Playing Minecraft versus Learning a language through Minecraft

It is true that young learners who are already playing Minecraft have no problem playing the game. However, will they be able to understand how the server works and gameplay expectations if they cannot read the information provided by the server and server members without resorting to translation tools? Will they be able to interact/communicate effectively in L2 with other players in-game if their linguistic competence is low or next to none? Do we learn a language by simply interacting with competent speakers of the target language? If what learners need to learn a language is “only” to have access to English, is there actually a need for language schools/programs/teachers to exist? 🙄 Do we need to even discuss pedagogical principles and strategies if we want to use it with our students? How is Minecraft as a teaching and learning space different from a physical in-person classroom, LMS or a conference room (Zoom, Google Meet, etc.)?

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Imagine this scenario: You have a group of A1 students, you may or may not speak their L1. Your students know a lot about Minecraft in their L1, but they do not know how to say what they know in English. Some might know a few words related to in-game blocks, actions, items, etc. but they can’t produce sentences like “follow me, please.”, “I need to eat.” and “I want to build a house here.” by themselves in oral or written conversations. You, on the other hand, have just gained some gaming skills. Enough to move around in-world, build and survive but you haven’t fully mastered the vocabulary in-game and don’t know what pedagogical approach to apply but you think Minecraft is great to promote language practice and you decide to invite your English learners to “freely play together” during one of your classes.

Here are some reflection questions. Take a moment to reflect on them considering the scenario above.

  1. If the teacher can speak their L1, do you think the interaction between the teacher-students, and students-students in scenario 1 would be totally/partially/not at all in English?
  2. If students share the same L1 and the teacher doesn’t, would the interaction between students be in L1 or L2 during the play session?
  3. Should the teacher know most of the vocabulary related to Minecraft to be able to enhance learners linguistic repertoire and develop their communicative competence while playing in Minecraft?
  4. How would the teacher help learners move from using L1 to L2 during play sessions?

Now let’s move on to a second scenario. 👉 Same students, but this time teacher has not only developed enough gaming skills but also knows well how to interact in Minecraft and talk about most features of the game.

In this scenario, students still need to learn L2 and the language teacher is ready to use Minecraft. The question is not anymore whether language learning can be promoted through Minecraft. The question now is HOW!

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Minecraft is indeed a powerful tool; however, we need to take this discussion to a pedagogical practical level in order to show concrete examples. Only by working with “real” L2 language learners in different stages of L2 language development and investigating our practice, we will be able to move from assumptions of what it should and should not be done when integrating Minecraft in our practice with pur language learners, we will be able to fully support other teachers. This is my own mission with Minecraft. I aim to unveil how it best can be applied according to the context and who the students are.

GROWING UP WITH ENGLISH: AN ANECDOTE

My son Emanuel was born in an English-rich environment, not English-speaking country. We spoke to him in English since he was born as 90% of the activities we carried out in our house was in English. When he started to speak, I would read to him and play in English every day. Keep in mind also that I have a degree in Early Childhood Education and during every interaction, it was hard for me not to apply strategies to enhance his linguistic and cognitive competences as he would have been exposed to if he were enrolled in a good nursery school. Soon later, he would not only watch children shows in English but also use apps and play games in English. We never let him unattended while using technology. He started becoming more independent at the age of 6. Before that, either me or his dad would interact with him during technology usage and he would use it for a certain amount of time. He loved playing with Lego. English was his default language as my husband and his older sibblings who spoke English as L2 started to communicate with him mostly in English. At the age of 5, when he went to pre-school, his Portuguese level was barely A1. Teachers were really worried as he didn’t seem to understand what they were saying. In the following year, my husband started tutoring him to support him in his academic needs. Until 9, he would refuse to speak in Portuguese with me or even read a book in Portuguese together. By that time, English had become the main language in our house. My husband took the responsibility of facilitating his homework and helping him develop his linguistic repertoire in Portuguese but he really took it seriously when he was in 3rd grade. That was when he realized that he was falling behind in his academic development and couldn’t really talk to his peers about things he was passionated about. Until he started making friends at school, he hadn’t really think that Portuguese was important. I know! Weird, right? Living in Brazil and thinking that Portuguese is not that important! At the age of 10, now in 5th grade, he manages his school work well and do the assignments by himself. I’ve worked with him to develop strategies to compensate for his lack of vocabulary and his grades are great. However, there is a huge gap between what he can do linguistically in English and Portuguese, especially now that he only receives assignments through Google Classroom and doesn’t have the chance to interact with other kids in Portuguese. He is very competent though in designing, planning, presenting his ideas, mentoring others etc in English. Due to his low linguistic ability in Portuguese, he can’t do any of these well in Portuguese.

