Unlocking Hidden Potential You (Might’ve) Never Thought Your Students Had

Guest Post by Caleb Gillis

Our schools are old. Not always the buildings themselves, but the education system which they run on. The old education system was developed during the Industrial Revolution over 150 years ago, where it was used to prepare low and middle class children to work in manual labour jobs such as in factories. We have come a long way since then technologically and industrially speaking, and yet the way things are taught hasn’t changed very much.

Boys and girls at the same age are put in the same classroom even though we know they develop at different rates. Students learn differently through visual, auditory, and kinesthetic senses, yet it is still typically a teacher speaking in front of a group of 20-30 students lined up behind desks, who need to take notes and regurgitate the information in an essay or test. Many students cannot sit still at a desk because their brains do not process information or work best that way.  Despite this knowledge the education system is still constructed in a way that forces them to learn in this manner or even worse, send them out of the class for misbehaviour.

Now I know that not every classroom does these things, but why is it still the only option for most?

How do we change that?

What if I told you, that those students who are struggling and misbehaving in your classroom are geniuses? Perhaps you knew that already, but are still figuring out how to unlock it. The answer is to not teach them how you usually do. These students need something different to focus on, something to motivate them. Those students that cannot sit behind a desk have a need to move around and make use of their energy in activities that require them to move while learning at the same time. For example, need to learn measurement? Have them go outside and measure the perimeter of the school.

However, I understand that this is not feasible in your particular setting because you have 29 other students to worry about, which is why I am suggesting that classes should be specialized so that the methods you are using to teach work for all of your students. Some groups benefit in using art, others with music, and another group with video games, which is where I benefited from.

I speak from experience

To give you some background from my life, I was originally diagnosed with low-functioning autism and global development delay at the age of two. The doctors that diagnosed me at the time informed my parents that I would never learn how to drive, graduate from school, live on my own, or have a meaningful life career. I grew up in the public schools of the Ontario education system and with the way things were taught (a teacher lectures about concepts and students repeat this ‘taught’ information in a test), I wasn’t getting anywhere. I wasn’t getting anywhere because I couldn’t speak or understand what others were saying and my auditory processing was delayed to the point that listening to verbal information was practically impossible.

From grades 1-5, I had an Educational Assistant that was with me everyday teaching me what I needed to learn. During my grade 1 year at the age of 5, my family received a Nintendo 64 (N64) for Christmas and while my father and brother (age 8) were playing Mario Kart 64, a racing game, I asked to try it (mind you, before I hardly spoke) and not only did I learn to play it, I beat both of them in the first race. My parents shared this with my EA, who told them to have me keep playing video games. Over the next couple years, I continued to play on the N64 and games such as Super Mario 64, Pokemon, and most notable, the Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time. What my parents and EA noticed was that through playing these games, I was more focused and vocal. These games I played became a conduit to the real world, getting me to think, problem solve, read, and strategize. My EA took this focus I gained from video games and taught me curriculum concepts by utilizing my visual-kinesthetic senses. An example of this was during one of our tutoring sessions in the summer time after I finished grade 2 (we met twice a week), she brought in some oranges and apples. She then carved equal pieces from them and having me touch them, asked me to take some away, then bring them back, make groupings, add more fruit onto the table. After one hour, I learned adding, subtracting, multiplication, division, and basic fractions. Successes like this continued throughout my time in elementary school, even after moving schools and leaving my EA who helped me reach this far.

Even after moving schools and not having that same EA around to help me, I continued to play video games, sticking to ones that I found that worked my brain but were fun at the same time. The building stimulation and the lessons that my EA taught me allowed me to be able to take more initiative and teach myself in class. By the time I reached high school at La Salle Secondary school, my grades were among the top in my classes. Eventually I discovered the passion for teaching in myself, and applied to Queen’s University to become an educator. I am sharing this story to you because I was considered a lost cause before I could even speak. It was through the determination of my family, my EA and their teaching methods that I was able to become far more than anyone thought I could be. I want to use my experience and skills as a budding educator to reach out to those “lost causes”, many of which who would benefit from video games as their gateway to education.