Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Video Games

by AJ

Picked up and read a great book last night called, "What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy", by James Paul Gee. Very very very interesting. Ill be writing several posts related to this book.

The overall premise (which I agree with) is that video games are ideal learning tools. They employ cutting edge learning theory in a highly skilled way. Gee breaks down the techniques used by game designers and formulates general learning/teaching principles from them.

Its hard to argue with the general premise. Video games are "brain friendly". They follow the principle of "wu wei" (effortlessness) to challenge and teach the players. They deeply engage the players at the intellectual and emotional levels. School, Gee notes, is typically "brain antagonistic". That is, we use methods which work against our natural learning processes. This is why most students describe school as "boring", "useless",...... Traditional schools are mired in the industrial mindset. And who in the world thinks industrial jobs are interesting?

As I butt up against apathy in the classroom, Im increasingly realizing that a total reassessment is in order. TPR Storytelling is a great technique. So too the movie technique, Free reading, etc. But the overall context in which I am using them is still a traditional, industrial, contextually meaningless environment. To get to the "next level", Ive got to radically re-think my entire approach.

Because my ultimate goal is this: For my students to be as excited and engaged with English as they are when they play video games.

Thats a tall order. Its not uncommon for an enthusiastic player to spend 4, 8, 12 hours engrossed in a game. When they are doing so, they are completely engaged. They are focused, they are energized, they are curious. They are emotionally invested too. They take risks. They probe, they try new things, they fail, they die, they restart and do it all again. They talk passionately to other gamers. They read gaming magazines or join online gaming groups. Often, the challenge is to get them to STOP playing.

Contrast this with the average student. Most will struggle to remain engaged for a full hour. Many seem bored and listless. Even if they are involved and alert, its rare for them to be emotionally invested in the class. Few students will beg to lengthen the class..... its rarely difficult to get them to leave (often they bolt out the door as soon as the bell rings). Students classroom identities are also much different. Typically they are risk-averse. While a gamer will eagerly try new things, fail, evaluate, and try again.... students often seem terrified of making a mistake.

Its common for teachers and parents to bitch about video games..... and bemoan student's lack of enthusiasm for school. But perhaps we should point the finger back to ourselves. When the bulk of students describe school as "boring".. there is something drastically wrong! Instead of hacking at the branches of evil,... we need to thoroughly reassess the basic principles of our educational approach.

More importantly, we need to drastically raise our standards. At the moment, our highest standards revolve around scores on tests. But we need to aim much much higher.

We should demand that school produce the same energy, curiousity, risk-taking, engagement, and enthusiasm as do video games.