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Making learning fun: 5 ways to facilitate learning

Play can be beneficial to learning. However, it can also be time-consuming or even detrimental to some students' understanding if it is poorly implemented. So how can we optimize the ratio of time invested and student learning? Here are some concrete actions, validated by science, to effectively integrate games into your teaching methods!

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By Jérôme Desjarlais-Lessard, resource person for the RÉCIT National Service, Human Development Domain (RÉCIT PD)

Increasingly, play and its various dimensions are being used in the classroom by many teachers in virtually every subject area. Who doesn't remember memorable periods of play or exciting stories in their school career? The good news is that, beyond the fun and motivation it can provide, play can actually be beneficial to learning. 

Beware, however, that it is not systematic; it can also be time-consuming or even hinder the understanding of some students if it is poorly implemented. So how can we optimize the ratio of time invested and student learning? Here are some concrete actions, validated by science, to effectively integrate games into your teaching methods! (You're welcome ?)

1. Pre-teach

While learning new material through play is possible, where play really shines is when it is used to consolidate certain learning or automate certain procedural knowledge. Whether it's to practice spelling, math or a jwith maps to review certain historical conceptsIn addition, the game provides an opportunity to review these learnings in a fun and enjoyable context. On a more conceptual level, simulations also provide an opportunity for students to practice the knowledge and skills they have learned.  

2. In installments, please

If a game is complex and involves learning new rules, it is beneficial to reuse it several times. Indeed, a game used only once does not seem to have a gain on learning in most cases. In order to ensure that all students focus only on the material to be learned and not on the rules, repetition is a winning strategy. In this way, the reuse of the game will have the benefit of lightening the students' working memory while promoting their learning.  

On the other hand, the motivation and enjoyment that students get from playing a game tends to decrease with the number of repetitions! Furthermore, in the case of some games such as Minecraft or certain simulations, repeated use may not add value.

3. In a story, it's fantastic

Although not directly related to gaming, it is interesting to know that storytelling can greatly facilitate student learning. Storytelling and narration occupy a special part of our brain, some psychologists call this phenomenon "story privilege". 

While this is something that history teachers know intuitively, this technique can just as easily be integrated into other disciplines such as ethics and religious culture, science and technology, or math. For example, when approaching a new topic in science, rather than directly explaining the new concept, talking about the scientist who discovered it and the story behind it will make it easier for students to understand by grounding the new material in the familiar and popular format of storytelling.

4. Digital or not?

If your classroom does not have easy access to mobile devices or subscriptions to various interactive tools, take heart! On average, digital and analog games are equally effective. Feel free to get out your cards, game boards and dice!

5. Make a return

One of the key elements of this type of activity is the "debriefing", the brief feedback at the end. In order to give students the full benefit of what the game has to offer, it is important to set aside time to discuss with students what they found easy, what they found difficult, and what steps they took. This step is particularly important because it will allow students to "digest" the game experience and reflect on the concepts they applied or learned. The goal is also to allow you to see what they have retained. 

Some examples of questions that might be asked include:

Before the game:

  • What are the important things for my students to remember?
  • What connections do I want my students to make?
  • How am I going to get back to them on the subject if they are "off the mark"?

During the reflective feedback ("debriefing"):

  • What did you find easier? Why or why not?
  • What did you find more difficult? Why or why not?
  • What approaches did you use? Why did you do it?
  • What would have helped you?
  • Did anything surprise you? If so, what?
  • What do you take away from your experience?
  • What elements are related to the subject?

Of course, this advice should not replace your professional judgment. There are certain situations where this advice will be counterproductive. In the case of a simulation, it is not necessary to do it over and over again, just as it is not necessary to do a systematic feedback if you play the game every day. Have fun!

Bibliography:

  • Arya, D. J., & Maul, A. (2012). The role of the scientific discovery narrative in middle school science education: An experimental study. Journal of Educational Psychology, 104(4), 1022-1032. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0028108
  • Huang, R., Ritzhaupt, A. D., Sommer, M., Zhu, J., Stephen, A., Valle, N., Hampton, J., & Li, J. (2020). The impact of gamification in educational settings on student learning outcomes: A meta-analysis. Educational Technology Research and Development, 68(4), 1875-1901. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11423-020-09807-z
  • Sailer, M., & Homner, L. (2020). The Gamification of Learning: A Meta-analysis. Educational Psychology Review, 32(1), 77-112. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-019-09498-w
  • Talan, T., Doğan, Y., & Batdı, V. (2020). Efficiency of digital and non-digital educational games: A comparative meta-analysis and a meta-thematic analysis. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 52(4), 474-514. https://doi.org/10.1080/15391523.2020.1743798

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