Role play is not my thing. There. I said it. When I go into kindergarten classrooms during choice time, I head toward the board games instead of the dramatic play area. I can pretend for about 4 minutes and then I’m ready for real life again. If I order a pizza at the pretend pizza parlor, and then someone brings me the fake pizza and I pretend to eat it, what happens next? The fake pizza is still there. Where do we go with the whole role play scenario after that?
I know that role play is good for kids. I especially know that the kids I work with on the autism spectrum need lots of practice in role play scenarios in order to master basic social skills. So we pretend a lot, and somehow it seems less tedious to practice how to face a conversational partner or make a friendly comment rather than order slice after slice of plastic pizza. Kids on the autism spectrum are less likely to engage in dramatic play with peers (although there are exceptions), meaning they have fewer opportunities to observe and incorporate pro-social behaviors into their repertoires. Role play and simulation require participants to shift perspectives, to think about situations and behaviors from a viewpoint perhaps different from their own. In the world of special education, this is called theory of mind, or the recognition that other people have thoughts, feelings, and knowledge that differ from our own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.
As I jumped into my task for the week–setting up my fictional persona for our online role play–I started feeling distinctly uncomfortable about how little I know about this world I am about to enter. I volunteered to be the “gamer” in our role play because I knew it would be a challenge; aside from my recent acquisition of Beatles Rockband, the last video game I played was probably Burgertime. But the more I researched, the more I realized that I know nothing about being a gamer. There are social rules in the gamer world, and I don’t know any of them. Even though I’m just pretending to be this different person, I don’t want to do anything wrong or offend anyone. So I’m at a bit of a standstill, not ready to commit to an avatar or develop my online profile. Because what if it’s not right? Which makes me think…how often do my students feel this very same way in the lunch room or in the hallways or in a cooperative group? Instead of doing something that’s probably not quite socially right, they choose to disengage altogether. But I WILL choose an avatar. I WILL develop my fictional persona. And I will use that experience to help identify with my students who struggle with social rules.
On an unrelated but also related note…I found another Ning, Classroom 2.0, in one of my endless searches for how to incorporate simulation activities into my work with students. It looks like a great place for me to browse, lurk for a while, and (if I don’t feel too overwhelmed with my current digital presence), perhaps join in. But I think I’ll just browse for now.