Della Owens serves full-time at the Durham Literacy Center as part of the Adult Literacy team. For her part, she tutors a basic literacy student one-on-one, provides literacy education support, and manages student and tutor data. The Adult Literacy Program is designed to empower adults through a student-centered approach to learning. The mission of the Durham Literacy Center is to empower those who want to improve their lives and the lives of their families by improving their literacy skills.
To give a brief definition of gamification when used within an educational context, it means to add gameplay elements to a task with the intention of motivating students to learn in a fun and engaging way. Some examples of gamification include the “Duolingo” app that awards “lingots” to players that complete their foreign language lessons, or the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) website that tracks word goals and awards badges for completing them.
Regarding literacy, the game Scrabble gamifies spelling by giving each letter a point value and gives the players the goal of getting the most points to beat their opponent. We can see literacy in action through gamification at the Durham Literacy Center’s annual “Game Night” for Adult Literacy tutors and students. The event is designed as a friendly, if a little competitive, opportunity to have fun learning in a different way.
This year, we had fourteen attendees with twelve people playing. The players were divided between two large Scrabble boards with each board having three teams of two, making sure to have students paired with a tutor.
One student who came with his tutor had not played Scrabble before, but his tutor had played Scrabble often as a child. They worked together, just as all the other pairs worked together, to use the letter titles they had to make words on the Scrabble board.
The tutor guided her student towards coming up with solutions on his own, offering suggestions when needed. Sher would ask her student questions, such as what common blend do you see, what digraph could we use here, or what is another word we could use. Just like the other players, he would use a dictionary to verify he spelled a word correctly. She helped him learn the rules of the game and in the end, they were having a lot of fun working together to try and beat the other teams.
On the other side of the table with the other group of players, one student and tutor pair decided to pair up with other players. The student paired up with a tutor that wasn’t his and the tutor paired up with a tutor whose student hadn’t been able to attend.
As the game progressed, the student and his temporary tutor worked together to find words that would work on the board. The atmosphere was jovial with an edge of competitiveness. The student and his original tutor, who was “the enemy,” poked fun at each other as they each tried to win.
Making words with tiles is something that students work on in their regular lessons, but by adding a scoring system, by gamifying their learning, it made making words have a purpose other than just practicing. A player could make a word that gave them six points, but by thinking of other words they could make with their tiles, there would be a potential of creating a word with a higher point score. It made the student strategize, to think about what words to use, and to have fun while doing it. It involved being creative and problem-solving. If a word you thought of conflicts with another
word on the board, what other word could you use? Is there another place on the board it could go?
In the end, Game Night was a success. The students and tutors were able to utilize the skills they had learned in their lessons to play against others and had fun doing it. There was even talk of practicing so that they could win next year, which hopefully means that the students received a little extra motivation that they can take with them into their studies.