Teachers in a special education classroom have students with a range of abilities and individual goals. But how can one teach to such a range in a small or whole group lesson? And how does one do this while keeping students engaged and on-task? From my experience teaching at a school for students with mild to moderate intellectual difficulties, as well as my PhD research, I have found that a games-based context provides a familiar and engaging foundation from which a variety of extension activities can be based.
Currently, most research on games for learning focuses on the competitive and motivational aspects of educational games. For example, a recent field of study called Gamification studies the rewards, punishments, and the competitive nature of games in order to create engagement. Gamification has grown in popularity because it is similar to what we already do in the classroom (e.g. stickers, stars, and rewards).
I advocate that Gamification is not enough; teachers should use a game-based context to engage students. A game based-context is using a familiar game (likely a video or computer game) as a foundation, something to keep referring to, when teaching. A games-based context does not necessarily mean just playing games in the classroom (though some of that can happen). It is about providing a concrete and exciting place to start a lesson, unit of work, or topic such as creative writing.
Many games have narratives that explain the game’s goal (e.g. ‘save the princess’). I use the game’s story, setting, and characters as a way to excite students to write a similar story. Depending on the student’s ability, the task can be extended in a variety of ways. For students with a lower ability, they can simply write what they know about the game (which might be a lot!). For students with a higher ability, they can expand on the setting, characters, and conflict. As the lesson is easily modifiable, using a games-based context allows teachers to continually adjust the task so individual students not too bored nor too frustrated.
We as teachers know that if a task is too easy or too hard, students will be disengaged and behaviour problems can occur. Gamification can be used cooperatively with games-based learning to create an efficient way of teaching groups of students in an engaging way while meeting individual learning needs.