Making EFL Matter Pt. 3: The Challenges and Benefits of Discussion

image of balls in a tray

 

Well, what do you think? This question and answer form a basic opinion exchange that is sometimes called a discussion. And it is, sort of. But just as a single decontextualized sentence is of limited use in understanding grammar, so too a brief opinion exchange does not have enough context–with all its intentions, personalities, and sociolinguistic depth–to really be called a discussion. A discussion is more complex, and ultimately more powerful, because it has a goal and requires input and interaction from multiple members, which should allow them to collectively generate better ideas (solutions, plans, etc.) than any one of the participants could have done alone.

This sounds good in theory, but it is difficult to achieve in classrooms–especially EFL classrooms where learners have a layer of linguistic difficulty on top of the conceptual and procedural challenges inherent in establishing a system of rich academic discussions. The first thing we must acknowledge is that academic discussion skills, like Rome, are not built in a day. As I mentioned earlier, they need to be incrementally developed, starting with basic conversation and interaction skills.  Without basic conversation skills, discussion is not attainable. Students who are used to pairwork and are able to use the basic greetings, openings, and closings of common conversation “scripts” (Hi. How’re you doing? So, what did you do on the weekend? Well, nice talking to you!), and can react to each other’s utterances (Uh-huh, Really?! Oh, I love that!, Really? How was it? etc.) will find discussions accessible. Absolute speaking beginners will struggle and likely fail. Speaking must be taught, skills must be developed, and regular opportunities for fluency development given, or else activities like academic discussions, and the opportunities to flex critical thinking muscles that go with them, won’t be achieved. A little bit of speaking tagged on to the end of a lesson won’t get you there (as programs in high schools in Japan are slowly waking up to).

So now we know it’s difficult and requires a program of incremental skill development starting with a foundation in basic interactive conversation skills. One question we might ask is: is it worth the trouble. Given a limited amount of time, why should so much be devoted to conversation and discussion skills development? Well, the answer comes from sociocultural learning theory. As Daniel Siegel puts it in his forward to the wonderful Social Neuroscience of Education: “We evolved in tribes, we grow in families, and we learn in groups.” Walqui and van Lier (2010), in listing up the tenets of sociocultural learning theory for their QTEL approach, focus on some of the key points: “Participation in activity is central to the development of knowledge; participation in activity progresses from apprenticeship to appropriation, or from the social to the individual plane; and learning can be observed as changes in participation over time” (pg. 6). That is to say, we learn through active participation (engagement and collaboration) with others. “Language is primarily social”…and “…learning…is essentially social in nature” (pg. 4-5). This learning does not happen by chance, however. The really really hard thing to do is to get students into that sweet spot where they are developmentally ready and linguistically scaffolded  up to the point where they can function and learn. Development becomes possible when “…teachers plan lessons beyond the students’ ability to carry them out independently” (pg. 7), but create the proper community and provide the proper scaffolding to allow for success with such lessons. To answer the question that started this paragraph, the potential benefits of learning in groups are great enough to warrant using this approach. Students can learn content and language, and collaboration skills, essential skills for the 21st century according to Laura Greenstein (who also helpfully provides a rubric and suggestions for assessing collaboration, as well as other skills).

One more potential objection to focusing on academic discussion comes from Doug Lemov. Actually, it’s not so much of an objection as request to rethink and balance your choices. In Teach Like a Champion 2.0, he suggests that both writing and discussion can be strong tools for “causing all students to do lots of the most rigorous work,..but if I had to choose just one, which admittedly I do not, I would choose writing. Hammering an ideas into precise words and syntax and then linking it to evidence and situating it within a broader argument are, for me the most rigorous work in schooling” (pg. 314).  Writing is great, and cognitively more “precise” perhaps, and definitely needs to be part of the syllabus. Discussion is by nature more social. You can do both and you should do both; finding the time to do so is challenging, however.

