We talk a lot about developing resilience in our students, because as we know, we will all face challenges of some form in our life – whether that is in the form of a tough exam question or a difficult situation with a loved one or family member. A favourite TED Talk of mine by Angela Lee Duckworth even goes so far to say that ‘Grit’ is one of the most common characteristics of successful people, ranking far higher than any form of IQ or intelligence measure.
Ask any teacher to tell you what they specifically do to develop and improve resilience or grit in their students and many of them will find it tough to put their finger on one aspect of the practice that they can categorically say improves this trait. But when we look back into our childhood, a lot of us can probably find an activity, that at that time we thought had nothing to do with learning (and in some cases we were told quite the opposite), but might have been the foundation building blocks of our resilient character.
How many times did you play platform computer games for hours on end, constantly dying or being beaten by the boss, for you to not just throw in the towel, but to replay the level time after time until you finally conquered it and moved on to the next level? We will all probably remember classic games from our childhood like Manic Miner, Jet Set Willy, Donkey Kong, PacMan, Space Invaders and even the more recent additions to sophisticated platforming titles like Sonic the Hedgehog and the new Super Mario Brothers.
It took a recent trip to the ‘Game On 2.0’ exhibition at the Centre for Life in Newcastle to remind me of how addictive these games were, when my son and I spent hours playing on the retro games they had in the exhibition. Time after time my 11 year old son and I were thwarted in out attempts to complete the levels on games such as PacMan and Space Invaders, but without uttering a word to each other about how we needed to ‘stick in’ or ‘try harder’, we just kept going, repeating the levels time after time until we let out a shriek of joy as we completed the level on Donkey Kong!
I’m certainly not the first teacher to have noticed this link between computer games and resilience, but it’s how we can try to use this theory to help and support the students in our classrooms. The best example I have seen of this has been by Sparky Teaching and their ‘Fail Safe’ resources that students will immediately identify with due to their blocky, platform gaming style themes; as well as a superb article on ‘Learning with Manic Miner’ by Shaun Allison.
So if we know that our students from the digital gaming generation can identify with this type of resilient attitude, how can we utilise this more effectively in the classroom and get them to tap into it when they face educational challenges? Historically we may have viewed the playing on computer games for hours on end as a negative characteristic in a child’s social development, but when we think back to the foundations of our own resilient traits, it could just be that computer gaming has made us the strong and gritty people we are today.