Tag Archives: literacy

Gaming and Literacy

Full disclosure:  I am not and never have been a gamer.  When my friends were playing PacMan and Space Invaders, I was listening to my Wham albums and writing in my journal.  I never had the patience or the hand-eye coordination. Even now, when my two teens and my husband are playing Flappy Bird, Candy Crush or Monster-Buster Solitaire (their latest obsession), I don’t get it and feel myself getting frustrated by how much time they are “wasting”.

I recognize that we often make assumptions about things based on our own experiences and values.  This is true for me and Games-based learning in the classroom.

Some educators whom I admire very much swear that using Gaming in the classroom is a game-changer (pun intended); and they’ve been saying this for years!

Last year, Denise Colby and Diane Malezsewski from Gaming Edus came to an EdTech day I helped to organize to showcase the power of Minecraft in the classroom.  I was excited about the possibilities as I had seen Zoe Branigan-Pipe experiment with Minecraft years ago, to some amazing results.  There can be no doubt that gaming in education is having an impact on teaching and learning.  I know this, I have known this.  I tweet and retweet information about this.  But I didn’t really get it.

So what has stopped me from truly embracing Game-based learning?

  • I have struggled with the idea that students would be taking class time to interact with a computer instead of their classmates and the teacher
  • I understood on a conceptual level how playing games had learning potential, but not on a practical level
  • I am not good at playing games, so there is a fear of looking stupid in front of students and/or teachers
  • I did not (as I promised myself I would) actually try playing Minecraft or any other game.  I continued to consider the concept, without playing in the space
  • I don’t have a class, so actually trying it with students to see what it looks like and reflect on the experience hasn’t been a possibility

    What does the research say?

    “Game- based learning (GBL), or the use of video games for educational purposes, has been shown to be an effective means of enhancing both learning motivation and academic performance (Kingsley & Grabner-Hagen, 2015, pg 52).

    Games-based learning can shorten this disconnect by bridging the types of activities students favor at home (gaming) with the required, standards- based curriculum—as one student put simply, “A fun way to learn, but it does not feel like learning.” (Kingsley & Grabner-Hagen, 2015).

    The kinds of learning that take place through well- designed games—and, through extension, gamification provide an environment that negotiates text and images, pulling together the principles of New Literacies theory (Kingsley & Grabner-Hagen, 2015, pg 59). 

    So what changed?

I have a new-found appreciation for Gaming and its impact on Literacy after a few of my peers, Cassidy Deleplanque, Morgan Purdy, and Rodney Robertson, presented on the topic in my Digital Literacies course at UOIT. Why?  I actually began to play a few games–they made me!  I realized how little I understood the genre and its potential for literacy and how not all games are created equally.

During the presentation, I had a chat with Shelley Merton in my class, which really helped me to think about gaming based on her lived experience.  She is referring to Forge of Empires which she uses with her grade 5 social studies class (Ontario Curriculum):

It’s about applying the big ideas from ancient civ and medieval times into something where they got to make decisions and get rewards or frustrations that come with the wielding of power  (can be connected to the Curriculum)

@ jennifer…. when playing FOE it wasn’t as much about the writing as it was the strategy and the discussions about how to move a civilization forward successfully or not.   As well as what it looks like to play a trade based strategy vs a combat based strategy (can promote oral communication, writing, creativity)

When I use games in my info tech time, we discuss the four reasons why a game would be worth using classroom time to play… kids can’t play them till they can tell me what category they fit into.   LOL  (Critical Thinking and Problem Solving)

I also tell them I expect them to hold an intelligent conversation with any parent, admin, trustee or anyone else who comes into the lab and asks why they are playing that game (Critical thinking)

And so, I went into Forge of Empires and began to play.  I also played Spent. I downloaded Minecraft and started to build.  I downloaded Monument Valley and truthfully I don’t know what I’m doing there…yet, but it’s beautiful!


What I’ve learned

We can’t make assumptions about what will help students learn best by our own ideas about learning. Games can provide opportunities to differentiate for our students, provide a rich springboard for writing and reading, as well as reinforce critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration.

We need to play in the space! I always thought that games-based learning in the classroom was extremely valuable, but now I really understand what that might look like.

I also learned I’m absolutely terrible at all of these games (not a surprise)!  But I can’t expect others to take risks, be open-minded and flexible if I am not prepared to be.  And I really can’t superficially agree (or disagree) with an idea, without really trying to understand it more deeply; after all, I would never want my students or my kids to do that.

What games have you played with your students?  What recommendations do you have for other educators thinking of embarking in Games-based learning?

Resources & Ideas

The Gaming Edus website is an incredible resource for Ontario educators who are looking at integrating gaming (especially Minecraft in the classroom).

Five ways Minecraft and other video games can boost student writing skills http://www.gamingedus.org/2012/04/five-ways-minecraft-and-other-video-games-can-boost-student-writing-skills/

Collaboration, Camaraderie: Financial Literacy with Clash of the Titans, by Brian Aspinall, is a great read!

