as teacher/researcher struggling with play and writing.

These vignettes focus on Diana—a student who moved between accepting and rejecting the invitation across a semester paired with my own struggles during the pandemic to write and my use of collage to find a sense of play again, Lito—a student who accepted the invitation throughout the semester and the freedoms that emerged in his composing processes and meta-reflections, and Jenny—a student who digs deeper into one of those freedoms—the concept of deep play—as a potential affordance in the college writing space. From these longer vignettes, I have summarized in the findings the themes that emerged from the study: the invitation to play, the freedoms of play pedagogy including: to work across mediums and modes, to make mistakes and fail, to create and imagine, and to explore the self, including the opportunity to engage in deep play in their composing work, and the importance of spatial understandings of play pedagogy.

This study seeks not just to define playspace as a third space of play-learning in the college writing classroom, but also to find the essential components of these spaces to generalize the structure for teachers hoping to use their own playful pedagogies in their classrooms.

Keywords: composition, playspace, spaces of play, playful teaching, play pedagogy, pedagogy of play, creative play, play learning, thirdspace, third space, college literacy, visual literacy, multimodal learning


This item is currently under embargo. It will be available starting 2028-06-30.

More About This Work

Academic Units
English Education
Thesis Advisors
Jochum, Richard
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 12, 2023