An example of what Emanuel can do in English and in Roblox.

Source: Unlisted video from The Brazilian rocket Kid Youtube channel (sound quality is not great)

So, how much active exposure to a language is needed for young learners to become a highly competent user of a given language by the age of 10? Let’s also not forget that some kids at this age could be spending lots of time online watching useless videos on Youtube and playing less demanding games. I have to constantly check what Emanuel is watching or doing online and if I see that he is wasting his time, I kindly remind him to focus on more interesting videos and games, discuss interest things with him and give him plenty of space for him to tell me about his discoveries.

MINECRAFT PLAYER versus BEING A LANGUAGE LEARNER IN MINECRAFT

When we first started our classes (August, 2020) she knew almost everything about the game in L1, but she only knew a few words in English (colors, numbers, the most common word in Minecraft: zombie!) It took her 4 months of 2 hours per week of mediated language learning in Minecraft to develop her ability to interact in-game in English. It has been 8 months since we started our learning play sessions. She had one2one lessons for 5 months, a break for summer vacation of a month and 2 more months with another student included in the class. Every strategy used during the one2one classes was selected/decided according to her needs. Classes ran for 2 hours a week, sometimes a bit more, totally dedicated to improve her conversational skills in Minecraft and for her to gain vocabulary. She moved from barely understanding anything she heard to being able to interact in oral as well as written conversations as you can see in the gallery show below. I still remember when she couldn’t use “have”, “show”, “give”, “teleport”, “build” or “can” in the present time. In fact, only less than a month, she has started using “can” correctly in questions. I always tell my students that learning a language is 50/50 percent effort. I create the conditions for them to learn, continually assess their progress and define strategies for them to keep improving, but they also need to do their own 50% part by engaging, being curious, willing to use the language, do the language assignments, etc..

My own experience as a proficient Minecraft player: Entering a Chinese server for the first time as an adult with A2 level of reading and writing in Mandarin Chinese.

咕咕服 server is a very active server! Players exchange lots of messages in-game and I can read them in Discord. It will definitely be a great source for authentic reading. I have a notebook ready for noting down all the interesting phrases I will learn by studying the chat log. As you have seen in the gallery show above, there were a lot of displayed texts in-game, but I couldn’t understand most of it. I didn’t even try to go back and forth translating it as that would have been really boring. So, I decided to ask for help as I was completly lost of where to go from the spawn area and what the expectations were. I realized, after taking the screenshot, that the way I asked for help was totally wrong. 😜 Once I died, someone teleported to me and used English to give me some pointers, show me the way out of the spawn area and gave me also some food and tools. Once I knew what I could do and where I could build, off I went to find myself a nice spot. During the interaction, I did not realize that I had chosen the wrong character for the word “Chinese language” when I talked about being a learner of Chinese. The other player recasted using the correct character. In fact, I just realized it while reading the interaction again after I left the game. That said, during the interaction, we are so absorbed in interacting or dealing with any issue at that moment of playing that we don’t see our own errors/mistakes or pay attention to the recast if the error is not explicitly pointed out which is not very different when we are talking to someone in a party, at the park, the supermarket or in a fluency task in class. Is it?

For young learners, beginning to learn another language at the age of 9/10, they would be able to talk about their buildings, negotiate with friends what to do in Minecraft, give tutorials and survive together in L1, but definitely not in L2. They would need to develop their linguistic skills to up to L2 to be able to interact in real time and continue developing it intentionally.

So my recommendation to teachers interested in Minecraft is to first of all remember that your learners are learners of English and you still need to plan out intentionally their learning experiences according to their linguistic level in L2. Be realistic of what they can and can’t do … otherwise, it is just playing Minecraft for the sake of playing, not developing their L2 language competence. Even in a free play session and even if their level allow them to interact in English, teachers will still need to define what kind of strategies they will use to mediate when students make mistakes, how their linguistic repertoire will be enhanced, etc. Plus, literacy is important even in L1, that said that learning to speak your L1 does not mean you will be a competent user of the language. We still need to develop ourselves throughout our lives to be able to operate in academic and professional contexts.

Here is how proficient speakers of English freely play in Minecraft! What level of English would learners need to be to perform at the same level as these players? I look forward to reading your comments and discussing this post.

MINEACADEMY IN-GAME PROJECT: COMMUNITY VILLAGE

LIGHT🔦 CAMERA 🎥 ACTION 🎬

📝Script writing is a great opportunity for learners to collaborate on. I’ve run this project a few times in the past and I’m adapting it for the Minecraft project. Here is my first attempt with Elementary level learners.

