Category Archives: Week 4

Learning by Doing

I really enjoyed reading Gee because I think he really believes in my teaching philosophy. I believe that students learn by doing. Which is part of the reason I so enjoy teaching journalism classes. Gee explains on pages 108 and 109 that he believes video games offer a intuitive or tacit knowledge. Players learn by playing the game.

Gee says, “…video games honor not just the explicit and verbal knowledge players have about how to play but also the intuitive or tacit knowledge—built into their movement, bodies, and unconscious ways of thinking—they have built up through repeated practice with a family or genre of games.” (108) My students gain similar knowledge by writing and researching articles. They learn how to write by actually writing and they learn how to interact with sources and design pages by actually doing these things. I begin my year teaching them the basics but we only spend perhaps two weeks learning in a traditional sense. I then throw them into their role as editor and reporter. They must learn by doing. I of course help them along the way but they must experience what it is like and gain knowledge. My students learn how to interact with adults and they learn which teacher will let students out of class. They learn how to take pictures through trial and error. They have to experience and gain intuitive knowledge about some things that I just can’t teach them in a traditional sense.

I really feel students gain the best knowledge by actually doing to learn. When they do a task related to learning the information that they learn will be retained. I think this intuitive knowledge is really what will benefit them in the real world. How to interact with people and how to write are so important to my students’ futures. I think Gee is right that this knowledge is often lacking in schools when it should be taught in all courses.

Projective Identity for the English Student?

Like others, I agree that Gee is definitely stretching his defense of video games a little far and I, too, think he has simply avoided dealing with many of the negative effects of video games. For example, as our posts have exposed, we all know someone who has unfortunately replaced their effort and value in their real-world identity with obsessive dedication to some sort of a virtual one. My reading of Gee was colored by my prior knowledge, having only experienced a significant identity shift in a negative manner watching someone choose their World of Warcraft identity over their real-world identity. Investment in one’s identity obviously has the power Gee claims and so I must agree that building bridges and repairing damaged identities are a central goal for all teachers (57). How can we achieve the positive exchange of identities Gee claims, “real-world identities (some of which may have started as virtual identities in other play or school domains)…” (121), rather than the negative shifts I find more common with preferring a virtual to a real identity? Gee would find the answer within a properly established projective identity and use his students as scientists’ metaphor to prove this point. I just don’t know what a beneficial projective identity amounts to in the English classroom. Obviously, students must assume the identity of student and learner and this repair work is no easy task as being good at school carries more different meanings and values than any one teacher can possibly understand or repair. But what projective identity is available in the English class? Critic? That has too much prior baggage, even to those who are professing English, to be of actual use in the high school classroom. How does Gee actually play into the classroom? I find myself falling back on this question for most of his presented principles, identity is just bothering me the most at the moment.

To close, I will admit that I appreciate Gee’s vocabulary. Whether or not I agree with all of Gee’s positive analysis of the first-person shooter affinity group, I like the term.  Gee’s conception of triple identities really does interest me, but mainly frustrates me. I agree to his expanded view of literacy and most of his assessments about what is potentially lacking in current classrooms.  But can Gee’s learning principles practically fit into the practicing classroom? My projective identity as an English 610 student who fully appreciates the value of Gee’s book sure hopes so…

On Gee, application, and critical distance

Reading Gee’s book about video games and learning left me with as many questions as I had before I started—and if the twitter stream from class is any indication, I’m not alone in that regard.

First, Gee derives learning principles from video game usage, and the 36 principles he points out all hold water for me—many of them being things I’ve heard before in education classes. Where things became more thorny was when Gee admitted that even he is not taking his work to mean that video games should necessarily be used in the classroom. I understand that Gee’s point was that the classroom should do many things that video games do well—work at the outer reaches of the individual’s development, reward effort, build identity—but there wasn’t one suggestion on how to make this so.

I know I tend to be a broken record about “well, how can we apply this in the classroom?” but it’s the entire reason I took on graduate school. After four years of undergraduate work and four years of teaching, I feel competent but I still have questions about best practices—practices being the key word. I want to challenge and reward each student individually—but with 150 students, how do I do that? I don’t mean to imply that discussing such topics isn’t worthwhile if they aren’t immediately implentable. I appreciate discussions like those in Gee’s book about what our goals will be because of the direction they give. To me, this makes a clear case for smaller class sizes and more relevant instruction practices—but that case has already been made elsewhere. What we need is a way to make it happen.

