Sunday, October 22, 2017

Teaching The Author's Point Using Video Games (Plus a Giveaway)

As a literacy coach teaching persuasive reading and writing to elementary age students, I recently tried to find a topic that my students connected with and had an author’s point of view in which they might disagree.  Because let’s be honest, the ones on recycling and water are just…old.  I wanted fresh material.   

And any time teachers need fresh material, what do they do?  We steal, borrow, and take good ideas from real-life experiences - and sometimes our friends and colleagues. Well, I happened to have the real-life experience of strongly disagreeing with my teenager step-son on one particular point. (Most of us probably do with our teens)

You see, three years ago, I got a step-son who lives for fast internet and all-night playing of video games.  Since knowing Drew, I have slid in comments here and there about the negative effects of video games.  I assumed my comments would trigger his hormonal, irrational mind into thinking - Wow.  She is so smart.

This didn't happen.

But from conversations with Drew, I did realize that video games was a wonderful topic to engage my students.  And because I wanted to connect and relate to them, I decided to write a "letter" asking the principal to allow video games in school.  (You can find the letter here.)  I know!  You all thought I was going to go against it.  So did my students.

 At first, as I sat down to write my letter request and the reasons they should be in school, I literally thought “Nothing.  Nothing good comes from video games.”  

But I knew this wasn’t true.  Nor was that making an interesting letter.
So I fought to see it from Drew's perspective, and I was shocked with what I learned.  I not only discovered that kids could learn "soft skills" valued in the workplace, but I discovered how I could be a better parent to Drew and be a better teacher.

By putting myself in Drew’s (and my students’) shoes to make the point that video games should be allowed in school, I was pausing to consider what is important to them.  I looked for the things that they love about gaming that would also be considered a benefit to an adult.  

What I Learned
  1. Video games challenge their brains. There is a lot of action going on in those games.  Gamers must think through decisions and problem solve.  They are trying to create, build, and conquer.  This takes problem-solving skills.  There are also other players moving in real time.  As the players are playing, they are being challenged to work as a team.
  2. Video games engage children. Therefore, it cuts down on misbehavior in classrooms (and in homes).  Children & teens want to be engaged!  They want their brains to be focused and challenged.  When they are, they don’t think about snacks, water breaks, or how many students they can make laugh. Ever notice how in the middle of talking, a student will ask to go to the bathroom.  But the minute you hit play on a video, they no longer have to go?  Same thing.  Video games are engaging them because they’re focused on winning. 
  3. Video games teach perseverance. They play.  They lose.  They play again.  The cycle continues as they get better and better and work towards winning.  It’s something we appreciate in athletes and mathletes.  We should appreciate it in gamers too.  This is literally the whole growth-mindset & grit theory that is trending now.  Students feel they are defeated for a millisecond when they lose, and then it’s back to another game to try again. 
How do these things make me a better teacher and/or parent?

The short answer is I realized the value of putting myself in my teen's shoes for a moment.  How often do we all need to pause in our own crusade and consider the perspective of the opposing argument?  This skill alone is something I want to teach all children to make a better world.

Specifically as a teacher, I reflected on the three things video games offer that captivate my students.  They want to be challenged.  They want to be engaged.  They want to persevere, get better, and win.
It’s my job as an educator to help facilitate these three things each day in the classroom. My instructional practices should include these things as much as possible.  Don't I want to be challenged, engaged, and grow myself?  I want to offer that to my students.

Misbehaving students aren’t always a result of my instruction, but when I have misbehaving students, I must stop and reflect.  Are the students engaged?  Are they feeling challenged, but not defeated?  Are they learning to persevere so they can win?

As a teacher and parent, I need to stop and reflect.  It’s so easy to think our kids are acting crazy/disrespectful/fill-in-the-blank and not see the situation from their perspective.

In the end, I wrote a letter "from Drew" with an author's point, reasons, and evidence that would convince a principal to allow video games.  (You can find the differentiated passages here.)  My students loved it so much, I then wrote one "from Mara" (my step-daughter), asking the principal not to allow video games in school!  These can be found here.

I truly believe RI 8 (Author's Point, Reasons, & Evidence) and W1 (Opinion writing) are two of the most important standards we can teach.  Persuasive skills, considering other people's point-of-view, and debating are skills they will use in almost every relationship, job, and stage in life.  We need to make sure we are equipping them for these life skills, and not just checking a box.

Teaching this standard made me a better teacher, and I hope it grows you as it grew me.

It also made me a better bonus mom. Truthfully, I may not ever fully get on "Team Video Games".  But I always want Drew to know I am on "Team Drew".

You can find my Author’s Point, Finding Logical Connections, and Differentiated Reading Passages & Activities “Video Games In School” at my TPT page.  The "No Video Games" will be FREE for the first week this is posted as a gift to the readers!

Follow me on TPT (Mrs. Wilson Wonders), Twitter @NatalieWilson43, Instagram @NatalieWilson2012, or at my own blog – Freshly Designed.