Motivating Struggling Students Through Games
Bev Vaillancourt , M.Ed. Educator, Instructional Designer
Every educator is thrilled when a student finds his or her passion. It’s what drives us through the more difficult days and rekindles our passion for working with kids. Golden moments for an educator are when you know you’ve made a positive difference in the life of a child. It just doesn’t get any better than that.
Some students who take Zulama’s game design courses are quite able students. They are self-motivated, independent learners who thrive on the discovery of new ideas and have a personal quest for knowledge. Others are struggling students who may or may not attend school on any given day. Working with students who see little purpose in attending school provides wonderful opportunities for making that lifelong difference in the life of a child.
According to research presented in Education Week, “only 10 percent of students who were far behind their peers in college and career readiness benchmarks in reading in 8th grade were able to meet readiness benchmarks in 12th grade … only 6 percent of students far behind in science and 3 percent of those far behind in math had caught up by the end of high school…[while] only about 1 in 10 students who were “far off track” in reading or math in 4th grade met the on-track benchmarks in 8th grade.” The data suggests that students who struggle academically early in their school experience find limited success in school as they move through the grades. The problems are compounded by socio-economic status. According to a review of the literature by the organization DoSomething.org, there is a seven fold likelihood that students in the 16 – 24 age category will drop out of school if they come from low income families.
How to best address struggling students drives federal, state, and local educational policies. Education applies well-researched learning theories to instructional methodology for the struggling student. Thus, learning strategies for struggling students highlight the importance of scaffolding so that lessons include visual clues, plenty of time for discourse, group work, and a focus on higher order thinking skills described through the 5 Es: engage, explore, explain, elaborate, and evaluate.
These instructional strategies truly are important in order to maximize student learning and prepare students for jobs we can identify today and for ones that exist only in our imaginations of what the future holds. It’s also where the power of games and game based education can play a significant role in changing students’ attitudes toward school and fostering a personal belief in one’s capacity to learn and participate in the dynamic environment of school. For the struggling student, it is not how we see education as relevant to a student’s life, but how they view that relevance. That’s where students buy into what school offers; it’s where the rubber meets the road.
How can games make a difference and bring relevance to motivate the struggling student? The Institute of Play captures the intrinsic power of games when it states, “Many experts believe that success in the twenty-first century depends on education that treats higher order skills, like the ability to think, solve complex problems or interact critically through language and media. Games naturally support this form of education. They are designed to create a compelling complex problem space or world, which players come to understand through self-directed exploration. They are scaffolded to deliver just-in-time learning and to use data to help players understand how they are doing, what they need to work on and where to go next. Games create a compelling need to know, a need to ask, examine, assimilate and master certain skills and content areas. Some experts argue that games are, first and foremost, learning systems, and that this accounts for the sense of engagement and entertainment players experience.”
We know a wealth of learning happens during game play. Problem solving, content knowledge, collaboration, strategy, optimism in one’s believe to overcome obstacles, goal setting, understanding that rules are necessary and bring order to potential chaos, and a belief that failure can be overcome with perseverance and iteration.
Each of these game elements sounds strikingly familiar to what is expressed as qualities lacked by struggling students. The power of games can bring struggling students to school, develop desired qualities that instill a personal belief of the potential of personal success, and empower them to attempt academic challenges once thought not possible. More than that, games offer career possibilities and provide relevance to mainstream education for able and for struggling students. According to the Entertainment Software Rating Board, video games are played in 67 percent of all households. That’s a lot of gaming. According to Statista, video and computer games combined is a 14.8 billion dollar industry.
Games and game design provide a place for the struggling student to start. They willingly roll the education dice and find purpose in coming to school. Games can be the game changer for students and for the individuals who invest their hearts, time, and talents into making a difference in the life of a child.