▲ Seogwiseo Elementary School English teacher Jack Quinn has seen a drastic increase of participation from his students since he implemented game mechanics into his classroom. Photo by Darryl Coote
“The great aim of education is not knowledge but action.” – Herbert Spencer, English philosopher (1820-1903)
Motivated, passionate, attentive, revising and inquisitive are some of the qualities teachers want from their students.
In order to learn, impressible students need a model. Seogwiseo Elementary School students get this in the form of native English teacher Jack Quinn.
Two months ago, Quinn introduced game mechanics to his teaching methods, and everything has changed for the positive. Students are actually speaking English outside of class.
“I told my co-teacher I wanted to try something new and I put this into place,” Quinn said of his 22 classes comprising 250 students. “I spent a lot of time trying to turn [teaching] into a game. I start with a lot of review and kids get points for helping, trying to answer and answering correctly.”
“It’s a basic RPG [role-playing game],” Quinn explained. “I told the students, ‘Our class is going to be like MapleStory [a famous Korean RPG]. You will earn points, level up and have a health bar. If you get in trouble, one time is a warning and this decreases the amount of points you will get.’”
During times of student achievement, Quinn will play the sounds for leveling up from games like MapleStory, EverQuest and World of WarCraft. One can imagine the excited, collective cawing of oohs this elicits from the students.
Quinn detailed the “bleeding-edge field” of game mechanics and how visionaries like Lee Sheldon at Indiana University replaced grades and turned his class into an RPG system with levels. Quinn first saw an internet talk in university on the subject and was hooked.
“I’ve been watching TEDs [Technology, Entertainment, Design] about ground-breaking people in all types of fields giving 20-minute talks about whatever they are studying and doing,” Quinn said. “Three or four people talk about game mechanics and applying this to other areas of real life. That kind of perked my interest.”
Three of the ways Quinn uses these ideas in his school follow.
First, let’s look at quests used primarily outside of class. In teaching sixth graders three times a week, Quinn developed 17 quests for these students during the first seven weeks.
One quest is singing the months with an appropriately-timed clap. The first time the student does the quest with Quinn outside of class, they receive four points; each subsequent effort earns the student two points until they reach 30 points. After this, they earn one point until they reach 50.
“They only can get more points from older quests [above 50 points] by bringing in new students,” Quinn said. “I want to motivate.”
He does. This improves the students’ social skills as well. Other examples of quests include the phonetic ABCs, prepositions and answering various questions such as, where are you from, what do you live close to and where is Jack’s classroom? He notes quests involving songs have a higher intake. His sixth graders completed 5,700 quests during the first seven weeks.
Moving inside the classroom, the second part of Quinn’s ideas concerns the health bar, which ties in to discipline. During class, a student may receive a warning, which does not affect the original 200 points. The next infraction is minus 50 and the student must stand up. Further problems result in additional 50-point deductions and the student would have to put their arms up at 100, hold a book up at 50 and hold another book up at zero, before seeing red and being called down to the principal’s office.
This method sets up to encourage what the students should be focused on inside the classroom, the third idea of his teaching — learning.
Quinn’s health bar resets every class.
“We have a leader board with everyone’s points and levels,” he said. “Right now earning three to five points from everyone in each class is ideal. That means at least, three to five sentences or paragraphs students have read, or they have participated.”
Students also earn points by helping Quinn, perhaps by erasing the board, volunteering to model target language, doing anything that is useful or trying to answer something.
He then enters all the students’ points into an Excel spreadsheet at the end of each class for discipline and achievement.
Why does all this work so well?
“It’s status, it’s participating, it’s fun, it’s pride,” said Quinn, who has been on Jeju with EPIK and at his current school since June 2009. “The first four weeks, there were no extrinsic rewards at all. The school decided all teachers were to give stamps for good behavior which was developed outside of my game.”
“The first students to reach level 15, I gave them a bracelet, a little thread bracelet,” Quinn said. “I see having stronger relationships with the students. They come to my room and hang out and speak English with each other and me. I want to use the students who are into it, structuring the class so that it is fun for the kids and it incorporates more people.”
He’s not done here.
For the most achievement-oriented students, Quinn wants to introduce writing quests students can do at home. And, in the back of his mind, for an English-speaking reward quest, he wants to give students a chance to call one of his overseas friends from England or America.
“Education is what I want to do with my life,” said Quinn, a Louisville, Kentucky native who cites his teaching mother and grandfather as inspiration to his career. “I want to get my doctorate. Hopefully, this will turn into research for my dissertation. That is the goal, applying these techniques to serious endeavors.”
Paging through his game design folder full of notes and ideas during a recent, early Saturday morning interview, Quinn only has two concerns right now. He finds he does not have enough time before and after classes because English-speaking students consume it. Also, a lot of time is taken by his use of Excel. He wishes for a more efficient formula to help him with inputting. If he had help, he could do a lot more. But, for now, it’s all worth it.
“If anyone is interested in doing these themselves, I would be happy to work with them,” Quinn said. “I would like to help more people get their students to speak English.”
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