Education Professor, Christiane Wood publishes: The Literacy of Play and Innovation: Children as Makers

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Christiane Wood is an Assistant Professor in the School of Education (Soe) at Cal State San Marcos. Below she shares experience and what inspired in writing The Literacy of Play and Innovation: Children as Makers.

“The Literacy of Play and Innovation provides a portrait of what innovative education looks like from a literacy perspective. Through an in-depth case study of a “maker” school’s innovative design–in particular, of four early childhood educator’s classrooms–this book demonstrates that children’s inspiration, curiosity, and creativity is a direct result of the school environment. Presenting a unique, data-driven model of literacy, play, and innovation taking the maker movement beyond STEM education, this book helps readers understand literacy learning through making and the creative approaches embedded in early literacy classroom practices,” said Professor Wood.

What inspired you to write this book?

This book originated from my dissertation research as a doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and continued when I came to Cal State San Marcos (CSUSM) in August 2016. As an educator who has worked in urban early childhood, elementary, and middle school settings, my experiences working with diverse populations of teachers and children sent me on a quest to find ways in which marginalized children could benefit, learn, and be engaged in their education with hope to improve their future.

Research on New Literacies provides an interdisciplinary approach through multiple lenses and areas of inquiry to help understand and inform phenomena in contemporary classrooms. Currently, makerspaces, making, and STEM activities are part of a growing trend in formal educational learning environments. Examining makerspace environments in formal school contexts is necessary to improve our understanding of what types of literacies children engage in and how literacy teaching and learning happens in these spaces. It is important to build this area of inquiry by examining literacy from both teacher and students’ perspectives. Literacy teaching and learning in classroom makerspace contexts includes both teachers’ and children’s knowing which forms and functions of literacy support one’s purpose. Therefore, examining what and how related to literacy teaching and children’s literacy learning in makerspace contexts becomes increasingly important.

One aim of this book is to begin constructing a foundation for the important development of theories, models, and methods that will allow us to study the new and complex literacies in early childhood makerspace contexts.

Why did you write this book?

As a literacy educator and researcher, I was very interested in learning about makerspaces and the maker movement in educational contexts. Makerspaces and making specifically informal learning environments for diverse populations of young urban children is currently underexplored and undertheorized.

Theoretically, my study sits within the larger field of research on multiliteracies, at the intersection of play theory, new literacy theory, and sociocultural theories of literacy.  I used those theories to help me locate a school that supports innovative ways to educate children. I found a brand new public charter elementary school in New Orleans, which was designed specifically for play and innovation, called Bricolage Academy.

New Orleans is rich both its culture and history and at the time I began this project, the city of New Orleans was a few years into the process of rebuilding and re-establishing the public-school system – all of which became a perfect fit for the purpose of my research.

There are a few things that make Bricolage Academy unique. First, the school came into existence because of the devastation left behind from Hurricane Katrina. Second, with the rebuilding of schools, Bricolage’s founder had a vision for a new school design and that provides all children with opportunities to learn through play and making. Third, unlike many special interest schools where the majorities are elite, private, and costly, Bricolage Academy is a free public school open to any child in the city of New Orleans.

As educational learning standards for young children continue to increase in complexity, the knowledge gap between privileged and underprivileged children continues to widen. In order to confront inequity in education, we need to look at specific cultural contexts and what equity and innovation mean in that space. As we project to the future there is a need to understand how education intersects with students’ lives and cultural contexts. Capturing the complexity of children’s experiences, cultural authenticity, and the cultural ecologies that make up educational environments allow educators and researchers to examine these intersections as a way to project a vision for future thinking about what equity is and needs to become in a culture of innovation. As early adopters of bringing making into a formal urban schooling environment, the school in this study can serve as an example in developing understandings about equity, literacy, engaging children as makers, and creating makerspaces in early learning environments.

How did you research for it?

Over the course of four years, I gathered data to both theorize and document how socially, ethnically, and culturally diverse young children use a wide range of literacy practices to play and innovate with each other. I spent extended periods of time in the kindergarten, first, and second-grade classrooms during reading and writing workshop as well as extended periods of time in the makerspace.

The questions that guide the research behind this book are: How does a school create a culture of innovation and equity that promotes skills, dispositions, and mindsets to empower all children? What does an innovative school context look like? How might we use literacy in early childhood classrooms as a foundation to promote and spark curiosity, encourage children to wonder, engage children in whimsical play and help guide and transform children’s clever ideas into something never thought possible? What literacy pedagogical practices guide the integration of design and innovation in classroom contexts? How do teachers create classroom environments that encourage play and innovation? What types of literacy are young children enacting when they play/work in classroom and makerspace environments? and, What do children do when they play/work in environments that support making?

I explored the multiple functions of literacy and was particularly interested in uncovering the ways that design thinking is implicitly or explicitly embedded in literacy pedagogical practices, children’s play, and how classroom environments are created to promote equity and access for all children to learn new skills, strategies, and dispositions while shaping a sociocultural message that all children are makers and can realize their individual potential through making.

What do you hope will come from your experience/or this book? (What do you hope to accomplish with this being published?)

Educational innovations have been, and continue to be, ambitious calls to action that strive to engage and inspire children through enriched learning experiences and opportunities. This book and research provide a starting point for us to understand how classroom literacy practices coincide with the promise of the maker movement in ensuring all children have opportunities to become innovators, as well as uncover the potential of makerspaces as equitable literacy learning environments. The end goal is to provide readers with an understanding of where these ideas started and a vision for the future.

Are you using the book in your class or know how others may be using it?

I am not currently using the book in a class but plan to use it in our Master’s level course Teaching Literacy for the 21st Century in the near future.

I have been contacted by professors across the nation and in Canada – via twitter who are going to be using the book in their upcoming courses this spring and summer.

What are your next steps? Any ideas for the next book?

I am currently involved in three research projects that investigate literacies and making. My goal is to continue to learn more about how schools and teachers are creating innovative opportunities for children.

Any ideas or plans to write more books?

  1. To write a book that focuses on how schools create a culture and vision for innovation – I anticipate it to be a “how to guide” and practical resource for other schools that want to move in an innovative direction
  2. I would also like to write a book or write articles that highlight classroom practices that integrate literacy, making and the arts. My intent is to highlight “how” classroom teachers are transforming literacy teaching and learning by creating opportunities in and through “making”.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I am grateful for the support that I continue to receive from my colleagues in the School of Education and at the university, to engage in this work.


Marilyn Huerta
Public Affairs Communication Specialist II
College of Education, Health & Human Services
mhuerta@csusm.edu