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The second post in my series on teaching games in the classroom! I forgot to post this here when the blog went up, though, so the third is only a few days away!

This post is specifically about how games fit into a modern definition of literature, and it looks at a lot of research on using games in the classroom!

~Nathan
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I haven't blogged at all in YEARS, but I'm starting up again with my own teaching/gaming blog at www.larcenousdesigns.com!

I'm interested in hearing thoughts and feedback on the idea of using video games as texts in class; my first blog post in a series on this subject is about considering what 'literature' means in this context, and I'm happy to have disagreement or discussion on that, but the later posts will be more specifically about the use of games.

So, if you are interested in the idea, have negative or positive feedback, or even experience to share on the subject, I'd love to hear it! I'm especially interested in recommendations for games that might be used in a classroom, as my later posts will start to include critiques of such things.

Thanks, anyone-who-is-still-out-there.
~Nathan Rockwood
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Everything I need to know about a sense of patience and delayed gratification, I learned from Sam Vimes and Moist von Lipwig. Hope, they teach, is the greatest gift a person can receive. Jam today just leads to a distinct lack of jam tomorrow, but even the most wretched peasant can live happily if they live in hope of jam tomorrow.

This holiday message has been brought to you by....

Seriously, though, I've recently begun noticing a substantial increase in the sense of satisfaction I derive from the knowledge of jam tomorrow. It also helps save money. Rather than buying a new computer game in the last month or so, I just browsed reviews, looked at critical evaluations, and enjoyed thinking about which ones might be more fun to try sometime in the future. And I've been planning to head into town to get a slice of fancy cake or similar at a coffee shop; first I planned to make that trip at the beginning of Thanksgiving Break, and then when I finished my writing contract, and then when classes were over for the semester (today). Now I'm planning to go get it when I finish my last exam next Thursday. 

This is probably a good thing, considering that teaching is a profession big on jam tomorrow. When you provide education and try to encourage a sense of success and personal worth in kids, you don't actually get to see how you changed their futures until---surprise, surprise---the future, and even then, 99% of them won't be in touch.

And the saving-money bit will be helpful too, considering the pay....

Blessed be,
~Nathan

PS: Also, a good substitute for jam is homemade chocolate covered popcorn.

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Just completed my 33-page, 4-lesson unit plan---assuming I can find paper and get it to print. The professor is a real pain on formatting, so I can't afford to transfer it to a school computer and print it there, lest something change in the middle; if the margins are even slightly less than 1 inch, if the space between the lines changes to be less than 1.5, or if the font style, size, or settings change, I could lose 20% of the grade automatically.

Fortunately, I seem to have gotten everything in place for now.

Writing a full unit plan like this is definitely good practice for lesson planning, but I'm doubtful that I'll ever produce something like this for my own use in the future. Yes, for my portfolio, when I'm being observed, or for a substitute, but not for myself. I'm glad I know how to do it right, and I don't begrudge the teacher the assignment here, but a big part of being a successful and effective teacher is the ability to modify and adjust on the fly. The point of learning how to produce these plans is pretty much to simply ensure that you CAN each individual part of it, since you might have to use those skills to make partial plans in the future---but the amount of time it requires to craft them with this level of detail would be prohibitive during a schoolyear.

I do think I could see myself making a few up each summer/break in order to have them on hand for future reference, for just the same reason that I might look some up online or borrow them from other teachers: they can be useful, sometimes. You just shouldn't make yourself beholden to every detail, lest you wind up teaching yourself into a corner, so to speak.

Blessed be,
~Nathan

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One thing I've been reading and thinking about lately is the use of 'bell work;' bell work is, essentially, an assignment that is already written on the board/placed at their seats for students to start as soon as they enter your classroom. This minimizes the transition time from "student enters room" --> "class is quiet and ready to start." If possible, it also gives the teacher a chance to take roll or similar without having to waste class time while students sit on their hands and wait.

