Welcome to the festive-fifth in the weekly series of top-IT-tips, where I layer sarcasm upon a genuine desire to to get everyone using technology to enhance teaching and learning.
For the last passive-aggressive article before Christmas I thought I’d tackle something seasonal.
Don’t use Computers as End-of-term entertainment
Allowing students that have completed work to entertain themselves with whatever they can find online, with social media sites being blocked by most schools this normally translates to students ending up playing flash games whilst all around them are focussing on the work at hand.
This seems like a good idea initially, it gives the students something to work towards, the “if I can get my work done faster I can go on games!” attitude is something that does actually work to motivate students to complete the work at hand. Well yes, but students do end up rushing the work to get there and this builds an unrealistic expectation that they can ‘go on games’ whenever they happen to have finished some work. You may think this is harmless in KS3, but students’ expectations are solidified in that time and they expect to still have ‘game time’ in KS4 and KS5.
All I’d ask is this, in a normal lesson would you allow them to go and do whatever they wanted when they’d finished their work? Students tap dancing and playing tennis next to people furiously trying to finish an essay? No? Then why do we find an exception when we sit in a computer room?
It’s nearly Christmas. Students have worked really hard and there’s only a lesson to go. I know, I’ll be nice to them just before the holidays and anyone who finishes the work from last time will be able to go on games. This is great as the next piece of work they’re starting is quite fussy so I need to explain in in detail, and then they’d forget, so I’d have to do it again when they get back from the break.
Better just to do that, surely. It’s the end of term, they’re only watching videos in other lessons, aren’t they?
- Yes, it works as a nice incentive, but what are you incentivising? The practice that completing and handing work in quickly leads to rewards? Is that something we really need to be encouraging? When I’ve seen students being encouraged with this practice in the past the end result is rushed work of a worse quality than usual
- Students are much more focussed on the end result of them completing the work than the actual work, and if you’re counting on them remembering or embedding the concepts from your lesson then I’m afraid it’s not going to happen. They’re going to remember how close they were to beating level 6 on Mario instead.
- If you use this as an incentive more than once then students will come to expect it, in fact at the end of term if you actually need to get work done then you’ll face a lot of resistance from the students who are used to, and expecting to, play games for the lesson.
- Students forget there was any work in that lesson, and will begin to associate the end of term with simply playing games and enjoying themselves, meaning that they will start to switch off much earlier toward the end of term than they would otherwise.
- Students playing games always disturb the concentration of those around them, because whilst little Jimmy is enjoying another round of Space Invaders poor Johnny is labouring away on his coursework but being distracted by flashing lights and furious tapping of the keyboard
- The students’ experience of using a computer is that there is a reward of games at the end of it, meaning that when you intend to use a computer for proper academic work the student is more concerned with speeding through it
- Students don’t realise there’s anything wrong with playing games when work is done, so often when they complete a piece of work will immediately leap onto a game rather than improve, critique or seek out new work. I have had many conversations with students asking why they thought it was acceptable to play a game rather than ask what to do next. It’s frustrating!
- Students often attempt to multi-task with a game and work at the some time, an impossible task
- Students always want to ‘do this on a computer’, as they expect games as a reward, therefore perfectly acceptable and useful non-computer based activities will be seen as ‘boring’ and ‘pointless’
- Students are spending part of their lesson not actively learning anything. They have little enough time being taught as it is so why not use the time effectively?
Why not just start the new piece of work? Yes you might have to talk through it twice, but students will at least be learning right up until then end. If you want to be nice to them then don’t give them any homework, come on, we’re teachers – we should teach!
Okay, so actually you want something a bit more festive and fun, then why not let the students access pre-selected educational games? There are plenty of websites that pass content quizzes off as video games where students have to answer questions to build up enough points to play a few minutes of Pacman, and that’s totally cool, as students are still learning or being assessed.
Honestly though, if you’ve thought through your differentiation properly then you should have a never ending, exciting task for your high ability students to be engaged with – a task that’s open ended enough to last you if that student has completed all of the work they need to have done. Relying on games to keep your students going needn’t be a thing you have to use.
Now my students are working right up until the end of term, they’re not switching off and when they go to their next lesson then that teacher will benefit from the students still being in work mode. I’m stopping holiday creep (where students switch-off earlier and earlier) and demonstrate an extremely positive work ethic. Without them being used to playing games then they won’t expect it, and if they don’t expect it you can teach more ensuring the student gets the most benefit from their time in school.
- Simply never allow students time on games if they’ve ‘finished the work’, it leads to bad habits and expectations of frivolity when work is the important thing
- Always plan for differentiation by making sure that there’s always an open ended extension task that allows early finishers to extend their knowledge on your subject rather than improve their hand-eye coordination in Doom
- If you are being nagged by an entire class for games as a reward then only ever concede to educational games, ones that you have pre-approved; if you’re a hard nut for not playing games then they will love this small concession and still be learning things
- Students need to always be focussed on where we are, and what’s coming next; so by removing the end of term games from the equation then they are always preparing, at least mentally, for the next challenge
- Computers will be seen more as work devices when the students are in school, and you will have to do less policing of student’s ‘entertaining themselves’ because they’ve ‘got no work to do’
- Attendance remains higher toward the end of term because the time in school is not seen as a waste of time; remember, they’ve got better games sitting at home!
I’m no Scrooge, but letting gaming into you lesson without an educational reason is going to impact negatively on your students learning and your ability to set taxing, entertaining lessons towards the end of the term. Over time this holiday creep will write off entire weeks of time. If you aim to stop that now then you’ll have much more in the way of usable teaching time when you need it more.
Students that are not expecting to go on a game when they finish their work will be more likely to extend and stretch their learning, improving their attainment in the process. You’ll also find it easier to manage the computer classroom for the rest of the year because expectations will be that the computers are for working and games are frowned upon.
So try being a gaming miser, and don’t use it as an incentive, because it’s unsustainable.
Otherwise you’re doing IT wrong, and if you are, maybe you need my book…