Gaming the Teaching of Writing

All, Teaching Tips

Recently my colleague, Dr. Alison Hruby – English Education Coordinator at Morehead State, invited me to visit her Teaching Writing class to talk about why I use gaming to teach argument writing. While I have written many many posts about my reasoning and experience doing just that, as I prepared for the visit I realized I had never really described my theory of the case for gaming the teaching of writing and it was past due.

In legal circles, a case theory is “a detailed, coherent, accurate story of what occurred” involving both a legal theory and a factual theory. My theory of the case for gaming the teaching of writing is based on my experience and education as a rhetorician which includes decades of study of the theory and teaching of writing (comprising my pedagogical theory) as well as working as professional writer and editor (making up my factual theory). While I am not an expert on gaming pedagogy and theory, I do know the work of those who have (see Lee Bessette and Jason Helms) and my case is built on my study of their work as well as my extensive knowledge and study of writing pedagogy. Because of my education and experience, once I began delving into gaming pedagogy I immediately saw the implications for teaching writing, but understand that not everyone has my unique perspective. My theory of the case for gaming the teaching of writing is built on three ideas: my classroom as a writing ecosystem, themes as apparatus, and the ways that using games in the classroom, specifically a writing classroom, can allow instructor and students to game the system.

Writing Ecosystem

My foundational principle for teaching writing is pretty simple: “…my job is not to deliver a perfect essay or a perfect student capable of delivering a perfect essay. My job is to help my students become better rhetoricians in order to help them on their journey to become better writers.” It is important for me (and, I believe, any writing teacher) to keep our focus on helping writers learn and grow as they attend to their writing process. I have long been a proponent and practitioner of the writing workshop as a core principle for teaching writing, but recently as I struggled to define and describe what writing workshop looks like in my classroom, I developed the model of the writing ecosystem as a metaphor or framework to guide the way that I think about the writing workshop. Thinking about your writing workshop classroom as an ecosystem can help you remember to find the right balance that supports your goals as a teacher, the space your students need to thrive, the ideas that will inspire them, the work that will engage them, and the community that will support them.

Themes As Apparatus

As I noted years ago in my Content Heresy post: “I believe it is my job to teach writers and thinkers and therefore I see my “content” as nothing more than apparatus – something that we use as a tool or structure – not the end goal. In my mind, the end goal is to support the growth of the writers and thinkers in my classroom.” Through my years of teaching with themes, including pop culture and American Literacy and now games, I have found that my students become better writers and thinkers because of, not in spite of, a theme. Themes give us a focus for our work that offers room for student choice while also making our work together a lot more fun and interesting.

Gaming The System

I was first drawn to the game theme because I do believe that Everything is an Argument – or perhaps more specifically that everything is rhetorical. I love the idea of using games to demonstrate the very broad definition and purposes of text. Before I began I was sure that playing games would also bring us together as a community and help us think differently about the human experience. My blog posts throughout that first semester demonstrate that I got all of that and so much more. From the moment we began playing games we delved into an exploration of rhetoric and fun while learning. Ultimately, we learned even more about writing and life and the world than I expected and my class this semester is proving (so far) that experience was not merely a fluke. Frankly, I believe using games to teach writing is the most rhetorical thing I have ever done.

By the end of my talk with Dr. Hruby’s students, I believed the students were convinced of my theory of the case for gaming the teaching of writing and I hope that ultimately I inspired them to think about their own end game when it comes to teaching writing and helped them plan their own unique writing ecosystem. When was the last time you explored your own theory of the case for your teaching choices?

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