This is important because students without a clear purpose and goal are much more likely to start causing trouble or acting out. The time saved is not just the time spent taking roll, but also the time spent disciplining students or getting everyone back on track. Time is already in short enough supply, so finding ways to conserve it is always a plus.

This can be especially true on the first day of school, according to Harry and Rosemary Wong, a super-widely-read husband-wife team who teach about teaching. On the first day of school, you have to make a first impression, get to know your students, introduce your discipline and classroom management systems, and get everything started for the rest of the year. Do that right and everything else will be much, much easier to handle.

Pondering this, I've come up with a few thoughts about how to start off my own classes. Assuming I'm teaching high school English, I want to have an initial bell work assignment prepped that will both introduce me/the course and do something useful. So here's what I'd do:

When they arrive on the first day of my class, each student will find on their desk an envelope addressed to them. Inside will be a short letter from me, introducing myself and explaining what to do with the rest of the contents of the envelope.

Once they've read the letter, students will write a letter of their own. I'll include a form for a letter very much like the one I wrote, allowing the students to introduce themselves to me that way. The letter will cover some basic preferences and factoids, and will also get them to give me a little information about their reading and writing experiences. Hopefully, beyond the simple benefit of getting to know my students more substantially,  this will help give me a pre-assessment of their writing ability (not just from what they say, but also from how well they say it), it might teach them a bit about letter writing for correspondence (something not everyone knows how to do), and it will give them the immediate impression that this class involves both reading and writing for specific, visible purposes.

The envelope will also include a copy of my classroom discipline plan and procedures, which I'll go over with the students soon after their bell work is complete and I've introduced myself orally to the whole class (though I'm still working on what, exactly, my discipline plan and procedures will be). Of course, while bell work is under way, I'll need to be doing more than simply taking roll. I'll stand at the door to guide and greet students until the bell rings/everyone arrives, and once I've taken roll by seeing which seats and envelopes are unoccupied, I'll circulate through the classroom and keep track of how things are going.

Or, alternatively, I suppose once everyone arrives I could stop the bell work before the letters are complete (making that a homework assignment), and then move straight on from there to a direct introduction.

I'll have to think about it some more, but I like the idea of bell work. I agree completely with all the sources I've read who say that an unoccupied student is a danger to the whole class's concentration. I'm not exactly sure that this is the perfect bell work assignment with which to start the year, but I like the idea of incorporating letter-writing into class in one or more ways, and encouraging students to write outside of class at all: first the letters, than hopefully their own fiction, if they're so inclined.

Blessed be,
~Nathan

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Last week, as part of a class on Curriculum Development and Instruction, I attended a lecture by Todd Zakrajsek. The lecture covered several ideas, but one stood out particularly: how to praise students in a helpful manner.

Apparently drawn from a study discussed in Carol Dweck's book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Todd explained that there are several different ways to praise a student, and that they mostly boil down to:
1. "Good job; you're clearly very smart!"
2. "Good job!"
3. "Good job; you clearly worked very hard!"

A study conducted on three groups of students went something like this. All students were given a set of simple anagrams to solve, consistening of three-five letter words that were pretty obvious. Most of the students completed about 50-75% of the anagrams, and all the students were praised (each group of students given a different form of praise from the above list).

Next, all three groups were given an extremely difficult set of anagrams to solve, using eight-ten letter words with much less obvious solutions. Almost all of the students failed, completing only one or two anagrams; no praise was administered (neither were any consequences).

The last part of the study was to give each group a final set of anagrams, this one of comparable difficulty to the first. Theoretically, they should have been able to complete 50-75% of them easily.

That's where the interesting stuff comes in. The middle group---the ones who had simply been told "Good job!"---performed at the expected baseline. Their results were the same as after the first round of anagrams.

The third group, who had been told "Good job; you clearly worked very hard," improved their performance significantly. More of them completed all or almost all of the anagrams.

The first group, who had been told "Good job; you're clearly very smart," actually performed significantly worse than they had initially, many of them failing despite the fact that they'd done well on the first round.

