Opening spaces for experiential learning through a ‘spirit of play’

Year: 2019

Author: Wade-Leeuwen, Bronwen

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Reflecting on the Aboriginal concept of ‘being on Country’ which encompasses heaven, earth and below encourages a relaxed state of mind by opening spaces that provoke interplay socially with different cultural tools (Brooks, 2009; Vygotsky, 1978). This paper explores how the abstract concept of being on Country is not fixed but represents the opening of new possibilities that interconnects to learning experiences through a ‘spirit of play’ (Wade-Leeuwen, 2010). This doctoral research was conducted with third and fourth year pre-service teachers during their Primary Education Creative Arts Program over a period of six weeks. The focus of the research was to open spaces where pre-service teachers could maintain a relaxed state of mind and creatively use material exploration in their pedagogy. New research shows that being relaxed is necessary for teachers’ wellbeing and from that state of mindfulness, individual and collective creativity can be achieved. This paper uses an arts-based inquiry research methodology during Creative Arts studio-based workshops with 350 participants focusing their attention on the abstract concept of being on Country while modelling with three-dimensional media tools such as clay and found objects.

The findings revealed when participants reflect before, in, on and after practice (Schon, 1987), during these workshop environments, they could connect to real-world experiences that allowed their learning not to remain inside the classroom but extend way beyond it. After the workshop experience, these pre-service teachers could clearly articulate their imaginings of being on Country through specific visualisation techniques used while drawing (Brooks, 2009) connecting them to the five levels of creativity (Wade-Leeuwen, 2016). Many participants felt empowered by “Just having that broad space,” “allowing space,” “open mindedness and supportiveness”. Others found that time was important: “a little bit of time and space for me to explore was what I really needed to visualize and how to recreate it”.

This paper advocates for pre-service teachers to “lose their grip on structured learning” (Sahlberg, 2019), to reflect more on abstract concepts such as being on Country to stimulate learners imagination so they can reach beyond what is known (UNESCO, 2019). It is clear that these participants demonstrated how they could integrate innovative learning and teaching experiences in their classrooms. Maintaining a deeper sense of agency while connecting to others, they were able to achieved a relaxed state of mind, through open spaces using diverse cultural tools to generate their own experiential learning through a ‘spirit of play’.