Differentiated learning and electronic games

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1 Introduction

This wiki explores some of the links between differentiated learning and electronic games.

Lindsay Dutton
Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador

2 Differentiated instruction

Differentiating relates to the popular saying that “one size does not fit all”. According to Anderson (2007), differentiated learning means students have different interests, preferences, learning styles, skills, talents, strengths, and previous knowledge. Differentiated instruction refers to the strategies educators can use to meet many of the diverse needs within the classroom to help student’s learning and achievement (Levy, 2008). Similarly, Gregory and Chapman (2007) argued regarding differentiation that teachers need to intentionally plan to meet the needs of the diverse learners in their classroom.

3 Differentiating in the classroom

Through differentiating instruction, educators can try to meet the needs of all the students in the classroom, help them grow and experience greater feelings of success (Hall, 2007). Teachers are the classroom leaders and need to help children discover their best abilities, interests, dreams and goals (Tomlinson, 2004). Children are also part of the classroom community and as they get older they want more independence in reaching their goals. They also have a better understanding of what methods works best for their learning. By differentiating instruction, educators need to listen to the student’s ideas and thoughts (Tomlinson). In order to use a differentiated approach in the classroom one must think of using different genres, including multiple levels of difficulty on materials, teaching in different ways, and offering choices ( Gregory and Chapman, 2007). Teachers who differentiate are including all children in a safe learning environment (Anderson, 2007).

4 Electronic games

Researchers have shown much interest in the link between games and their relevance to learning (Oliver & Carr, 2009). Electronic games have always been seen as prospective learning tools (Torrente et al., 2009). Gros (2007) emphasizes that they are a useful tool for learning and acquiring new knowledge. Teachers play an important role in implementing electronic games in the classroom (Gros). Electronic games offer choices of complexity and can relate to student interest, which according to Tobin (2008) is critical in learning. According to Gros, “Children and young people are introduced to the virtual world via videogames, and the ways that they interact with technology may be changing ways of learning and the production of knowledge,” (p. 23).

5 Electronic games and the curriculum

Electronic games are able to support abstract learning, co-operation, problem solving skills, and participation (Tobin, 2008). Sardone and Devlin-Scherer (2009) found that there are many benefits to using electronic games for learning. As well, students’ focus, visual-spatial, motor, mental and reasoning skills are developed through digital games (Sardone & Devlin-Scherer). Videogames can support problem-solving and simulate real-life situations (McMichael, 2007). They offer students challenges and rewards that increase student interest and result in further skill development (Sardone & Devlin-Scherer). Robertson and Good (2005) found that students can also create their own stories through virtual worlds and decide how they wish to respond to different situations. Videogames let students take risks and see the consequences without affecting their real-life (Sardone & Devlin-Scherer). Games such as Civilization III, Age of Empires III, and Caesar IV are all history-based computer games that can be used for educational purposes and depending on how the player decides to play the game; there are different outcomes (McMichael). History-based computer games let students control the actions and see what the outcomes would be if different actions were played out in history (McMichael).

6 Differentiated learning and electronic games

Electronic games engage students in learning and can encourage positive attitudes, collaboration, and discussion (Sardone & Devlin-Scherer, 2009). Computers and technology are a part of many students’ lives (Tuzun, 2007). “Videogames play a daily part in the lives of almost every child,” (Simpson, 2005) and they are one way of making a connection between students and the classroom (Tuzun). Simpson (2005) argues that differentiation is built into the world of electronic games. Games have set rules and structure where the goal is always in reach while still being motivational and challenging for students (Simpson). In electronic games, students are able to judge for themselves their level of readiness because they know what areas they are having trouble with and what areas are their strengths (Anderson, 2007).

Gros (2007) found that there many different types of games available such as; action, adventure, simulations, role-playing, strategy games, sports games, and more. Also, “most of the sports games contain information to manage the team and combine simulation with characteristics of the strategy games,” (p. 26). Hall (2002) found that a characteristic of differentiated instruction is when the main focus/concept is kept steady (such as focusing on mathematics) but, there is much more elasticity surrounding it (such as the degree of difficulty and interests). For example, to meet mathematics’ outcomes using different genres of electronic games, one student might prefer to use his/her personalized avatar to kick down two barrels and three haystacks and another student might prefer to decorate a dress by adding five buttons and twenty-five centimetres of lace along the diameter of the base of the dress. Both scenarios can be addressing the outcomes, but focused on different interests and levels of learning.

