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Turning Gamers into Writers

Jack Goodman

Jack Goodman

Oct 12, 2017

I was having breakfast the other Saturday with my kids, after sport got cancelled. Some of the team, the boys, were all sitting together, and some of these teenage boys began describing how they write a school assignment. It was something of an eye-opener, for me at least. This is an extract from Jack's full presentation at the National Boys Education Conference, hosted at The King's School Parramatta. 

I heard from my young breakfast-goers: this is how to write an essay - Google, to Wikipedia, to Rewordify, to Grammarly. Then submit. A series of copy-pastes. Except one of the boys had forgotten to take out all the formatting, something not missed by his teacher and unlikely in any case to help him gain any real skills or sense of achievement.

Then there's the other part of their world, gaming. Just this morning, I found this article. “Study finds boys watching TV, playing video games for two hours a day are more likely to have behavioural problems.” There is a lot of in-depth research going into this area. I would only say, based on first-hand observations, that gaming crowds out other activities. It’s immersive, it’s easy to play for hours. And it means other activities - like reading - aren’t happening.

But - why do they play games? As I mentioned, there is a huge field of research dedicated to this, but - in short - games are unbelievably immersive and entertaining. Directly related to this is the fact that games provide an immediate feedback loop. There is intrinsic motivation to reach a goal. There is creativity, autonomy, and challenge accomplishment. Again, there is a huge depth of research around brain psychology and video games - including even just using a phone, or thinking about using a phone.

So how does this relate to boys and their writing? Let's first look at a particular problem: boys and NAPLAN Band 8 results. New South Wales, like Western Australia did, is bringing in minimum Band writing levels in Year 9, to be eligible to obtain their HSC results in Year 12.

You can see that well under a quarter of boys in NSW got Band 8 or higher in 2016. So there’s work to be done, and it's now a time-sensitive issue for educators, to think about how to tackle boys' performance and engagement with writing.

Boys-and-Band8-NAPLAN-Jack-Goodman-presents.pngImage: Jack Goodman presents a slide of the 2016 data on Year 9 Writing Results, find it at http://reports.acara.edu.au/

So what can be done? How do we learn from the engaging, time-consuming world of gaming, without reducing the academic integrity of the curriculum content?

Let’s look again to the feedback loop.

“The most powerful single modification that enhances achievement is feedback. Academic feedback is more strongly and consistently related to achievement than any other behaviour.” - Dr Tim Hawkes, 2017

“Just-in-time learning and the ability to solve problems at the time of need are fundamental, not just to student progression, but the confidence and resilience of the learner to solve learner challenges.” - Dr Gerard Calnin, 2017

“We do a lot of drafts, rarely less than 10. The biggest struggle for us is to get the structure right, and rewrite the draft 3 to 4 more times.” - Rob Sitch about the television series Utopia, 2017.

Yet, feedback takes time.

Time to find someone, at an appropriate time.

Time to construct and give the feedback.

Time to absorb and react to the feedback, and repeat the process.

So how can we all best support the writing feedback process to change the direction of boys' writing results? To explain why Studiosity works to show improvement in performance among student users, let's compare our Writing Feedback service, with gaming.

The Studiosity Writing Feedback service is: Timely, personalised, specific areas of grammar, structure, referencing, punctuation. It allows for reflection and growth, and engages students continually with their own work, that is, it delivers formative feedback, incorporated throughout a writing task, not just at the end.

Gaming is: Timely, personalised, based on specific field or stimulus, allows for reflection and growth for improvement, engages students continuously with what they have done and what they can do next.

Gaming-or-writing-Jack-Goodman-presents.pngImage: Gaming feedback and writing feedback, presented by Jack Goodman, Founder, Studiosity

A game doesn’t start and finish with a single accomplishment. And a writing task doesn't just start and finish with a single draft.

There is a lot said about 'gamifying' learning to engage students, particularly boys. However, perhaps we should be thinking about leveraging the engagement of gaming, while looking to best-practice for learning and teaching: feedback. Any teacher will tell you that they already know this works, but today it takes a service like Studiosity to deliver that in a timely way after hours, for every student, equally, at scale. 

Next level learning.

An extract from Jack's full presentation at the National Boys Education Conference, hosted at The King's School Parramatta. 


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