So what do we teach? And what are discussion skills that students need to learn and develop? The best list can be found in Academic Conversations by Jeff Zwiers and Marie Crawford. It needs to be said, however, that this book is made for L1 learners and you will need to adapt as you adopt. But the basic list and framework make it easy and intuitive to do so. Here is the list of skills:

  1. Elaborate and Clarify: Make your thinking as detailed and clear as you can, carefully explaining the rationale behind your thinking.
  2. Support Ideas with Examples: Use examples to illustrate thinking. It is a particular and powerful way of elaborating and clarifying ideas.
  3. Build On or Challenge Partners’ Ideas: Actively respond to and develop the ideas that arise, either by expanding on them or tweaking them, or pruning out the bad ones through well-considered disagreement.
  4. Paraphrase Ideas: As ideas arise, paraphrase them to both show your understanding and create a springboard for idea development and improvement.
  5. Synthesize the Discussion Points: Bring all the ideas you’ve been discussing to a conclusion. Produce a group decision or plan.

These skills need to be introduced incrementally. Some of them are more difficult to teach and practice than others, particularly with students who lack proficiency or fluency, but also for cultural reasons. Some students in Japan find it challenging to disagree, and may have trouble ranking or pruning some ideas from their synthesis. These can be trained and taught. In my experience, students are not used to making their thinking so explicit and considering  ideas so carefully. Once they get the hang of it, however, they clearly become better listeners, better collaborators, and better thinkers. And after gaining some fluency with the formulaic expressions required to do academic discussions, they sound considerably more proficient.

Assessment is not as difficult as you may imagine. Ms. Greenstein’s rubric provides a nice overview of expected performance and can be used together with teacher observations, and peer or individual reflection and feedback. Performance tests are easy to organize because we can check several students at once in their group. Focusing on the success of the group in terms of process and outcome is actually not that hard to measure.

This post is part of a series considering ways to add more focus and learning to EFL classrooms by drawing on ideas and best practices from L1 classrooms.

Part 1 looked at the importance of goals.

Part 2 looked at using data and feedback.

 

 

Making EFL Matter Pt. 2: Data and Feedback

imafiling cabinet

 

In the last few years, I’ve found myself increasingly reaching for books that are not on my SLA or Applied Linguistics shelves. Instead, books on general teaching methodology have engaged me more. It started a few years ago when I came across John Hattie’s Visible Learning for Teachers, a book in which various approaches in education are ranked by their proven effectiveness in research. This led me to further explore formative assessment, one of the approaches that Hattie identifies as particularly effective, citing Yeh (2011). I was impressed and intrigued and began searching for more–and man is there a lot out there! Dylan Wiliam’s Embedded Formative Assessment is great (leading to more blogging);  Laura Greenstein’s What Teachers Really Need to Know about Formative Assessment is very practical and comprehensive;  Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn by Hattie and Yates has a solid  section; and Leaders of Their Own Learning by Ron Berger et al., the inspiration for this series of blog posts, places formative assessment at the heart of curricular organization. There is, as far as I know, nothing like this in TESOL/SLA. I’m not suggesting, I would like to emphasize, throwing out bathwater or babies, however. I see the content of these books as completely additive to good EFL pedagogy. So let’s go back to that for a moment.

One of my favorite lists in TESOL comes from a 2006 article by Kumaravadivelu in which he puts forth his list of macro-strategies, basic principles that should guide the micro-strategies of day-to-day language classroom teaching, as well as curriculum and syllabus design. This list never became the Pinterest-worthy ten commandments that I always thought it deserved to be. Aside from me and this teacher in Iran, it didn’t seem to catch on so much, though I’m sure you’ll agree it is a good, general set of directives. Hard to disagree with anything, right?

