If you don’t already know, I have started a new job. I’m working part-time at the state office for our education department 3 days per week and teaching at my school two days per week. My new role requires me to engage fully with the new draft NSW English Syllabus and then design professional learning modules for an online course that helps English teachers understand what is new and what has changed in the syllabus. I know it sounds like a really boring job, but I’m a self-confessed edu geek grrrl and I actually find the work quite interesting and challenging.
Anyway, now that we have that thrilling bit of information out of the way, I’ll get to the guts of my post. Over the last week I have spent a lot of time reading the new draft K-10 English Syllabus. You can read it online here. Whilst I am excited by the possibilities that this new syllabus presents (there is heaps of stuff on ICT, multimodal texts, mulitliteracies, student-centred learning, assessment for learning/feedback and social-awareness) there is a glaring omission: video games. I was really pleased to see explicit reference to book trailers, blogging, graphic novels and digital-storytelling – I think the inclusion of these specific contemporary text forms is important as they will be new to many English teachers. But given the strong focus on what the Board is calling ‘mulitmodal’ texts, I was really surprised that video games failed to get a mention within the body of the 7-10 outcomes and dot-points. OK, it’s not like they’ve black-listed video games all together, I did find TWO references to video games in the syllabus:
The first example sees ‘video games’ given as an example of an acceptable medium for Life Skills students to engage with for ‘enjoyment’. Life Skills is a separate set of outcomes for students who may struggle to fulfill the full range of outcomes, for a variety of reasons. The second reference to video games is in the glossary of the syllabus – in the definition of ‘multimedia’. Interestingly that video games don’t get referred to as being a ‘multimodal’ text.
So why do I care about this? Because my two boys play video games every day. They are highly literate in the traditional sense (Keenan is 10 and just finished reading I am Legend in three hours) but they are also highly literate in video games. The things they can do when gaming is amazing. They are 100% engaged (no duh) but they are also adopting the role of composer as they author the narrative of the game they play. Of course the level of authorship varies depending on the game. A platform game like Mario Bros leaves minimal room for authorship yet it does build their capacity to decode and make meaning through the combination visuals, sounds and interactivity, whilst a sand-pit MMORPG like Minecraft gives them ultimate authorship, enabling them to compose the characters, narrative and setting. I certainly am not an advocate for moving all learning experiences into a game world or aligning all learning experiences with games, but what I can see clearly is old school English-y literacy skills (and mulitliteracy skills) being honed as young people play these games. And yet video games do not feature as suggested texts in the new syllabus? Why?
Let’s face it, gaming is taboo. Society loves to game, but society loves to bag gaming as well. You all know this as true: hysterical politicians and parents demanding an R rating on video games that contain too much violence, schools blocking any game that students seem to enjoy playing. But should we leave it this way? I remember a while back reading a tweet from Ben Jones where he bemoaned teachers taking the fun out of gaming by insisting that they could be used for educational purposes. And you know what? I’m feeling a bit like this argument has some merit. Not because I think there is no room for gaming in education or because I don’t think that they have the potential to engage and challenge the mind of young people, but because English teachers might kill the joy of gaming.
Remember studying film in English class? The teacher freezes every second scene and explains the lighting, mis en scene, camera-work and sound? Breaking it down to a technique and an effect ready to be added to the drudgery of an essay? I’ll admit, I totally got my kicks out of that process in high school – I LOVE decoding texts to get more and more meaning out of them. But I was a complete and utter geek at school. Coming top of the class came natural to me because I loved learning about texts and loved doing as I was told. But that’s not the reality of most kids, and certainly NOT the reality of gamers. So, should we bring video games in to our English classrooms just to dissect them?
I posed this last question to a Year 12 student the other day. He said, ‘Miss, you know the video game industry is bigger than the film industry now? I reckon it’d be better dissecting a video game and getting to play one in class than not getting to do it.’
He’s right, of course. The video game industry is epic. So, should we bring them in to the English classroom as another text form?
Here’s a vid made by one of my students who clearly thinks video games and English work perfectly well together:
(PS: I’ve already brought video games in to my classroom … years ago … and I just finished writing a mammoth chapter on the Language of Gaming for English teachers, lol. But I really am stuck on what the consequences of this might be – it could encourage a deeper passion for gaming but it might just take the joy out of them. No?)