Epic Wins in English Class!
Game-based learning has a lot in common with systems approaches to teaching and school transformation. (shared goals, rules, feedback, for example. . . ). In this blog, Amanda Goss, a high school teacher in Denton, Texas, writes about how she and her students talk about what an "epic win" in English class might be!
One of the benefits of being a teacher consultant with the North Star of Texas Writing Project (NSTWP) is sharing ideas with so many thoughtful, informed educators. One of the initiatives of our site is looking at how gaming can inform our decision-making as we set the conditions for engaging classrooms and how these ideas connect to human system dynamics. As a result of conversations with other teacher consultants, I found myself thinking about what it would mean to think of “English Class” as a game. What would my students think if asked about what an “epic-win” looks like in English class?
These resources informed my thinking in addition to what was shared with me about Human Systems Dynamics:
Our 9th grade students come one day earlier than all the other students for Freshmen Day, and I wanted to have them do something quick that would help set the tone for what to expect the rest of the year. We briefly discussed their previous experiences in English and reading classes as well as aspects of games. Then, I asked them to brainstorm what it would look like if English class was a game by considering the following questions:
- Who are the players?
- Where do we play?
- When do we play?
- What is the goal/challenge?
- What does an “epic win” look like? What does it look like to be successful?
- How do you keep score?
- What are the obstacles?
- What are the rules?
How does the player know how they are doing?
- How do they know when they have won a challenge?
- Do the rules have any consequences?
- How do you get players to keep playing?
As a general rule of thumb, I actually do what I ask my students to do, so my brainstorm from the night before giving this to students can be found here. I knew students would struggle with what I was asking them to do, but I was interested in what they might come up with. One table built their game around writing a piece that was funny and would make others in the class laugh, while a different group designed their game around learning new words.
It was interesting to see them struggle to think about what it means to “win” in English class. For the majority of my students, the only thing they could articulate or even envision was passing or getting an “A”. Even when I pressed them on what it looks like to earn an A, they seemed very unclear about what English class is all about. I think this student confusion mirrors a professional discussion amongst secondary English teachers about what the “work” of an English class actually is and what it should be. I know I feel a pull between my belief in reading/writing workshop and the traditional literature study that is the core of many classrooms around me.
After seeing what my students produced, I had the weekend to put finishing touches on my course syllabus before the official first day of school. I wanted to articulate for my students what I envision “winning” in English class to look like and how my views are grounded in my beliefs about the benefits of reading/writing workshop just as Penny Kittle does in her book Write Beside Them. As I found myself crafting this piece that would be my students’ first impression of the class, I started thinking about how I could show them my writing process and the revisions I was making. However, I then began thinking about my experience with the Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and how that form might help me make my message more accessible to my students. The result was my Encyclopedia of a Workshop Classroom. Although I didn’t use it the first days of school, I think it was very important for me to articulate my values and beliefs as I attempt to make the workshop work this year. I plan to have my Pre-AP students read it rhetorically for voice and tone in comparison with the traditional syllabus used across my grade level.