written by Chris Pim, Hampshire
EMTAS Specialist Teacher Advisor
How to use computer games to enrich the curriculum and raise standards in reading and writing for all pupils, including more advanced learners of English as an additional language (EAL)
Most pupils have direct experience of playing computer games, whatever their linguistic or cultural heritage. Minecraft, you may be aware, is one of the most successful games of all time. So how could you capitalise on the interest in digital gaming to engage your learners and develop approaches that can raise standards across the curriculum?
Using computer games for language learning across the curriculum – some considerations
Not all computer games are created equal – to coin a phrase. Games that are specifically designed for education, such as English language learning games, may not be that successful because pupils realise that they are no more than thinly disguised tests and don’t respond positively to them.
In an educational context the best games are immersive; the player inhabits a realistically rendered 3D world influencing a narrative- rich storyline through the actions of their character/avatar. From a learning perspective, especially for EAL pupils, professionally produced computer games contain clear graphics, authentic storylines, audio narration/music and rich texts that provide a clear context and make meaning explicit. Some also provide obvious links to the curriculum such as through historical, geographical and scientific settings and scenarios.
You also need to be aware that all marketed computer games are subject to an age rating to determine their appropriateness for children and young people (Pegi). This is an important factor in determining the type of computer game that you might choose to use with your pupils.
As you read this article you may already have ideas for suitable computer games. However you might like to consider any of the following: The Myst series, Minecraft Storymode, Syberia, The Longest Journey, Tintin - Search for the Unicorn, The Room series and Amerzone.
There are numerous opportunities for developing thinking, talking and writing around computer games. For example, there is obviously merit in allowing pupils to play the game in pairs/groups as the quality of discussion will benefit EAL learners as they work alongside supportive peers. There is also tremendous potential in playing parts of the game as a whole class, projecting game play onto a large digital display. One pupil plays the game and peers suggest where to look, which objects to interact with and generally help to decide on particular courses of action at major decision points. Pupils can also debate particular courses of action. This all helps to develop more academic types of language that will improve written outcomes.
Playing a computer game from start to finish won’t be possible. But the game can be moved on by playing video game walk-throughs sourced from the internet. Featured texts within the game can be used as the basis for EAL-friendly activities; vocabulary-building games, Directed Activities Related to Texts (DARTs) and collaborative writing tasks like Dictogloss.
When playing computer games it is immediately apparent how fruitful the medium is for developing writing within different text types - for example, encouraging descriptive writing around realistic settings and well-defined characters. The format also encourages learners to produce recounts of game play sessions. Finding solutions to puzzles and making progress through the game provides opportunities for instructional and explanation-based texts. Students can discuss/argue the relative strengths and weaknesses of any particular game or perhaps the appropriateness of its age-rating from the perspective of a player or parent. Pupils could also write computer game reviews.
Why not also challenge your pupils to create persuasive videos to advertise a chosen computer game? Using professionally produced video game adverts sourced from the internet you can demonstrate persuasive techniques, such as rhetorical questions, repetition, lists of three, hyperbole etc. Next, using images and video captured from their chosen game, encourage pupils to collaborate on the production of a promotional video using iMovie’s Trailer feature. You will find this activity is especially beneficial for more advanced EAL learners as it acts as an intermediate scaffold for writing persuasively.
As you can see there are many ideas for integrating computer games into the classroom to improve the reading and writing skills of your more advanced EAL learners alongside their peers. So, what’s stopping you? You won’t be disappointed with the outcomes!
To read a research case study focussed on using immersive games to improve the writing of more advanced EAL learners visit: https://eal.britishcouncil.org/eal-sector/eal-and-immersive-games
Pairing up new arrivals with pupils who speak the same language is a good way of alleviating the anxiety of the first few weeks when everything is new, different and sometimes overwhelming. Coping in an unknown language for academic as well as social purposes over long periods of time is extremely tiring.
Newly-arrived pupils need appropriate support as they adjust to their new surroundings and routines and it makes complete sense to allow pupils to learn school routines, meet new friends and settle in at school through a language that is familiar to them. It also makes sense for pupils to engage with their learning through first-language, as anything that is cognitively challenging can then be discussed more easily and in greater depth. In short, first-language is an asset and a useful tool for learning as well as for settling in – so much so that for some, it might appear reasonable to ask bilingual pupils to interpret in all sorts of situations.
The use of children and young people as interpreters
There is limited guidance on the use of children and young people as interpreters at school and limited research around this theme, especially in the UK. What we do know is that ‘child interpreting’ is an underestimated role. Somehow, children and young people rarely have any concept of what a fantastic skill they have. What we also know is that whilst some feel extremely proud of being able to support their family through interpreting, others may perceive this to be a burden.
This is the case particularly when children and young people are requested to interpret in situations where the language and concepts involved are too difficult or unfamiliar for them to understand and relay accurately. Research also suggests that in the context of lessons, child interpreters are comfortable interpreting for routine tasks that require everyday language but struggle to interpret for new concepts where the language is more demanding due to its academic nature.
So, is it fair to ask Kacper to translate photosynthesis into Polish for us?
Some pupils who have been to school in their home country and studied this subject already may be quite confident to do so. However, more often than not learners will rely on English keywords when discussing their work in first language. Therefore, we should be careful not to assume that children and young people can cope with the language demands of the classroom to such a degree than they can replace bilingual assistants, professional interpreters and good quality, EAL-friendly teaching and learning. This is not to say that Kacper can’t help. In fact, he would benefit from his school setting up a peer-buddying programme such as the award-winning Young Interpreter Scheme®.
