Branksome Hall News

Carolyn Mak to conduct landmark research on developmental impact of recess and the role of feedback

Recess can make or break a child’s day. Yet, despite its monumental impact on social development, it rarely has been researched.
“It’s such an important part of the educational day, but it’s very understudied; we tend to emphasize research about curriculum,” says Junior School Social Worker Carolyn Mak, PhD.

That’s about to change. Branksome Hall is just one of seven schools selected internationally for the inaugural cohort of The Global Action Research Collaborative on Girls’ Education, a pilot program run by the Charlottesville, Va.-based National Coalition of Girls’ Schools (NCGS). It represents the first action research program dedicated to the education and healthy development of girls. 

Working in consort with Branksome Hall’s Chandaria Research Centre as an “action research fellow,” Mak will collaborate with Grade 4 students and faculty in class.

Based on anecdotes and the existing literature, what is known is that while girls, specifically, aspire to have what is called a “well-played” recess, they aren’t versed in the communications skills that would empower them to offer and/or decline certain requests to play—in a comfortable, direct and authentic way.  

“Recess can be a wonderful way to connect and relax—but it also provides opportunities for exclusion,” says Mak. “Some schools have adopted a rule of ‘Can’t say [you] can’t play,’ but that’s not for us. When you tell girls to behave in a certain way, that just drives certain behaviours underground, such as false niceness, passive aggressiveness and other inauthentic responses.”

The challenge is that while students are instructed to show kindness and inclusivity, the fact is sometimes they’re going to be annoyed: “It’s unrealistic to expect all humans to be kind all the time,” she says. 

Against this honest backdrop, Mak’s research question is the following: How does purposeful instruction about giving and receiving feedback impact girls’ ability to enjoy a well-played recess in elementary school?

The research will include a mix of approaches, including playground observations; in-class and explicit instruction about giving and receiving feedback; in-class discussions about identification of bullying; role-playing scenarios describing why one would not want to play; and activities one can engage in during recess.

“Part of the beauty of action research is that it’s co-created and feedback is shared by [playing out] scenarios and developing ideas that show what works in reality,” says Mak. “It’s such an exciting opportunity to see how teaching can make a difference upon an area of the day not often researched.”

Mak will present her work at the annual NCGS conference next June.  


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Toronto’s only all-girls, all-years, IB World School.
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