Are games a relief from ‘serious learning’?

I think for some, games may be seen as taking a break or filling the gaps. For those teachers leading a game, they may also feel the pressure to not spend too much time playing games, as it’s not viewed as ‘serious learning’.  I saw this quote only this week which reinforced how some may feel when playing games but it also identifies the child’s perspective.

play & learning

There is also the argument that some feel under pressure to include more games in learning, it almost suggests that a lesson which doesn’t include a game isn’t fun!  Again, there’s pressure on teachers to make learning ‘appealing’, as if it isn’t.  It questions is the lesson in its self not enough, not engaging or stimulating?  Conversely, I saw another quote this week, suggesting the gift of learning is great in its self.

The question we must ask, is when and why should we use games in learning?

The one pressure all teachers are under is time, time to complete work in the curriculum and with a class of varied learners, this often needs to be at one pace. Some may feel that introducing games means the core work cannot be completed. However, evidence shows that learning through games can help learning stick quicker than worksheets. In fact, evidence suggests that it takes completion of more worksheets for learning to take place, than in game form.  Clearly there are some things which just can’t be turned into a game and there is also the need for traditional lessons too.  Although revision and informal observation to establish if learning has taken place can take place, through quizzes and games, rather than testing is an option. There are some great free apps available such as Quizlet and Wordwall which can create fun games, quickly.

Anxiety and learning

Many learners are anxious when learning, so playing games to learn can take the pressure off and having fun reduces anxiety.  Evidence also suggests that an anxious learner has difficulties processing information in the working memory and therefore the ability to transfer learning to the long term memory is reduced. Therefore, more information may be processed in a game form.  Games also help with building a rapport with peers and teachers. A learner who is lacking confidence, who is anxious or struggles with language, may find it difficult to put up their hand to answer a question in a discussion or write down answers on flip chart but may be more relaxed, with less pressure in a game.  Playing games whilst learning can often relax students and make it a ‘safe place to learn’, a place where they feel it’s ok to get the answer wrong but try. The exchange of ideas between peers can also help learning take place. Less confident learners may even feel encouraged to take risks, by trying something new or putting themselves forward to answer a question. 

Additional support

Personally, the majority of learners I work with have complex additional needs and their literacy attainment may be behind their peers. There is again pressure to ‘catch up’ and time is is considered precious.  However, for my learners, learning must be ‘bite-sized’ and provide many opportunities for over learning. I must also constantly informally evaluate if learning is taking place, if it’s being retained and applied. Games provide a perfect opportunity to do this. When a learning activity is a game, it isn’t an inefficient use of time. Games can provide an excellent way to practice learning and demonstrate learning has taken place.

The CodeBreakers programme provides a structured systematic system to learn to read and spell with proven methods. there is a clear and direct path of learning. Within this framework it allows learning to take place through games.  Many games can be multi-sensory, further stimulating all sense to help learning take place and stick. Games can help provide memories and semantic links to patterns and sounds. Games can help learners explore and push the boundaries of their knowledge, even explore different learning styles. 

In my manual, I make suggestions for lots of play based games, which can be adapted to different age groups. In fact, a few years ago, I wrote an article on post-16 learning and games and the benefits of games when learning, it can be explored more here.  

Read it here

Movement helps to stimulate oxygen flow and in turn this stimulates the brain. Sitting quietly can cause learners to feel fatigued, less alert.  This is not to suggest they are bored. We all know getting bums off seats, no matter who we are, makes us pay more attention.  It was  Aristotle, the ancient Greek who ‘walked and talked’.  In addition, Beethoven is said to have walked through countryside whilst composing, this suggests that movement can have a great impact on learning. 

Clearly, there is a time and place for games and not everything can or should be turned into a game to enable learning, however, I see endless opportunities and benefits on the occasions where I do use them in my sessions. Sessions are not all about games and in those times I also see the intrinsic reward too, as learners see their own progress.