Another area of questions for me about Gee’s work centered on the demographics of those who generally play and are featured as central characters in video games—white males of middle class or better standing. While I don’t think different demographics of people learn differently, I hesitate to accept Gee’s generalizations that he has taken from video games when it comes to applying to all types of learners. He acknowledges that the world of video gaming is clearly lopsided, but I don’t think he holds that focus in mind when he generalizes about their benefits.

I think it was too easy for Gee to gloss over some major issues—for instance, how all of that social game “chat” on headsets often goes (misogynistic, homophobic) because of his group membership. Gee is only human and this wasn’t a scentific trial, but I think he lost some objectivity because of his love for video games. He gives them too much of a pass in some areas that I think are critical, especially given his assertions about learning as a social act.

I appreciated Gee’s careful deduction of what video games have to offer, but I felt I was already aware of those principles from other sources. On the whole, this leaves me feeling I did not learn a lot of new material from this book.

Gee and Reality

There is a lot of information in Gee’s book, almost too much to get your arms around in a single reading and definitely too much to critique in a blog post. At the macro level, however, it is safe to say that what Gee espouses is what every educator should consider; if students aren’t learning using present teaching concepts, then all of us (teachers, administrators, and education theorist) need to look at the way students are being taught. I think most would agree that there are many subjects and courses where students are going through the motions of learning, but that their accumulated knowledge is, as Gee notes, an inch deep and a mile wide. (I occasionally have students who are the products of European schools and have found that while their knowledge may not be as broad-based as other students, the depth of what they know is impressive.)
I like many of Gee’s concepts; I find his “learning principles” to be, in many cases, refreshing restatements of current pedagogical maxims. Speaking from the vantage point of a “reading” teacher, I found the section on identity and learning, especially the concept of learners developing a projective identity (p. 48), to be something that should be stressed more in ESL reading classes.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, I am currently teaching a novel about the immigrant experience in America. While I am sure that most of my ESL students can identify with the immigrant experience, projecting themselves into the story would help them identify more with the characters and plot lines than merely the topic of immigration. Assigning students to put themselves in to role of one of the main characters or having them write into the story a completely new character, would immerse them to a much greater degree.

Giving them the freedom to have their “projected” selves act in ways that are not prescribed by anything other than basic plot points, would give them an insight into what writers must consider as they construct the world inside their novels. What are the relationships between characters? How are these relationships manifested? What restrictions are placed on their actions by the plot, character development and various story lines?
Forcing students to consider all the potential ramifications of the actions of their projected identities would be a revelation for many into the craft of writing and story telling. Hopefully it would also give them a greater appreciation for what they read and some tools to help them interpret what they author is trying to say.
Gee has other ideas that I think I can use in my classroom, but his theories, like others we have read this semester, bump into the realities of teaching. We all know, as Gee emphasizes, that students learn from their mistakes. In a classroom, however, mistakes often go into the grade book because of the realities of our education system. We don’t have the luxury of allowing students to repeatedly fail at a task until they get it right.

On Gee: A Brief List of Talking Points

As I read What Video Have Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy, I started to imagine what I would say to Gee if I were to sit down to tea with him one snowy afternoon. I jotted down a list throughout my reading that would help me to remember the points of contention I wished to discuss with him. (Some of them have already been mentioned by other blog posts, so I feel as if I am part of an “affinity group” of doubters.) 

Here is my list of points of contention, each followed by my post-reading reflection:

1) Gender? Sexualized females?

Just because Gee makes a disclaimer in the beginning of his book does not mean that we can toss aside the damage that such factors might cause in a learning environment.

2) Multiple intelligences?

I have to wonder whether Gee has taken into account the multiple ways that people learn. He does not seem to ever point out that while certain other teaching strategies work for some students, video games may also only work for some students. Students who are skilled in either visual-spacial intelligence or bodily-kinesthetic intelligence (two of Gardener’s list of multiple intelligences) may excel at video games, but what about the students who just flounder repeatedly with this kind of activity. I think adding video game-style learning to any curriculum can be useful, but I want to iterate that certain students would not reap the same benefits. Differentiating learning is very important, and I concur with Gee that we need to be more cognizant of gamers’ learning styles, but I can’t be sure that all, or even most, students would learn better with gaming-type curriculum.

3) Childhood obesity?

This may seem random, but one of today’s headlines explains that Michelle Obama is working to prevent childhood obesity so it was on my mind.  As I was thinking about my students sitting at home over these snow days, playing video games, I got to thinking about their lack of exericese.  We all know that chidlhood obesity stems, in large part, from the inactivity involved in many video games (as well as in TV-watching). I know that games like those played on the Wii might be the exception to the rule, but as Todd pointed out, don’t we also see people who suffer because of gaming? Sure, they may be learning and becoming better thinkers, but what are they doing to their health?

