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Doctor’s Cure & Common Core

We developed the game-based, The Doctor’s Cure Unit to address two key Common Core elements:  (WHST.6-8.1) teaching persuasive writing techniques in an authentic learning situation and (RST.6-8.10) helping students comprehend texts of steadily increasing complexity as they progress through their education. The games we design offer entire worlds in which learners are central, important participants; a place where the actions of a ten-year old can have significant impact on the world; and a place in which what you know is directly related to what you are able to do and, ultimately, who you become. Central to this work is the notion of transformational play (See the Educational Leadership article or the researcher article published in Educational Researcher). Students who play transformationally become protagonists who use the knowledge, skills, and concepts of the educational content to first make sense of a situation and then make choices that actually transform the play space and the player—they are able to see how that space changed because of their own efforts. Consistent with this theory, the unit is intended to position players as protagonists in a game world where they must use their understanding of persuasive writing and how to gain evidence from complex texts in their role of investigative reporter. In this role and in the fictional world, they come to experience disciplinary content as personally relevant, socially important, and situationally significant.

In terms of persuasive argumentation (WHST.6-8.1), at the core of the experience, players are collecting quotes from people, newspapers, policy briefs, and other sources to build a persuasive argument for whether Dr. Frank should be allowed to continue his work to find a cure on the plague—an argument that requires the player to struggle with whether ends justify means. In support of building their case, they use a persuasive argument tool (PAT) to produce a complex thesis-reason-evidence alignment, leveraging the power of embedded assessments. Here, students collect quotes from game characters and evidence from in-game, grade-relevant sources eventually using them to build an argument in support of their selected thesis. Here, the PAT itself evaluates each piece of evidence in relation to a reason and the final thesis. This embedded assessment within the persuasive argument trope provides recursive feedback—students can return to the PAT again and again until they craft a strong argument. This iterative feedback provides an ongoing assessment of progress at each step in the game instead of holding back that validation until the end product is submitted. Note that they learned how to build such relations among evidence, reasons, and theory in Mission One with a much more constrained set of possible evidence, reasons, and thesis.

Our second Common Core alignment focuses on supporting students in reading and comprehending text in the 6–8 grade band (RST.6-8.10). Common Core states: “Being able to read complex text independently and proficiently is essential for high achievement in college and the workplace and important in numerous life tasks.” Here, the gaming environment is exceptionally beneficial in motivating students to engage complex tasks, while keeping the narrative of the game experience fun and motivating for players. To this end, we are including a set of grade-relevant texts such as journal articles, speeches, and reports. These supplement character “interviews” that students gather as evidence to support their arguments. The texts are at or above grade level, and meet all three Common Core criteria for complex texts (quantitative, qualitative, and reader/task considerations).

To scaffold student engagement of these texts, we created a mechanical Goggle trope… a game element that guides student engagement of the text. As a student looks at a text through these goggles, they are provided a series of questions that ultimately allow them to make inferences or draw conclusions about the text as evidence toward their thesis. In this way, the goggles also serve as another form of pedagogical scaffold supporting students in working at a high-level and developing the necessary skill of identifying relevant information from complex texts. This allows us to balance the tension between engaging game play and higher text complexity. Because of the motivation established through the game play, students are invested in the interrogation of the more complex texts they discover along the way. Not central to the Common Core but central to the power of games, we leverage CONSEQUENTIALITY in helping students understand both the use-value of what they are learning, but also in understanding the complexities of being an investigative reporter in the real world. Because in the real world, an investigator’s attitude and how he or she approaches a witness has a bearing on their willingness to share what they know, we have added the same authenticity to the citizens of the game town as well. Now, our students’ final thesis will be only as good as the evidence they are able to gather. And if they are rude or dismissive of a character they meet, they may not be able to gather enough evidence to make their case.  This addition is difficult to teach in a traditional educational setting, but vital to real-world applications of persuasive techniques, such as investigative reporting. The power of video games allows us to provide students with such authentic learning experiences where traditional schools cannot.