By James York, assistant professor at Tokyo Denki University
In this post, I will be unrolling (pun intended) a framework that I have been working on for the past year. The framework took many twists and turns, which can be read about further on my own blog here, but this post is a description of the framework in its current form. I do not think this is the final form, but it is still very usable in its current state in a number of contexts, particularly low-level EFL contexts such as my own.
As the title suggests, I am deeply interested in
Digital Game-Based Language Learning ( DGBLL) and how it may be applied to classroom learning. Why the dropped D though? Board games (or analog games, as they are often referred to) have very unique affordances for language learning in my opinion, and the structure of a board game play session matches the concepts of TBLT much closer than with video games. However, this post is not designed to be a deeply academic romp into the similarities between gameplay and TBLT methodology. For an overview, see the excellent paper by Julie Sykes (2014).
Ben Pearson also wrote about this on the blog here. CALL is a firmly established and extremely innovate field, and of course, as a part of that field there are those interested in exploring the affordances of digital games and virtual worlds for second language development. Video games have become such a large subject of research in CALL that the acronym DGBLL arose in accordance. Indeed, Pearson writes about this succinctly:
In the relatively new field of game studies, digital games have attracted the most attention of researchers and scholars. While technology continued to improve, so did the acceptance of digital games as a viable medium for interactive storytelling and artistic expression. In today’s world, most people walk around with mobile devices that play games that look about as good as they did on game consoles a few years ago. As such, digital games have become much more pervasive in society and it is much easier to see them as legitimate fields of study. The problem is that while digital games garner so much attention in game studies as a field of scholarship, very little work has been done on analog games in comparison.
So, without further ado, let me introduce the framework I have been using to promote English communicative competence in a low level EFL context here in Japan.
The framework is derived of six parts. The following subsections of this post will explain each of them in detail. Each part is considered to last a full 90 minute class period.
Rulebooks introduce key concepts, vocabulary, and grammatical structures that will be encountered during gameplay. Thus, students are provided with a huge volume of input before the active gameplay stage (i.e. reading and listening skills targeted before speaking). From a TBLT perspective, then, the rulebook acts as a priming tool for students to become familiar with relevant vocabulary and grammar before play. As well as reading the rulebook, students are prompted to watch “How to play” and “Gameplay
After learning how to play the game, students then get all the pieces out and play for 5 – 10 minutes. In my context, as the game is new and unfamiliar, this is usually done mostly in the L1. However, this stage is also an important learning activity. There is a disparity between the words and grammar found in the rulebook and what is said during gameplay (see Masuda & deHaan, 2015), and so the gameplay session offers students the opportunity to notice what words are needed.
The first class is designed for students to learn
I provide a worksheet to students so they can keep a note of any new words or phrases that they noticed. The worksheet can then be referenced during gameplay the following week.
From playing the game:
Part 2: Gameplay
The following class is very straight forward. Students come in, get into groups, set up the game and play. Before playing however, they are reminded to record the audio of their play session. All students must do this.
After playing through the game, they reflect on what happened (usually in the L1), and decide how they will transcribe the gameplay audio. Generally, students divide the audio up into equal amounts so that they all have specific sections of equal length to transcribe. Transcription is then completed as homework to be done for the next class. The transcription should be verbatim, including all of the L2 and L1 utterances.
First of all I should answer the question: “
Well, without going too deep into the literature on self-transcription (for those interested, see Mennim, 2012), it is safe to say that during gameplay students are very limited cognitively. They are concentrating on the game and what is occurring in real-time. Thus, they often do not have the cognitive capacity to focus on what they are saying as much as they like. Essentially, noticing errors and L1 usage are given low priority and fluency (meaning negotiation) high priority, taking up the majority of their cognitive capacity. (On a side note, this is often true of tasks in TBLT in general. Accuracy is thus prescribed to a post-task phase).
In the third class then, students look at what was said during game play and do the following:
- Correct any L2 mistakes
From doing this activity, students should notice what mistakes are common, what grammar they need to play the game using more of the L2, how much they use the L1 and in what instances they use the L1.
A worksheet is again provided for students to keep a record of what they discovered.
First, they write what English grammar they think is useful for playing the game.
Then, translate common L1 utterances.
And finally, they make some sentences based on the work they did in the grammar book. These sentences should use the grammar point and represent what they will say in the next play session:
The worksheet is kept and can be referenced during the second play session.
This stage is very similar to the first play session, but now we are in a position to expect more L2 use, so, let’s up the ante.
After 15 minutes (or one full round, or whatever other marker students decide is appropriate) they have to make a new rule. They have an option to make two rules actually, which are:
If I speak Japanese then ….
If we all only speak English then ….
Homework for this session is to transcribe their audio once more.
The second analysis session is very different to the first.
Now they have transcriptions for two gameplay sessions, it’s time to compare their performance. Did they speak more L2 during the second play through? Was the grammar that they thought would be useful actually used? These questions are answered in this session, and students are asked to make a tally count of how many times they used the grammar points that came up during the first transcription analysis, as well as the sentences that they translated:
In the final
- Make a gameplay video [Group]
The popularity of the projects is in descending order. The fear of having to present something live to the rest of the class seems to push the “teach” project down to the bottom. These projects all have their own worksheets to guide students, and at the back is an evaluation sheet so that students know exactly how they will be graded.
Here is an example from the “How to play” video project:
☐ Did you complete all sections of this worksheet?
☐ Did you hand this worksheet in?
☐ Was the game introduced?
☐ Did all players introduce themselves?
☐ Did all players speak clearly?
☐ Were game-specific words explained clearly?
☐ Did players speak only English during the explanation?
☐ Did the players use the board to explain rules?
☐ Did players say what they were doing? (i.e. did they speak when they moved pieces?)
☐ Did all players speak clearly? (Pronunciation)
☐ Was the game filmed clearly? (could we see what players were doing?)
☐ Was there a lot of silence? (i.e. were silent episodes cut out?)
☐ Was the camera stable?
The framework introduced here is designed to put students in charge of their own learning. Learning that is enjoyable. Agency is promoted as they are in control of their learning at the macro (choosing a game to play, making groups) and micro (learning rules, creating transcriptions, progressing gameplay turn by turn) level.
So what do I do in class? My role is to provide rule explanations when things are not clear, strategies for games in play, target language examples, and generally facilitate their play sessions as best I can. Due to the nature of the final projects being different for all groups, I have a very passive role. Groups often go to different rooms of the university so that they can record their sessions in a quiet environment, so at this stage I go around all the rooms and make sure everything is proceeding smoothly.
I have collected data regarding students perceptions of this framework and am continuously improving it for future implementations. The next step is to collect data regarding their transcriptions to see if there are any improvements in their oral performance between the two play sessions.
I’d like to thank Ben Pearson for inviting me to write this post, and hope readers find it useful for their own teaching context. If you have any further questions or would like to get involved with the Japan Game Lab research team, you can contact me at yorksensei @ gmail . com.