Games in the Classroom 5: embodiment, context, complexity, good assessment, measurement, and relevance
18 Aug 2007

Games in the Classroom 5: embodiment, context, complexity, good assessment, measurement, and relevance

What was presented yesterday is how to

18 Aug 2007

What was presented yesterday is how to embody and teach a lesson on Voice.

Trying to teach voice sounds pretty boring, especially when you tell them excitedly in your teacher nerd-talk that “you’ll like it, it’s fun! We’ll look at poetry and other fiction and examine tone, emphasis, word choice, syntax, volume, and all the things that make a great reading. Just think, diction is slang! We’ll study that too!”


If they don’t heckle me for saying something like that, they should.

Now what happens when we embody that lesson in something that it is kind of fun and exciting?

Let’s try another voice:

How about cutting some tracks on garage band? You are going to do the voice on the song. Then we’ll put some music and a beat behind it.

What are you going to call your act? Are you going to be yourself, or make a character? What is their sound?

What are you going to rap about? How about this? Or maybe you can try rapping some one else’s words.

Well, we better think of a logo and begin to think about how we are going to promote you. Who do you like?

Okay, let’s think about doing a video, the cover art, and do some press kits and take some glam shots.

You are going to take on a couple of roles: the talent, the publicist, designer, the manager, the producer.

Will you want to do a clothing line?

So what happens when we try out a high interest activity?

How about engaging the imagination to make something real?

When we have them create a page at MySpace it becomes real. Many of the music tracks making big money are being found through social networking and web-presence in spaces like MySpace. Here is a link to a group some of my kids were always trying to watch. If you are not able to see it, perhaps you have been cut off from the world like most students behind the firewalls. Most of the kids learn about proxy servers and go there anyway — and then we take away their computer usage! Way to reward initiative huh!

What happens if people like what they are doing?

Will there be initiative?

Do you think kids will expect and work for excellence? I am betting they will. This is what I have seen whne they perform to an audience beyond the teacher’s eyes and a red pen.

They are putting their work out there>>>>>>>>>>>>>>in the world>>>where people can see them!

We can deliver this, and all of the things that I mentioned in the first boring lesson. But in this one, the kids will engage. And they will own the lesson because it supports their quest for excellence.

And while we are at it, I can subtly add writing, visual imagery, structure analysis, media and information literacy, as well as design because it furthers their success and it is purposeful and relevant.

School relevant?

I can give them roles to play, we can design our own outcomes based upon my teacher knowledge which has been aligned with their interest and purpose to support them and help them deconstruct the process of performance with the elements of voice.

You might be saying to yourself, “what we are going to use rap music as a text book?”

And I say, “Yes, among other things.”

Why not use words from the world?

Do you think what we consider high culture now was always high culture? How about Shakespeare? He was a bit bawdy and cleverly lewd if you really try to understand the original language. And Chaucer? Don’t get me started.

Okay, so we are not going to go there. But what if we can find tracks that are G-rated? — and I don’t mean G like gangsta.

If there is profanity, shouldn’t we ask the kids what they think of that? Maybe profanity expresses some social commentary? Is it appropriate or just pushing the boundaries to be provocative?

Would you play it for grandma?

I have always been amazed at the strong morals kids have that seemingly support their efforts to be provocative, sometimes profane, and always seeking to be unique. They really do know better. And when it comes to their younger brothers and sisters, they are quite protective of their innocence.

So this unit is built to teach young people how to read, write, express themselves through language, and develop multimedia production skills usually only taught in specialized technical schools, art school, and through apprenticeships. And this is what many of the kids are interested in. Should we consider motivation and engagement? 20 years of socio-cognitive work has only led us to oversimplification of assessment until our tools are assessable, but also decontextualized and irrelevant activities. How many tests have you taken lately? There are four rhetorical modes I can think of: to entertain, to inform, to persuade, and to test.

The fourth only happens in school

To test or not to test.

Are we smart enough to design curriculum that allows for authentic assessment?

Yes, we are.

If we want to look at how to embody learning, we should look at games. Games are designed the same way that research and simulation are designed. Those are respectable activities right? And isn’t a well-structured lesson plan designed for validity and reliability, just like research and simulation? Just like games?

