Monday, April 25, 2011

Shared Inquiry as Cognitive Repair by Mark Gillingham

James Paul Gee is a Professor of Literacy Studies at Arizona State University and has studied how and what children learn from video games. Gee cleverly overlays his work on video games to learning to read and teaching reading in classrooms. All video games are not good, Gee admits, but good ones have similar features. One of those features is the Vygotskian notion of a zone of proximal development–a mysterious concept that Gee explains well in the gaming context where each player can find a level that engages and gives satisfaction leading to intrinsic motivation. Another feature of video games, according to Gee, is a commitment to a virtual identity. "Such a commitment requires that they are willing to see themselves in terms of a new identity, that is, to see themselves as the kind of person who can learn, use, and value the new semiotic domain. In turn, they need to believe that, if they are successful learners in the domain, they will be valued and accepted by others committed to that domain–that is, by people in the affinity group associated with the domain" (p. 54).

What if the domain were reading instead of Arcanum or War of Witchcraft? Do readers commit to an identity of good reader? All learners have a multitude of identities in the real world, for instance, "middle-class, male, African American, a Pokémon fanatic, adept at rap music" and so forth. But what if a child has a damaged sense of school learner or reading learner. How is that child to cope? Gee contends that a damaged learner must be repaired "before any active, critical learning can occur." One way to repair is to form a bridge between a robust identity (I'm good at skiing, my whole family is) and a broken identity (reading learner). In many cases, children build their own bridges between robust and broken identities, but what if they cannot?

Gee describes good teaching as good repair work–helping students build bridges between robust and broken identities. Such teaching is a matter of three things, according to Gee:
  1. The learner must be enticed to try, even if he or she already has good grounds to be afraid to try.
  2. The learner must be enticed to put in lots of effort even if he or she begins with little motivation to do so.
  3. The learner must achieve some meaningful success when he or she has expended this effort. 
How does Shared Inquiry™ help students build bridges and help teachers to help their students? Learners are well enticed to try because there are multiple ways to get started, teachers and classmates provide examples and clues, rules prevent grand standing and abuse, and discussion is fun. Because the stories are engaging and discussion is fun, students are willing to put in lots of effort to join the discussion. A student can succeed in discussion at a variety of levels and within one's own ability so no matter whether the student is a skilled or less-skilled reader, gregarious or shy, loud- or soft-spoken, an individual can achieve meaningful success.

    Gee, J.P. (2007). What Video Games have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy (revised and expanded ed.). New York: Palgrave MacMillan.


    1. I'm really interested in what games have to teach us about other kinds of learning and especially appreciate the connections you make between Shared Inquiry and Gee's research. On a small level, I've found it helpful to draw connections for students between re-reading a text and returning to play the same game over and over.

      However, I was disturbed by the use of the word "broken" to describe students taking on new identities as readers. I would argue that this choice of label is detrimental and I would much prefer casting this in terms of "developing" readers and "developing" identities. I think that when teachers see students as "broken," we assume it is our job to "fix" them and this introduces some counter-productive dynamics in many ways.

      All readers and learners have both strengths and weaknesses. Building on strengths and addressing weaknesses helps us develop and become better learners.

    2. I'm very interested in what different games and the way people play and learn them can teach us about other kinds of learning. I play mainly European-style board and strategy games and often think about how reading the instructions and learning to play the games is both similar to and different from other types of reading tasks.

      I was also interested in the points you make between games and Shared Inquiry. One small connection that I encourage students and teachers to make is between re-reading a challenging text and returning to play a game over and over as you learn to pay it well.

      However, I was disturbed by the use of the label "broken" to describe those who are not yet good readers and confident learners. When we use the word "broken," we as educators then think it is our job to "fix" students.
      I find it much more helpful to think in terms of "developing" readers and "developing" identities. All readers and learners have both strengths and weaknesses, and even those who have few positive experiences with learning so far have personal experiences and strengths that can be built upon. I think the words and concepts we use to describe students, even if not to their faces,
      do influence the way we define our work, so I hope being more precise in our labels will help us view our task as that of aiding the growth of the learners with wom we work.

    3. "Such a commitment requires that they are willing to see themselves in terms of a new identity, that is, to see themselves as the kind of person got that!

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