Here be (Dungeons and) Dragons – Redux

You are in a classroom. There is a dais with a desk, behind which there is a blackboard. In front of you there are eight novices awaiting instruction.

I choose to engage the novices.

Go ahead.

Today, I have a plan. However, I am interested to know if you have a different plan. My plan can be for another day. Please imagine different situations that you and Rob or Vanessa (our regular Non-Player Characters) might be in. Use last week’s lesson as a planning guide. If you need help, please ask me.

Roll D10>3 and D4<4 for successful engagement and +1 courage.

D10=7,

D4 falls off desk… =1.

It went really well, actually. The students planned in two groups of 4. One group decided on explaining a road relay (and did very well indeed), and the other planned to teach how to make miso soup, which they underestimated the complexity of, but I see this as a good learning experience. I also think that by giving my students a metaphorical look behind the curtain that they can understand the success criteria for the tasks I create a bit better. I would still like a bit more linguistic complexity in their output, but today I am going to take this as a success.

XP +D6

D6=4.

Read Here be (Dungeons and) Dragons previous ‘chapters’: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.

“This is gold!”

I’ve been using Saboteur with an adapted Kotoba Rollers framework by James York with my university classes. I want talking with authentic tasks, which games provide. There is also transcription of language used. It isn’t all fun and games though.

In the game, players are either good, hardworking miners or saboteurs. None of the players know the roles of the others but they hardworking miners need to work together to get the gold. The saboteurs need to ensure the pack of cards is exhausted before the treasure cards are reached. There are also action cards such as breaking tools, fixing tools, causing rock falls and checking maps for gold, which may lead to cooperation or subterfuge.

The published rules are a bit tricky to understand. I had set the reading for homework, figuring that if there were a lot of difficulties the students would use dictionaries or Google Translate. This means my students skim read them superficially and did not bother to understand the rules fully before game play. Dictionaries and Google barely got looked at.

However, the rules needed a bit of clarification. This led to some good negotiation of meaning (Long, 1983). There are cards used to destroy the mine path above or break other players’ tools but they weren’t always easily understood.

The transcription is the main part I changed. I ask students to write three parts.

What did your partner say? Did they say it differently to how you would say it? How would you say it?

This has been done pretty well and is usually the best part of my RPG-based classes’ sheets, too.

What communication problems did you have? Why?

This sometimes ends up being a wishy-washy “I need to speak more fluently” but a lot of my students have gone a bit deeper.

If you spoke Japanese, what did you say? How can you say it in English?

This has an obvious function but students do sometimes half-arse it and just use Google Translate one way without checking the translation in a (monolingual) dictionary or Skell.

Still the work got done and there was another game of Saboteur in the following lesson to review. I was satisfied with this little Kotoba Rollers cycle, and so were my students, though I needed to buy 4 lots of the game for my big class.

References

Long, M. (1983) Native speaker/non-native speaker conversation and the negotiation of comprehensible input1. Applied Linguistics, 4 (2) pp. 126–141.

Here be (Dungeons and) Dragons 9

Fin de siecle

At the University of Outside Tokyo my English repeaters have just finished their first RPG. It has, at times, been immensely frustrating due to my own idealism. Surely everyone would love to attend an English course for university if it were structured as a Role-Playing Game! It does not quite work like that, and despite a large improvement in attendance, it appears that I am likely to have students who fail due to lack of work through non-attendance.

I am assessing the course based on participation and quality interaction in the lessons, as well as through a reflective portfolio where students analyse the problems in their roleplays and identify root causes and potential solutions.

However, those that came showed great positivity despite not feeling fond of communicating using English. This is my reward, after dreaming up scenarios, some richer than others, for my students to roleplay through and cast D20s upon.

I am assessing the course based on participation and quality interaction in the lessons, as well as through a reflective portfolio where students analyse the problems in their roleplays and identify root causes and potential solutions. This is done by using recordings to assist in recall. It is essentially cribbed and adapted from James York’s Kotoba Rollers framework. Mostly the portfolios are OK with flashes of brilliant insight. The last class today as used as a portfolio workshop for my students to complete their portfolios. As they worked, the appearance and reappearance of eureka expressions on their faces were my reward. And it is these eureka moments that I hope the students remember, rather than brightly-colored, odd-shaped dice.

Read Here be (Dungeons and) Dragons previous ‘chapters’: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Here Be (Dungeons and) Dragons: 7

Back to the Campaign

I’m not satisfied with the RPG courses at the moment but I can see what it is that I want. I want to be able to just put everything in place like I have five years experience of RPGs rather than feeling my way blind. 

So what would I do with all my unearned experience? Well, I think I would like to delegate some of the Dungeon Master responsibilities to the students. Learner Autonomy is a good thing. The only problem is only about a handful are capable of putting together a scenario and scoring. Because Japan is a groupist culture, this means I would run the risk of putting noses out of joint. 

Another thing that I hadn’t thought through properly is item functions. The class at UOT has won some items but LCST has had no items in the game, yet. I was considering using these items to fiddle the game and let conscientious learners get high scores but in all honesty all the students are conscientious enough to keep me happy. Still, a few things could make it more interesting. 

So what I am going to do is add items in the next few stages and have clear benefits to them. 

I will ask of anyone wants Dungeon Master homework. I might even make a tutorial video about using Google Slides, too. 

Read Here be (Dungeons and) Dragons previous ‘chapters’: 123456

Here be (Dungeons and) Dragons 5

The crap lesson

This week at LCST the task was to ask which metro station a sightseeing spot is near. Unfortunately the lesson wasn’t very good. The first steps of the task were very poor. It wasn’t helped by assuming students would be able to just ask where a foreign place is. The complexity of the task needed to be thought about first.

