If you are reading this article, it is likely that you are a parent or educator who believes that there might be something worthwhile in children’s tech-time. You might have some concerns about kids spending too much time online or with social media rather than face-to-face interactions, but you also realize that games and other technologies are not going away. If you are like many adults, you’re just not sure what to do — especially if you feel as though your kids know more about their games and technology than you do. You’re right. They do.
You might feel confident teaching a child to play baseball or chess, but understanding the intricacies of Instagram or identifying Link, from the Legend of Zelda, leaves you lost. There are many great suggestions about how to show a child to use technologies responsibly, but not nearly as many for teaching them how to learn something from their digital play. We understand your confusion about the intersection of teaching or parenting and video games.
One method to get children to apply thinking and problem-solving skills they learn from their game play is to use our LearningWorks for Kids game and app guides. Another, more general method, which is built into our guides, is the concept of coaching. Unlike teachers, coaches do not have to be virtual experts. They do need to be excellent observers and help a child process what they are doing by asking appropriate questions. Coaches help children to think about their thinking, and then assist them in applying what they have learned in one setting to another.
The following excerpt, from my book, Playing Smarter in a Digital World describes how coaching allows an adult to use games and apps that their kids know more about than they do, to teach them real world thinking and problem solving skills.
The Coaching Method for Generalization
Due to your children’s knowledge and fluent use of digital media (at least for children over the age of 10), you may find yourself wanting to teach them about something they know more about than you do, requiring that you change your role from teacher to that of student or observer. This does not mean that adults should not be in control of digital-media access or that they should not set appropriate limits. However, it calls for a different strategy to help children get something positive out of their video-game and app play. One of the best approaches to optimizing the learning potential of games is through the process of “coaching.” In the following section I have applied core principles of coaching that are used in the business world to making digital play into a more potent learning experience.
Coaching is a more systematic approach than using a set of talking points or just having a conversation about your children’s digital play. It does not require that you know more about technology than your children. Coaching involves having a partnership, rather than serving as a teacher. As a coach your job is to facilitate and develop the skill in your children. Parents do not need to have an expertise in specific content but by observing, listening, and setting goals with their children can help them use their digital-media experience as an opportunity for learning.
The model we suggest was developed by the Harvard School of Business. We have adapted their tools for coaching individuals in the workplace to the act of assisting children in learning real-world skills through their digital play in the following five steps:
Observation. Take the time to watch your children in gameplay without making judgments. Say very little, making supportive statements such as “awesome” or “that was tough.” Attempt to assess children’s strengths and weaknesses in their problem-solving and executive-function use in gameplay. Watch to see how they make progress, how they handle mistakes, and the strategies they use when they are stumped.
Questioning. Questioning always needs to be non-confrontational and designed to promote further understanding of behavior. Use open-ended questions such as, “‘How did you make that decision,” employing close-ended questions only to clarify points. Use mixed questions such as, “What do you think were the three most important strategies in the game?” Ask your children to tell you how they make decisions and determine goals within a game or app, for example, “How did you decide to make that move?” or “How did you learn from your mistakes?”
Listening. Listening involves attending to both verbal and nonverbal cues and an effort to learn more about children’s decision making. Ask children to talk out loud about what they are doing during gameplay. Do not overdo the questioning during gameplay or children will not engage in this process. Attend to verbalizations of satisfaction and low self-esteem. Use listening skills to understand what children are doing by making statements such as, “I see,” “I understand,” or “That was good.”
Encourage them to talk about game play and particularly to identify helpful strategies and what they see themselves learning. This is an opportunity to encourage reflection on a variety of topics such as what did you like/dislike, learn, find difficult/easy about the game.
Feedback. Once you have listened, questioned, and observed it is time to start talking. Restate that you want to learn more about what children experience and learn when playing video games and apps. Comments about how much fun they were having, their willingness to persist in the face of mistakes, how they handled adversity, their level of focus while playing, and their motivation and drive may be useful.
Another strategy would be for you as a coach to play the game or app and have children serve as advisers to show you how to play successfully. Ask them to teach you to play a game or use an app. Remind them of your lack of knowledge so that their explanations are simple, at your level of understanding, and to use both verbal and visual cues. This could also be a time for children to practice executive-functioning skills such as self-awareness, organization, planning, and flexibility.
- Agreement. This is the step when a coach tries to create a situation conducive to the improvement and application of new skills. Making a connection to real-world activities where children can use the skills they have practiced will be important.