Are you helping kids feel empowered to win the "school game"


I challenge every teacher to ask himself that question, because if more kids wanted to play the “school game,” we wouldn’t have so many behavior problems, and dropouts wouldn’t be over 50% as they are in Chicago public schools. When a game works, it sells itself– no one need motivate the players. 


But a game only works when a player has a baseline sense of competence, some ability to play the game–to “make the team,” as it were. Unless they have a lot of spectacle (think of hockey, horse racing or football), games won’t work for those not involved in the match. If the coach (or teacher) tells me I can’t play, nine times out of ten I won’t, and maybe what the gang is telling me makes more sense.

When I think of it, my own, enduring love of learning depended on my having had some success at the “school game” early on. Without even trying, I had advantages entering the game that other kids in my neighborhood did not (two parents who had been to college, etc.). When competing at the school “game,” it was as though my avatar had more power and lives than most of my class mates. Because the game involved me, I ended up challenging myself, much as athletes/game competitors do. Because I enjoyed the experience of “winning” at the school game, I wanted to improve my skills and knowledge. School “worked” for me.


The best thing I’m seeing in Web 2.0 tools is the potential they have for getting kids who might otherwise be” cut from the school team” engaged in the “flow” of school work.  Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi ‘s theory that the game must be challenging yet do-able means 2.0 tools are changing the field.  For some kids who would otherwise have quit the game, creating a slideshare, wiki page, or video gives them a real learning experience, one in which they feel empowered to win.

No, it’s not possible for a teacher alone to do much for the child whose cultural and economic background have put him at a disadvantage, but our schools/curricula could use more authentic learning. In his book on the school “game” Robert Fried blames test-driven schools and curricula for creating a rigged game, in which there are too many losers: 

We have opted not to create schools as places where children’s curiosity, sensory awareness, power, and communication can flourish, but rather to erect temples of knowledge where we sit them down, tell them a lot of stuff we think is important, try to control their restless curiosity, and test them to see how well they’ve listened to us. [The Game of School, pp. 58–59]

What web 2.0 can give kids most importantly are these empowering learning experiences:

There is quite likely no substitute for the experience of feeling empowered . . . if we hope for children to pursue learning enthusiastically within the structure of a classroom or a school. Learning and power are inextricably linked. [The Game of School, p. 65]

2.0 tools put more power in the hands of learners. This threatens the old school but should energize the rest of us, because we are position to help substantially more students create more knowledge out of real learning. 


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