Engaging elementary students to reinforce learning.
GUEST COLUMN | by Beth Holland
Managing an elementary classroom or a caseload of students takes equal parts skill, creativity, and patience. With a shortage of time—and sometimes resources—educators often have to sacrifice creativity in their teaching. As educators, we often stick with what “works,” even if it means using boring worksheets or flashcards. These traditional lessons may meet objectives and standards that educators must adhere to, but they frequently do not incorporate the principles of Universal Design for Learning and are not necessarily the most appealing to students.
To make lessons more engaging and to support individual learning styles, educators should consider using technology for “gamification.” Students today are growing up in a digitized society so it is no wonder that students often respond to, and are more interested in, lessons that include technology. Incorporating game-based learning into lesson plans can help engage students, thereby increasing the likelihood of attaining learning goals and meeting standards.
Game-based learning can also have advantages in particular areas, such as pre-literacy skills like phonemic or phonological awareness. Technology enables discrete presentations of phonemes (the sounds of a language), which is especially important for phonemic awareness tasks yet can be challenging for a teacher to do. For example, when teaching students how to blend phonemes or sounds into words such as blending the sounds “b,” “a,” “t” to make the word “bat,” the teacher must present the individual sounds. It can be difficult to present some of the sounds of English in isolation, such as isolating the sound for “b” without making it sound like “buh.” However, it is important for children to hear and understand that the sound is “b,” not “buh” and “t,” not “tuh,” because the target word is “bat,” not “buh-a-tuh.” Technology can offer controlled sound presentations for students working with these discrete sounds for phonemic/phonological awareness.
Since children come to school with a wide range of pre-literacy experiences, it is important that these differences be addressed accordingly. Instead of planning an activity that has to be adjusted for the least-experienced and most-experienced students in a classroom simultaneously, a game-based learning platform can allow individual students or small groups to “play” at a level that encourages their strengths and strengthens their weaknesses.
Incremental increases in levels of difficulty is another benefit of game-based learning. To advance to the next level and continue “playing,” students are generally required to master the associated skill. This ensures that students do not move ahead until they are ready. Now, a whole classroom of students with different skill levels can work at a pace that suits individual needs while also fostering increased achievement. Some platforms, like Super Duper Learning, even have the administrative features for teachers to decide on which level students should begin instruction. If the first few levels are too easy for a student, educators can set students to skip those levels and have the student start at a more advanced level to make sure each student is getting the most out of the “game” and the time they spend playing it.
Accountability is essential in education. Game-based learning platforms often track detailed student performance, making progress monitoring easy for educators. Reports may include details like an overall score, length of time spent on a task, and a list of questions the students answered incorrectly. This allows educators to identify what subject areas or skills are problematic for students.
Game-based learning platforms work well in a variety of environments. In center-based learning, educators create separate stations for students to encourage independent learning. A game-based learning platform lets students easily sign-in to the program with minimal educator supervision. Game-based programs are also a perfect fit for a blended learning classroom that already incorporates computer sessions into the daily schedule. Game-based learning is even ideal for home practice. Parents concerned about “summer slide,” the regression of skills during summer break due to lack of instruction, can use game-based learning at home as part of a fun summer learning environment.
Game-based learning has the potential to reinforce skills students are already learning in the classroom, but in a more engaging way than traditional worksheets and flashcards. Educators should take advantage of this new tool for both the students’ benefits as well as their own.
Beth Holland, M.A., CCC-SLP, received a master’s degree in speech-language pathology from the University of Maryland. Her experience as a speech-language pathologist includes working with students with a variety of disabilities in diverse settings. She has previous experience as a professional development specialist and director of curriculum in the field of educational publishing. Beth is currently an editor with Super Duper Publications. She also travels extensively to provide trainings and conduct seminars for schools and clinics using Super Duper assessments and programs.