Common Core | Features

Using Games to Promote Evidence-Based Learning

Ashlee CornettFor educators around the country, teaching to new Common Core or state standards has meant a lot of work. For one Florida librarian, it has also meant a lot of play.

Ashlee Cornett (pictured), who teaches at Parkway Middle School in Osceola County, uses the game-show style platform Cranium CoRE to encourage her students not just to answer questions about what they have read, but also to discuss why their answer is correct.

Cornett, who used Cranium CoRE at two previous schools before she came to Parkway, said that the online platform is "a nice break from the paper and pencil model, and the kids like it because they work in teams and they think they're playing a game."

Each of Cornett’s lesson starts with her using Cranium CoRE to write questions about a chapter of assigned reading. Games don't have to cover a single chapter, but Cornett has found that limiting the reading allows students to pay more attention to detail. In class, she encourages teams to have the book in front of them so that they can look up answers and offer evidence to support them.

To get the game going, Cornett projects her questions onto an interactive whiteboard. Osceola is a BYOD county, so students generally submit answers through their own mobile devices, but the platform can also accept answers through computers or the company's own clickers. Once teams send an answer, they get immediate feedback about whether they are right.

While Cranium CoRE feels like a game show, it's not all about who can answer faster. In a video on the company's website, founder Andy Larson calls his subscription-based platform "scrimmaging for language arts" because "it's a game-type situation with no pressure." In fact, the game gives all teams a set number of seconds and three attempts to answer each question correctly.

In Cornett’s class, every answer is followed by discussion of why that answer was or wasn't right. She said that the most important moments of the game are not giving correct answers, but rather "going back into the text and finding the truth." 

After playing the game, Cornett commented, her students have learned to pay close attention to what they’re reading. “They're more attentive when they're reading, and are making connections about how this character works with that character," she said. Cornett has also used the game to train students for Battle of the Books, a countywide competition about knowledge of literature. Whether they are preparing for a test or the Battle of the Books, Cornett said that her students have always been good at expressing opinions, but the game pushes them to be more concrete. "You can't say, ‘I felt like…’ You have to have evidence."

Connecting Games With Standards

Having fun in class is all well and good, but Cornett, like most teachers, is under constant pressure to provide assessment data and to connect what she is teaching to various new standards. Cornett said that Cranium CoRE provides “more of a formative than a summative assessment,” and that its major benefit is supporting evidence-based learning, which is especially powerful in a school where students come from a variety of backgrounds. “Evidence-based learning levels the playing field because everyone is working from a text, not their past experience,” she said.

When it comes to teaching to the Florida State Standards, which she described as "basically the same as Common Core," Cornett is particularly well-qualified. Two summers ago, she worked for the Florida Department of Education, teaching the K-2 Common Core strand to teachers. This included breaking down the standards and building lessons plans that incorporated formative and summative assessments, higher-order thinking and, yes, evidence-based questions.

In her own schools, Cornett has used the game to help teachers create richer questions for their classes. "My teachers are getting better at writing evidence-based questions,” she said. “They've gotten deeper into the questioning."

Cornett said that her biggest "a-ha" moment about the power of gaming to teach higher-order thinking was when she assigned a picture book called Three Days Gone to a group of fourth graders. Their teacher thought the book was too easy for them, but the Cranium CoRE questions that Cornett came up with "were very high-level,” she remembered. “The teacher was really impressed with how much the students got out of it.”

About the Author

Christopher Piehler is the former editor-in-chief of THE Journal.