💬 Reflection: Before recording they can work together on writing a script and that will give them the chance to recall/check vocabulary; look up words they would like to use, question whether they are writing/expressing themselves correctly, etc. They have also collaborate using mainly English and asking for help how to say something in English when needed. In video production, it is very common for professionals to sketch storyboards and write scripts. We ought to know what we want to communicate to our audience and prepare it in a way to achieve the best outcomes. So scripting and storyboard are strategies to plan ahead and prepare before actually start recording.

💎After building part of the community village, they worked together (see the picture below) to create a script of what they were going to say during the recording. I muted myself/only listened to their interactions and reacted/answered to their questions by using the comment feature of Google Doc. ( They took about 40 minutes to write the script)

💎After finishing the script, we negotiated how the scenes were going to be recorded. I acted as the director and camera girl. We talked about what signals we would use to know when to start acting and stop the recording. Recording in scenes makes it easier to edit later. After defining the details, we went on to the Lights, Camera & Action production in-game. The material is with the editing team now. 😜

📚Here are the links on how I’ve run a similar project when I was teaching in-person 9th graders mixed-ability/levels groups back in 2013. I hope this is useful to help you implement creative writing or Show and tell presentations, and also scaffolding for your learners. Check it out.

Website for students: https://sites.google.com/site/celebritykilled/home

Blogpost #1 – 22/05/2013: https://rosebardeltdiary.wordpress.com/2013/05/22/light-camera-action/

Blogpost #2 -25/05/2013: https://rosebardeltdiary.wordpress.com/2013/05/25/light-camera-n-action-dividing-the-group-hlls-n-llls/

Blogpost #3 – 27/05/2013: https://rosebardeltdiary.wordpress.com/2013/05/27/dividing-the-groups-how-do-ss-feel-about-it/

These posts are still super relevant. No matter if you are applying in Minecraft or in-person or remote learning using Zoom/Google meet. Thanks in advance for reading the posts and I hope you find them useful as well.

MineAcademybr: In-game management Q&As

On February 07th, I presented my full MineAcademy English Club project to EVOMC21 participants in a live session. Here are some questions that the presentation covered and also the in-game challenges raised by the participants regarding managing learners in-game.

📣Here is the recording of the live session:

MineAcademy English Club Project Presentation (Rosemere Bard, 2021) – CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

💭Before getting into the questions, let’s reflect on different learning spaces:

I have been especially curious, since the beggining of the pandemic, about comparing what happens in a virtual environment versus what used to happen in-person classes or physical classrooms. Of course, we lost the physical human touch that is so important, especially with kids. Moving around the classroom and looking at a kid in the eye and being interested on what they are doing/saying can sparkle all kinds of positive outcomes. Like everyone else, I got stuck in Zoom and Google Meet with kids and teens for months until I decided to focus on MineAcademy English Club. The difference between in-person, webconference softwares and Minecraft as I pointed out in the presentation is the space itself and its affordances. We should ask ourselves what each space can offer to foster or hinder learning so we can make sound decisions to create more effective learning spaces.

⚠️Instructional designers when choosing the most appropriate environment for a learning situation, they start by asking questions:

1️⃣ What is the space like? What type of environment is it? Formal? Informal? Is it suitable for the intended target audience?

2️⃣ What does it offer in terms of resources for teaching and learning? Would you need to bring anything else into this space? physical classrooms, for instance, are just a room with walls that you can hang things on, a door and window(s). We need to bring some specific things into it to turn it into a teaching/learning environment. When we compare with ZOOM/MEET, there is also nothing there other than communication tools. Although Minecraft offers more than a physical and webconf software, we still need to map out the resources it offers to make decisions about what else we need to bring in or how to use those resources.

3️⃣ Then, we need to take into account the goals we are trying to achieve. If there are no goals and specific objectives, then the environment and tools serve for nothing. So, last question would be are the resources aligned with the teaching and learning goals? Are there any affordances in particular that can contribute to what we are trying to achieve?

