Exploring effective play-based learning environments that include students with learning support needs in New Zealand primary schools : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the degree of Master of Education at Massey University, Palmerston North, Aotearoa, New Zealand

Author: Smeed, Caroline

Date: 2021

Publisher: Massey University

Type: Thesis

Link to this item using this URL: https://hdl.handle.net/10179/17224

Massey University


Play-based learning (PBL) as a teaching pedagogy in New Zealand primary schools is becoming increasingly common. This change in teaching philosophy places emphasis on the child as an active agent in their learning, with teachers capitalising on individual play interests to foster holistic learning and development. Given PBL’s focus on children’s interests, motivations and needs, and relative abandonment of normative expectations, PBL is potentially well placed to act as a tool to improve the classroom experiences of students with learning support needs. Following international trends, New Zealand research on PBL in the primary school setting is emerging. To date this has not focused on students with learning support needs. This research attempted to do this through the lens of exemplary PBL primary school teachers who include children with learning support needs in their classrooms. This study used a qualitative design with semi-structured interviews conducted with five teachers. The exemplary teachers in this research had positive, solution-based attitudes towards inclusion, strong communication and collaboration skills and valued flexible, open-ended resources and spaces. Teachers were skilled at observing and responding to individual children’s play and well-being and explicitly taught social and emotional skills. Teachers used the curriculum and monitored learning in holistic, flexible ways, which enabled them to meet a range of needs. Teachers identified where students found the PBL environment difficult to negotiate and were more present to support these children. There were significant variations between teachers in how additional supports provided for children with learning support needs were used. Results suggest effective inclusive teaching practices in a PBL environment have at their foundation teachers with positive, innovative, can-do attitude towards inclusion that is supported by two-way collaboration with other stakeholders, and engagement with practice enhancing professional development.

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