4) Addiction? Gambling?

Next on my list was the idea of addiction. I think I had, at this point, started skimming other people’s blogs, and after reading Todd’s I realized that I, too, attribute gaming to addictive behavior because, in certain cases, the game becomes life. This thought led me to yet another: sure, gambling is fun in the classroom, too. It certainly makes for a more interesting lesson, I’m sure, but it promotes something that many consider immoral and dangerous. While a lesson that incorporated gambling might really inspire students to learn, it also might inspire them to a life of addiction. Gambling certainly can indicate a high level of intelligence (as is clear in the movie 21 in which MIT students count cards and make lots of $), but it can also lead to a life of desperation.

5) Active learning? Technology?

In a sense, I think what I got most out of this book, aside from a higher appreciation of some video games, is the notion that we as teachers need to incorporate as much active learning and technology as we can into our classrooms. These days, our students’ lives are immersed in technology, and whether we old-schoolers want to admit or not, they learn better (in ways we may not even grasp) when lessons can be tied to some kind of active learning, particularly when that active learning involves technology.

For example, when I have students play group games in which they review vocabulary words or literary terms that are projected for them Jeopardy-style on the classroom TV or white-board, they get so into it that they forget they are learning. In essence, I have “tricked them into learning,” a phrase a mentor of mine shared with me and I continue to try to incorporate into my classroom. In essence, this is what Gee is talking about when he suggests we incorporate what he has learned about learning into our teaching.

In conclusion, I blame the snow for why I spent so much time on this post, but Gee certainly had me thinking, and while I won’t say I disagree with all he says, or concur for that matter, I do feel like I’ve been forced to think about learning in new and intriguing ways. That said, I’d like to get back to playing Grand Theft Auto IV now.


As I read Gee’s What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, I connected many of the ideas he had on applying learning strategies to gaming with those we have read previously with Salvatori and Donahue, Shulman, Scholes, and especially Linkon. Gee discusses active and critical learning, which relates to Linkon’s article on cultural critical reading. There is an emphasis on making students active learners instead of passive learners as Scholes would describe moving from reading to interpretation to criticism. This is also shown with Linkon’s example of the inquiry project, where students engaged in real inquiry and took on a new identity as researchers and critical thinkers.

However, Gee says “Certainly children will be at a disadvantage if they have one or more identities that do not fit with, are opposed to, or are threatened by the identity recruited in the [science] classroom…” Similar to how Tim’s Week 3 blog post on Linkon reflected how different cultural identities influenced his student’s readings on The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears by Megestu, the student’s cultural identity affects how they learn. We already know that some students are more adept at learning and that there must be an interest in learning or else the student will have the blame “this text is too difficult,” or “it’s boring” as we learned from The Elements (and Pleasures) of Difficulty. There didn’t seem to be much resolution offered for those children who would be considered disadvantaged by Gee, but there was an expansion on identity as projective identity in his book. Projective identity “plays on two sense of ‘project,’ meaning both ‘to project one’s alues and desires onto the virtual character’ and ‘seeing the virtual character as one’s own project in the making…” (Gee p. 50) Gee later explains (in relation to science classrooms mostly although I really wish there were some English class examples) how the student needs to take on the identity of the scientist (or other expert) in order to become that type of thinker. So, for literature would this mean that a student should empathize and place his/herself in the identity of say the main character? Also, what about the disadvantaged students? How would a student even consciously know to project identity or how does the teacher get the student to project identity in the classroom? Gee goes on to discuss “repair work” for the students who cannot connect between real world identity and virtual identity: learner must be enticed to try even if he/she is afraid to try; learnermust be enticed to put in lots of effort even if there is little motivation to do so; and learner must achieve some meanigful success when he/she has expended this effort. (Gee p. 58) This all seems pretty obvious as generalities for teaching (as we’ve discussed positive reinforcement and making reading interesting in our class). In fact, these things seem more premptive or continuous than “repair work”.

