Parents and teachers alike often worry that children spend too much time on their computers playing video games rather than focusing on key skills like reading and writing.
However, Reay Primary School in Lambeth discovered that using a platform that children were already familiar with – Minecraft – could bring the curriculum to life and transform the experience of even the most reluctant writer.
In this blog post Reay Primary School’s year 5 teacher Lucy Coates explains how she was able to engage students through play-based learning.
Making learning fun
My students are really energetic with a diverse range of interests and skills, but some were finding reading and writing particularly difficult. I wanted to show them that these activities can be fun and not just based on text books or working in isolation. I think teaching children about the environment and community around them is really important too, so I made the entire half term topic about architecture in the local community.
I even imagined a scenario for the children where a local business was planning to build a new, multi-storey store in the middle of Kennington Park. This is where they go for sports day every year and our running club uses this green space too, so naturally it caused outrage! Even though this wasn’t a real situation, my students really engaged and wanted to write letters to our MP to lobby against this decision. I wrote back as the MP to say due to their wonderful campaign, the decision had been reversed.
Open City and Minecraft
The children developed skills in persuasive writing, and I saw this as an opportunity to approach Open City, the architecture education organisation, inviting them to deliver its Open City Neighbourhood workshop to also show them the different elements needed to build a neighbourhood, such as transport, renewable energy, building materials, pollution control, and leisure and tourism.
To take the lessons learned here even further, I contacted London Connected Learning Centre (part of the Education Development Trust) to help us conceptualise and visualise the building designs the children had made during the Open City workshop. Rowan Roberts, one of the computing tutors at London CLC, worked with the pupils to encourage collaborative working in building their neighbourhoods using Minecraft. This went down really well, because Minecraft was already familiar to a large portion of the class, so they were already confident in using the platform.
I had hoped that using this approach and opening the ‘chat room’ function on Minecraft would encourage the students to read and write without even realising. In fact, the great result was that as well as writing feedback on each other’s’ designs, the standard of writing improved a lot too.
Technology gives teachers the chance to adapt and personalise learning, giving every student the chance to become passionate readers and writers. Since the sessions, I’ve continued to use computer games and programmes in the classroom to inspire reading and writing across the curriculum, for example, I used Minecraft and Kodu to design and make computer games which depict the use of white blood cells, getting students to write about how white blood cells battle against germs and infections.
I think as teachers, we are always in danger of fearing time will run out and that the ‘extras’ are just that; superfluous add-ons. As a result of working with London CLC on the Minecraft project, I was reminded that if we put the effort and time in to really help children engage, and use their imagination when working with a topic, the end results are not only of a higher quality, they are also a lot quicker and easier to get to.”
London CLC’s Julia Lawrence says:
Lucy’s approach worked so well, because she gave the children the creative control to use their own ideas and inspire students, even the ones that don’t typically engage with reading or writing. She particularly emphasises the need to invest in children’s interests and be patient, focusing more on reading and writing skills in a context that makes sense to them. For example, as a way to start a conversation, engage in problem solving or as part of a computer game. They are more likely to engage with this than large amounts of text during individual study.
We thoroughly enjoyed working with Lucy and her students and can see she works tirelessly to bring the curriculum to life, showing the children how what they learn at school can be applied to reality. She even created a ‘campaign wall’ in her classroom, inspired by the students’ opinions on political events such as Donald Trump’s rise to power and the Women’s March. Embedding the use of technology into the classroom with creative approaches to teaching can have fantastic results, engaging students with not only reading and writing, but their local community and the world around them too.