Ongoing formative research and pilot testing has shaped the development of Wordplay Games and the extension activities. This work is focused on learning from the experiences of small groups of students and teachers to inform the further refinement of the games themselves.

During fall 2011, we conducted field tests of the games and related extension activities. The field test was our first opportunity to test the feasibility and utility of the games in school settings. We worked with five seventh-grade English language arts teachers in three schools in New York, New Jersey, and California. The research team prepared and supported these teachers, but asked them to take the lead in implementing the games with their students.

During the field tests, we observed approximately 400 students using the materials, administered assessments before and after gameplay, and reflected with the teachers about the relevance of the games to their instructional goals and the feasibility of using the games in the context of day-to-day instruction.
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We administered three assessments during the field test, all researcher-developed measures using familiar assessment formats. The assessments were designed to reveal:

Key findings from this field test include the following.

  1. Students, including many with very low literacy levels, were able to play the games and interact with their peers about the challenges posed by the games. Although teachers often needed help introducing students to the games and managing small-group play, the games worked as planned, fit logistically into the time available, and engaged students in sustained, focused play. Students played successfully in mixed-ability groups, and students with a wide range of literacy levels played effectively and took on leadership roles within their groups.
  2. All participating teachers expressed satisfaction with and excitement about the materials. Teachers recognized and understood the goals of the games, believed they addressed learning goals that were important to them and otherwise difficult to address, and believed that they saw evidence of impact of gameplay on their students’ word work in class during the following weeks.
  3. Students reported a significant increase in their knowledge of the words targeted in the games. With a maximum score of 175 indicating a student knew “all about” all 25 words, we observed an average score of 147 at pretest, 151 after students played Code Invaders, and a score of 155 after the full intervention—a statistically significant difference. We also found that, although special education students began at pretest with scores on average six points lower than their regular instruction peers, the groups were essentially equal at post-test.

In May 2012, we will field test the new version of Wordplay Games that includes subject-specific vocabulary and Web-based implementation models. From our previous field test we have seen that the games have value for students and teachers, but questions remain as to how best to integrate them into the classroom. We’re excited to be able to investigate both whole-class and small-group implementation models.