  1. Maximize learning opportunities
  2. Facilitate negotiated interaction
  3. Minimize perceptual mismatches
  4. Activate intuitive heuristics
  5. Foster language awareness
  6. Contextualize linguistic input
  7. Integrate language skills
  8. Promote learner autonomy
  9. Raise cultural awareness
  10. Ensure social relevance

But what is missing from the list (if we really want to take it up to 11) I can tell you now is Provide adequate formative feedback. One of the great failings of communicative language teaching (CLT) is that is has been so concerned with just getting students talking, that it has mostly ignored one of the fundamental aspects of human learning:  it is future-oriented. People want to know how to improve their work so that they can do better next time (Hattie and Yates, 2014). “For many students, classrooms are akin to video games without the feedback, without knowing what success looks like, or knowing when you attain success in key tasks” (pg. 67). Feedback helps when it shows students  what success looks like, when they can clearly see the gap between where they are now and where they need to be, and when the feedback provides actionable suggestions on what is being done right now and what learners should  do/change next to improve. It should be timely and actionable, and learners should be given ample time to incorporate it and try again (Wiliam, 2011; Greenstein, 2010).

One of the most conceptually difficult things to get used to in the world of formative feedback is the notion of data. We language teachers are not used to thinking of students’ utterances and performances as data, yet they are–data that can help us and them learn and improve. I mean, scores on certain norm-referenced tests can be seen as data, final test scores can be seen as data, and attendance can be seen as data, but we tend, I think, to look at what students do in our classes with a more communicative, qualitative, meaning-focused set of lenses. We may be comfortable giving immediate formative performance feedback on pronunciation, but for almost anything else, we hesitate and generalize with our feedback.  Ms. Greenstein, focusing on occasionally enigmatic 21st century skills, offers this:

“Formative assessment requires a systematic and planned approach that illuminates learning and displays what students know, understand, and do. It is used by both teachers and students to inform learning. Evidence is gathered through a variety of strategies throughout the instructional process, and teaching should be responsive to that evidence. There are numerous strategies for making use of evidence before, during, and after instruction” Greenstein, 2012, pg. 45).

Ms. Greenstein and others are teachers who look for data–evidence–of student learning, and look for ways involving learners in the process of seeing and acting on that data. Their point is we have a lot of data (and we can potentially collect more) and we should be using it with students as part of a system of formative feedback. Berger, Ruben & Woodfin, 2014) put it thus:

“The most powerful determinants of student growth are the mindsets and learning strategies that students themselves bring to their work–how much they care about working hard and learning, how convinced they are that hard work leads to growth, and how capably they have built strategies to focus, organize, remember, and navigate challenges. When students themselves identify, analyze, an use data from their learning, they become active agents in their own growth (Berger, Rugen & Woodfin, 2014, pg. 97).

They suggest, therefore, that students be trained to collect, analyze, and share their own learning data. This sounds rather radical, but it is only the logical extension of the rationale for having students track performance on regular tests, or making leader boards, or even giving students report cards.  It just does so more comprehensively. Of course, this will require training/scaffolding and time in class to do. The reasons for doing are worth that time and effort, they stress. Data has an authoritative power that a teacher’s “good job” or “try harder” just don’t. It is honest, unemotional, and specific, and therefore can have powerful effects. There are transformations in student mindsets, statistics literacy, and grading transparency, all of which help make students more responsible and accountable for their own learning. Among the practices they suggest that could be deployed in an EFL classroom are tracking weekly quiz results, standardized tests, or school exams, using error analysis forms for writing or speaking assignments, and using goal-setting worksheets for regular planning and reflection.

You can see the use of data for formative assessment in action in a 6th grade classroom here.

This post is part of a series considering ways to add more focus and learning to EFL classrooms by drawing on ideas and best practices from L1 classrooms.

Part 1 looked at the importance of goals.

Part 3 looks at the challenges and benefits of academic discussions

 

References

Yeh, S. S. (2011). The cost-effectiveness of 22 approaches for raising student achievement. Charlotte, North Carolina: Information Age Publishing.

Language on Stage: Debate and Musicals

In his 2011 book Creative Thinkering, Michael Michalko explains the idea of conceptual blending. What you do is take dissimilar objects or subjects and then blend them–that is, force a conceptual connection between them by comparing and contrasting features. It’s an enlightening little mental activity that can help you to come up with creative ideas or insights as you think about how the features of one thing could possibly be manifested in another. In the past few days, I’ve tried blending two activities that I’ve seen push EFL improvement more than any other: performance in club-produced musicals, and competitive policy debating. I’ve compared them with each other and with regular classroom settings,

musical image and debating image

I chose these two because over the last few years I have seen drama and debate produce language improvements that go off the charts. This improvement can be explained partly in terms of the hours on task that both of these activities require and the fact that students elect to take part voluntarily, but I don’t think that explains everything. There are certainly other possible factors: both require playing roles; both are team activities; both have performance pressure; both reward accomplishment; both require multi-modal language use and genre transformation; both require attention to meaning and form; both are complex skills that require repeated, intensive practice to achieve, and that practice is strictly monitored by everyone involved, who then give repeated formative feedback. Not complete, but not a bad list, I thought.

But then while reading Leaders of Their Own Learning, a wonderful sort of new book by Ron Berger, Leah Rugen, and Libby Woodfin, I came across this quote by a principal of a middle school in the US:

“Anytime you make the work public, set the bar high, and are transparent about the steps to make a high-quality product, kids will deliver.”

I think the speaker hit the nail on the head as to why activities like debate and drama work: public, high expectations, and clear steps. Aha: public! The dominant feature of debate and drama is that there is a public performance element to them. Students prepare, keenly aware that they will be onstage at some point; they will be in the spotlight and they will be evaluated. Of course students need support and scaffolding and lots of practice before they can get on stage, but unless there is a stage, everything else won’t matter as much. It is the driver of drivers. Is that pressure this message  suggests? Yup, but also purpose. I have seen kids transformed by the experiences of competitive debating or performing in a musical. I refuse to believe that the mediocrity I see in so many language course and programs is the way it has to be.

So, to get back to the whole reason for this little thought experiment: how can we take these best features of debate and drama and apply them to language programs? The key, I hope you will agree, is introducing a public performance element. There needs to be some kind of public element that encompasses a broad range of knowledge, skills, and micro-skills, and then there needs to be sufficient teaching, scaffolding, and practice to ensure public success. But how…?

Over the next few blog posts, I’ll be exploring these issues, drawing from ideas that are being developed in K-12 education in the US, particularly in approaches that have been working in high-challenge schools with English language learners and other at-risk learners (for example, by Expeditionary Learning, WestEd, and Uncommon Schools). In particular, I’ll be looking at ideas in Leaders of Their Own Learning (mentioned and linked above), Scaffolding the Academic Success of English Language Learners, by Walqui and Van Lier, and the soon-to-be-released second edition of Teach Like a Champion 2.0 by Doug Lemov. I’ll be looking at all of these through the lens of an EFL teacher in Japan. Many things in these books won’t be applicable in my context, but I suspect many may help inform ways of improvement here.

 

Has EFL Become ESL?

brickwall_frag

Years ago as a new teacher in Japan I learned very quickly to avoid materials that were not made specifically for Japan, very much a place where English is taught as a foreign language (EFL),  a context very far removed from the English-speaking world.  After a few painful slogs, I realized that, in particular, ESL (English as a Second Language) materials, or materials made to teach immigrants to England or Canada or the US, just wouldn’t fly in  classrooms in Tokyo. They assumed too much background knowledge. They contained too much content. They were long. They assumed that students would be much more active–in learning, in giving opinions, in communicating. What worked instead was easy-to-memorize dialogs, short, focused worksheet exercises, and zippy little info gap speaking activities. In a system with low expectations for communicative success and  limited opportunities for English use outside the classroom I guess we can say that it worked OK. At the time and for the most part, Japanese students  didn’t especially learn English to communicate with people from other countries and cultures; they learned English to pass exams and to appear more international/educated/cultured to other Japanese.

A lot can change, however, when  millions of people begin to travel overseas every year, record numbers of foreigners begin to visit, and just about everyone gets connected to the Internet. Indeed, the whole world changed. It has become, as this Economist article in 2009 suggested, much more difficult to find parts of the world that are not affected by the global movement of people and ideas. Japan included.

tunnel_frag

So what does this mean for English teaching in Japan? A lot, though you’d be hard-pressed to find changes in most jr. and sr. high school language classrooms in public education. A few teachers are making use of a few online resources, occasionally showing bits of Youtube videos for example, but most are oblivious to the fact that each student has in their pocket all the tools they need to learn English when they want to. The culture of learning is moving glacially, luckily for these teachers. Textbooks are still reassuringly analog, and teachers can still get away with explaining the content like mathematical formulas removed from wider communicative application. English is still being treated as a culturally distant “other,” needed in a certain way (mostly) for entrance exams, and otherwise put off indefinitely. And despite adding a few TOEIC courses, English conversation schools are still somehow managing to continue with a business model that basically sells access to native speakers, the same as they did in 1986.

But things are changing, make no mistake. Businesses are increasingly feeling the need to procure/cajole staff enough to double the number of people who can really function in English (from the 2012 level of 4.3% to 8.7% by 2017, on average) according to Diamond Weekly. And the larger the company, the higher the percentage. Companies with staff numbering over 2000 are generally aiming for having close to 20% of their workforce at a functional level (TOEIC scores over 730 at least). This is blowing back to public education, where there is increasing pressure to start teaching English earlier, and to start aiming kids at big proficiency tests earlier. In a Japan Times piece the other day, Osaka’s English Reformation Project is described. They are planning to put more emphasis on English, and more emphasis on the TOEFL test, believing that there is a global standard that needs to be accepted, and that Japan can no longer be an island that uses English in its own way for its own limited purposes.

Of course,  real change will only come when certain present mindsets change:  English must be learned in a formal institution; it must be learned from native speakers; you need to gain a certain proficiency level before you can begin using it for real communication; you prepare for entrance exams by cramming discrete vocab and grammar points; etc. Already we can see cracks. As the world continues to shrink, these cracks are likely to grow. Right now, if you can Skype and aren’t bothered by the accent of your conversation partner/teacher, you can begin practicing/learning English with a real live person for as little at 125 yen for 25 minutes. Similar services are sprouting up and there are more than a dozen companies ready to help you learn this way (not that you need a company, BTW), mostly making use of the large number of English speakers in the Philippines. The conversation school mentioned above doesn’t even have the Philippines on their map! But this, too, will change. The interactive multimedia do-it-yourself approach (as opposed to the go-to-the-bookstore-and-buy-a-book-written-mostly-in-Japanese approach, or the join-an established-conversation-school approach) has been slow in developing in Japan. But it is growing. It’s too pedagogically effective and cost effective to keep ignoring. Take a look at how some polyglots are making effective use of free web-based resources to learn any language they want. 

Skype_frag

So where is this post going? Well, the point I really wanted to make is that the the shrinking world is also driving a new way of conceptualizing  English as a foreign language (EFL). With English on video, English on the radio, English podcasts, English groups and clubs, MOOCs, easy access to English books, and apps or websites available for any  language  learning  detail  you  can  imagine, does it make sense to assume that our students are really far removed from English-speaking opportunities and cultures? It may make sense to talk about English as foreign language as a starting point, but pedagogy should shift to recognize that English is no longer so, well, foreign. I have begun to think that all English teaching can now be thought of more the way that learning English inside English-speaking countries (ESL) has traditionally been defined. That is, what you learn in class, you can usually try out quite easily outside of class, if you have a mind to. Out of class time in EFL contexts can now be equally considered potential language use/exposure time.

