In a workshop for a group of Thai teachers in Saraburi last year, I was asked the question, “What do we do to deal with students who are more interested in playing computer/TV games than coming to school, opening their books, and studying?” Do bear in mind that this question was posed by teachers whose educational approaches are still traditional in many ways. Their classes are big, their teaching is textbook-directed, and their instruction is mostly didactic, i.e., telling students things rather than letting them discover things for themselves. Because of the complexity of the context of the question, my answer had to address the question, and at the same time, inspire these teachers to move into adopting a more progressive attitude toward education.
When faced with a difficult situation involving students, it is a natural tendency for a teacher to ask, “What is wrong with so and so (student)?” As a matter of fact, most educational reforms come about as a result of educators wanting to solve a perceived problem experienced by students. An example of this is the dramatic changes in the publication and use of textbooks; from text-only-black-and-white books a few decades ago, we now have books filled with colorful text and pictures. However, reforms in textbook publication were directed at increasing students’ interest to interact with the material (by luring them to like the books), and not necessarily to address the question, “What would make learning more meaningful and effective.”
In essence, the question posed by teachers at the workshop reflected this same tendency – they asked, “What’s wrong with our students?” rather than “What is it that we need to do or change to help them learn better?”
To handle this question more constructively, it is important to realize that playing computer/TV games is not bad. Many people make a decent living out of playing computer/TV games. Additionally, it also enhances one’s eye-motor coordination and improves creativity. Understanding and accepting this allow us to approach the question more optimistically. Instead of viewing playing computer/TV games as a problem, teachers (and parents) could use it to boost students’ learning. Instead of demanding students to stop doing what they love doing, teachers could transform the love for playing games into the love of learning.
Reframing the question
It was obvious that students were deliberately choosing computer/TV game shops over school. And it doesn’t take rocket scientists to reckon that students feel more excited to be in game shops rather than school. But how do we make school as fun and exciting as a game shop?
My suggestion to teachers at the workshop is narrated as follows:
- Plan a month long project/problem-based-learning on “solving the mystery of why students love playing computer/TV games more than coming to school.”
- Divide students into heterogeneous groups – a mixture of girls and boys; those who play computer/TV games and those who do not.
- Assign different investigative tasks to groups. Possible questions to investigate: a) How often do students visit game shops? b) How much money is spent at the game shops? c) What do parents think about their children sneaking out to play games? d) What is the relationship between the time spent in game shops and the time spent in studying? etc.
- Teach and encourage students to use the scientific method – define the question (problem), hypothesize, collect and analyze data, and make conclusions and recommendations. This allows for the learning of a variety of knowledge and skills all at one time, on their own.
- Spend a period or two every week to update each other about the progress of investigation. Provide help and support to groups.
- Bring the project to a closure by pulling together the findings of every group – have them plan and prepare for a presentation of the same (encourage the use of both low- and high-tech presentation aids; e.g. posters, PowerPoint slides, and other exhibit materials).
- Showcase the final outcome by inviting members of the school and the community to take part in the presentation of student investigation. The school-wide exhibition/presentation could be effectively used to initiate a collaborative discussion about the issue at hand.