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Sunday, April 5, 2015

Game On! Building Comprehension with Video Games

I confess to feeling like a fraud. At a recent literacy conference I wooed the crowd on ways video games could positively impact reading scores. The truth is that I hate video games.

In college I was a Pac Man aficionado. I lost interest during child baring years, but was quick to snatch up games like Where in the World is Carmen San Diego? and Oregon Trail because of their educational value.

When Iphones erupted on the market in 2007 I became obsessed with Angry Birds, which I am convinced was created by sinister engineers designed to make you feel stupid.

Farmville took phone gaming to a new extreme and gaming became personal. My sister-in-law was vacationing out of the country and had asked me to "see after her farm." 

I forgot to water her newly planted sprouts and they died. Our relationship hasn't been the same since.

I also confess that I'm stuck in middle school. In 1984 I graduated from Hardin-Simmons University looking forward to teaching first graders. As life so often happens, our destiny is not always as we planned or even imagined.

As a parent and educator, I can vouch that the middle school years are the most challenging. Kids are at a crossroads. Middle schoolers are child-teens desperately seeking acceptance from their peers. They are no longer motivated by smiley stickers or high-fives.

For struggling learners, middle school can be sheer torture especially when being pulled into a
reading intervention class. I describe these learners as "pencil breakers." Literally, they break pencils.

And so a paradigm shift occurs when educators band together and pledge to "do whatever it takes" to interrupt the downward spiral that can lead to utter defeat and negative behaviors.

After all, it is much "cooler" to act out and spend a day or so in detention than to reveal to the world the inability to read grade level texts. These are some of the tools I've used as a literacy coach to reach these learners.

Get Kahoot!

Using a simple and speedy ‘drag n drop’ creation tool, educators can easily create and manage ‘Kahoots’ in the form of quizzes, surveys or polls related to specific topics.

Simple quizzes can happen at the drop of a hat to get feedback or opinion, or more in depth questions for formative assessment. Content can be shared with educators, learners or colleagues globally.

This video game site couldn't be any easier to use and kids love it!
1. Log onto Kahoot!
2. Create a free account.
3. Choose a premade quiz or create your own.

Kahoot builds comprehension by teaching kids to monitor their comprehension. Instead of disengaging as with traditional teaching methods, kids engage in the learning process!

Cheat to Learn

Luke (not his real name) returned in the fall as a more confident reader. His beginning of the year reading screeners showed growth in reading comprehension and yet I never saw him with a book.

I pulled him aside and asked point blank, "What did you read over the summer? Your reading scores have sky rocketed!"
Luke shrugged his shoulders. "I didn't read. I hate to read," he said matter-of-factly.
After prodding, Luke admitted to reading game cheats to his favorite game, Minecraft.

I can hear naysayers whisper, "The student needs to be reading instructional texts that will help him pass his state assessment or that will prepare him for high school."

Reading game cheats may be unconventional, but I stand by this methodology. Luke's comprehension is increasing because he is engaged in complex texts. Luke is strengthening his ability to think critically and his vocabulary is growing exponentially.

High-interest articles can be found on the internet, as well. Here is an example:
Mind Controlled Video Games

I pitch the article by asking, "What if you could play a video game without touching the controls and control it with your mind?"

Seriously, what middle school gamer wouldn't want to read this?!?

Writing Expository Texts

The better kids read...the better they write. Carlos (not his real name) hated to write. We considered it progress if he wrote more than four sentences without disrupting the entire sixth grade classroom by making farting sounds and making his teacher consider early retirement.

Thankfully, his teacher was a kind soul who focused on growth and what he could do as opposed to what he should do. 

The prompt: "Write about an discovery that has changed your life."

A discovery that changed my life was electronics. I think that the first electronic was the phone. It allowed people to communicate. Some stuff came out like computers, t.v., radios, and finally gaming. It is entertaining, fun, and makes me think, and it helps me with hand eye cordintion. Some games alow me to play with other people like online and i can chat with my friends. if I didn't have electronics i would not be able to watch t.v. or call my friends or text my friends. I also wouldn't be able to play games with my friends. i would be very bored especialy without gaming.

Video Game Coding

Creating video games builds comprehension by engaging learners in informational texts and following written directions. Video games can be integrated into literacy circles and writing prompts could be tweaked to target unmotivated writers.

This year several of our sixth grade English Language Arts classes designed a "Hero's Journey" unit. Kids collaborated in groups to create a new hero to represent their book. In a stroke of genius, one activity was to design a video game to represent a challenge their character would need to overcome.

Several websites were introduced to the learners:

Middle school gamers come into our classroom and are bored and unengaged. If they are struggling readers, the odds of changing their outlook is next to impossible.

While I cringe at the thought of our middle schoolers hooked up to headsets and hyper focused on blowing up empires, this is a reality.

If, as educators, we can find innovative ways to integrate video game experiences in lesson design, at least we have a chance.

Remember: Technology is a TOOL for learning...not a learning OUTCOME.

Games made by Kids via Brain Pop!

Confession Reflection

1. What are advantages of integrating video games into lesson design? What are some disadvantages?

2. What is one baby step educators could take to begin integrating video games into the classroom? i.e. play Kahoot, writing prompts

3. How do skills like video games help prepare learners for the real world?
Investigate how businesses such as McDonald's are using video games to prepare employees.

4. Why is it important to teach digital literacy?

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