Using Student Interest Without Being an Expert
My student teacher @megpolley has never played Minecraft. She joined my Minecraft Club and watched students play, asked them questions and listened as they offered her lessons on how to do different things. While they were generous with their advice, they rarely offered Ms. Polley more than a few minutes to actually interact with the game before taking over again. She commented on how one student who was reluctant to let her play hovered around her until forcing her out of the way. Ms. Polley (Megan) admitted that much of her experience with computer/video games comes from watching people play more than playing herself. But she really enjoyed the conversations she shared and the teachable moments that came from the free play.
I appreciated her interest in the game, but then again, as an associate teacher, it was in her best interest to express an interest in what I value. I am also aware that is possible for me, as a host teacher to force hers to teach in ways contrary to her pedagogy and areas of genuine interest. While I am always eager to share my passion for game based learning and Minecraft I also had a voice in the back of my head (that sounded a lot like Melanie McBride) reminding me that forcing people to play, or assuming/expecting people play in the same way I do is not equitable. I can’t force people to want to play, and I cannot exclude, or judge people when they do not enjoy playing my games. or games in general. I am pretty confident that I didn’t push Megan to do anything contrary to her personal beliefs, or teaching pedagogy.
Megan was a great student teacher and her structures science unit that integrated Science with Media, Writing, and Art completely engaged my students. She ensured that there was student voice in all her activities. For example, Megan used Minecraft in her Language lesson introducing procedural writing. She understood that my students, like their teacher, have a passion for Minecraft and used that to her advantage. My students knew that Ms. Polley was new to, and still somewhat unfamiliar with the game, and Megan used that as the hook for her lesson. She had our student sit in a circle and asked student to describe how to do things in Minecraft. (Below is a slightly edited voice recording of the discussion they had). Megan had them use something they saw themselves as experts at (Minecraft) as a way to get them excited about something they were not experts in (procedural writing).
I really enjoyed how Megan was able to use what my students love as a lens for what she wanted to instruct. It reminded me of a story I heard from an intermediate/senior teacher who had given her class the task of creating a poetry anthology of their own work. One of her students wanted to base his anthology on his favourite video game Tour of Duty. In the end she was blown away by the amount of work he had done on the project. Not only did he write the requisite poems, he also illustrated the anthology and presented it inside the Tour of Duty video game case. This technique of using student interest is not new, teachers do this all the time. One of the most popular examples, I hear often, is around literacy for boys: using sports and nonfiction in class to engage reluctant readers. I even own the book: Even Hockey Players Read.
The bottom line is: you don’t need to have expert knowledge of a topic students are interested in to use it in order to make learning engaging and authentic. Let students share their expert knowledge with you, while you share yours with them.