Engaging the Struggling Student
Beverly Vaillancourt, M.Ed
Educator, Instructional Designer
“Games teach you how aspects of reality work, how to understand yourself, how to understand the actions of others, and how to imagine.” Raph Koster, A Theory of Fun for Game Design
“Games help us band together and create powerful communities from scratch.” Jane McGongigal, Reality is Broken
Education expends a great deal of effort on struggling students. School systems, prompted by both federal and state directives, commit resources for testing students, compiling statistics, and managing curriculums and perhaps entire school buildings, all focused on the struggling student. Politicians recognized the importance of addressing the struggling student and commit additional resources to write laws and policies to deal with the social consequences associated with failed school systems. It’s an accumulated cost that defies calculation.
I’ve often heard comments about the skill and enjoyment struggling students show when playing video games, with the caveat that if they would spend more time on their school work and less time playing video games, their grades certainly would improve. I have to wonder if when we are talking about the struggling student if we really are not talking about students who are disengaged, along with parents who are equally disengaged, or perhaps more so.
What keeps a teen interested in school? One tenet I firmly believe is that every individual wants to succeed, though that success activity may not be what most view as success. Chronic truancy, a route taken by too many struggling students, is an activity that defines success, at least for some. The system has been thwarted, control gained over adults who are jumping through hoops to pull the student back into mainstream education, and admiration gained from others who view schools as negative places. Success really is in the eye of the beholder.
Video games offer an alternative reality for kids who fail within traditional school settings. They succeed with games and succeed big. Importantly, they learn the value of iteration. Failure becomes a positive and highly social experience because strategy gained from the feedback of others playing the same game pays off. The warm glow of success becomes a welcomed experience. This is so very different from the social experiences of so many struggling students in schools.
The deep learning that occurs in games is voluntary, involves every modality, and is driven by high interest. Toss in perseverance to the max as the individual moves into higher levels of game play to meet both short-term objectives and long-term goals. Isn’t this learning process exactly what we hope happens in the classroom? Isn’t it all about engagement and not about an individual’s ability to learn in ways educational systems have decided they must learn? Wouldn’t it be quite the educational success story if educators could get struggling students as invested in school tasks as so many are in video games?
According to the Entertainment Software Association’s 2013 statistics, gamers make up 32 percent of all individuals under the age of 18. There is an average of two gamers / American household, while 51 percent of all American households include a game console. It may surprise you (maybe not) to learn that on average every American house has a PC, smart phone, or dedicated game console.
But what if education harnessed the power of games and technology to reach the struggling reader? Zulama is invested in the exciting paradigm shift happening across the country in education. This new paradigm couples the power of technology with best practices in how to foster deep and long lasting learning. It’s a paradigm that supports a deep dive into content and drives a belief in one’s ability to control their destiny through effort, perseverance, and engagement. It is, in every way, an exciting time in education, and one that should and must alter how education views the struggling student.
Infographics courtesy of Institute of Play.