Sunday, January 15, 2017

Board Games in the School Library: 3 Reasons Why It's a Winning Play

"Play is the highest form of research." - Albert Einstein


“Play is the work of the child.” – Maria Montessori

In our recently remodeled school media center, we have a space dedicated to active engagement in fun learning activities. Part maker space, part literacy lounge, board games are being incorporated to promote a culture of joyful learning. Whether it's a game of Rummy, Yahtzee, or Scrabble, family game night serves as a communication elixir and solidifies our domestic climate of togetherness. Shouldn't similar opportunities for interaction, challenge, and fun exist somewhere in our schools?

Broken families, cultural fragmentation, and poverty are impacting opportunities for children to play. As we unpacked and tagged our new media center games, I was more disappointed than shocked by the number of students who had never played Monopoly, Boggle, or Sorry. One skeptical teacher commented, "Oh great, now we're letting students play games instead of reading books in the library!"


“It is paradoxical that many educators and parents still differentiate between a time for learning and a time for play without seeing the vital connection between them.”  - Leo F. Buscaglia

Proving that it's not an either, or, situation, I witnessed a student teaching another student how to play chess. Outwardly, the two students were as different as can be imagined, but the learning and camaraderie taking place were visible and palpable. Later in the same class period, the newer player checked out a book about becoming a chess master. Game-based learning leverages games to engage students in skill acquisition, thought processing, and creative problem-solving. Here are three reasons why integrating board games into the school library is a winning strategy.

“Do not keep children to their studies by compulsion but by play.” – Plato

First, board games provide engaging ways for students to practice skills referenced to classroom learning targets. For instance, aside from basic numeracy, Yahtzee offers practical application of statistics and probability. What appears on the dice results from luck, but an understanding of probability supports the strategic assignment of points. Planning several turns ahead, players often need to use judgment and prediction to maximize the point value of each turn at the game. Opportunities for collaboration and deeper learning are created when students design and build original board games.

Second, playing board games can support social-emotional learning (SEL). The Illinois learning standards include these three SEL goals: self-awareness and self-management skills, social awareness and interpersonal skills, and demonstrate decision-making skills and responsible behavior. Teachers and parents with concerns about screen time value the face-to-face interaction promised by board games. We have implemented a school-wide program to develop growth mindsets in all of our learners. Despite best efforts, the outcome of games doesn't always favor the most skilled players. Board games create opportunities for goal setting, self-evaluation, and reflection.

Third, board games encourage interaction in locations of informal learning where school community and climate are developed. Sometimes called third places, these are casual areas that initiate and support personal development, friendships, democracy, and intellectual exchange. Disagreements are possible but rarely become hostile because participants value their place in the community. We seek to improve our school's attendance rate. What if it's a daily chess match that is the one thing that keeps a group of struggling students coming to school every day?


My friend and colleague, Jordan Catapano, suggests we ask the following questions when considering board games for student use.
  • Is the game age appropriate?
  • Are there requisite skills required for successful play?
  • What learning or behavioral objectives are supported?
  • How can we help students maximize game-based learning experiences through thinking and reflection?
  • Is there desired transfer from gaming experiences to classroom objectives, or life skills?

Whether it's engaged learning, social skills, self-regulation, or school climate, board games can be a major piece of progressing towards your school's goals. Respected scholars and social experts assert that play is essential to learning and development, playing is an important life skill. School libraries, with a reputation for being places of quiet study, are now becoming centers for tinkering, coding, and yes, playing.

“We do not stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing!” - George Bernard Shaw


References and Related Reading




"Children's Board Games Help Reinforce Lessons Learned in the Classroom." The Washington Post. WP Company, 14 Jan. 2010.


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Spaces and Places for Learning

"There is an opportunity to use design to craft a new invitation and journey for education and for learning." - David Jakes

It seems like yesterday, but it was actually two years ago when educator-now-consultant, David Jakes, led our district level workshop about designing meaningful spaces for the modern learner. After considering school climate and culture, Mr. Jakes's driving questions were, "What types of learning experiences do you want for your students? Can you design spaces that serve as invitations to inquiry and learning?" Those early conversations sparked discussions with faculty and staff, with students and their parents, and with members of our communities. In our high schools, the fruits of those conversations are becoming realities.


 


"Make it new - look at your space with 21st-century eyes: Does it work for what we know about learning today, or just for what we knew about learning in the past?"

