RSS Feed

Posts Tagged ‘reading’

  1. Literacy Skills Through Text-Based Adventures

    May 2, 2012 by Josh Caldwell

    Choose Your Own Adventure

    Recently I introduced a group of my technology students to the text-based adventure Lost Pig, both as a way of broadeningĀ their reading horizons and as a gauge of interest in the genre. I posted about the experience on this site, but there’s a deeper level of learning going on that I feel merits its own post.

    When I first introduced my students to Lost Pig, I knew that they would find the experience challenging simply because it was an unfamiliar way to interact with text. As I expected, the majority of my students really struggled; they weren’t used to a game forcing them to do so much problem solving without any visual cues to help them. Right from the beginning players are preventing from going in any direction, and the player must notice that there is a noise coming from one of the bushes and then listen to that noise to progress. After a couple of minutes of confusion, the stronger readers figured it out an moved on. Gradually more and more students figured it out, until finally the stragglers moved on with a little bit of prompting. That’s when I made my first realization about IF.

    Interactive Fiction FORCES students to use reading comprehension strategies – you can’t just gloss over text that you don’t understand and move on; you are physically incapable of progressing until you comprehend essential elements of the text.

    This realization put my students’ frustration into a new context. The frustration they experienced trying to figure out the game is similar to the frustration they feel when reading a challenging text, only amplified. Students have to confront their comprehension issues on the spot, instead of waiting until a test or essay to realize that they didn’t fully understand what they read.

    Interactive Fiction provides immediate feedback about your reading strategies. At its best, IF is responsive and adaptive – trying to do the “wrong” thing will often result in a hint or additional information to help the reader self-correct. Misconceptions and misunderstandings can be dealt with in real time and with humor.

    Not only did the interactive nature of the game bring into focus the reading comprehension process for my students, it also actively helped them to engage and adapt. Imagine what we could do with an IF game purposefully written to model reading comprehension, a game that could articulate to the player how to make sense of the text. Students would then be more fully aware of when they are and are not successfully reading and comprehending the text, and they would be rewarded for demonstrating comprehension.

    Interactive Fiction provides meaningful rewards for comprehension. Students feel a sense of accomplishment from solving puzzles and besting challenges.

    I don’t mean to suggest by this that students shouldn’t seek intrinsic reward from reading, but rather that the gamely nature of IF engages in the reader a stronger sense of achievement. When the reader/player is actively taking part in the story, they can also take ownership over the accomplishments of their character. It’s one thing to read along as Harry and the gang work their way through the various enchantments protecting the Philosopher’s Stone, but another entirely to actually solve those puzzles on your own. While this can be the most frustrating aspect of IF for low readers, it is also the thing that is most likely to keep them striving. Well written IF provides gradually increasing challenges, allowing readers to build their confidence and invest in the story. The best written IF is fully adaptive, providing readers of multiple levels to be challenged and successful.

    Interactive Fiction allows for students of all levels to be challenged. IF can be written such that there are multiple clues, deeper plot elements to explore, point systems, or other opportunities for readers to challenge themselves.

    Where a traditional book can only provide one story, one experience, IF can adapt the story to meet the level of the reader. Skilled readers can be challenged to read deeply into veiled references that might lead them into a different storyline entirely. IF games can engage different levels of readers with point systems, Easter eggs, alternate endings, or even inside jokes that let a reader know they caught something that most wouldn’t.

    The potential for IF in the classroom is really limitless, and I’ve only just scratched the surface. If you’re interested in learning more, I would highly suggest Jeremiah McCall’s site Gaming the Past, where he uses IF to explore historical events. I also have an IF game (my first) that I wrote as a hardware/software/networking unit assessment for my beginning Computer Tech class that you can check out (feedback and constructive criticism encouraged).


  2. Engaging GTA Kids with Zork Graphics

    April 6, 2012 by Josh Caldwell

    Zork

    Ever since I first encountered the Inform7 interactive fiction engine at GLS7 last year, it’s been lurking in the back of my mind, looking for a way into the classroom. The idea of introducing my students to the text-based adventures that I loved as a kid excited me, but actually working it into my curriculum had to take a back seat to my revamped grading system, an entirely new computer technology course, and too many other focus-stealing priorities to list. I was about to give up on the idea until next year when Read Across America rolled in bringing both inspiration and opportunity.

    My school has a fantastic community of readers, and as a staff we have dedicated Read Across America (March 2) to reading across all subjects. Every year I eagerly anticipate the day when students, dressed in their comfy cozies, carry around stacks of their favorite books. Teachers from every content area model a love of reading. Some classes allow students to read entirely independently, while others focus on content-specific reading, or readers theatre, or other literacy focused activities. All noble pursuits, but I needed something a bit different for my tech kiddos. Given that this was the first year for my computer tech class, I wanted something that the students would remember, something that would help them with their screen reading skills, but also something that would introduce them to kind of reading they likely hadn’t experienced. The time for Interactive Fiction had come! I was ecstatic, dreaming of a maze of twisty little passages all alike, but I just wasn’t sure if my students, the generation of realistic 3D graphics and visually astounding video games, would engage with a purely text-based game.

    They did.

    In fact, they LOVED it.

    After a brief introduction to the genre and a basic list of key actions (N/S/E/W, Examine, Take, Ask, etc) I let the kids dive into Lost Pig, a short yet challenging IF game written in Inform. What followed was a period full of frustration and excitement, successes and failures, groans of agony and screams of elation.

    I couldn’t believe how absolutely enamored my students were – eyes glued to their screens as they navigated dungeons, encountered trolls, and solved puzzles. As the challenges got harder, students scurried about the lab trying to bounce ideas off each other. They were playing a game, but it was a game without 3D graphics, or rumblepacks, or really anything beyond elaborately complex textual descriptions. They were defeating their enemies not with hyperrealistic weaponry, but with words and creativity. At the heart of it they were reading, writing, and thinking. And they were loving it.

    In fact, they loved it so much that they begged me to teach them to program IF.

    I haven’t gotten to the teaching portion yet, though I am pouring over the resources at Gaming the Past in preparation. I have, however, programmed my own game in Inform to get acquainted with the language. Not just a game, but an assessment tool as well, a quest that forces my students to apply their knowledge of computer hardware and networking to successfully escape in tact. It definitely needs some work and revision (comments/criticisms encouraged), but I hope you’ll try your hand at my first text-based game/assessment – Escaping the Gnome’s Cave.