Tom Rabbitt, ELL Coordinator
To the chagrin of many educators and parents alike, technological games are more popular now than ever before and our children are obtaining expertise in these games at an unprecedented rate. Although the addictive quality of these games may be disconcerting for many of us, I believe that videogames have several profound implications for learning, including language acquisition. In fact, if we follow certain aspects of the psychology related to videos games, superior levels of learning may take place, and in a variety of contexts, including school.
So, why do children become so adept at video games? For one, they are engaged and they experience early success, which is reinforcing. In addition, the game designers develop a series of tasks that become incrementally harder so that our children become progressively more skilled. Quite often the game controls at the lower levels of the game are more forgiving and assisted until the child is able to adapt on his or her own. Each level of a game becomes increasingly more difficult, but achievable and therefore rewarding, as the child progresses through the levels.
The more discerning reader may ask, “What does this have to do with education?” My response is as follows. In the early 1900’s a Russian psychologist, developed a theory referred to as the Zone of Proximal Development, commonly referred to as ZPD. This theory is intuitively appealing to many educators because it states that a child can discover a perfect zone of learning when they have a task that is engaging yet neither too easy nor too difficult. Therefore, the tasks that a child is expected to achieve change as the child’s ability grows. If a child’s abilities are continuously stretched just a little, and the child participates in an environment where a graduated yet continuous amount of scaffolding or, “help” is provided, our children are capable of extensive learning. In other words, if you want your child, student, or even yourself to obtain mastery of almost any task, than design a series of progressions that lead towards an end goal and do so incrementally.
How does this relate to our community of learners? Here is my advice. Accept the reality that at TIS, there are a high population of ELLs, who may find the curriculum difficult, in fact even the textbook designers or teachers with the best intentions may produce material that exists too far outside of the perfect “Zone” of learning. Often the information, tasks, vocabulary and concepts can be interrelated and quite complex in their current form. As a result, they will need to be broken down into smaller and more digestible pieces, so that our children can succeed without being overwhelmed. Remember, that for developing English Language learners, we all need to find ways to make the educational input manageable and within the student’s ability level. For if we can find tasks that are both engaging and incrementally challenging, our students can reach progressively higher levels of educational mastery that can impress even the most optimistic of us.
As the ELL Coordinator, I am responsible for ELL program development, scheduling and timetabling as well as overseeing and ensuring the language development of all language learners from kindergarten to grade 12. Scholastically, areas of interest for me are helping students learn to read, write, listen and speak in English.