So what if we designed our lessons like games? If the fidelity of the simulation/ model that we are designing reflects the context and learning principles we are trying to introduce and teach; then we will likely have the interactions that we want, but with outcomes that may not be simple, clean, and convenient. This is not one-size-fits all.

So can we live in a world where different is just as good. That might mean creativity and innovation – ownership.

Pride in work? Doesn’t that come from putting your mark on it? Putting yourself into it?

Maybe we need some of that in our schools. Especially schools that have a high incidence of poverty, and assembly-line instruction fueled by tests Anyon (1980). Standardized tests seek mediocrity in most cases. How many tests stretched you to greatness? What kind of work should our kids be doing? In the Anyon article I cited, she found that wealthy kids generally evaluated and supported their positions. Even Bloom thought that was complex.

Test reading is superficial reading, Gee (2006), where you must fill in the blanks, but really don’t require much depth of thought; Allington (2006) describes this as continual testing rather than instruction—where the students are given a task that does not instruct, but assesses and tracks, and likely reduces student expectation and experience with reading complexity.

Moving on

Regular and quality feedback are essential to learning. How much feedback to improve do you get in a test? How do they adjust to your performance

We are moving closer to this with computer assisted tests. Interestingly, those tests are designed with branching—just like many games.

There is nothing wrong with tests. Life is full of tests for entitlement.

But what if the tests are not valid measures?

If you read the RAND report and the National Reading Panel’s report, along with many of the leading figures in reading, you will find healthy skepticism as well as contempt for the way we test for comprehension. I would recommend reading this book if you want smarter people than me to tell you–just read the chapter by Sweet. One of the major reservations expressed is that the tests are not built upon a theory of comprehension. It is for this reason that tests and item difficulty have to be negotiated in committees to create inter-rater reliability. Too bad inter-rater reliability does not translate to the classroom. What do we do when we want to teach these skills sets in the tests? How do we prepare the kids? What is their model? There is no model, the items are negotiated for complexity.

They tell us – Oh, use Blooms taxonomy.

Was this meant as a measure of complexity? I think not. Is recall a less complex process than synthesis? Can you even identify the process in context? When I gave a test defining bloom’s terms, the test makers and academics are stretched to identify them in context. Please write me if you would like to take this quiz.

So, if you are told to recall the process of internal combustion, is that less difficult than synthesizing yellow and blue? The answer to the latter is green. You learn that pretty early in school right. I know this is not a fair comparison, but you get my meaning right? It is not a hierarchy, it is meant as a framework for lesson design.

Readability is the same can of worms.

So, is this a difficult sentence: “to be or not to be”? The readability is high (very accessible and easy to decode).

But do you know the answer?

Can you comprehend it? There really is no easy answer to that question is there?

Complexity and readability could have a metric based upon psycholinguistic research using discourse processing models. If we are going to make a fair game, let’s make fair rules and fair play with our tests.

And aren’t we all just a little tired of shooting for mediocrity?

Are we content with passing a test that really signals nothing but a minimum standard?

Maybe it is time we began looking at things with a little more complexity and raise our standards in the meantime.

It is all about context and embodying the skills and competencies in something meaningful and fun.

Games create challenge, purpose, skill implementation, and reading and acting with purpose. If it is a good game, they will play it. And the actions are the assessments. Games assess and evaluate by their very nature. If you do not have mastery, you do not move forward. But the game will also give you help if you need it—no one designs a game that is too hard. So, maybe we should be thinking about games and how we might begin to design and structure instruction and content. We are at risk of losing our kids to disinterest because we are becoming irrelevant in teaching to the minimum standard.

We can do better for them.

We can take the classroom back. We can make it fun and relevant. We can make work feel like play. And maybe we can make work playful. Kindergarten teachers get this!

We can teach openness to creativity, innovation, and celebrate individuals rather than aggregated scores for AYP. It is my prediction that teaching from this perspective would eliminate AYP and make the tests easily passed.

Thank you for enduring this read if you have gotten this far. If you want to look at the model of comprehension I use for Rhythm & Flow: Star Maker, go here and learn about situation models. Also, there is a slide show that you can view here that describes the project here.

So, teaching reading and writing with Rap, Hip-Hop, Country, and Rock?

I am hopeful that this kind of content and instructional design can be embraced again. We need to embody learning. Teaching abstraction and conceptualization is like eating pure protein – sure it is good for you, but wouldn’t you rather have that protein in something you enjoy?

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