On page 74 Gee says, “Of course, humans don’t just store experiences in their minds ‘as is.’ Rather, they edit them according to their interests, values, goals, and socio-cultural memberships.” This relates to the reading on experts vs. novices and how experts compartmentalize knowledge. In that same article about how experts learn and apply things, it mentions how experts recognize patterns, which Gee also discusses in the 4-step process (for children and experts) on probing, hypothesis, reprobing, and accepting the process on page 88. He also mentions how “situated meanings lead to real understanding and the ability to apply what one knows in action. Verbal meanings do not (though they do sometimes lead to the ability to pass paper and pencil tests). This is why so many school children, even ones who are good at school, can pass tests but still cannot apply their knowledge to real problem solving.” (p. 105) Linkon tried to resolve this by having students do the inquiry project. He also discusses how players learn the game by playing in a “subdomain” of the real game, or initially the first episode of a game which is a type of walkthrough of how to play. This is similar to how Linkon expresses the need for modeling and demonstration.

There is a lot in Gee’s book on how literacy applies to video games, including transference of things learned in one game applied to other similar games (like first-person shooter games), and as I try to be a good learner I shouldn’t complain (as I did above) about the lack of English classroom examples because the point is to transfer what I learned in Gee’s book on literacy and video games to English classrooms.

PS- When I worked in publishing on secondary school level math textbooks, our big competitor was trumping our market because they developed a new program enVision math, which had some pretty intense graphics on video games or technology that teaches math (my company called it “smoke and mirrors”).

Translating Learning Principles to Classrooms

As I finish up with Gee, I can’t help but be equally engrossed and critical of his argument. In Video Games, Gee’s argument was particularly strong when he was actually giving examples from the games he was playing to demonstrate what learning principles were being activated and used by the player. Gee’s use of the game Pikman to get his discussion started on semiotic domains is particularly good, because as a reader of Gee’s argument, I can see how each maneuver that the player makes in the game directly translates to a learning principle. As a reader who has very little experience playing video games (and absolutely no experience with the games he uses as examples), I was pleased with Gee’s ability to describe the action of each game in terms that a non-gamer could understand. Through his meticulous background descriptions of each game and detailed play-by-plays of certain maneuvers, Gee makes clear how exactly the action in a video game translate into a critical learning experience for the player. I found the learning principles described with Lara Croft particularly interesting; for example, the player “learns” that he must, in fact, deviate from Professor Von Croy’s strict instructions by being rewarded with golden skulls each time he disobeys. So, on Gee’s video game side of his argument, I was very much with him.

Unfortunately, I was a little skeptical when Gee began to try to translate his video game learning principles to the classroom. For instance, it is not hard to understand the separation of “real-world” and “virtual” identities in the gaming world (except, maybe when Gee overcomplicates things with his discussion about the placement of his italics in the phrase “James Paul Gee as Bead Bead”…so not necessary!), but it really seems a stretch to separate a “learner” and a “scientist” when both are physically the same person. Isn’t “scientist” just one of those “real world identities” that the “learner” may have acquired from years of science class? I just felt that Gee was really making a stretch with his discussion of real and virtual identities in the classroom.

I get how video games make us think and learn in different and often challenging ways. I also understand that the wild success of video games is an indicator that the learning principles they employ should be transferred into the classroom. Where Gee loses me is when he gives little to no tangible examples of how to actually employ these learning principles in the classroom (the only practical example he gives that I’ve seen so far is about the computer game that asks students to elaborate on Galileo’s principles of motion on page 86). I appreciate that video games highlight learning principles that are conducive to how humans tend to learn best; I don’t appreciate when Gee takes pages and pages to describe the learning principle and then makes an abstract claim like “good teachers set up scientific environments that guide learners and surround them with empowering tools that extend their individual efforts” (108). As a reader, I’m left thinking, “Okay, but HOW?” If Gee devoted as much time to translating his learning principles to a classroom setting as he devotes to describing Bead Bead’s maneuvers through her virtual world (and did anyone else think it was TMI when we heard about Bead Bead’s “well-deserved night of forbidden pleasure”?), I think that this book would be a lot more worthwhile for me. It was definitely an interesting concept, though.

Hate to be Debbie Downer but….

I really did not like this book.  I’ve read your posts and it seems like some of you liked it, and I tried to, I just could not get into it or really see the value.  I am not anti-gaming, or a luddite in anyway.  I played lots of different video games growing up from sports, to first person shooters, to RPG’s.  I’ve even recently discussed video games with my students in class, namely the best games ever (Goldeneye, Mario Kart and Chrono Trigger would be the top three).  I also still occasionally play a little Wii.  However, this book just did not do anything for me.

