Gaze and participation during play activities in a multilingual preschool

Year: 2019

Author: Theobald, Maryanne

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Play, group membership, and cultural and linguistic diversity characterise Australian preschool classrooms. Participating as a group member is an integral part of getting along in preschool, and teachers are encouraged to support children’s communication skills in order to foster successful peer relationships. While children’s verbal communicative competence is increasingly emphasised, gaze is an important, but often overlooked, aspect of interaction to accomplish social activities. This paper draws on data that used video-ethnography to explore how children participate and make friends at a culturally and linguistically diverse preschool. The research participants included 70 children in total, aged four to five years, and the same teacher in each of the classes. The medium of instruction (MoI) was English, however, approximately 30% of the children in each class identified as having a first language other than English, including Greek, Japanese, Arabic, Spanish, Afrikaans, and French; and languages used in India (and some neighbouring nations) including Gujarati, Tamil, Bengali, and Telugu. Interactional analysis, using Conversation Analysis, of the corpus of video-recordings of the children’s everyday preschool interactions (20 hours), identified a collection of excerpts that highlight the role of gaze in play activities. Analysis identifies how children use gaze to enter or resist play activities, mirror others, direct, make bids for adult support, or to monitor play objects, spaces or others actions or reactions; and how teachers use gaze to prompt or reinforce social etiquette in the classroom setting. This paper contributes to a niche gap on gaze, in the growing body of research on nonverbal communication in educational research. Findings provide understandings of the importance of gaze to foster participation and inclusion in peer cultures in educational settings characterised by cultural and linguistic diversity.