7 Learning styles and electronic games

Knowing student learning styles are one strategy teachers can use towards differentiating instruction (Gregory & Chapman, 2007). People learn in different ways. There are four different types of learners; auditory learners, visual learners, tactile learners, and kinaesthetic learners (Gregory & Chapman). Gregory and Chapman resent electronic examples that match each learning style, such as using video/tapes for auditory learners; role-play/CD-ROM for kinaesthetic or tactile learners; video/CD-ROM for visual learners. Electronic games can offer these experiences and furthermore, they can offer an authentic learning experience through role-playing games (Gregory & Chapman).

8 Issues with electronic games and learning

One issue with using electronic gamesin learning is that of funding. If teachers lack knowledge on how to use electronic games, they will most likely shy away from using them (Gros, 2007). Torrente, Moreno-Ger, Martínez-Ortiz and Fernandez-Manjon (2009) argue regarding teachers that schools “usually lack the staff preparation and/or the time required to organize educational gaming sessions,” (p. 631). Furthermore, schools might need to buy new equipment to support the games or keep the technology updated (Torrente et al.).

9 References

Anderson, K. (2007). Tips for teaching. Differentiating instruction to include all students. Preventing School Failure, 51(3), 49-54.


Gregory, G., & Chapman, C. (2007). Differentiated instructional strategies. One size doesn’t fit all. Corwin Press, Thousand Oaks, California.


Gros, B. (2007). Digital games in education. The design of games-based learning environments. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 40(1), 23-38.


Hall, T. (2002). Differentiated instruction. NCAC publication, Wakefield, MA. Retrieved from http://www.cast.org/publications/ncac/ncac_diffinstruc.html


Levy, H. (2008). Meeting the needs of all students through differentiated instruction. Helping every child reach and exceed standards. Clearing House, 81(4), 161-164.


McMichael, A. (2007). Pc games and the teaching of history. History Teacher, 40(2), 203-218.


Oliver, M., & Carr, D. (2009). Learning in virtual worlds. Using communities of practice to explain how people learn from play. British Journal of Educational Technology, 40(3), 444-457.


Robertson, J., & Good, J. (2005). Children's narrative development through computer game authoring. TechTrends: Linking Research & Practice to Improve Learning, 49(5), 43-59.


Sardone, N., & Devlin-Scherer, R. (2009). Teacher candidates' views of digital games as learning devices. Issues in Teacher Education, 18(2), 47-67.


Simpson, E. (2005). Evolution in the classroom. What teachers need to know about the video game generation. TechTrends, 49(5), 17-22.


Tobin, R. (2008). Conundrums in the differentiated literacy classroom. Reading Improvement, 45(4), 159-169.


Tomlinson, C. (2004). Sharing responsibility for differentiating instruction. Roeper Review, 26(4), 188.


Tomlinson, C.A. (1995). Differentiating instruction for advanced learners in the mixed-ability middle school classroom. ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education, 1-7. Retrieved from http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICDocs/data/ericdocs2sql/content_storage_01/0000019b/80/29/b2/de.pdf


Tomlinson, C.A. (2000). Differentiation of instruction in the elementary grades. ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education, 1-7. Retrieved from http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICDocs/data/ericdocs2sql/content_storage_01/0000019b/80/16/57/74.pdf


Torrente, J., Moreno-Ger, P., Martínez-Ortiz, I., Fernandez-Manjon, B. (2009). Integration and deployment of educational games in e-learning environments. The learning object model meets educational gaming. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 12(4), 359-371.


Tuzun, H. (2007). Blending video games with learning. Issues and challenges with classroom implementations in the Turkish context. British Journal of Educational Technology, 38(3), 465-77.


Wells, R., & Shaughnessy, M. (2009). An interview with Carol Ann Tomlinson. North American Journal of Psychology, 11(3), 643-648.