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Video Games: The New Textbooks


Brock Dubbels, a guest blogger on Education Futures, encourages teachers to use video games in classroom instruction. Dubbels, an 8th grade English teacher from Minneapolis, also teaches a course at the University of Minnesota called "Video Games as Tools for Educators." He believes the latest games, which create rich environments for students to interact with, can be valuable educational tools.

If you are playing as a doctor, you will do the things that doctors do. And as you are acting like a doctor, the game gives you clues to achieve a win-state, in the form of feedback and performance assessment…
The big idea here is that games represent an opportunity to be in a role, doing things that people in those roles do, in places where they do them, and then get assessed in that performance.

Although he says textbooks have a place in the classroom, Dubbels thinks games are better teaching resources because they provide students with a hands-on experience.

Textbooks are great, but limited in what they can present…
We should be moving beyond the static curriculum of textbooks. Games can provide the context and action for our content knowledge in a situated context— [it's] almost as good as being there.


I love this idea and have been trying to incorporate it in my class already. I'm writing a book on using web-based technology for class assignments, and video strategies is a big part of it. Thanks for this insightful blog.

Drop me a line of you would like some help putting together a games unit. I have done with multiple grades and content areas. Thank you for posting this Stacy.


You have got to be kidding me. If i recall, state tests do not implement or utilize any type of "video games" in order to pass a state test. When an educator's job is on the line, I sure hope he or she sticks to the fundamentals of reading, writing, and factual knowledge. I realize that textbooks don't always engage the student and that we live in a technology age, but if a student can't read what are his or her chances in passing the test? Yes, it is all about state test and the money those scores provide. Ideally, we as educators would love to do our own thing, but state mandated testing pulls the education train nowdays.

So far good discussions points from both sides of the topic. I would like to suggest that we try and meet in the middle of this. What if, we came up with a video game called "Who Wants To Be Ranked #1 in Their Class?". The content of the video game would include the subjects, work assignments, quizzes and tests for each course in the curriculum. The player (student) would actually play the ROLE of student.
From Grade 1 through 12 there is no other role that a student needs to play than "student". Without the basics and hopefully some advanced courses, our "students" will not be able to play in any other role in the real world.

I actually raised standardized test scores with my students with my 8 week video games unit. If your students are at risk of not passing a standardized assessment, I am betting they struggle more with comprehension, a much more serious matter than decoding.

I believe there is a distrust of new media for classroom instruction because there is a serious disconnect between research and reading assessment, and especially research and reading instruction.

Decoding and comprehension are parallel processes, and if we focus only on decoding and phonics, we remove not only the interest of our students, but also the basis of comprehension.

What does epiphyte mean? I bet you could decode it, and pronounce it, but if you do not have the background knowledge you would not know what it is. Many of my students do not have the world experience to relate text to concepts they have no experience with. You must be able to connect what you decode to some knowledge structure, and we learn this best through hands on--which is one fo the things games do well when we cannot travel to the desert or rain forest.

One of the best things you can do for a learner is interact with them and provide new ways of thinking about things. Often classrooms are large and time is short, so how much interaction and feedback will a student get in a 55 minute period when there are 28 to 40 students? Games are expert systems that give consistent feedback and demand mastery.

Becoming successful at game play helps in developing the habits of mind that allow for imagery, deconstruction, hypothesis testing, resource management, and abduction for the creation of new knowledge.

Find out if your successful students play games with their parents and friends--including cards, imaginative play, and board games, along with video games; then ask your struggling students. My one finding has been that my really sharp students are successful and experienced game players.

I would like to turn the issue here a bit. The issue was raised that games will not prepare a student for a standardized test. Will reading the Odyssey, Huckleberry Finn, or The Tempest? It depends on who supports the reader and how it is read. Strategies instruction should make students strategic, not teach published strategies. Research shows that this is not effective.

Games, as well as video and discussion allow for more accessibility to the narrative--and they are still composed of the same literary patterns and elements as war and peace.

Games are high interest and demanding. If you struggle with decoding and comprehension, it is helpful to be introduced to a video or game before reading the book and discuss the abstractions of language arts.

If you have prior knowledge and experience of the content, as well as the structure of author's style, genre, or even narrative conventions, it is more likely you can address more cognitive resource to meaning making than decoding. This allows for a greater likelihood of comprehension--and this is what those tests are supposed to measure: a child's ability to comprehend a text.

It is simply schema building and memory construction and access.

Oddly, most comprehension assessments are not based upon theory or research in what readers do when they read.

In my own experience, and I have worked worked on state standardized tests, and been a teacher with some very reluctant readers (mean reading 9th percentile) , the key is earning trust and getting the students to sustain engagement in earnest.

This comes from aligning classroom work with activities and content that are high interest.

I invite you to take a look at the content of my games unit and see how I raised scores on the Minnesota Comprehension Assessment with video games:


and here is video of my classroom engaged in the games unit.


Video games are narratives, and can be studied as narrative texts, from the perspective of film studies, as well with mathematics and cultural studies.

I hope this is useful. I invited skeptics into my room and asked them to interview my students about the value of the unit and to describe what they were doing. The Milken folks from TAP left very satisfied with the instruction and the direct connections not only to standards, but to the psycholinguistic theory of comprehension Imade for doing assessment and evaluation.

I hope you will take a second look at using games and a second look at approaches to reading instruction.

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Recent Comments

  • Brock Dubbels: I actually raised standardized test scores with my students with read more
  • kc: So far good discussions points from both sides of the read more
  • Dgsos: You have got to be kidding me. If i recall, read more
  • Brock Dubbels: Drop me a line of you would like some help read more
  • Bell Work Online Staff: I love this idea and have been trying to incorporate read more




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