Speaker series
Evolution and the Social Mind
Speaker series

Implicit Pedagogy:
From Chase Play to Collaborative Worldmaking

A Presentation by Stephanie Owens,
Doctoral Student, Educational Psychology, University of Northern Colorado,
and Francis Steen, Doctoral Student, English, UC Santa Barbara
Friday 17 March 2000 at 12:00 - 1:30pm
Phelps  2516


Implicit Pedagogy: From Chase Play to Collaborative Worldmaking

Children spontaneously engage in learning behaviors in the form of play. They are self-motivated, follow a schedule that facilitates cumulative learning, make creative uses of their environments, and enlist other children as well as adults to play with them. Chase games are a ubiquitous but generally ignored instance of children’s spontaneous and relatively stereotypical play. We use our field studies of chase play among 3- to 5-year-old children in a preschool setting to model the surprising sophistication of children’s implicit pedagogy. Through a presentation and examination of the game’s initiation and maintenance cues, we argue that chase play in its early stages relies on an unconscious form of pretense. We make the case that pretense, a central enabling strategy of play, is a cognitive adaptation to the evolutionary and developmental problem of training.

Children’s implicit curriculum can at certain points be greatly helped by adult participation. Drawing on Vygotsky and Pascual-Leone, we propose that adults can and spontaneously do help children stretch and extend their cognitive resources by scaffolding autonoetic awareness of pretense and basic mindreading, and thus facilitate collaborative worldmaking. Once the children master these skills on their own, between the ages of 4 and 5, they organize and engage in complex and prolonged narrative chase games that typically involve large peer groups role-playing as predators such as dinosaurs, cheetahs, wolves, and Pokémon characters. They avoid adult participation to the point where we have so far been unable to collect detailed data.

We end by proposing a general model of implicit pedagogy using the example of narrative worldmaking. Drawing on our observations of non-narrative and narrative chase play as well as on the characteristics of other kinds of popular narratives, we argue that pretend play allows us to make progress towards a developmental target by practicing basic skills or roles in a variety of specific contexts. Incipient mastery of a skill or role creates a space of possibilities that the child spontaneously explores to discover a range of workable contextualized strategies. These are unconsciously weighted for confidence and the probability of success. Through such structural learning, our engagement with fictive scenarios can influence our actions in the real world.

Stephanie Owens is  is a doctoral candidate in Educational Psychology at the University of Northern Colorado. Her dissertation project is on chase play among preschoolers.

Francis Steen is a doctoral candidate in English at UCSB. His dissertation, The Borderlands of Literature: Cognitive Approaches to British Fiction, 1678-1740, applies the perspective of the cognitive sciences to literary and cultural studies. He recently published "The Time of Unrememberable Being: Wordsworth's Autobiography of the Imagination" in Auto/Biography Studies and is currently editing  (with Alan Richardson) a special issue of Poetics Today on literature and the cognitive revolution.


Speaker series
Evolution and the Social Mind
Speaker series