I recently read an interview with James Paul Gee, Professor of Literacy Studies at Arizona State University, and author of the book, The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students Through Digital Learning. If you are not familiar with him, please read his books. He is a brilliant thinker and articulate voice in the education reform movement. He draws on video games and gamification, to outline what he thinks educational practice should look like.
This quote, in particular stood out:
Understanding oral and written language involves essentially running video-game like simulations in our heads. We run problem-based simulations where we try out various actions in our heads (as ourselves or someone else) and gauge their possible consequences. A game manual is given meaning by the game world it is about, not by a dictionary. A physics textbook is a “game manual” for the actions, experiences, and problem solving that physicists engage in. The textbook, too, is given meaning by the “game” and the world it is played in (a somewhat different world than our everyday world, since physicists, thanks to their tools, can see things like electrons).
In school, we give people texts when they have not had enough experience in the worlds the texts are about, the experiences that give the texts meaning. It is as if we were to give kids game manuals without the games. It only works for kids who are getting a lot of experiences at home—backed up by lots of talk with adults about these experiences, talk which helps the kids learn to map language on to experience and vice-versa—but it is disastrous for less advantaged kids.
I love the manual comparison. Art education, and all disciplines, should use this concept as a measuring stick when designing lessons, developing curriculum and especially when looking at high stakes testing. Are we providing a manual with no game?!
Are we providing students with just the manual and leaving the essential act of playing the game out of it? And to take it a step further, what kid looks at a manual when playing a game anymore anyways. They simply grab the controller and start playing. They fail, assess, fail, succeed while playing the game.
If we are giving kids the manual in the form of text books and worksheets, where is the game to apply the learning. Do we really want the game that these texts and worksheets are preparing them for, be a test? Shouldn’t we focus on designing meaningful games where students consult a manual as needed?