earth_frag

I think this is one reason for the recent popularity of content and language integrated learning (CLIL, or content-based learning) in Europe and other places. This approach recognizes that English exists as a system of content and interaction that learners can plug into and work with. The idea is to create an immersive language learning environment in the classroom, wherever that classroom may be. This involves a rethinking of teaching and learning focus and goals, and more training for learning skills (such as discussion skills, presentation skills, and writing skills). If you are interested in further exploring CLIL or how to use rich tasks to facilitate better learning, I have two books to recommend. The first, on CLIL provides a good overview and rationale for this approach, while Pauline Gibbons’ book gets into the details of how to operationalize that in the ESL classroom, but as an EFL teacher, I found most of it attractive and applicable to the context in which I teach, a reaction I would not have had circa 1994. Click on the images for more information. The real question of what skills/language are most appropriate for the Japanese context is still being worked out, though. Test and test-prep schools have become so established that they cannot be ignored in any new approach. Certainly at the moment they are having a negative impact on learning English, at least for the purpose of enjoyment of communication and development of productive skills. A CLIL approach seems a interesting option, but it will require mindset changes, digital learning literacy; and cram schools and many entrance exams will have to redifine themselves.

CLILBookCover

AcademicEnglishBookCover

 

 

 

EFL Gamification 7: Required Reading

With a few gamification/gameful design posts and much of what I want to say out of the way,  I thought it might be a good time right now to offer a reading list. If you are interested in games and learning and you are just pulling in the occasional article or presentation from your PLE, you are likely getting your info on gamification in less-than-comprehensive bits…and bits…and…bits.  It takes some sifting to see if you get anything good and useful, and that sifting requires a little knowledge and/or experience.  For that reason, and to give yourself a little thinking time, I recommend you try reading a few books. The books mentioned below each contain a diverse range of combinations of theory and examples. Reading through them is like a taking hot air balloon trip over unfamiliar territory, or just climbing up to a high place to get the lay of the land. That said, unfortunately there is no one book that’ll do this completely; you’ll need to read a couple at least. The downside is that books, even the most recent ones, are dated. These are the best of recent books on the topic, but the ideas within them stretch back a decade in some cases. You’ll need to keep trawling your PLE for recent developments. I recommend following a few key people: Nicole Lazzaro, Amy Jo Kim, Gabe Zichermann, and Sebastian Deterding.

I’m working from a few assumptions here: you are a classroom teacher; you work with large classes that often display less than optimal motivation; you have searched online and found lots of short blog articles (particularly business-focused ones) with lots of opinions but not much that is useful for you or your learners; you are interested but skeptical. If this is a reasonably accurate description of you, you’ll likely find my recommendations helpful.

Reality Is Broken (book cover)

One of the things I’ve noticed is that you really ought to try to avoid the term/idea “gamification” and think instead of gameful design or something like that. If that distinction doesn’t mean anything to you yet, Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken is a good way to learn that it is more than just the choice of term that matters. This book will help you make that important change in perspective. She does a great job explaining what games are and why and how they are effective for enjoyment and change. Part 1  of the book is really great–very passionate, very eye-opening, and very clear. She is really does a fine job explaining  intrinsic rewards, unpacking what she sees as the four major categories: the need for satisfying work, how success must be possible, the social environment of our activities, and the craving we all have for higher meaning. She shows how games provide these things and in the process helps you understand how important it is to make use of these things in just about any situation. She challenges your assumptions with arguments that are both passionate and sensible, if a little revolutionary in perspective. As the chapters continue, she covers happiness and her ideas for how games can be a force for good in the world. She does get a little weird in places and you will likely see her more as a zealot than a voice of balanced pedagogy by the time you reach the end. But don’t skip this book. You might not know it, but you need to understand the mindset of gamers/game designers, and Ms. McGonigal is a great guide.

 

Using Games to Enhance Learning and Teaching (book cover)

