Review of James Paul Gee’s What Video Games Have to Teach us about Learning and Literacy

By Sarah Schelstrate

“If human learning works best in a certain way, given the sorts of biological creatures we are, then it is not going to work well in another way just because educators, policymakers, and politicians want it to (pg. 66).”

Because of the title you might think What Video Games Have to Teach us about Learning and Literacy by James Paul Gee is an educational book promoting the use of video games in the classroom.  That is not the case.  Instead Gee focuses on the intricate literacies involved in playing video games (specifically role playing problem- solving games) and gives the reader ideas as to how these literacies can be utilized in the classroom to support a more active student learning environment.  To begin with, Gee develops thirty-six learning principles based on observations and experiences with games.  Next, he clarifies each one with examples using various and easily accessible video game titles.  Then he connects his learning principles to classroom use with practical illustrations.

If you have read Gee’s Social Linguistics and Literacies then you might be a little wary about picking up this book for fear of specialized vocabulary and complicated wording.  However, you will find this book much easier to read as Gee uses less complex language and fully explains each of his unique phrases with several illustrative and easy to follow examples.   He has also included an appendix which cites each of his thirty-six learning principles with definitions for easy access.  Other helpful features include the bibliographical notes at the end of each chapter, rather than citations and footnotes throughout the book, to facilitate comprehension and diminish distraction.

As a middle school teacher I agree with Gee’s surmise that today’s students must be engaged and active learners in the classroom to receive a thorough education.  I can also understand how implementation of his learning principles can lead our students to academic success.  As most of Gee’s examples focus on Science classrooms this is an excellent resource for Science teachers; however any teacher can learn how to incorporate Gee’s video game learning principles into his/her curriculum with a little creativity.

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