Gamifying Literacy // Rise and Shine! (1 of 2)
A reading from the gospel of Luke: Luke Skywalker looked to the heavens. He visualized his future, but he needed somebody to be his champion. That champion is you, the teacher reading this blog. Luke is sitting in your classroom. He’s in the back, in the corner, ostracized, the new kid, playing with pencils. One day he will confront his father, one day he will befriend a smuggler, a Wookie, a droid, and someday he will masterfully wield a fabled lightsaber. It’s just pencils for now and he’s doing exactly what Yoda predicts in The Empire Strikes Back: “All his life has he looked away...to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was...what he was doing.”
We can learn a lot about teaching with popcorn and a Saturday Star Wars movie marathon. Take notes. Take everything you know about teaching and let’s repair your hyperdrive.
Our students are on a Hero’s Journey, but, and more importantly for educators, we are walking the same path they’re starting. Our job as the educator is to draw our students in with all of their hopes and all their dreams and visions intact. As the Obi Wan to their Luke, we have one amazing job: Open the door to their infinite possibilities. Point them to their true north. Meditate, in our reflections, on God’s interest in their lives. We can do this by being the teachers we needed when we were young. Who did you need when you were a child looking to the horizon?
In this series, we will talk about cultivating a loving homespace and gamifying literacy. We will explore how to set our students on the path, keep them motivated to excel, finish strong, absorb failure, get rid of stinking thinking, level up, slay the dragon, confront Darth Vader, read a million words, and usher them along a path to their own student epiphanies.
Just to clarify: we’re not talking about video games. You don’t need to be a gamer to motivate your students. I’m talking about something far more beautiful than Animal Crossing and far more engaging than Fortnite. We can use the gamer’s tools to dismantle the master’s house!
Children will fail a test, feel discouraged, give up, and then go home and give hours of their lives to failing and dying over and over again in video games without feeling discouraged at all. They play on.
In gamification, we can use components of the games we love to activate core behavior drives that can electrify students in our classroom. But none of it will work if the classroom is not a loving space where children are seen and valued and heard. Teachers can’t “press start” if we are not meditating on God’s interest in their lives, not our own personal interest in their lives.
In your reflection tonight, ask yourself: What is the Homespace? Growing up in Washington Heights, we were packed into the apartment. My cousins were my brothers and sisters connected in magical ways that can benefit our students. We had a special guest uncle sleeping on the couch. We blasted music on Saturday mornings to clean the space and prepare it for the coming week. Most importantly, the love was palpable. My uncle, Tío Augie, woke us up early, turning on the lights, shouting, “Rise and Shine!” It was annoying, but the mantra was etched in our spirits. Rise and shine!
Think about a place you call home, where you knock and the door always opens for you. Think about the people in your life who opened their hearts and poured out their lives for you. Tío Augie is the pedagogy. Rise and shine is the approach. When you open your classroom door, you’re opening the door in every room in your heart.
Your classroom can be so much more than a cold bomb shelter with anchor charts adorned along the walls. It can be a cold bomb shelter with all the love in the world you ever felt in all your waking days. Everything we try to do in that classroom space is everything your mother or your uncle or your Tío or your father or your brother or your minister or your teacher ever tried to impart, ever tried to exude.
Play this song every morning, greet your students as though they were purposed to be in your classroom before you were a thought, before you knew your name, before you realized you’re supposed to be a teacher, and give them the loving homespace you had or needed when you were a child dreaming about being a teacher. Because they are in your classroom for reasons that are greater than our collective understanding. They are yours forever; your classroom becomes greater than those walls. Suddenly, June is not the end. It’s the beginning.