I suppose this needs to be key in task design. Perhaps a task design process should be considered. A preliminary idea is:

Task Design Process

  • Idea

  • What language functions are necessary?

  • What different skills are needed?

  • What is likely to occur?

  • What can be done to scaffold to enable best-case scenarios?

  • Review

  • Check what could go wrong at each step.

So, anyway, after a focus on form on questions and longer answers, I’d say the task was finally done well, but I’ll check over everything so far in next week’s review lesson.

Read Here be (Dungeons and) Dragons previous ‘chapters’: 1, 2, 3, 4

Read the future chapters 6

Here be (Dungeons and) Dragons 3

The Wrath of the Math

“Huh?”

“Your points are 2 for taking a taxi, plus 1 if you told the driver where exactly to let you out. Then roll the D4. Add courage points to the D4. Divide them by 5.”

I should have seen this coming. How often do you see any English for arithmetic in EFL materials? Never. How many of these ladies at Ladies’ College of Suburban Tokyo (LCST) have played RPGs before? None, so the D4 terminology from the first lesson went in one ear and out the other of some students.

Next time I will provide a little bit of Focus on Form on the arithmetic terms and hope that our dining role plays go well, because other than the maths, it was a good lesson.

Read Here be (Dungeons and) Dragons previous ‘chapters’: 1, 2

Read the future chapters 456

 

Here be (Dungeons and) Dragons 2


With last week’s descent into the ‘dungeon’ being somewhat gung-ho, this week was a wake-up call. The group at University Outside Tokyo (UOT) changed. Our one woman was absent along with two other male players. Perhaps this is what led to one player stepping over the line or testing the boundaries of what is and isn’t acceptable in the classroom.

Our game at UOT is based on interacting with a non-player character (NPC) who is a foreign exchange student. This week we took him sightseeing (with our female player absent only our male NPC was in play). Unfortunately three of the players decided that a good place would be a massage parlour.

There was part of me that was close to ranting and raving. However, I didn’t. Instead, I appealed to the group’s lack of impropriety and asked if this was acceptable to them. It wasn’t. We finished the game, and after the transcription stage I called bullshit. I pulled rank as both ‘Dungeon Master’ and classroom teacher. Yes, I played my ‘Don’t be a dick!’ and ‘I grade your work’ cards. Do I feel slightly uncomfortable setting boundaries with adults? Yes, actually. Am I glad I did it? Absolutely.

There is a public transport-themed game stage next lesson with this group. I don’t think this will provide opportunities for lewd outbursts.

Read Here be (Dungeons and) Dragons previous ‘chapters’: 1,

Read the future chapters 3456

Here be (Dungeons and) Dragons 1

First day back at A University Outside Tokyo today. All new courses as I decided to rewrite the one course that was the same.

Anyway, I have a course for repeating students. I requested this for the challenge and thought it would give me a chance to try new things to up motivation.

15-week role-playing game based roughly on a Dungeons & Dragons-type game mechanic? Based on welcoming an exchange student? Let’s enter the dungeon.

It’s very much a Role Playing course, with a minor game put in. It’s sort of a hybrid of Daniel Brown’s EFL RPGs and James York’s Kotoba Rollers framework. The students have (electronic) portfolios to submit, which should include audio recordings of role plays, transcriptions of part of that audio, vocabulary and grammar notes.

It’s just the first week but the students seem relatively enthusiastic, especially with the 20-sided, 10-sided and 4-sided dice.

The non-player characters (exchange students, parents, etc.) are not played by a Dungeon Master (teacher) but by the students and decided by values of dice rolls. There is a bit of task planning, task recording and task reflection, as well as focus on form reactively.

I still need to work in more about the strength, courage, observation and stamina points more clearly in my mind but at least it wasn’t rejected point blank.

Read Here be (Dungeons and) Dragons future’chapters’: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

 

“Are you seriously going to do that?”

I’ve been experimenting with board games in the classroom, sometimes in a bit of an impromptu way.

“Seriously, Marc? Aren’t you anti-game?

No, I’m not; I’m anti time wasting. I’m going to write a bit about things I’ve done with them below. Both, coincidentally, are by Oink Games. They are pocket sized, due to the boards being made up of chips. Both games require collaboration as well as competition, with shifts between both states. 

Troll

This is a game of guessing card values and ‘betting’ on the value in order to gain treasure. It’s simple and addictive. The game works by guessing the value of a Troll card only one player has seen and as a group being lower (or not being the individual or one of a couple of individuals that takes the total over the Troll card value) in order to win gems. 

I’ve played with children in small groups and in a big university class using teams, and this has tended to work well to encourage English use by penalising unnecessary Japanese use with a one-gem penalty. There’s a tendency to play risky but that’s the fun of the game. There’s negotiation among groups, as well as explanations of betting strategies. 

Deep Sea Adventure

This is Troll with movement and is difficult to win points from without a bit of restraint and cooperation. 

You go around the board as a diver collecting treasure but there’s an air ration, you only know the approximate value of the treasure and carrying it reduces your own movement and also reduces the air for everyone. Because of the game complexity, there is inbuilt need for communication, like “You can’t move five. You need to go back two because of your treasure.” or “you forgot to move the air meter.” My favourite utterances were a very ladylike “Oh, shit!” and “Are you seriously going to do that?” 

Never mind a deep sea adventure, it’s a deep adventure into stuff students never say to one another. 

Further reading

Rose Bard’s blog posts tagged with game-based learning.  

Japan Game Lab