Edutopia, not surprisingly, has a whole resource page dedicated to Games-based Learning.

Check out the EdAdvocate’s post, The positive connection between games and online learning.



Kingsley, T. & Grabner-Hagen, M. (2015). Gamification: Questing to integrate content knowledge,     literacy, and 21st century learning. JAAL, 59(1), 51-61.




Why do we feel the need to abandon good ideas for the next shiny new thing?

I was recently at the Bring It Together conference (BIT15) and engaged in an interesting conversation about using Periscope in Education, moderated by Andrew Campbell. We covered many important nuances on the topic, but what resonated with me, in particular was Andrew’s comment that we never seem to celebrate mastery of something, before we feel the need to jump onto the next thing (referring to Periscope vs the various other live stream/video options as well as other tech tools brought up in our conversation).

I’ve been thinking of teaching and learning with Infographics in this context after my Digital Literacy course last week was dedicated to Infographics.  I realized that despite the many benefits for teaching with infographics and even more for creating them, that there isn’t very much shared about the genre among the professional learning community I follow on Twitter anymore. I know I started talking about them in 2011 in one of my earliest blog posts.

 Are infographics already so yesterday?

Is this another case of abandoning an effective practice for something shiny and new?

Is it important that we teach students how to read and create infographics?

I reaiize that I had fallen victim to this mentality.  I too had stopped talking about infographics and instead have been focused on skechnoting which has been popularized by Silvia Tolisano, Sylvia Duckworth, Royan Lee and Vicky Davis, among others.  As a fan of Sylvia Duckworth’s work, I even tried my hand at one for this topic using Sylvia’s tutorial.  (you have no idea how long this took me to create!!).

Sketchnote Infographics

And though sketchnoting is a form of data visualization, reading, interpreting, and creating infographics are important for literacy AND numeracy skill acquisition and should NOT be ignored in education today!

Here’s why:

Infographics(Krauss, 2012)

Reading Infographics

  • Infographics are everywhere; students need to make sense of information in that format.
  • Because infographics include both visual and text, they engage more of the brain: The “eye is exquisitely sensitive–language with the eye + language of the mind = two languages both working at the same time” (McCandles, 2010).
  • Critical Literacy questions (Whose voice is missing? Is this source credible? What is the purpose? etc…) can be addressed naturally via an infographic.
  • The graphics within infographics can sometimes be mis-represented to make a specific point.  Looking at the graphics for misrepresentation of data is an important numeracy and critical thinking skill.

Creating infographics

  • In order to create an infographic a student needs to sort information, determine what is most important, and organize text and images in a cohesive way.  This requires students to think critically and creatively and to communicate ideas effectively.
  • Creating infographics really do require tech tools (canva, pictochart) which requires them to practice digital, technical knowledge.
  • If students are engaged in an inquiry they can ask their own questions and create their own data (with support).  This is important for developing research skills including creating effective questions.
  • Data has to be represented accurately.  These considerations require both literacy and numeracy skills.

Here is a presentation I created last year which I revised last week.  It includes resources to get you started.

Here is presentation with notes about recognizing misrepresented data, created by Diana Santos.

This New York Times Learning Network post shared by Dr. Janette Hughes provides a variety of resources that refer to subject-specific infographics.

I think we need to be cautious as educators about jumping from one fad to another.  We need to consider the skills students need to have and commit to those lessons that will meet those needs most effectively.  Creating infographics does take time, but considering the skills students are practicing, I think it is time well spent.


Krauss, J. (2012).  Leading and Learning with Technology, ISTE. http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ982831.pdf

McCandless, D. (2010). The Beauty of Data Visualization, TED Talk http://www.ted.com/talks/david_mccandless_the_beauty_of_data_visualization


One, Two, Three How Many Literacies?

As a Literacy Consultant, I have long been rethinking the traditional notion of Literacy as simply reading and writing.  Because I am also involved in a Board wide initiative to support teachers with technology enabled learning, I have been thinking about the concept of Digital Literacy which I have understood to be the technical skills needed to navigate the connected, digital world in which we live.

This week,  as part of a Digital Literacy course I am taking through UOIT, I realize that there are various terms that are out there that educators (including myself) often use interchangeably when talking about Digital and other literacies.

It seems that today many adjectives are placed before the word literacy.  In my readings this week alone I have seen: Media Literacy, Visual Literacy, Multiliteracies, Multi-modal literacies, Critical Literacy, Games Literacy, Web Literacy, and Information Literacy.  Even as my understanding of these terms was swirling around in my head, George Couros shared an article on Twitter by Amy Erin Borovoy in Edutopia, about News Literacy  which more narrowly defines what I would have otherwise called, Media Literacy.

David Buckingham wonders if “Literacy comes to be used merely as a vague synonym for “competence” or even “skill”.   He also suggests that the term “literacy” carries a degree of social status which may be why we associate some other terms with it. (Buckingham, 2008, p 75). Does this then mean that we dilute the term?  Does it really matter what we call it?