Nearly a year after breaking ground, our remodeled media center opened today to the "oohs and aahs" from our students and staff. Bright colors, comfortable seating, and flexible spaces invite interaction, collaboration, tinkering, and quiet reading. My new office is located in our media center, thankfully, it is also a brand new space inviting collaborative work. Still a work in progress, I've added a few touches to make my office space more inviting and interactive.

I have a mini-fridge stocked with bottled water and fresh fruit. The candy dish is out and is always filled with treats. Nothing says, "let's sit and chat" quite as well as chocolate. When I don't need razor-sharp focus, I like to listen to music. I have a Bluetooth speaker tuned to my favorite playlists; yes, I take requests. I keep puzzles and handheld games out so passers-by will stop to try the Rubik's Cube, or Ozobot. The lava lamp, well, just because it makes a cool red glow. 


These additions may seem insignificant, but I've found that touches like these make my office an inviting place to hang out. Since my current job doesn't allow me to get into classrooms with daily regularity, I consider my office like a third place, a space that influences school climate and helps build learning relationships.



I appreciate that my district has the skilled manpower and financial resources to support the creation of innovative learning spaces. I'm glad our leadership teams sought input from the variety of groups who will be using this beautiful place. I'm proud to have been a part of the planning and design of this amazing project. The results speak for themselves, our new media center is the talk of the town and will quickly become a favorite assemblage of learning spaces for our students.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Praising with Intent in the Classroom

"Praise, when used correctly, can help students become adults who delight in intellectual challenge, understand the value of effort, and are able to deal with setbacks. Praise can help students make the most of the gifts they have." - Carol Dweck


"Good job!"   "Way to go!"   "You're so smart!"   "You're the best!" 

How many times have you heard yourself, or another teacher, lavishing this type of effusive praise on students? Praise like this may cause students a temporary feel-good moment, but in the long term, these forms of generic, inflated praise can have a detrimental effect on student achievement.


What is the purpose of praise in the classroom?

Praising students with intent can reinforce positive behaviors, raise academic performance, and improve classroom relationships. Effective use of praise makes the classroom a more inviting and supportive learning place, for everyone.

In many classrooms, negative or corrective remarks readily outnumber positive comments. (Hawkins & Heflin, 2011) However, research shows a positive correlation between effective teacher praise and student engagement. (Blaze, 2014) Other studies illustrate the likelihood of desired student behaviors increases with specific praise from the teacher. (Strain & Joseph, 2004)

What are characteristics of effective praise?

  • Specific - The praise provides descriptive feedback about learning process or effort. Recommendations for further improvement can be included.
  • Contingent - The praise closely follows, and is explicitly tied to a desired behavior.
  • Sensitive - The praise builds relationships by showing an awareness of students' interests. The praise is not exaggerated nor insincere.

What are characteristics of ineffective praise?

  • Generic - The praise does not provide specific feedback to the student about what they did well.
  • Inflated - The praise is disproportionate to the accomplishment or effort required by the student.
  • Manipulative - The praise is intended to control student behavior. It is a verbal token rather than descriptive feedback.

When teachers are intentional with their use of effective forms of praise, the classroom develops a positive atmosphere where students are engaged in learning activities. Students will not only give a better effort, but they will also become more effective with praising each other. Increased student achievement will become a more likely consequence of improved communication, engagement, and relationships in the classroom.

"Every time teachers give feedback to students, they convey messages that affect students' opinions of themselves, their motivations, and their achievement." - Carol Dweck

Questions for your consideration:

  • How effectively is praise being used in your classroom or school?
  • What is your plan for becoming more intentional with your use of praise?
  • Why is it important to praise the performance rather than the performer?







References and Related Reading


Ivey, M. (2016). Growth Mindset: Rephrasing Praise. Teaching Channel. https://www.teachingchannel.org/blog/2016/12/09/rephrasing-praise/

Poindexter, N. (n.d.). Use Specific Language for Feedback and Praise. http://www.nea.org/tools/52080.htm

Curwin, D. R. (2015, August 11). 13 Common Sayings to Avoid. Edutopiahttps://goo.gl/m1KyYO

Dweck, C. S. (1999). Caution - Praise Can Be Dangerous. American Educator. http://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/PraiseSpring99.pdf


Ask the Cognitive Scientist. (n.d.). http://www.aft.org/ae/winter2005-2006/willingham