Dear Game Designers,

Literacy Lessons, Professional Development -

Dear Game Designers,

Dear Game Designers,

First of all, I’ll completely admit I am starting to become one of those grumpy teachers you avoid working with.  However, stick with me and you’ll soon discover that it is only because I’m passionate about my career and most of all the students I work with. This is the recent slide I presented at GLS10 http://glsconference.org/2014/.  The graphic includes the three considerations for using games in the classroom. The student, the teacher, and the federal, state and local mandates (what we need to teach). GLS Presentation Slide 2014

I find that Game Designers are creating games that meet Federal, State, and Local Mandates.  You’ve embraced the Common Core State Standards and I appreciate that because it is one less reason for administrators to stop me from using games in my classroom.  Also, games are motivating and engaging for students, which is a primary reason I love using games in my classroom. Two other key elements to using games in the classroom have to do with our students and us, teachers.  Some things I would like you to consider about students and teachers are:

  1.  Misconceptions of Reading Levels – I am now finishing year 13 of teaching and I have yet to have a class where 80% of my students are reading at grade level.  And every year there are outliers especially on the end of nearly non-readers.  Here are some profiles of students that I would  like you to consider when designing a game:
    1. Marti – this student has recently emigrated from a country that you have just recently learned to locate on a map.  The country has suffered from the severe unrest that you have never heard of and the child has been living in a refugee camp.  The student is able to communicate in his first language, but there are only a few other students that can and no adults that are able to communicate with him.  He is not only are unable to produce English, most cultural norms and systems are very new and different for him.
    2. Armine – has recently emigrated from a country that many of your other students are from and a language some adults in your building are literate in.  You are able to assess her first language and find that she is reading and writing on grade level in her language, but has little or no English.
    3. Mario – has autism.  He is non-verbal and we are unclear about his reading level because his expressive language is minimal.  He uses a communication board which means he points to pictures to describe his needs and teachers use it to communicate to him the activity, schedule, or expectation.  He is able to follow along with classroom activities, uses many apps, and enjoys watching videos.
    4. Alejandra – she was born in the United States.  Her parents speak a language other than English at home, yet you would never know it because she speaks perfect English.  However, she is reading at a third-grade level.  Her reading is mostly delayed because she is unfamiliar with vocabulary and has few experiences that help her access common events in stories.
These four profiles are typical for an inclusive public school classroom.   (Inclusive meaning that students are not pulled out or isolated based on labels like English Language Learner or Special Education.)  Federal law requires that students have the least restricted environment; therefore, most schools no longer separate students from their peers.  If students receive support services it is common during reading and math instructional times.  So if games are being used at any other time, then a diverse group of students will likely be playing them. Finally, this profile of a classroom is true for the public schools I have worked in from Glendale, California to a small town in Southeastern Wisconsin.

Suggestions: 

Create an Audio to Read Text - I would strongly suggest that any reading is accompanied by an option to listen.  If you think this is enabling “good readers” you are mistaken.  The benefits it provides to a student who cannot access the text are overwhelming.  Please note that the reading level is one aspect of a student’s intelligence that is limiting them to an entire game.  Therefore, if the game is played by reading it, you will exclude many students that diverse opinions and experiences to bring to the game.

Multilingual Text - However, listening to the text is likely not going to help students like Armine access the game.  Therefore, I would encourage you to produce games in as many languages as possible.  In 2010-2011, 9 % of the United States children speak another language other than English at home.  Perhaps, that’s not convincing?  In the largest educational market, California, 23.2% of students speak another language other than English.  If you are overwhelmed by all the languages, at least make it accessible in Spanish.  In 2011, 23.9% of Pre-K through 12th-grade public school students were Hispanic.  So, that’s a lot.  Even in this small town in Wisconsin where I teach we have 20% of our students speak Spanish. (I’m the ESL teacher, I don’t need to cite the source :).)

2. Most of our students are NOT white As the previous statistics state, our schools are very diverse.  This does not mean you should change the dialogue to sound more “urban” or have only characters of color.

Suggestions:  Hire a Diverse Staff

It does mean that you should think about how your narrative represents the dominant culture and how can you make room for non-dominant cultures perspective.  However, the most powerful thing that you can do is continue to hire and work with a racially diverse group of people in the development stage. 3. I, the teacher, stink at playing games I grew up with pong and an Apple IIe.  My brother would make a rocket ship made from x’s blast off and I thought that was amazing.  So, my natural intuition to click here or there or try this or that is very weak.  I have my students show me how to play games and usually after they play them, I then can develop lessons or find value in the game.

Suggestions:  Create a Cheat Sheet

If you would like teachers like me, that are not “gamers” then I would strongly encourage you to not just give me a summary of a game, but a full on guide or cheat.  During graduate school, Meagan Rothschild created the most amazing guide for Citizen Science that includes vocabulary and dialogue from the game.
 Citizen Science Game Guide
If you provide teachers with guides/cheats like this then we will create the lesson plans and help others use the game in classrooms.  For example, I was able to create cheats for the game Citizen Science.  My students were really struggling with the third argument about farmers using a waste treatment facility.   So, instead of suffering through it, I created a cheat guide or walkthrough.   The students use game cheats/codes/walkthroughs all the time, so it was a familiar concept and really made gameplay more enjoyable.  Furthermore, they comprehended the arguments and the game’s big ideas much better. The students cut up the arguments from this sheet: Citizen Science Arguments Citizen Science Arguments Handout Then they glued them onto their sheet that looks like this: Citizen Science Student Sheet Citizen Science Argument Cheats Student Handout Finally, please continue to create video games that are engaging because most days that is half of my battle with students.  I have seen games engage and motivate students like no other lessons I’ve spent hours creating.  Students like Armine, Marti, Mario, and Alejandra who struggle in “traditional” classroom instruction or settings are able to excel in gameplay because game designers like you create video games that are intuitive, entertaining, and have a strong narrative. I really think if you, the game designer, and me the teacher work together we will not only create games that are = engaging + motivating + meet federal, state, and local mandates + student needs + teacher needs, they will also be just plain awesome.  So let’s be friends.  Write back soon or leave your comments below! Sincerely, Heather Robertson 4K – 5 Bilingual Teacher Playful Person Social Justice Advocate

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