Young Interpreter Scheme
The Young Interpreter Scheme® is a successful, low-cost, self-sufficient framework consisting of training for learners aged 5-16, designed to skill them up to help new arrivals with English as an Additional Language feel welcome and settled in their new school environment. It supports pupils by giving them the tools to use their qualities and language skills effectively to help other pupils. The scheme also upskills school practitioners in charge of delivering the scheme thanks to guidance informed by research, self-explanatory resources and interactive e-learning material. These resources enable Young Interpreter Coordinators to train pupils and guide them in their role whilst preventing them from being used in inappropriate scenarios. The Young Interpreter Scheme® provides very clear guidance on the situations where pupils should be operating. For example, showing non-English speaking visitors around the school, buddying with new arrivals during breaks and lunchtimes and demonstrating routines, not interpreting for concepts in the classroom.
The Young Interpreter Scheme® gives children and young people who, like Kacper, interpret on an ad hoc basis, real recognition of their skills through a high-profile role defined, by clear parameters which ensure their safeguarding. Through this, the scheme also sends positive messages about multilingualism. This impacts pupils’ sense of identity and belonging at school, their relationships with pupils from other language groups as well as their leadership skills. The Young Interpreter Scheme® also provides a stepping stone to pupils who may like to consider interpreting as a career in the future.
Astrid Dinneen is co-ordinator of the Young Interpreter Scheme.
Article first published in April 2017 by ATL https://www.atl.org.uk/latest/kacper-what%E2%80%99s-photosynthesis-polish
written by Sarah Coles, Hampshire EMTAS Specialist Teacher Advisor
It is usually clear to staff in schools that there is a
support need they should address when a newly-arrived pupil from overseas
experiences a language barrier on joining their first UK school. This may be the child’s first experience of
being in an English-speaking environment, and there is much to learn in terms
of the new language. What are less
discernible – and perhaps less well-supported - are the other barriers such a
child may face – barriers that relate to differences in pedagogy, social and
cultural differences and of course the sense of dislocation and loss the
newly-arrived child may feel when they first start, having left behind all
their friends and possibly family members too.
Being placed in a situation far outside of their comfort zone, there is
a lot for a new arrival to manage in addition to the demands of having to cope
in a new language.
In the UK, pedagogical
approaches focus on children learning through experience, learning from each
other, learning through trial and error, learning through talk. From an early stage, our indigenous,
monolingual children learn how to learn in these ways and teachers, many
themselves a product of this same system, teach from an often deeply-rooted
belief that these ways are the best. We
are so immersed in the UK classroom culture that as practitioners we may forget
it’s not like this everywhere in the world.
In Poland, for example,
children do not come to sit on the carpet to learn as the carpet is perceived
to be a dirty surface that’s walked on by everyone, so a Polish child – and
possibly also their parents - may look askance when the class is directed to
come to sit there for story time.
In some countries,
children’s behaviour is managed for them,often with a stick should they step
out of line. This means they do not
learn to regulate their own behaviours right from the start of their
educational journeys as UK-born children do.
New arrivals coming from countries where corporal punishment is still
the norm may therefore struggle and fall foul of UK classroom behaviour
management approaches which they do not comprehend, getting themselves into
endless trouble as they struggle to acquire self-regulation skills with little
or no support. One teacher, dealing with
an incident involving a student from overseas who had hit another child, asked
the former “Would it be OK if I hit you?”
To her surprise, the reply came “Well yes, of course it would.” It was the matter-of-factness of the response
that caused her to realise this child really meant what he had said and that
this was not as straightforward an issue as she had at first assumed.
In other parts of the world,
pedagogical approaches may rest on the premise that children are empty buckets,
waiting to be filled with the knowledge possessed by their teachers. While the teacher teaches from the front, the
children sit at their desks in rows, their success measured by how much they
are able to repeat back in the end of year test. There is little scope for learning through
dialogue or for experimenting with ideas and hypotheses to see which ones hold
true under close examination and which do not.
A child coming from that sort of school experience may struggle to
comprehend what is going on in their lessons in their new, UK classroom. How should they engage with their education
when it looks like this? How should they
now behave and function as learners?
Parents may experience their
own difficulties as they grapple with the apparent vagaries of the UK education
system. They may have found applying
online for a school place challenging enough but that was just the start. If they were used to a system wherein their
child was taught from a textbook that came home every night so they could see
what had been covered during the day’s lesson, then how difficult must it be
for them to keep abreast of their child’s learning when there is no text book
to look at? How then should they recap at home the key points covered in class
each day? How might they help prepare their child for the school day
ahead? If they were familiar with
knowing where in the class ranking their child sat, what sense can they make of
our system where we don’t publish information about each child’s attainment in
comparison to their peers? And if in
their country of origin promotion to the next class depended on their child
passing the end-of-year tests, what must it mean to them in our system where
promotion from Year 4 to Year 5 is automatic, regardless of whether or not the
child has met the end-of-year expectations?
An awareness of the far-reaching impact of living in a new culture that goes beyond a nod and accepts that mere survival isn’t really good enough will help practitioners reflect on how they currently support their international new arrivals and what they might be able to put in place to improve current practice. It is of course still good practice to support children to access the curriculum in English through the planned, purposeful use of first language but if we are to look at the bigger picture, then there is more that can be done to help a newly-arrived child to integrate into their new UK school – not least giving thought to what might be the barriers their parents are facing, and what they can do to reduce or remove them.
Consultant (EAL) at Hampshire EMTAS
First published on the ATL blog, July 2017
Further reading and resources
http://www3.hants.gov.uk/education/emtas/culturalguidance.htm EMTAS cultural guidance sheets
behaviour management guides for parents