Following on from a previous lesson with a reading focus, a class of Y6 children use the text-rich computer game ‘Thomas Was Alone’ as a stimulus for writing practice.
Although the formal SATs tests have ended, I still need to collate evidence of the children’s independent writing to support my assessment of their writing levels. As the children had engaged well with the game’s story during the previous lesson I decided to capitalise on this motivation by using the game as a prompt for writing
Reflections on Organisation
This ‘lesson’ itself (actually more of an assessment task than a learning opportunity) was relatively uninspiring in its execution; once I had shared the writing task with the children they had about 10 minutes to plan and then 45 minutes to write their stories, with no support. Alone.
As with their SATs tests, the children were seated in pairs, facing the front of the classroom. This is in contrast to their regular table groupings – usually a formation of 4-6 children, facing inwards. (The ‘front’ of the room is defined by where the electronic whiteboard is, actually at the side of our ‘U’ shaped classroom. There’s a non-electronic whiteboard on the opposite wall, but somehow that doesn’t seem to say ‘front’ quite as strongly as something that glows and has a computer attached to it.) Some children initially commented on how they actually liked sitting this way (‘Can we keep the tables like this?’ ‘Yeah, I think it’s good!’) although this novelty appears to be wearing off as they are eager to return to their previous tables. I think there’s a place this type of seating arrangement – I have seen an improvement in some children’s writing over the past couple weeks as they have been required to write independently, at length, on a number of occasions.
Unlike the previous lesson where the children read the game’s story, collaboration is not allowed. During the task, as with the previous tests, I notice children ‘shielding’ their writing, with books and their hands, where they would usually be eager to share and show what they have done. Eyes are very much focussed on their own pages. Personal space is defined by rigid postures and, as I look around the class, I can see a clear channel of dividing space across the middle of each table, between each pair, that is rarely crossed. Only shared resources, such as rubbers and rulers, are allowed to inhabit this space. There’s the usual sense of purpose, but without the familiar buzz of enjoyment. Whereas the focus is usually on the process of learning, here it is the outcome that is most important.
The stories produced by the children are an interesting mix of literal – those that describe the game’s characters as quadrilaterals moving through levels – and those that mirror the games’ personification techniques in order to create characters with more complex personalities. When I ask them how they felt about the task, some children comment how easy they found it to write a story using the game as inspiration. When I ask why, one child suggests that having played the game they experienced the story directly from a characters perspective. Another child, however, states that they found it quite difficult to bring in their own ideas as they kept thinking about the ‘real’ story – so, as with any writing prompt, this didn’t suit all of the children.
Marking their work later, I’m pleased to note that the children’s stories at least match the quality of those created during other recent assessment tasks. Some are perhaps slightly longer than they would usually produce, which is perhaps an indication of their enthusiasm for the task. Grammar and punctuation has been applied well in most cases – at least as effectively
So, did using this game as a prompt for writing make the children better writers? No. (Clearly, in this context, there’s no expectation that it would.)
Did using this game as a prompt for writing make the children worse writers? No.
Did using this game as a prompt for writing make some children more eager to write? Yes. For some, using this game as stimulus appears to have had motivational benefits. For others, it wasn’t an easy task.
Extracts, for your reading pleasure: