Friday, November 13, 2009


Yesterday I ran, quite by chance, across a reading training program that reminded me of Tetris (remember that old game of the falling shapes?). In the program, students focus on the central image in an ever-changing, but simple, landscape of letters, shapes, and objects. It seems that by activating peripheral vision and eye movement, you can increase your reading efficiency. And perhaps that does lead to an increase in comprehension. I know that I increased my reading speed during the trial from 560 wpm to 680 wpm. I am not giving you the program title because I have since read debunking opinions, and I do not want to recommend this solution to schools with RTI reading needs.

But - I do, deep down at the experience level, believe that game players are better readers than they would be if they did not play games. Now why would that be? Focused motion. By that, I mean extended focus upon something that is not standing still. In the case of Tetris, the game pieces are moving. In the case of a book, it is the eyes that are moving. Moving the eyes is the real physical skill involved in reading. If students can develop the skill of not only moving the eyes more effectively, but also using peripheral vision to review and anticipate the content of the reading, they will read better. I sound like the online reading development program...

But - now add the option to use the reader's physical skills. In portable gaming, this means fingers and thumbs. Tetris on the iTouch is a thumbs game (at least I think it is - don't have it yet). WolfQuest on the laptop is a fingers and thumbs game - all of the games I have played are. Activating more than one "intelligence" is a key to learning any skill better. So I conclude that interactivity while gaming develops skills. If the skills involve visual accuity, prediction and short-term memory skills that can be applied to reading, these simple games must also play a part in developing "reading brains." Do they help develop readers? No. Do they help develop reading skills? Yes.

Backtrack in time with me. Do you remember historical fiction? I for one read endless historical fiction when I was in middle school: WWII, Civil War, Colonial period, Westward Expansion, Arthurian England, Victorian England, Rome, Greece - I couldn't get enough of it. I still read it occasionally. I have learned tons of information - not all true, but it was mostly true (I was lucky to have a great school library and parents who had bought fact-checking encyclopedias; now I have the world online). When documentaries and the History Channel became freely available, I watched those endlessly. I learned tons of information. The point: I learned a lot of history in an alternative way.

Now there are game formats that are as well-researched as these novels and "documentaries." I am not a history teacher, but I am a teacher of novels. Great themes are historical stories. Great moods need to be visualized - and are even better when lived. Great plots repeat. Great characters reappear. Great conflicts appear again and again and again.

Games have a place in ELA. Take WolfQuest (link above), a free game that is great fun and that also teaches students about the habits, habitats, rituals, etc. of wolves. It is experienced from the wolf point of view. Success requires deep observations of the environment and chat-like collaboration with one's pack. Each "life" can be traced in plotline. It is possible to create conflicts. Viewers of the game can build antagonist/protagonist allegiances. Teachers projecting games can ask students to make predictions and to summarize (chronological, cause/effect relationships). I have just highlighted a passel of our NECAP standards. I know that there are some other great games for ELA, such as a new one about Leonardo da Vinci's world. Another that comes to mind is a non-violent PS2 game I wrote about in a previous post. Unfortunately, my classroom does not come equipped with game stations. Hmm...Maybe they should.

But - that's not about reading.

But - it is about learning how to read well. I think that anything we do to improve our students' ability to read what we throw at them, in class and in testing, is timely and important. And when I use odd ways to get at reading, I make sure that I tell students why they are doing the activity and what I expect them to get out of it.

By the way, not all games are digital. I have a kids' activity that is a set of "fairy tale" picture cards. How are we using it? Guess.

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