Making My Classroom “Pleasantly Frustrating”

Gee’s thesis about video games being useful models for how children and adults can be faced with challenge and still, miraculously, stay interested in the game—is interesting. I admit that I was skeptical of Gee’s thesis, at first, and that throughout the text, he did convince me that video games are, in fact, good models for how to teach a learner how to “read,” interpret, and problem solve in a variety of situations (like pick up little pieces of a space suit from another planet, etc). But, I’m not sure how I can connect this to my classroom.

I agree, as Gee mentions that we should spend some time studying how game-makers create self-contained little learning worlds. We should spend time thinking about how they make decisions about the pre-level tutorials, and the in-game help pages. We should figure out the recipe they use to ensure that they achieve just the right amount of challenge (read: frustration), while still giving the player hope that they’ll succeed eventually. And of course, I agree, that these are all conditions that I would ideally like to reproduce in my literature classroom. But how?

I can see myself assigning students homework that involves them going home to play a videogame, then writing meta-cognitively about how they approached the game (with what attitude, what kinds of tools, what levels of expectations, excitement, frustration, etc). I could see, then, asking them to complete a similar kind of assignment for a short, challenging, text. Then, I suppose, I could bring that conversation deeper, asking students to identify what it is about difficult reading that is somehow more frustrating than a difficult game, or vise versa. In this way, I could initiate a conversation about the idea of difficulty, and about what we can expect to not understand as readers, and how we can transfer the patience (or at least willingness to try it again) we seem to use with video games, to reading a text.

I can also see using the idea of the video game tutorial, to talk about the “how to” of reading. What questions to ask yourself if you’re confused. What strategies to use when you don’t understand a passage. Etc. Which buttons to press when you want to use the bow and arrow instead of the shot gun. I might also use this opportunity to talk about how a text teaches us to read itself, and how we find those clues.

So, I see the video game comparison as an apt analogy, and I see Gee’s point, that the conditions game-makers create in video games make for really efficient, active learning Of course, I’ll try to reproduce those conditions as best as I can in my own classroom, scaffolding the reading, starting in Level 1. I just wish Gee had given me some concrete suggestions of how I might make my Literature classroom work like a challenging video game level—that is, “pleasantly frustrating.”


One thought on “Making My Classroom “Pleasantly Frustrating”

  1. ljonesz

    I also found myself wondering how the theories outlined in Gee’s book could be successfully transferred to the classroom. I, like many others, do see the merit in getting students to embrace frustration during the learning process, and Gee correctly points out that doing so can give you new perspective. Playing video games can certainly be frustrating and challenging, but while reading his text I found myself wondering how to connect this type of experience to a lesson that students could appreciate. I like that you outline how you could possibly connect video game learning to a classroom assignment, and I also wish that Gee expounded on some specific examples that instructors could incorporate in their classroom lessons.

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