Gamification Method (or the “Fun Method”)
It is obvious that students want to learn, and teachers wish to teach. Why does this not always happen? Let’s ask ourselves a few pertinent questions about the objectives to teaching, and the learning goals of the student. While the teacher wishes to impart knowledge, and the student wishes to gain it (for personal fulfillment, professional reasons, etc.), we must first acknowledge that the students’ needs have to be met. If they are taking an ESL course, it is our job as a teacher to help them acquire the target language, and have a better understanding and comprehension of it than when they began. We must ask ourselves “What is the motivation of the student?” Perhaps they have relatives that speak the language, or they need to speak English in the Business world. All these needs need to be addressed.
When students relay stories of their most negative early learning experiences, they complain of a “boring” teacher. When asked to share their most positive learning experience, they tell a story about a highly interesting and stimulating teacher that made the learning experience exciting. This was most often achieved by a stimulating learning “game.”
What was this? In a word, it was gamification.
Fun and enjoyment are not exclusive to learning. If we can make the difficult and challenging elements of learning a fun competition, and turn the teacher into its coach, and the students into teams, what have we achieved? We have created a “fun” environment. The teacher is now a guide and playmaker. The students are enveloped in a stimulating learning environment, guided by what is known as gamification.
When we are interested and excited, and know that we are learning, our logical mind is satisfied with result. When we compete with ourselves, we try to beat our personal best. Beyond the fun of the game experience, we are all learning together, and helping each other learn, and the inspiration of that knowledge and experience is what helps us learn more.
According to Wikipedia, Gamification is: “…the application of game design elements and game principles in non-game contexts.” Why not employ these same elements to improve the engagement of the student? Is there a law against incorporating “organizational productivity, flow, learning, and crowdsourcing, evaluation, ease……and physical exercises” in the learning environment? This clearly rhetorical question begs us to ask why more gamification has not been employed before.
Motivations, Affective Factors, Goals
As and ESL teacher, my goal is to help my students learn English as a second language. I need to constantly appraise what my students need, as well as what their reasons for learning are.
I have found the most students I encounter want to learn better business English, and primarily conversational English, so I focus on conversation and vocabulary.
Many students are intimidated by learning a new language. It can seem quite intimidating at first. These affective factors include anxiety and lack of self-esteem. It is my goal as a teacher to help students get out of their fear of the target language. Being able to speak and comprehend the target language is seen as a game, or a sporting event, and the student is the star player, whereas the teacher is the coach, helping the student get through his or her obstacles, and win the game of target language acquisition.
Courses need to be structured, and the syllabus is helps to create that structure. Students generally want to know what is to be achieved through teaching and learning.
I use very specific learning outcomes for student assessment. I identify the student needs, specify the objectives, and determine what they have to learn. It is crucial to ascertain what the student can and cannot do. Once that is a known factor, there is no need to go over material the student already knows. Using the same logic, we don’t want to do activities that the student cannot do, because he or she is simply not at that level in the target language.
I focus on immersion, drilling, vocabulary, and structure (grammar). I pick various topics and use conversations in class. Quick drills are done in the beginning and the end of class, similar to most Oxbridge classes. This helps in the assessment of what level the student is currently at, and whether it is time for student to move on to the next level.
I use short videos from YouTube, and movies from Netflix. I believe in using the computer more and textbooks less. I like to write my own exercises, to make then more modern, accessible, humorous, and fun.
My students are not treated as a passive receptacle for learning. My approach keeps the teacher and student on a more even playing field. The vehicular language of the classroom will be in English, because immersion in the target language brings the best results. It helps the student learn, and it helps the teacher to assess the learning outcomes.
My approach is empathetic to the student at a lower level, who is struggling. I move on to easier topics and use graded language, to make myself better understood, and make the lesson plan more accessible to the student.
I use props and realia as much as possible. Much like miming and hand gestures, realia help the visual learner. It has been said that 80% of learning is non-verbal.
I teach in the target language of English, and expect the student to speak in the target language as best they can. I focus on the language skills of listening and speaking, and the language areas of vocabulary and pronunciation. Naturally, students make errors, but this is greeted with acceptance. The errors are corrected when appropriate. I let a few of the errors slide with the lower level students, to encourage them to speak up as much as possible. I use graded language, interlanguage, and cognates to simplify the lesson when necessary. I teach using vague words that help lower level students learn more effectively. With more advanced students I do a bit of correction, in order to help them improve. But this is done in a kind and non-judgmental manner. The more advanced student will have more prior knowledge, and can use his or her expertise to figure out how to converse more effectively.
A typical class is structured with:
5) Class debate: The class is split down the middle. Half will take one side of the debate, and the other half will take the other side. The debate is usually inspired by a concept brought up in the story or the video. Objective: Language skills in speaking. An opportunity for controlled practice in a group.
6) We finish with more quick questions, incorporating the new vocabulary we have been using in class. Objective: language skills in vocabulary and pronunciation. Recycling and repetition of words used. Assessment and evaluation of progress and retention since first set of quick questions.
The Gamification Method (or the Fun Method), appears to turn the role of teacher on its head. What is the role of the teacher? My belief is that the teacher can be less of a giver of information, and more of a facilitator of learning.
Someone once studied the teaching methods of the old “one room schoolhouses” that used to dot the American landscape. Instead of a stern taskmasters, they found fairly benign teachers. Surprisingly, the students were teaching themselves more than their teacher was teaching them. Ironically, the modern methods of teaching are returning to this approach, specifically with “teams” of students teaching each other through the discussion of topics.
This is a more learner-centered approach. I expect the student to have motivation, but I believe most students, especially the adult learner, have a clear motivation in that they want to learn the target language. It is the teachers’ role to help facilitate it. I achieve this by making the student an active participant in their own learning process.
We must meet the students needs, and their main need is to learn. Therefore, we mush use the most effective teaching approach, which stimulates and interest the minds of both student and teacher, for the primary reason that enthusiasm is infectious. If we can all agree that empathy and compassion for the student is the best attitude to have, can we also agree that the best way to achieve this is for the teacher to create an environment where both the teacher and student have a positive learning experience?