Using Games to Enhance Learning and Teaching is a rather ambitious little academic book edited by Nicola Whitton and Alex Moseley. It is ambitious in that it tries to do many things at the same time: provide rationale for the greater use of games in education; show how games can be designed and deployed; provide a theoretical framework for the evaluation of games for educations; etc. Some of these are done better than others and one might question the reasoning behind the inclusion of a couple of chapters. However, the chapters entitled “Good Game Design Is Good Learning Design” and “Narrative: Let Me Tell You a Story” are particularly good and helpful for teachers who want to know more about what games offer to education. Also, the several sections dealing with alternative reality games (ARGs) really help you to see the the pedagogy and design of such activities. The many examples included and the authors’ experience with campus-wide ARGs make these parts of the book very interesting and practically useful if you would like to try it yourself. Oddly, despite the focus on education, there is little attention to using games for individual classrooms. If you are looking for some ideas to bring into your own classes here, you’ll find a few, but you’ll still need to do the specific designing and construction work yourself. One of the strong points of this book is that points are backed up with citations and references to academic papers. The authors are researchers / practitioners and they manage a good balance between theoretical support and practice. It might seem seem strange to praise a book for including references, but academic literature reviews are something the other authors on this list didn’t  seem to worry too much about.

 

The Mulltiplayer Classroom (book cover)

The Multiplayer Classroom: Designing Coursework as a Game by Lee Sheldon is what it says it is. If you are looking to set up your course as a game, this is the book for you. See my post on this topic for more details. One of the take-aways from this book is that trying to do so will require a serious re-thinking of how you organize content and a lot of tweaking to get it right for your group of learners. The book is particularly aimed at college teachers who have more control over their curriculum, but various high school and other teachers who have changed their courses into games are also presented as case studies.

 

For the Win (book cover)

For the Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business by Kevin Werbach and Dan Hunter might seem a strange choice for a list of gamification books for education, but it is included here because it is a succinct overview that can get you up to speed on the topic. The focus is on how gamification can be used for businesses with a web presence especially, but the Mr. Werbach, in addition to designing and delivering one of the first courses on gamification and another that is available as a MOOC from Coursera.org, does a good job introducing the genre, explaining motivation, the elements of games, and the steps for deploying gamification. There are thousands of  businesses trying really hard to make their websites and businesses more fun, and Mr. Werbach knows a lot about them. Understanding their challenges and how they are meeting them helps in conceptualizing the somewhat parallel problem schools have with engaging students. But that’s about as far as it’ll get you. Recently, Mr. Werbach was asked to recommend a short, humorous video that gives a nice introduction to gamification. This one from PennyArcade is what he suggested.

 

Seductive Interaction Design (book cover)

 

Seductive Interaction Design by Stephen Anderson is a book that will help you understand gameful design. The sub-title, Creating Playful, Fun, and Effective User Experiences gives you a better idea of what is in this book but Mr. Anderson is a unique thinker with an interesting perspective. The book is not at all about education, it is not even really much about games or gamification; rather it is a book on user experience design from someone who is an expert in web interface design. So why would you want to read it? Well, education begins with getting attention and trust and Mr. Anderson has a lot to say on those topics.

 

The Art of Game Design (book cover)

The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses by Jesse Schell comes highly recommended. Sebastian Deterding, for example, says it is the one to read (along with A Well-Played Game by Bernard De Koven, an old book that is soon to be re-released in an updated version). Mr. Schell, of Carnagie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center, and of The International Game Developer’s Association, has both the industry experience (he designed Toontown Online for Disney, for example) and the academic position to be taken very seriously. This book, at more than 500 pages, requires a serious investment in time.  It is theoretical, it is practical, and it will help you to see things differently through different lenses.

 

Embedded Formative Assessment (book cover)

Embedded Formative Assessment by Dylan Wiliam is a book that is not at all about gameful design, and yet what is contained here is very important if you are interested in making learning happen. “Fun is just another word for learning,” said game design guru Raph Koster. And learning happens with feedback–lots of it, in a social context, from peers, teachers, and the learner herself. This book will explain why. This book will sell you on the need for feedback in education. This importance of feedback, for learning, for fun, is at the heart of gameful design. That, and the playfulness that Mr. Anderson talks about (see above). Without good feedback, games become an end unto themselves; the feedback only helps the learner get better at the game. In educational game design, the trick is to use the game to build knowledge or develop skills that go beyond the game. Mr. Wiliam will help to keep your one foot planted squarely in pedagogy. And some of his ideas for providing feedback, you’ll notice if you’re looking through your ludic lens, are pure gamification.