The reasoning here is pretty simple. When you praise someone by telling them "You are smart," you are assigning a value to THEM. They are smart, which is an intangible thing they can't control, even if it makes them feel good at the time. However, when you then challenge such a student, their reaction is to shut down. They will cease to try, even after the challenging part is over, because they feel they must not be smart enough to continue. Since the value you gave them is inherent to their nature, it's all-or-nothing situation; things are either easy, or impossible.

On the other hand, when you praise the student by telling them "You worked hard," you are assigning value to the WORK, which is something they can control. When you then challenge these students (for example, by giving them work they cannot complete), rather than shutting down, their response is to work harder and put more effort into their work, even on easy assignments. They feel they can improve, and so they do.

This is something that has come up in several of my classes---praise the work, not the student---but this is the first time I've seen direct study on the subject. And I didn't realize what a negative effect praise could have. Henceforth, my personal policy will be to be extremely careful to talk to students about the work they've done and what they've succeeded at---not about intelligence. This is the kind of error that causes students to (like me) get stuck in a rut such as: "I can't do math; I'm just not a math person." In all actuality, while math might be HARD for me, I would have a much more positive attitude towards it if I'd been praised, while learning it, on the basis of my effort and not my intelligence.

Of course, that doesn't mean you should never comment to students that you think they're gifted in a certain area---but you need to be sure to tie it in to effort, regardless. I'll never tell a student, for example, "This paper is amazing! You really have a talent for persuasive essays," because then---psychologically speaking---if they ever have an 'off day' and turn in a poor paper, they will begin shutting down. They'll know they're talented, but they'll feel they've hit the limits of their talent, and can progress no further. Instead, I'll say, "This paper is amazing! When you work this hard, your talent really shines through."

Blessed be,
~Nathan

rockwood: (Tome)
This afternoon's preparation for a group microteaching (essentially, teaching a very short lesson in order to practice teaching at all) tomorrow evening went very well; it seems we have most things down, we're within the proper time frame, and I have the Powerpoint saved in multiple locations just in case technology strikes.

However, thinking about this assignment has got me thinking about group projects in general. From a purely personal viewpoint, they're definitely not my favorite teaching method; coordinating with other people is a pain, the grading can feel unfair,  and presentations can be difficult to practice when they rely on audience participation.

On the other hand, from a pedagogical standpoint, most of those are potentially good things. Learning to coordinate with other people, work around scheduling conflicts, and overcome differences in learning style or level of interest are certainly valuable skills in and of themselves. Group planning, timing, and similar abilities are improved when students have to make educated guesses how long some segments will take, and errors in calculation teach them to modify and revise on the fly. Even having student grades 'unfairly' linked to their group-mates can teach responsibility, management, and leadership.

Of course, if a group is too unwieldy or ill-prepared to face these issues, all that results is frustration and failure, for which the teacher is at fault. Rather than letting that happen, perhaps by starting out too heavy on the project side of things, the teacher can start out simpler: assign small groups that have to coordinate outside of class (only two or three people each), to help them learn how to schedule and manage their time properly; or start with larger groups that meet solely during class time, so they can work on interpersonal and group skills rather than time management. If possible, assigning both individual and group grades may be initially helpful, so that students can see how their personal performance affected the overall result, and moving to pure group assessment will the be less of a shocker.

On my personal list of pedagogical theories, group projects rate somewhere in the middle: they may take more time than their content is worth, but the learning they allow extends beyond the content area. I would save big group projects primarily for sophomore or junior level students, introduce the freshmen to the concept with smaller projects, and then keep a few truly complex or involved projects for the senior level students, giving them a chance to really take over and co-teach for a lesson.

Blessed be,
~Nathan
rockwood: (Smile)
When the computer network goes down, any class called "Internet for Teachers" pretty much HAS to call it quits.

Hopefully I'd saved my powerpoint before the actual death of the network, but if not...meh, I couldn't have lost much, since I didn't actually add a whole ton.

So overall, a pretty good evening. I wasn't really counting on getting a lot of surprise early dismissals in grad school, but I'll take 'em when they come!

Blessed be,
~Nathan

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