I did not feel that any of Gee’s ideas had any real world application for my classroom.  I agree with Nikki, he had some good ideas about science, but I did not feel that it really applied to a literature classroom.  Letting students “take the long way” and “peruse” sounds great, but I have thirty kids in my class at all times and I need to maintain some sense of coherence and control.  There were some principals he talked about that I strive for, but he did not really give me anything new to work with.  I will be the first to admit that I did not like the book almost immediately for whatever reason, and may not have given it a decent chance.  I read through it however, and even took notes (really enjoying using the index card as bookmark and note taking apparatus..thanks Abbie? I think).

I also feel the book is dishonest.  I am sorry to all the gamers reading this, but I feel that there are negative social effects of playing hours and hours of video games alone.  I do not buy the whole “affinity groups” thing.  Video games can lead to isolation.  I have seen plenty of examples.  There was a guy in college who dropped A WHOLE SEMESTER, because he was playing too much Diablo instead of going to class.  My friends and I had a Sunday ritual (Big Bowl Noodle House ya’ll) and our one friend would refuse to come with us because he had to slay a dragon every Sunday at eight with his guild.  Your online guild should not take precedence over your real life friends, standing in the room, asking you to come hang out.  This summer, one of my roommates, who had quit WOW-ing began to start playing again.  He just checked out.  He would spend hours just WOWing, and we lived a block from the beach.  You could say these are extreme examples, call me old fashioned or a “cranky pants” as I’ve been called, but I think children are better served playing outside, or maybe shovelling my sidewalk.

Oh, hi Pluto, it must be fun working at Disney Land. Although at any major theme park you live under the constant threat of terrorist attacks.

More on teaching textual codes…and some thoughts on student motivation

I was very surprised by how much I enjoyed Gee’s book. I particularly enjoyed his introduction and first few chapters as I felt that he became repetitive, essentially saying the same principles in a different way, as the book went on. (I also found some of his examples to be rather long-winded and, at times, redundant.) What struck me most about Gee’s points were the connections to other works we’ve read thus far in the course. I noticed some strong similarities between Gee’s work and the article on expert/novice learners that we read for our second class. I also noticed connections to Scholes’s points about textual power and “codes.”

Like Scholes, Gee speaks to the idea of expanded literacy. Gee says that “print literacy is not enough” (20). It’s not enough to be able to “read and write.” Rather, what matters is how successfully an individual can communicate in any given domain. In chapter two of Textual Power, Scholes states that “our job […] is to show [students] the codes upon which all textual production depends and to encourage their own textual practice” (24-5). Similarly, chapter two of How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School stresses the importance of learning concepts rather than facts. Really, we should be helping our students to further develop their skills so that they can read and send “signals”/codes in any situation. Yes, we love it when our students truly analyze and discuss the novel we’re studying, but we should also want them to be able to apply those skills outside of the text, observing and analyzing the world around them.

Gee argues that “a great deal more is at stake than ‘content’” when it comes to video games (38). The same applies to literature studies, too. While our students may think English is just about reading and analyzing certain texts, we need to be teaching our students to think critically about the texts and the world around them. (Hopefully we’re already doing this and the students just don’t realize it—like the gamer who told Gee he never thought of playing video games as learning.) Gee repeatedly references science and math classrooms, and his book truly lacks significant references and direct application to English classrooms. I’d like to think this “lack” is because we, as English teachers, are already applying many of the principles Gee mentions. Gee’s point seems to be (if I really simplify his arguments and principles) that learning needs to be meaningful and relevant. In order to really learn, the learner must really care. We (naturally?) work to make literature studies meaningful and relevant by making connections between the texts we study and the world around us. We’re making “bridges” between identities (57). This being said, though, it’s important to reflect on our practices. I’m sure we could be doing more to apply Gee’s principles.

Although I understand and agree with Gee’s principles, I am concerned about the “fun and games” mentality. Gee states that if “learning is not compelling to the learner, at some level, then little deep learning is liable to occur” (59). In terms of our classrooms, then, is Gee suggesting that we need to do “tricks” to make everything compelling?? Doesn’t it, at some point/level, come back to the individual and his/her motivation? Gee also states that “children must be motivated to engage in a good deal of practice if they are to master what is to be learned. However, if this practice is boring, they will resist it” (65). Gee acknowledges that we can’t guarantee or make students think actively and critically, but we can set up learning in such a way to encourage deep learning. We can plan lessons and activities in such a way that they are meaningful and relevant. On the flip side, though, life isn’t all fun and games, and I don’t believe that learning is, or needs to be, either, at least not at all times.

