Visualising young children’s play: exploring multimodal transcription of video-recorded interaction

Cowan, Kate

This thesis considers child-initiated play from a multimodal social semiotic perspective, giving close attention to the ways in which children collaboratively make meaning in play in a multitude of ways. Such a perspective resists instrumental, developmental perspectives on play, and comes at a time when play-based approaches are in tension with increasingly formalised learning agendas and changes to early years assessment. In order to explore the multimodality of child-initiated play, apt theories and research methods are necessary for attending to the ways children make meaning in multiple modes. The study consists of video-based observations of child-initiated play collected through an ethnographic, teacher-research case study carried out in a nursery school in England. A particular challenge in multimodal research is developing forms of transcription which account for multiple modes in fine-grained detail, with the conventions developed for transcribing language proving insufficient. This thesis presents four multimodal transcript designs as analytic devices that bring multimodal aspects of play to the fore, and critically discusses the gains and losses of each multimodal transcript. The multimodal transcripts highlight the richness and complexity of child-initiated play as learning, making visible ways in which children’s play is complex, layered, transformative, creative and agentive meaning-making. This thesis proposes that multimodal transcription not only ‘visualises’ play by making it visible and sharable, but also offers a new lens through which we might understand the semiotic complexity of play. Through interwoven substantive and methodological strands, this thesis therefore offers a contribution towards the tools and dispositions necessary for recognising and valuing meaning-making in play, in early years research methodology, educational theory and practice.