A student once asked me if Richard the Lionheart was ginger (we'd just finished a lesson on the Crusades). I stated that, yes, records show that King Richard I had red hair. The student gleefully announced that he had seen Richard in the city of Arsuf when playing Assassin's Creed. Once again, a video game has provided a visual queue for a student's studies.
Our hobbies and our professions are usually kept far apart. This is usually deliberate; a hobby allows you to take your mind off the work waiting for you. In other instances the career and the pastime are so different that they rarely cross paths. I usually put aside my enjoyment of video games when teaching… but every so often the two benefit each other.
All the way back in March, I highlighted five reasons why being a teacher who games could work in your favour. In that post, I focused on how allowing yourself to be a Gamer-Teacher can benefit you in the classroom. In this follow up article, I'd like to suggest how your 'gamer side' can further improve the individual student's education and well-being.
If you would like to read the first post first and the second post second, click here.
Using game references and imagery in lessons can seriously improve the attention of students who struggle to focus. Students diagnosed with ADD, ADHD or any other similar condition can find it extremely difficult to focus on the task in hand. These students are unfairly labelled as 'the naughty kids' by people outside the education system, which is far from the truth. Whilst it's completely plausible that a student with ADHD could also be badly behaved, the fact is most of the students you will come across with this or similar Disorders are often students who enjoy learning, and want to learn, but find concentration difficult.
For the last three years I've used the occasional video game reference in my lessons. Small comparisons, representations or jokey asides that hook the interest of my classes. For the gamers, it's exciting. For the non-gamers, it's amusing. And for the students with difficulties concentrating, it's a really valuable addition. Those little moments give the distracted something to focus on.
With serious cases of ADHD, forcing a student to work sensibly for an entire hour is asking a lot. Some teachers will allow for a few minutes of distraction. The student might be allowed to complete a puzzle or doodle for a few minutes before returning to work. A policy at my school permits some students to go for a stroll around the school with the teaching assistant, returning to work refreshed and focused. For a gamer-teacher, getting a student with ADHD on track can take less than two minutes.
I've acknowledged in the past that I am by no means an expert on gaming or on education. Despite this, even I have found that after just one short conversation about video games, unfocused students have their moment of diversion, and can return to work refreshed. Each time I see a student with ADHD becoming restless, I approach them asking what they are playing these days. They tell me; they ask what I'm playing; we chat for a bit. I then ask "so where were we?" referring to the work. The student, focus returned, continues with the task. They are happy to have been recognised as a gamer, and they were provided with a two minute distraction that sets them back to work.
In every school community, there are varying levels of confidence. Some students are in their element when answering questions and discussing points in big groups. Others take a back seat, more than happy for others to take the limelight in the classroom. Whatever the case, all students can go through difficult times. Nary a day goes by when at least one student finds themselves facing an emotional, personal challenge. The hope is that, when those moments arise, the students have people to talk to inside and outside of school. As teachers and an adults, we try to be one of those people.
In the last post I stated that being a Gamer-Teacher gives you a level of coolness and credibility. This can benefit you within the classroom. I'd now like to address a more sensible benefit: letting students know you are a gamer-teacher allows them to quickly realise that you are an adult they can relate too. By making students aware that you are human, you also let them know that you are a person that they can confide in. That teacher likes video games too. I can talk to them.
You may not even realise that you are helping. Nevertheless, one day a worried face may appear around your door, looking for a teacher that they know will want to listen to their problem. I'm not trying to argue that being a gamer is the only way to relate to students on their level. Some people prefer their TV dramas. Others prefer sport. The point is that when you let the students realise you're not just the stuffy old person making them do homework, they will be more inclined to open up when something is troubling them.
Some students don't want to read books. That goes for a lot of adults too. It certainly makes sense; movies and games are instantly gratifying, and books take more concentration. If the act of reading is difficult for you, the choice between going to the cinema and picking up a book is an easy one to make.
If given full control, video games can take over a child's free time. In moderation however, video games can benefit a child's learning. Promoting the desire to read is just one of the benefits. Firstly, games themselves have fantastic stories, and inspire creativity. More importantly, the number of novels and short stories orbiting around a game franchise is ever increasing. Even comics and manga based on video games make a contribution to literacy.
Video games themselves are also advocates for improving reading comprehension. Not only do so many games require a certain reading level – the Legend of Zelda: Link Between Worlds decided to add a recommended reading age to the back cover – but the tutorials, text prompts and messages all get children reading. Of course, those same students should also be reading from more traditional sources as well, but it's reassuring to remember that a student who enjoys video games is still required to do some reading.
If a student gets House Points, it means they have done well in school. If a student gets enough House Points, they will most likely get a certificate, maybe a book token or cinema voucher. There's also a healthy competition to be had between individual students and between the 'houses'. By the end of the year, the highest achieving, best behaved students deserve an extra award. In the last week of this school year, a small group of students at my school are being given a half-day "picnic in the park". In the morning, before the picnic, those students will be able to enjoy a range of quizzes, games, challenges and video games.
Can you guess which of those incentives has had the biggest impact on students wanting to prove how well behaved they are? That's right, the video games. As the school year winds down, behaviour can become an issue. The promise of Mario Kart within school grounds, while everyone else studies, has gone a long way to combat behavioural issues in the final weeks. Some might call that bribery... but it's Mario Kart.
As with the previous post, I must stress that use of video games in school is something that should happen sparingly. If those references are made effectively, they can have a really positive impact on the classroom and on the individual student. Maybe you agree? Maybe you have some suggestions of your own? Or maybe you feel that gaming and teaching should remain apart? Either way, I'd love to hear your view.
Furthermore, if you have a link to another post that discusses gaming in education, please share that link in the comments box. Greater writers than myself have already carried out amazing research regarding this topic, many of which focus on the connections between literacy and gaming.