Monday, 22 October 2012

Outstanding Lessons and Games Based Learning

For anyone who doesn't know, or who doesn't live in the UK, ‘Ofsted’ stands for The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills.  They essentially inspect schools (and other children’s services) and grade them based on various criteria.  This has a considerable effect on the school’s reputation.

The top ‘grade’ you can achieve through Ofsted is outstanding and teachers and schools all over the UK are striving to achieve ‘outstanding lessons’.  But what does this mean exactly?  How can games based learning help more lessons to be outstanding?

Outstanding lessons will obviously vary greatly depending on the lesson being taught.  However, what is common to achieving this standard is the quality of teaching and learning.  Ofsted say that outstanding teaching includes “a focus on pupils making exceptional progress as a result of inspiring teaching, from teachers having excellent subject knowledge and the innovative use of new technology” (information from

In other words, one of Ofsted’s main criteria for outstanding lessons is the innovative use of new technologies.  This, in itself, would be a good reason to use games in lessons.  However, if we look at the criteria more closely, we can see how games based learning can tick more than one box.

Outstanding teachers must fulfil the following criteria:

  • Subject expertise and flair
  • The involvement of every pupil in the learning process
  • Intelligent questioning involving every pupil
  • The use of a wide variety of resources as appropriate including new technology
  • Involving pupils in the learning process and developing independent learning.

For me, it goes without saying that teachers should have a reasonable level of subject expertise.  However, subject flair is a little more interesting and perhaps more difficult to prove.  One cannot impose passion for a subject on teachers but a good way to exhibit it may be to use a related game in lessons.  Being up-to-date on goings on in their field and finding new ways to instil knowledge that they find interesting is impressive and games exhibit this.

Good learning games should also involve every pupil in the learning process.  Games can tap into multiple learning styles (‘Games Based Learning Supports Multiple Learning Styles’) meaning that all children should be able to access the learning at some level.  Collaboration is also a great benefit of learning games.  Although some technology limits the amount of players, the ideal situation is for all pupils to be learning collaboratively from one game (see the pedagogy page of our corporate website).

The next criterion is intelligent questioning involving every pupil.  In my blog post ‘Unorthodox Uses of Games in Education’, I talked about a teacher using Angry Birds to teach his pupils.  Pupils built catapults to launch real life angry birds and all the while the teacher asked them questions about the physics behind what they were doing.  This can also be done with computer based learning games.

The final criterion involves developing independent learning.  This is really about motivating and inspiring pupils.  It is unlikely that children will become enthused about a topic if the lesson is uninspiring and involves a dull presentation with written exercises to follow.  This is the bulk of most education.  Children can become enthused by a topic and want to learn more about it on their own.  If you make something fun, i.e. by using a learning game, surely they are more likely to do this.

Outstanding lessons are judged on teaching practices, but they are also judged on how the students behave in a lesson.  The key factors (from include:

  • Are the pupils highly engaged?
  • Do they move from listening to being positively motivated?
  • Do they learn and make progress?
  • Do they obviously enjoy the lesson and have fun, and are they keen to discuss what they have learned and what they might be doing in the next lesson?
  • Do the pupils ask appropriate (and challenging) questions?
  • Do they show a keen interest in the tasks?
  • Are they proud of their work?
  • Are the pupils involved in deciding any part/content of the next lesson on the topic?

Most (if not all) of these criteria can be met with the use of games based learning as part of the curriculum.  Games are excellent for engaging and motivating students and providing fun and enjoyment (see blog post: ‘Motivation, Motivation, Motivation').  A teacher observing one of our games-ED lessons said:  “The children were fully engaged for all the session and the ‘buzz’ in the room was one of real active learning” (from 'Marrying up to the Situated Learning Theory').  Children also talked to their parents following the session about how much they had enjoyed the learning simulation and what they had learned.  This is obviously a step up from the usual question of “What did you do today at school sweetheart?” being met with the response, “Stuff”.

Games are also a great way of showing progress.  Many games have some sort of score, ratings, badges, achievements and so on to show progress.  A teacher overseeing one of our games-ED lessons commented: “[The children] were genuinely interested to see the impact their purchases had made on the town. They were disappointed to see the results/consequences of their purchases in Year 2 and were keen to rectify them in Year 3!”  One of the pupils in the primary school also commented, “I liked finding out what score you got at the end and looking at the improvements.”  Playing a game multiple times enables you to clearly see skill / knowledge development.

From our experience of running our learning simulations in lessons, all of these criteria can be met.  If you want more of an idea of how learning games can help you achieve outstanding lessons, have a look at these previous blog posts, ‘Marrying up to the Situated Learning Theory’, ‘Proof of the Pudding’ and ‘Proof of the Pudding Part 2’ and have a look at our corporate website:  There are some demos of our products on there too, if you are interested.

There are obviously other factors that are important for outstanding lessons and using learning games in every lesson would be considered inappropriate.  However, it is extremely easy to see how using games in lessons can show evidence of outstanding teaching.  And more than simply providing evidence, games could achieve these outstanding outcomes for students and make real improvements to the standard of lessons and their learning.

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