This is no Game.

Actually, what if it was?

I recently had a discussion with a colleague regarding the use of games in the classroom and whether or not it adds any value to the learning environment. My opinion is yes, they do.

I’ll tell you why my colleague thinks differently. She believes that playing games in the classroom makes light of the subject matter and also creates a competition between students (which makes her uncomfortable and could potentially cause some anxiety for a student).

First let me say that I don’t disagree with her entirely.I do however, think that incorporating  games into the classroom helps improve student engagement.  It’s not all rainbows and butterflies though.. There are students who may be less likely to partake in a classroom game.There are so many reasons a student may decline to be involved. For instance perhaps they are shy, or have a fear of “public speaking”, or maybe they have really low self esteem and think they won’t do well. I don’t think that any of those reasons are good enough to remove the use of games from the classroom altogether. I think the added value of student engagement is worth the risk.

My personal experience has been that students are usually quite happy to be involved in something different and fun in the classroom. I have rarely had any issues with people not wanting to participate or becoming too competitive. It creates an opportunity for everyone to relax a little, have some fun together and creates a more dynamic relationship in the classroom if your students can see a different side to you.  The only problem I have had with using games in the classroom is that once they’ve experienced it they want to play them more often, and it does take some time to get them organized.

Let me share with you an occasion in which I dealt with a situation like this. In one of my classes I had a student (who displayed high introvert preferences) who approached me and asked if she could be excluded from the game because she wasn’t comfortable getting up in front of the class and competing with her peers for the right answer. I told her I understood and respected and asked if she would instead be part of the team that organized the game, rather than participating. That wasn’t originally part of my plan, but if you are a teacher you know we sometimes have to wing it. So I then had this student provide some of the QA for the family feud game I had planned for the class. By having her help me, I was able to ascertain that she did indeed know the material, she was able to process the information to come up with valid game questions, she had a great time doing it and I respected the fact that she wasn’t comfortable participating in the game.

The great part of this experience is that I learned how to roll with the punches, I learned that there is as much value in being part of the organizing team (so now I open up roles to my students), and I learned that sometimes doing small things can make big changes. This same student is now more engaged than ever- she participates in the competition but also enjoys being part of the team that organizes. She has told me that she never thought she would be up there in front of the class, and how easing her into it really has helped her.

As far as taking serious material and making “light of it” by turning it into a game- I disagree. I work in a serious environment (emergency response) and we absolutely rely on having a sense of humor to help manage the stress of the environment, so for me that’ just one more reason to do this. I also found this article that I thought was quite interesting. McGill Reporter- Not all fun and games



Positive Learning Environments

I recently attended a class that I had been looking forward to, and midway through the day became completely disengaged. Why? Because I was not having a positive experience. The class was spread out all over the place, the facilitator did not ask questions (and when questions were asked did not answer them), I feel like the facilitator was tired (she mentioned her early flight and the fact that she had to leave the minute the class ended to catch another flight several times) and worst of all there were several people in the class who heckled other students when they tried to contribute ideas to the learning.

You might wonder what exactly I’m getting at when I say that we need to create a positive learning environment for our students. I’m not talking about the paint or having motivational posters in the classroom (although those things do impact the learning environment). I’m talking about creating an environment in which students feel safe, motivated, engaged and encouraged to learn. Building a positive learning community in our classrooms is important, and not that “hard” to do (for any of you who have read some of my previous posts, you are probably starting to notice some themes).

