Category Archives: James Paul Gee

Meandering Learning is Anti-American

James Paul Gee in What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy goes into great detail explaining how video games have built into them ways to force players to explore their surroundings. He uses Metal Gear Solid games as an example that if you try to directly attack your enemy you will quickly die. The game forces you to be sneaky and to explore side passages where you discover hidden objects that help you in the game.

Gee then compares this style to his preferred learning style stating his cultural biases that were challenged as the following statements:

The final goal is important, defines the learning, and good learners move toward it without being distracted by other things’ and ‘Good learners move quickly and efficiently toward their goal.’ I also hold other models: ‘there is one right way to get to the goal that the good learners discover (and the rest of us usually don’t)’ and ‘Learning is a matter of some people being better or worse than others, and this is important.’ (173)
…For one last example, I held a model like: ‘When faced with a problem to solved, good learners solve it quickly, the first time they try or soon thereafter. If you have to try over and over again, this is a sign that you are not very good at what you are attempting to learn.” (p.174)

A straight path is not always the best. Photo by chasingtheflow

Video games usually punish rather than reward this kind of learning, encouraging players to explore and discover how to solve problems through trial and error. His statements echo the way that most teachers and schools work. Standards based grading helps with some of these by allowing students to re-assess and learn at different paces.  PBL also gives students some freedom to explore the curriculum in non-linear fashion according to their interests. I like to go on “rabbit trails” when students are engaged in fascinating questions that may or may not be directly related to the standards. But as a teacher I still feel myself driven by making sure students meet the standards (efficiently) and rushed by the amount of curriculum we are supposed to learn (quickly). So much of American culture is built around speed and efficiency that schools fall prey to this same thinking.

So how do you build into your class ways for students to “meander” as they think their ways through problem-solving? How do we fight the culture that says “faster is better or smarter” and focus on deeper, non-linear learning?

PS: And this is one of my major problems with the Common Core. Standardization leads to vanilla classes inevitably preparing for “the test” leaving no time for authentic meandering.

Giving Students New Identities

Last year I made my goal “to love my students.” I think focus point is probably a better term than goal because it is not really something that you measure or accomplish. This year I will be looping with the same students (along with a few new students to our school). So we are not starting from scratch but already know each other. I think this year will be so powerful because my students already understand the PBL process, my style, and most importantly I already have relationships with all of them.

So my focus for this year comes from Gee’s What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy. Not word for word but based on the ideas in chapter 3 about identity. Gee goes into great detail about the different identities a player takes on in a role playing video game and then compares those identities to learning in any context. So every student who comes into the classroom already has an identity in relationship to school or maybe even a separate one for your class. Students see themselves as successful, bored, a failure, a clown, or able to get by. These identities are based on their past experiences, culture, and beliefs.

by Esellee

I am primarily concerned with struggling students. Gee says, “To repair damaged learners in any domain, there must be some such story (i.e. a level of success to motivate continued effort), though the stories will be as various as the learners.” So basically as a teacher I need to motivate students by helping them create an identity of success in my class. Gee does not see motivation as external such as points or badges in the gamification movement but rather as intrinsic as a student creating an identity of success as a learner. He sees the real motivation in video games as pride in identifying with your character as something that you created.   The trick to students having an identity of success in school is that it works differently for every single student.

Gee goes on to give examples in the science classroom of students seeing themselves as scientists. I got to thinking what identity would I ideally like students to have in my class. The obvious answer is historian. I should want students to think, research, analyze, and write like historians with primary documents and from multiple perspectives. Of course I do want students to learn these skills in the domain of history, but very few of my students will be historians or even work in a historical field. So I don’t think this will be an intrinsic motivation for most of my students.

I have decided that a better identity for most students is an active, engaged citizen of the world. A citizen who cares about people, human rights, justice, and making earth better for all. This is an identity that is appealing to students and is unique because each student can personalize what citizenship means and what issues are most important in their life. With this focus they can then study both history and current events to become a critical thinking citizen of the world.

So my focus for this year is to build upon my existing relationships to push every one of my students to be a critical thinking citizen. I also want to connect with each students passions to motivate them to have an identity of success in my classroom. For some students this will be natural and easy, but for others it will take a consistent effort to grow relationships and re-build negative school identities that they have of themselves.

So just like last year I ask you what are your goals for this year?

Getting "Meta" with Video Games

by Libraryman

I have started reading What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy by James Paul Gee. I am only twenty pages in but I highly recommend this book. I am interested in using gaming ideas in my classroom coupled with PBL. Not the gamification kind of stuff, but the idea that video games are self-motivating activities just like authentic learning is. This book is not anything about gamification (at least not so far and I do not think that it will be) but is really a work on literacy and learning.

Gee argues that “literacy and thinking–two things that, at first site, seem to be ‘mental’ achievements–are in reality also and primarily social and cultural achievements.” (p.5) He explains that it is impossible to learn or think in a vacuum because every individual constantly interprets according to her own culture, history, and perspective. Each “genre” of literature has its own literacy in order to understand it. Gee is using literacy very broadly here to include lots of experiences including music, art, and yes video games.

I have been thinking about getting students to think about their learning processes after a great session about teaching students to analyze by Kevin Gant at the New Tech Annual Conference. I really think we need to create experiences to intentionally get students to think about their own thinking. They need to be taught how to reflect and ask questions such as “what is learning?” and “when am I analyzing and what does it mean?”

In PBL we encourage students to “present” their learning in multiple methods to demonstrate their learning. We also talk about things such as digital or visual literacy. My students appreciate the choices in their learning but I am not sure they really understand the why of it. Gee does a great job at the beginning of this book explaining a broad definition of literacy. I decided that I want my students to understand the reasoning and importance of why they are given different ways to demonstrate their learning. So I created this presentation that I plan to show the class and have them write down their “answers” individually and then discuss in small groups.

Then I will share this presentation with them to discuss in their small groups.

I hope to start a conversation and to get students to see the importance of being literate in multiple modes. What do you guys think? How do you get “meta” with your students?