Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

Leveraging Boys' Engagement with Gaming for Improving Literacy

Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

Leveraging Boys' Engagement with Gaming for Improving Literacy

Article excerpt


Research suggests that changing social patterns and practices, driven by the Digital Revolution, are encouraging schools to acknowledge and exploit the expertise and creativity of gamers (Gee, 2008; McGonigal, 2011; November, 2012). A recent survey conducted by the Entertainment Software Association (2012) in the US found that 97% of youths play computer games. In Australia, that number is 92% (Brand, Lorentz, & Mathew, 2014). It appears, then, that many school students are active users of online gaming which nurtures 'creative participation and community formation' (Chandler, 2013, p. 256), thereby creating opportunities for these skills to be harnessed in classrooms. Significantly, the gaming world is a world in which literate behaviour is a requirement for success, together with collaboration through community participation (Carroll, 2013).

This paper examines middle school boys' interactions with gaming and explores opportunities for leveraging out-of-school literacies in the literacy classroom. This article draws on the gaming practices of a group of 27 middle school boys to assist teachers to utilise the experiences and characteristics boys bring with them to the literacy classroom. The research was predicated on the understanding that literacy is a social practice and is always embedded in social and cultural contexts (Emmitt, Zbaracki, Komesaroff, & Pollock, 2011). Literacy lies at the heart of all learning, interactions and communications, whatever their purpose, mode or context (Kiili, Makinen, & Coiro, 2013). Therefore, literacy education needs to value students' world views and their lived experiences (Australian Literacy Educators' Association (ALEA), 2015, p. 1). The significance of this research lies in the popularity of gaming manifesting itself as a sociocultural and literate practice for use at the classroom level.

Why boys?

Games are a prevalent and engaging source of entertainment and learning in many boys' out-of-school lives and they provide abundant opportunities for learning in the literacy classroom. Boys have been selected for this study because significant trends have emerged that have identified the difficulties that boys face in society in general, and in literacy in particular (Alloway, Dalley-Trim, Gilbert, & Trist, 2006; Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, 2013; Brozo, 2009; Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 2014). Educational research has identified that many boys take longer to learn to read than do girls and that they read less often than girls (Sawyer, Singh, & Zhao, 2009). In addition, Sawyer et al. (2009) found that boys perceive reading as having a lower priority than other activities and demonstrate less interest in reading for leisure. The 'Matthew effect' (Stanovich, 1986) refers to readers who fall behind in reading and writing after their first year at school and experience a widening gap each year in comparison to their peers. This is evidenced particularly during the middle years when instruction moves from learning to read to reading to learn (Fisher & Frey, 2012). However, at this stage of development, many boys are engaging with complex online games out-of-school that require considerable literate and cognitive ability to succeed. Therefore, given the ubiquitous use of new media, the utilisation of gaming principles and research may well be a bridge to improving educational outcomes for boys.

Gaming and online games

Online video games are widespread and reflect the cultural tools of the 21st century. They serve as a rich source of entertainment, imagination, creativity, storytelling and story-making and require high levels of literacy. Teachers have the opportunity to employ boys' interests in gaming to develop literacy skills, by understanding the digital literacies with which boys engage at home. Boys in this study who did not identify themselves as good readers and writers at school were contributing to and critiquing blog sites and wikis of their chosen game, reading extensively in areas of interest and speaking articulately and animatedly of experiences in the game world. …

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