He uses this organizational framework which I think can apply to anything:Digital Literacy Components

Then, I watched Doug Belshaw’s talk and realized that perhaps Digital Literacy really should be plural.  Belshaw outlines the essential elements of Digital Literacies in this TED Talk:

But what is essential to everything?  What do our kids really need to do to understand the world?

If I had to choose one (and though I’m sure I will rethink this again next week) I think it’s Critical literacy which can currently be found in the English Language Arts Curriculum 1-8 and the English Curriculum 9-12 in Ontario, as well as in the front matter of every curriculum document. Critical Literacy is about questioning and contextualizing text: a skill students really need today.

Critical Literacy Curriculum

The Adolescent Literacy Guide  provides a good framework for teachers.  Consider some of the questions found there:

Critical Literacy Questions Related to Text

  • Who created/produced the text?
  • What does the author want me to know, think, or feel?
  • What assumptions does the author make about my beliefs?
  • What voices, points of view & perspectives are missing?
  • How significant is their omission?
  • What information does the author leave out?
  • Who will likely benefit from this text?
  • Is the text fair?

Critical Literacy Questions to Prompt Action in Response to a Text

  • How can I find out about other perspectives on this topic?
  • How have my attitiudes changed? Why?
  • What action might I need to take to address a concern?
  • How can I use literacy to support those who are treated unfairly?
  • How can I use literacy to make a difference in the world?

What I really like is that there is the authentic call to action; students don’t just ask critical questions but recognize that they need to do something as a result of their new understanding.

Below is a Mindomo I’ve created around the topic of Critical Literacy.  In particular, consider how easy it would be to incorporate Critical Literacy questions into day to day instruction for any subject.  And how essential that skill is for learners today!

Would love to hear your thoughts as l continue to refine my thinking further.

Literacy Redefined

Literacy is not just reading and writing

“Literacy continues to evolve as the world changes and its demands shift and become more complex.  Literacy is not only used for reading and writing, but also to increase one’s understanding of the world.”

–Adolescent Literacy Guide, Ministry of Education (Ontario), 2012

I am in the process of writing a report itemizing the ways in which I have provided literacy support to administrators, teachers , and students in my District over the course of this school year and I’m thinking about how much my role has changed in the last four and a half years.

When I came into a Literacy support position (first Program Resource Teacher and now Consultant), the most significant part of my job was to help teachers and administrators prepare students for the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT).  I poured over statistics and data  and I shared it.  I created practice tests and resources.   I was also involved in co-planning, co-teaching and debriefing with teachers specifically around reading (to support our District-wide goal for continuous improvement).  I still do this, BUT…

Two years ago, I became one of the lead learners in a District-wide initiative to integrate technology. I know that a few people might look at what I do and see this as two separate job-descriptions.  I have actually been asked, “Are you working on Literacy today or 21C?” And certainly, in those early days, I too thought that the work to support teachers to use technology in their classrooms operated separately from the literacy support I provided.  Today, I see it as the same work: multi-dimensional, multi-modal, and very necessary.  Thankfully, I work with people who support this modern approach.

Consider the NCTE definition of Literacy as seen in this wordle:


Read full Definition of 21st Century Literacies, National Council of Teachers of English, 2013 here.

This is the kind of Literacy Consultant I’ve become.  When I’m co-planning with teachers and the focus is on students using metacognition when reading, for example, I have found it to be very powerful to capture their voices using Google Forms, or Todays Meet.  It also makes sense to offer students the choice to do a close reading of text on paper or by using Explain Everything or Read and Write for Google.  I am mindful of the fact that  helping students to communicate effectively in today’s world also means showing them that they can read text using devices (that we provide or that we allow them to use) using the accessibility features on the iPad or a Chrome browser.  Students do not seem to see this accommodation as a stigma as they have in the past.  I’ve had great success having students share their metacognitive reflections and the strategies they find most effective by offering the choice of using paper and pen (or electronic doc), as well as tools like Garageband, iMovie, or other digital storytelling tools to demonstrate their learning.  When combined with the high-yield, face to face collaborative strategies that we know work with students, the literacy learning becomes even more powerful.

And how do we define text?  This video, “Effective Instruction in Reading Comprehension”, from Learn, Teach, Lead shared by Donna Fry speaks to many of the questions I’ve been asking myself.

Effective Instruction in Reading Comprehension – VIDEO – LearnTeachLead.ca
Are we defining “text” too narrowly?  How can we support students to be critically literate when they read, write, create, view, represent, etc…, if our notion of text consists only printed text or the canon?  

      • How does your District or school define literacy?
    • What are the implications of looking at digital literacy as separate from Literacy? Numeracy? Assessment? vs the benefit of integrating it (both at the District level and at the Ministry level)?
  •  What courageous conversations need to be had to open up the definition in order to truly support our students to make sense of the world around them?

     At the time of writing, George Couros’s #EDUin30w7 question asked:

There are lots of great submissions to the #EDUin30w7 hashtag that are worth taking a look at!  Would love to hear about your thoughts.