If Teaching was a Game pt. 2
Wednesday, April 16, 2008 at 11:34AM
Richard Terrell (KirbyKid)

Testing is a big part of teaching. Between quizzes, tests, essays, midterms, finals, recitals, exhibitions, and tournaments, most students put their learning to the test in some form or fashion.

It is important that tests are organized so that they cover a limited amount of material at one time. This is especially true for quizzes. In my Japanese class with Professor Schneider, we were given quizzes every day. First vocab, then grammar, then kanji. Then the cycle would repeat until the chapter test. Unfortunately, our grammar quizzes used to be unfocused.

On the quize= Schneider would ask us to create a grammatically correct sentence, which would obviously test our understand of the different types of grammar we were required to know. However, on these quizzes, we were also required to use some of the latest vocabulary. I explained to my professor that if we were to have a grammar quiz, that it would be best to make sure the quiz tested grammar and only grammar. After all, it was hard enough studying for a grammar quiz without doubling up and studying for vocab as well. After the simple suggestions, the correct was made and the stress of taking the grammar quizzes was greatly reduced.

In the three years of taking Japanese with Professor Schneider, I have come to enjoy the formatting of the chapter tests as well. Each test is broken down into sections: listening, vocab, kanji, grammar, reading comprehension, writing, and speaking. In the time leading up to the test, Schneider went over specific drills to better prepare us for the test. Isolating the required material in this way not only makes it clear on what to focus on for the test taker, but it provides an easy way for each student to evaluate which sections they have trouble with.

Videogames are all about teaching the player what he/she needs to know to play the game. Beyond tutorial modes, good games incorporate learning steps into their level design and test them one at at time. The first level of of Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island is called "Make Eggs, Throw Eggs." This level is designed to easy the player into the game and to teach them how to make and throw eggs, a very important skill that is integral to the game.

Zelda bosses require a combination of skills. Some of these skills come from the use of new items acquired from the dungeon. In order for the player to dispose of the boss, they must pay attention to audio and visual cues and put together multiple concepts in their heads. How did you know to shoot the boss in the eye with your arrows? Most players might say that it was the first thing they thought of and it just happened to work. But the critical-gamer with a critical-eye notices that all the arrow specific switches in the game were eyeballs mounted on the walls. It's only logical to the player that eyes must be shot with arrows. Realizing this and then dispensing with the boss accordingly is an excellent example of how the game teaches players to figure things out for themselves. The game still teaches the player exactly what to do, but it's not as overt as a strategy guide.

Some teachers have a warped sense how to teach and test. There are times when students feel lost on certain questions. When they ask the teacher about it, all they get in return is "figure it out." Figuring it is the students job. However, I see no need in tricking the students by constructing a test that requires learning that extends far beyond the scope of the teaching. In other words, some questions are "super questions" not because they require more knowledge than rest of the problems on the test, but because of how the question combines multiple concepts in an unprecedented way (for the student of course).

I never understood why math teachers did this so much. The homework they assign covers a range of problems with increasing difficulty. This allows the student to ease into the concepts by slowly ramping things up as they complete their homework. So successfully completing the homework should successfully prepare the student for the test right? Apparently, not always. Some teachers like to throw in problems that combine the hardest levels of multiple concepts creating a super problem the likes of which the students have never seen before. It's not good form to throw in such a problem on a test unless it's a bonus question. "Just think about it" or "figure it out" doesn't seem to forgive the fact that the weeks of straight pitches from the teacher wasn't sufficient to prepare the students for the curve balls on the test.

Students are a reflection of what is covered in class. Learning is about building libraries of information as well as building thought processes and ways of thinking. Good game designers work very hard on the audio and visual details in their games so that the player is most likely to succeed. Game designers understand that every blip and every bit matters. If teachers had such a thoroughly designed curriculum, I believe there would be fewer teachers that make excuses about their students poor test results.

Article originally appeared on Critical-Gaming Network (http://critical-gaming.com/).
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