Failure or Scaffolding to Mastery


An assignment  that a student fails to understand is marked with a grade that is averaged or used to report on the student’s achievement level.


Failure to successfully complete a task in a game is typically followed by an opportunity to try again. A game player may fail multiple times, eventually mastering the task.

Educators assess  learning  in a variety of ways including observation of behaviors/skill demonstration, artifact production, portfolio development, and testing.  We establish grades, inform parents and students, and record grades in a permanent record.  There is lively debate on assessment (particularly the bubble sheet, state-wide, multiple choice, high stakes tests) being used and whether or not these assessments are truly a measure of student achievement.   Alternative means (portfolios, observations, artifacts, anecdotal records) are difficult to quantify and standardize, but seem a better indication of a student’s abilities and knowledge acquisition.  Ultimately we need to consider the objective, is it to report on student levels or  to inform instruction?

Game-based learning looks at making mistakes and achieving mastery in a different way.   The making of mistakes and intermittent “failure” is built into the game to scaffold learning and contribute to eventual mastery.  A player then  analyzes, discusses, researches, and then  gets a “redo” based n the information.  The goal is mastery.

Game-based teaching has other attributes besides how games deal with mistakes, but it is the failure/mistake attribute that is particularly in conflict  with traditional school methodology that rates and fails students rather than using mistakes to learn.   If we believe that all children can learn, a more viable way to teach could be through the use of  this particular game mechanic.

2 comments on “Failure or Scaffolding to Mastery

  1. True that outcomes are programmed but there are multiple ways of getting there. Have you participated in game play yourself? I invite you to come play with a group of educators in World of Warcraft. Virtual environments that are of a sandbox genre (Minecraft or Opensim locations) have a more open environment but you end up having to create a structure within which objectives can be met and outcomes measured. Each has specific features that are distinct and i would recommend the use of both.

  2. Have to admit I’m on the fence with gaming. For sure I see the engagement piece, and the scaffolding benefits. One concern is that a gaming storyline, unless i’m wrong, while having many off-roads, has only one “correct” outcome. Perseverance and problems solving is needed to get to the end, for sure, but is it too linear to foster divergent thinking? I am very infested in the possibilities.

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