Let the Games Begin: Putting Research into Practice
Jill Fedele and Sarah Golden, Coordinators of Language Arts

At The Windward School, reading is taught with a strong emphasis on language competence, skill development, and cognitive strategy. Windward’s curriculum, which includes multisensory, direct instruction that integrates spelling, handwriting, and components of reading such as phonemic awareness, accuracy, and fluency into cohesive and carefully sequenced lessons is based on the latest evidence-based research including that of the National Reading Panel (2000), the largest and most comprehensive research study on reading to date.  

In order for children, especially those with language-based learning disabilities, to generalize new learning to various contexts, research has demonstrated the importance of providing multiple and varied opportunities to practice newly acquired skills in exciting and engaging ways, which can be achieved through game play. According to Moats (1998), “Instruction in component skills, practice applying those skills in controlled texts, and reinforcement in games and workshops is balanced with listening to and reading literature of all kinds.” Using games in the classroom for the acquisition, reinforcement, and generalization of skills is critical as “multimodal teaching may be necessary to help students with reading disability integrate information across sensory input modalities and link these modalities with motor output and internal language systems (Berninger & Wolf, 2016). The National Reading Panel’s report on phonics and literacy, published in 2000, further supports the importance of games, emphasizing the need to keep children motivated for successful acquisition of decoding skills. Finally, research has shown that “Effective teachers provide varied, meaningful practice to ensure student mastery and transfer of a skill to other meaningful reading situations” (Villaume & Brabham, 2003 as cited in Rupley, Blair & Nichols, 2009).  

At Windward, games are incorporated into instruction either as a standalone reinforcement lesson, or as part of a spelling or reading lesson. In the lower grades, students enjoy playing games such as popcorn, waterfall, or volley, that promote tracking and attention while engaging in multiple readings of the wordlist. Teachers also play games with students that incorporate both encoding and decoding components like WORD-O, a game similar to BINGO in which students fill out their own board before playing the game, and Roller, where students roll a die to determine the number of points they will receive if they spell a dictated word correctly on the first try. If a student spells the word incorrectly, the teacher scaffolds until the student spells the word accurately, and the child receives half the points value of their roll. In addition to providing guided practice in applying a target skill to the spelling of words, Roller also reinforces math concepts of single digit addition and division. In the activity Monster Munch, teachers use interactive white board technology to motivate students during reinforcement exercises using specific target skill. While playing Monster Munch, students drag words into the monster’s mouth. Words containing the target skill are “eaten” by the monster, while words that do not contain the target skill are spit back out. 

In the upper grades, once students have been introduced to concepts of morphology, teachers add additional engaging and interactive games to their repertoire. While playing Morpheme Matrix and Word Creator, students use and combine roots, prefixes, and suffixes to generate multisyllabic words. An example of a reinforcement lesson for the middle school grades is a trivia game like Jeopardy in which students must utilize the meaning of morphological components to accurately respond to questions and accrue points for their team.  

The direct connection between the use of reinforcement games in the acquisition and internalization of encoding and decoding skills is well documented and these activities are certainly enjoyed by all members of the Windward community. Let the games begin!