I'm a teaching assistant in a year 5 class (9/10 years old) I am trying to engage one student, who is almost totally switched off from most lessons, by tapping into her interest in WoW. I asked her yesterday to write me a story based upon her adventures in WoW and she straight away picked up her pen and started to list the characters in her story. She has not yet started writing sentences but even so this is progress.
I intend to keep going down this route and intend to bring in opportunities to explore other virtual worlds, such as Myst, as a platform to engage creative writing.
I'm also having conversations with the children about the games they are playing on their consoles to understand the networks they are involved in and the contexts they prefer. This in itself is something new as I have found most teachers either do not think to discuss gaming or, in some cases, actively discourage talk about games. This something I find baffling considering the major part gaming plays in children's lives and the many opportunities this provides for educators to connect with their students in meaningful ways.
Gaming itself is a form of 'text'. And, especially in terms of fantasy MMOGs, games are complex narratives. Well, if you've got a kid who won't read a book, but who maintains a high-level character on a complicated MMOG, the problem likely isn't that the kid isn't able to understand complex narratives.
There's something deeper going on.
I think the key to Steve's method is getting the student to write about his or her character and their experiences in the game. As any gamer knows, it's easily possible to get by on quests after only reading a small portion of the available [directional] text within the game itself; so the experience within the game is often more self-directed and often less driven by a written narrative.
A problem for teaching kids reading and writing?
Not necessarily. Steve's method bypasses the obvious difficulty therein presented. [i.e. Steve makes it not about reading the text necessarily, but reading the experience.]
For if I'm reading him correctly, what Steve is getting at is that he's got a student who may not be a great reader, but who has a natural inclination for internalizing narrative.
And I think most kids internalize narrative. And it expresses itself in different ways whether in MMOGs or running around in the backyard with a wooden sword. It's the foundation of the kinds of role playing games all creative kids enjoy.
The thing we have to consider in terms of reaching these kids is that their internalized narrative might turn out being a better vehicle for expressing understanding and aptitude than any narrative we can pull from the shelf and force upon them. The internalized narrative might prove more valuable to authentic assessment than any of the books on our shelves.