After doing some research, these are the top tips I found on creating a positive learning environment:

  1. Build Relationships/Rapport in your Classrooms. This is something that needs to happen right off the get go. How is this going to help you? Its going to help to build trust, which is invaluable in creating a safe learning environment. It can also help you to try to connect with your students and make the learning more relevant (which in turn will increase their engagement). How can you do this? Learn their names. Learn things about them like where they are from, the things they like to do, what’s important to them. Use ice breakers in your class so that you ALL get to know each other. This helps to open the door for so many people.
  2. Communication. There really isn’t much in life that isn’t improved by effective communication, and the learning environment is no exception. How can this help? Open the channels of communication up to your students and see them flourish with ideas, become more engaged and become an active part of each lesson. How can you do this? Listen. Share. Ask them questions which encourage them to reflect and contribute. Speak their language.
  3. Be a role model. Be positive, display positive actions, reinforce positive behaviour. These are all things that can’t do anything but improve the environment you are in. How can you do this? Teach respect, fairness and kindness. Dont allow bullying or heckling in your classroom.Bring positive energy into your classrooms. Its contagious.

If we take a step back to my introduction, when I discussed my recent misadventure, and we try to apply these 3 steps to that environment could things have been different?

I whole heartedly think so.I think had these things been implemented into that class:

  • Relationships/Rapport building There was absolutely no connection between students/facilitator. She didnt even actually know what we do for a living so it made the learning quite difficult when the references she made were completely out of scope for us.  I think had the students felt more connection, there would have been more engagement and less heckling.
  • The facilitator made no effort to communicate the end goal (I’m still not sure what it was). If you don’t know where you are going, it can be hard to get there and then how do you even know if you ARE there? If people felt like they were being heard, I think it would have also improved the engagement and motivation in the room.
  • Role model- Had the facilitator seemed interested or energetic i think it would have improved the level of engagement as well. I think it’s important to remember (as facilitators) we may be “dealing” with things (early flights etc..) but we don’t need to share that with our students. Share the positive things with them how excited you are to be there with them, how much you love the topic of the lesson etc.. Dont bring them down with your work schedule.

I can say that personally, if the environment had been controlled and had a strong, energetic, positive facilitator I would have (likely) had a far better experience. If it seems like this post has been a bit of a downer or a rant I should say that I only take all of this as an opportunity to learn for myself. I don’t want my students to walk away from any of my sessions feeling like I did that day. That experience has just reinforceed the importance of creating a positive learning environment for my students.

Reference: Creating a Positive Learning Environment


Intrinsic Motivation

What the heck is that, you might be asking…The short answer is that it is probably the learning style we all hope and wish for in our classrooms. I found a great article on the Vanderbuilt University-Center for Teaching-website,  describing:

  • Intrinsic Motivation (internal motivation)
  • Extrinsic Motivation (motivated externally- rewards, grades etc..)

On that page, it says “Intrinsic motivators include fascination with the subject, a sense of its relevance to life and the world, a sense of accomplishment in mastering it, and a sense of calling to it.” It goes on to describe some of the advantages and disadvantages of those particular motivators.

Advantages include learning that stays with the student long term, and is self-sustaining. It focuses on the education, lessons and learning rather than a reward system..Learning for the sake of learning!

Disadvantages include the time it takes to foster this type of motivator. As you may have read in some of my past posts, it can be very challenging to light a spark in a student. It requires time spent getting to know them, what motivates them and may be different for each student.

As i read through the article, I thought “Wouldn’t it be great to have a class full of intrinsic learners?”. It seems to me that intrinsic learners are self-motivated, would require less “attention” in class and might even be helpful in getting other students motivated. It’s not to say that intrinsic learners would progress ahead of extrinsic learners. I have been in classes that I would look back and describe myself as having had extrinsic motivators (I always want to have high grades). But I can also tell you that I have not retained a great deal from those classes. The classes in which I would describe as having been motivated intrinsically are “still with me” to this day. And not because the teacher spent a great deal of time getting to know me or my motivators. It was because I wanted to be there. I had a purpose and knew the value of the lesson I was receiving.

When I think to myself “how can we try to spark some intrinsic motivators in our school systems?”, I wonder if we can start to offer them more choices? The classes in which I was truly engaged and motivated to do well, were classes I chose for myself. Not classes that were mandatory or were assigned. This one change could make such a difference in our classrooms. Just imagine- a classroom full of students who want to be there!




Photo credit:

References: Center for Teaching-Vanderbuilt University