Gee somewhat acknowledges that, at some level, it does come back to the individual students’ motivation and learning style.  He points out that students with an identity as someone who dislikes school are at a disadvantage when it comes to meaningful learning (45), acknowledging that some students simply dislike school. (We all know what a challenge it is to try to “entice” that student!) Gee also acknowledges that “video games are particularly good […], at least for some types of learners” (58). Some students may be engaged with a video game, or a novel of study, and some may not. Yes, we should strive to make our lessons meaningful and engaging, striving to make literature studies relevant and meaningful, but I believe there is something to be said for personal motivation and dedication on the part of the student.

(I really don’t mean to sound negative as I end this post. I really believe in the principles Gee shares, and I believe they can be applied effectively in our English classrooms. I guess I’m just commenting on some of the realities I see, too, and I’m always concerned when student accountability is potentially downplayed in some way. One more thing—sorry for such a long post! I always have so much to say about our readings!)

Practical Applications of Gee

As you’ve probably noticed from my Twitter posts, I’m frustrated with Gee’s theoretical arguments.  I admit I was skeptical when I saw a book about video games on the reading list, but by the time I cracked it open last week, I was ready to give Gee the benefit of the doubt.  In fact, I read the first few chapters eagerly, ready to see learning in a whole new light.

Eventually, I realized that what he is saying sounds great theoretically (and I do “buy” it), but the practical application component is seriously lacking.  The examples he gives for science classrooms are wonderful; if I were a physics teacher I would be taking notes and brainstorming lesson plans, but I’m not a physics teacher.  I guess I was disappointed with Gee because after reading Linkon last week I had pages of notes, and (this is embarrassing to admit) I was literally dreaming of lesson ideas.  For some reason, the ideas just aren’t flowing this week.

So.  Because I’ve been struggling with the breakdown between theory and application, I decided to start this thread in hopes that others will chime in with ideas/suggestions/practical applications that they have envisioned for their classrooms.  I don’t mean to suggest that there aren’t any—in fact, I’m sure there are plenty, but I haven’t figured them out yet.  My disclaimer:  I haven’t finished reading the book—and Abbie’s comments about the end of Chapter Six have given me hope—so it’s quite possible that I’ll retract my previous comments later, after gaining greater insight (I hope).   In the meantime, I’ll get things started by including a few passages I’m keeping in mind as I grasp for practical applications:

 “Achievement Principle:  For learners of all levels of skill there are intrinsic rewards from the beginning, customized to each learner’s level, effort, and growing mastery and signaling the learner’s ongoing achievements” (64).  Varying degrees of scaffolding, based on different learners’ needs.  But don’t we try to do this already?

 “’Regime of Competence’ Principle:  The learner gets ample opportunity to operate within, but at the outer edge of, his or her resources, so that at those points things are felt as challenging but not ‘undoable’” (68).  Achieve the perfect balance of difficulty and “doability.”  Easier said than done!

 “One good way to make people look stupid is to ask them to learn and think in terms of words and abstractions that they cannot connect in any useful way to images or situations in their embodied experiences in the world.  Unfortunately, we regularly do this in schools” (72).  Relates well to discussion of video game manuals and textbooks written in language that is literally comprehensible but to which one cannot attach genuine meaning without having experienced embodied learning in that domain (99-104).  Idea:  Provide context/background for texts before beginning; relate to students’ prior knowledge.  But how do teachers encourage students to experience embodied learning (in this case, the reading of lit) before they are comfortable doing so?  This seems like a catch-22 . . .

 “It is my contention that active, critical learning in any domain should lead to learners becoming, in a sense, designers.  Some, like the players who build their own extensions to games, will actually design new things.  Others, like me, will design in thought and talk and let it inform their play” (96).  Idea:  Asking students to rewrite a story from a different perspective requires them to 1) be familiar with the original story, 2) form their own meaning, and 3) design a text (upon/against?) the original text.  Encouraging students to become writers/critics helps them interact with texts on deeper and more personal levels.

Gee & Difficulty. Sensing a Theme? ;)

Gee’s What Video Games have to Teach Us… contains a lot of interesting and helpful ideas about thinking and learning, but since I have to focus on something for this post, I’m picking the end of Chapter 6. It stood out to me because of the connections to Salvatori and Donahue re: difficulty in learning.