Questions and Answers connected with the presentation:

🔊 How do you manage the social side of the interactions (Tilly)? 16:07 – 19:00

🔊 How do I manage in-game interactions (Rose)? 20:02 – 21:17

🔊 How do I promote learning community (intro, community)? 21:17 – 21:56; 45:24 – 51:41

MineAcademy English Club in-game Pedagogical Cycle (Rosemere Bard, 2020) – CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

🔊 What do students do in-game that aligns with our educational objectives (Rose)? 32:13 – 35:38

🔊 What challenges would you think we could face while running a class with children and teens in Minecraft (participants)? 37:16 – 44:53

🔊 Do you do any role playing? Do you use with them any stories to role play or use role play in general? (Maha Abdelmonein) + why phase 1 was so important for me 52:43 – 57:32

🔊 What happened in game? A tour in-game of GG383 creations, an overview of the resources available in Bedrock realm and bits and bits of what was discussed with visual examples. 00:57:46 – 01:18:14

Expanding on the discussion of Q5, I have grouped the responses into cognitive and affective domains. Cognitive relates to the knowledge building and linguistic competencies and affective to their attitudes and behavior in-game that can affect community building and learning. In order to see participants’ responses, click here.

Categorizing participants’ answers as either cognitive or affective challenges (Rosemere Bard, 2021)

💭Managing class versus controling discipline

One of my fav books is Behavior and Discipline Management in the classroom by Walters and Frei (2007). It might sound outdated but it is one of those books that you read from time to time and reflect on your practice. One lesson we learn straight away is to look at Classroom management (CM) and Controling discipline (CD) separately to see how they are inter related. I’ve seen Classroom management definitions in ELT that focus heavily on keeping the discipline. According to the authors, CM is about the general organization of the activities in the classroom and CD is about managing students’ behavior. My book version was published in Portuguese in 2009. So, I’m just going to point out some key ideas that the authors offer us and have helped me back then.

First we need to establish efficient procedures and routine, then, we have parameters to set expectations and manage behavior. So before jumping into Minecraft with your students, design well what your Minecraft class will be like. Imagine the possible issues you can encounter, or use the chart above as a starter and think of what procedures and routine you need to establish with them head on. Once your identify the challenges you might be facing, focus on reflecting how you usually react to them. Do you simply take it personally? Or do you deal with it strategically?

✅Be respectful to all students and control your emotions. Keep your voice tone as calm as possible and believe they can develop and become more than what you see when issues arise. Remember that your goal is not to control them, which is counter productive, but to help them develop towards a better self. Listen to what they have to say. Refrain from making quick judgements. Give appropriated attention to all students in your class and make sure that you compliment when compliment is due and talk to students in private about their bad behavior/attitudes. Even the most difficult student, do something that deserves praising. In Minecraft, all of these should be applied.

✅One of my favorite parts of the book is when the authors point out how important is for students to feel safe. It is much more effective than giving rewards. Feel accepted and appreciated as a person rather than labeled by their behavior. There is no doubt that we need to be accountable for our actions, but these actions can become learning opportunities for us to grow/develop. How do we, as teachers, help students reflect on their attitutes/behavior? The authors suggest also giving instructions indicating expectations.

✅Conflicts between student and teacher are usually power struggles. It is not worthy turning the classroom into a public battlefield. I personally like to take things into group discussion, when possible, without trying to win the battle, but to understand the situation better. But sometimes that is a terrible idea. If a students is craving for attention, it is better to talk to them in private. If it is a new student, that might be due to his own personality and I need to learn how to deal with it. If my student change their attitude towards me, something must have triggered that. So, I try to identify what I have done to trigger that and find ways to deal with it. There will always be students who will behave in a way that we don’t find it appropriated. It is pointless to try to use threats and authority figure to control them. Work on developing their respect towards themselves and others.

Aim to create a positive environment that is conducive to learning. Keep them active and with a sense of purpose in everything they are doing. Let them help out and why not giving suggestions of activities and themes for classes as well as participating in the class decisions.

📣Here is a short talk I gave back in 2015 (sorry about the quality of my camera/images) about how I give students reign in my classes. Planning is setting learning goals and defining how we are going to help students achieve them, but those goals are pointless if learners do not value them. Through dialogue, we can co-construct these learning moments.

Recommended reading:

💡 Learner Autonomy: A guide to developing learner responsability by Ágota Scharle and Anita Szabó (Cambridge 2000).

Pedagogia da autonomia by Paulo Freire (Paz e Terra, 1996)

📣Unfortunately, the book that has impacted my work so much does not exist in English. However, I lot of what I apply in my own practice was because I understood my role beyond teaching the language. Freire divides this small book into three chapters: 1) There is no teacher without we become learners ourselves; 2) Teaching is not transfering knowledge. Most people of those who read my blog will have heard about the Bank Education; and, 3) Teaching requires knowledge but also affection to be done with competence. We should not value the silence of our students, but provide space for their voice to be heard and autonomy developed through agency and a sense of responsability towards their own learning.