According to Dagmara Mathes-Sobocinska, English lessons should be more fun. Teaching proper grammar and preparing for exams is no longer good enough. Children do not have to feel the pressure of their parents in order to learn. They can actually enjoy learning and Dagmara explained to us how we can make it happen.
During her presentation delivered within the scope of the 22nd TESOL Macedonia-Thrace Annual International Convention with the title "Back to Basics", Dagmara talked about one of our most basic and inherent needs - the need to play. This is the philosophy behind Better Leaders Academy, the place where students learn English actively though games and role-play, instead of studying from the coursebook.
Dagmara is an advocate of using English as a tool, as a means, to teach emotional intelligence, leadership skills, good listening and speaking practices, rather than as an end in itself. All this is done through gamification.
Students love games because they are fun, they create suspense, and they help us relax. In terms of English language competence, playing games helps us develop the skill of communication.
Dagmara presented a specific example of a project in which her students got involved at the beginning of the year. It was a role-play during which the students became world leaders and in this way they used English to "solve world problems" and engage in meaningful language acquisition. Taking on roles helps shy students express themselves more freely and the new identity creates a safe environment in which they can express their thoughts without feeling embarrassed. Conclusion? When it is a game, people more easily participate. When a task acquires a meaningful context (e.g. saving a princess or flying into space), people get more easily engaged. Learning becomes an adventure in which students develop their English language, their skills, and their emotional intelligence too. For instance, cooperating with others requires the knowledge and skill of expressing anger without offending others, and children often do not know how to express their emotions. They learn that good relationships with others can only be maintained if we know how to be polite. The approach Dagmara presented to us teaches important life skills through English and English through important life skills.
Gamification challenges the traditional way of testing, grading and marking. It is important to involve game mechanics and game design techniques evolving around status and achievement. Students participate in a "quest" rather than complete an "in-class task" and are awarded a "token" instead of a "mark". This approach boosts the students' inner motivation to win the game (the course) and work additionally (do optional assignments). "We all love to play so why we think that the 19th century type of education should be capable of teaching the 21st century children? If you do not understand how gamification works you should look into Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card" Dagmara explains and recommends.
Overall, a very well-received talk with plenty of ideas and food for thought. It is time we changed some of our teaching practices. Teaching a foreign language is not enough. The content matters too.
By Margarita Kosior