On pages 172-3, Gee talks about how moving “straightforwardly and efficiently toward the goal” was not the way to win (or succeed in/do well in) a video game. He uses words like “delay,” “sneak,” and “linger” to suggest that the best way to play (and win) is to be slow and patient about it, to be thorough. He suggests that “side trips” are often rewarding, and sometimes essential. If we read “player” as “student,” which of course Gee wants us to do, we see Gee suggesting that the students who look for the easiest path to an “A” grade (often our honors, AP, and gifted students) are missing out on a lot of the real learning. In actuality, the student who struggles, and perseveres, with information or new tasks learns more, and learns better.

Gee also talks about video games having “multiple solutions,” read: ambiguity. As most of our other readings have suggested, ambiguity is a huge part of reading literature, and it is one of the major concepts with which students struggle. Gee suggests that in an ideal classroom, students would explore texts like the virtual world of a video game, going down interesting side paths, lingering over confusing or contradictory sections, considering multiple answers to posed questions, and delaying resolution about meaning. Not only that, but students would fail, try again, fail again, and try once more. “How quickly you proceed,” he says on page 174, “is not a big value”; that is, reading a text once through and coming to a definite conclusion about meaning is not the goal of learning. “Hard is not bad, and easy is not good” (175).

Gee makes it quite clear that students (children, people, humans) do not necessarily shy away from difficulty. But I think the problem circles back to interest: Players of video games may embrace games’ difficulty because they value their accomplishments in that world. Video games are a social activity — for younger kids in particular. They provide common ground for kids, a way for them to judge and compete with each other, to feel proud, to feel challenged. Students may not embrace the difficulty of Jane Eyre because they don’t value knowledge of it — it does nothing for them (they think) other than make them seem “nerdy” or uncool. (I could start talking about peer pressure and its effects on student learning, but I see that I’m already at 451 words, and I’m trying not to get carried away this week!)

The bottom line is that I enjoyed reading Gee, even though I’m not a “gamer,” and even though his endless, endless parentheticals drove me up the WALL. I think he made some really good points, and the way he tied them to the act of playing video games was pretty fascinating to me as an outsider to that world.

Falling off that stupid cliff

Gee writes that being literate means that one “can give and take meanings” (20). Well, I guess that I am completely illiterate when it comes to video games. I cannot give or take any meaning away. At all. I don’t speak the language or have the skills to play them. I’m not indifferent or apathetic – I really, really don’t like them. When I picked up this book earlier today, I had every intention of enjoying it. I was looking forward to the chance to view learning in completely different terms than I had ever considered it before. I was hoping to shed my old prejudices toward the gaming world and develop a new, more positive attitude. I’m forty pages in, and this has not happened yet. I really am interested in learning about learning, but when the ideas are presented within a semiotic domain in which I’m illiterate, it makes it very difficult for me to stay focused.

Where do these strong negative feelings come from, you may ask? Perhaps they stem from my childhood. My parents refused to buy a Nintendo on the premise that it would “rot your brain.” So, when I hung out with neighbors or friends, I had to sit and watch with equal parts boredom and jealousy while they saved the princess in Super Mario World without any seeming effort. I rarely took the control, because when I did I would inevitably fall off the cliff before reaching the end of the first stage. (Is it a stage? level? world? I don’t know.)

Over the years my aversion to video games has grown into something more than an embarrassed feeling of inadequacy. After reading Brave New World, I developed the theory that technology (video games in particular) has become some form of soma for people. I realize that admitting this makes me sound a little crazy, like an old person who’s afraid of all these modern changes. That’s ok. I admit to this because it helps set the stage for the whole point of my blog.

I love to read – always have. From a young age I found it entertaining and took pride in being ‘good’ at it. While my friends excelled at killing the dragon, I could ace every reading test. For me, the most important aspect of literature is that it exposes the reader to world-views and perspectives that may be very different than his or her own. As a teacher, I will teach my students critical reading skills and how to analyze a text, but my ultimate goal is to expose them to new ideas, causing them to hopefully think deeply and reconsider their own views. I have never taught teenagers or adults, but from all the discussion in class, I realize that I am going to have the huge challenge of trying to reach students who not only don’t love reading, but may actually hate it for one reason or another. Perhaps they struggled early on and never quite caught on to grammar and spelling rules, were embarrassingly less fluent than their classmates when it came to reading out loud, or were never able to give the ‘right’ answer on the reading test. I can relate. Falling off the cliff ten seconds into the game is really humiliating. If they can’t get past their aversion to the subject of language arts, how will they ever reach that ultimate goal of expanding their understanding of the world through literature? How do we get them past the first level if they’ve continually fallen off that cliff?

Identity in Games

Okay, this post will officially establish me as a “dork.” You know, one of those people who “speak” gaming. In fact, as I write this, I currently have another screen going on with an MMORTS (massive multiplayer online realtime strategy), in which I am allied with other players from around the world, building up cities, and trying to destroy other alliances in an attempt at global domination. All before dinner. I also play a lot of RPG games that are Dungeons and Dragons based. Which is why I found Gee’s chapter on Arcanum so intriguing.

I’ve played Arcanum and many, many games like it. Someone mentioned games are used as escape mechanisms (I don’t disagree), and RPG games are, in a way, the ultimate escapes. You create someone entirely outside the realm of your own being, and you develop them the way you want to develop them. People tackle this in different ways. My dad is the one who got me hooked on PC RPG games. He ALWAYS builds his character according to how he feels he can best win the game. He looks at the stats: someone with this much strenghth can have x, y, and z attributes, and therefore, I can take down opponents more easily (in fact, the easiest way to win most RPGs is to start with a human fighter). I, on the other hand, always take a more whimsical approach that tends to make some games excrutiatingly more difficult because I don’t build my character based on what will win. I create a character, not a machine. I imagine this person’s background–where did they come from? A debutante background? Then she must have pretty high charisma. She had a tutor, so let’s give her high intelligence. So forth and so on. As I travel the game, I develop my character according to his/her background (which I created) and what I feel his/her reactions are to what has occured thus far in the game.

In this way, I completely understand Gee’s assertion about the three identities at stake. In the first place, my character is its own person–albeit a person I have developed. In the second, I am that person for the time I am playing that game. But I am a great many other things, too. When Gee mentions being joyful at Bead Bead picking pockets (pg. 50), I had a minor shock of revelation, as games, though not real, do play off of real emotion. This is often a source of contention between my dad and me. Because we do play the same games, often, we’ll talk about them. I almost always start off with “good characters.” One time I tried to play a “neutral” character, but she ended up being good because I kept doing “good” deeds. I feel immensly guilty everytime I stole from someone, or killed someone, or said something mean. My dad rationalized, “They’re not real people!” And rationally, I know this, but for some reason, the emotion is real. As Gee mentions, the player takes on the role of the character, which is both “active and reflexive” (54).

I’ve often felt that these sorts of games are good learning tools (in moderation, of course) because they teach excellent creative problem solving skills, almost in a MacGuyver sort of way. You have to try and fail and try again to put things in just the right order to get something to work. Translate that to real-world problem solving, and video games are good learning tools. What I had failed to consider before was the fact that the RPG identity can be translated to classroom identity. Gee mentions treating students as scientists, despite the fact that are not literally scientists (6). It’s a virtual identity.  I often refer to my students as writers, despite the fact that only two actually have any ambition to become what we would call writers. But by applying the virtual reality to them, it allows the student to identify with that virtual reality, and apply themselves to learning how to move within that identity, similar to the emotional connection one feels with a virtual RPG character; when spoken to as that character (as one is in such games; no one calls me “Beth,” but rather, I am called by my character’s name), it makes the identity that much more real. Learning to identify oneself as a learner is a powerful step in owning one’s own academic identity.

Admittedly, I was a bit skeptical about this book. Though a gamer who believes one can learn from games, I wasn’t sure what it had to do with education, per se. And while I don’t agree with 100% of Gee’s assertions, I’d say a good 98% are very applicable to the classroom and to teachers. Not that classrooms should go to virtual RPG learning systems anytime soon…

Sometimes the lesson takes little practice…

I want to say, first, that I really liked Gee’s book. My husband is a huge gamer (we’re talking won-a-free-XBox 360-has-friends-who-write-gaming-software gamer) and it’s been both amusing and annoying to see his adult fascination with this world that he inhabits with his guy friends. While I think that Gee conveniently avoids the fact that games are essentially escapist/fantasy experiences and are, as such, much more attractive than the boredom of school, I appreciate his thoughtfulness about why games attract people so much and how we can harness that power to do good rather than evil.

I was struck, however, by my own experience playing the game September 12th. I was a little thrown by the opening statement that I couldn’t win or lose and that I could shoot or not shoot. As the game began, I exercised logic (like – I’m supposed to shoot bad guys) and took aim at some terrorist-like “meeples” (as my husband calls them). The rocket missed its mark, blew up a house, and caused a group of sobbing civilian mourners.

I tried two more times and then closed the game. The point had been made. I think it took sixty seconds. If we can invent lessons that are this impactful, we can stop worrying about recursiveness. You know…when feasible!