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...there is something very authoritative about competitive games, or at least the exclusive reliance on competitive ways of structuring games. An almost religious adherence to the rules fosters the notion that there is always just one right way to interact. This is what destroys play. Kids don't play competitive games; they obey them.(1)
Spencer Kagan
To create is to construct, and to construct co-operatively is to lay the foundation of a peaceful community.(2)
Sir Herbert Reed

Teaching is an intra-personal activity. When we teach we share something of who we are. It is our own involvement and passion that will create the atmosphere conducive to learning. That means remaining comfortable, relaxed and confident. But then what about experimentation and risk taking. We can learn to feel comfortable and relaxed when we take risks! And it's important that we do so. Learning is about changing. Changing involves a degree of risk taking. By being comfortable with our own risk-taking we can demonstrate to the students that it's OK to learn. By revealing and revelling in our own 'glorious failures' we can lead the students to take risks and to make changes. We can lead them into learning. This is why co-operative games and activities are so important. They can help create a 'safe' place. The focus is on the process. With competitive games the goal is winning. With non-competitive games the goal is the process itself. This encourages exploration which ultimately leads to deeper understanding and learning.

Co-operative games encourage imagination and exploration. Because the play is the end in itself it is appropriate to modify the rules to suit the circumstances. It is important to remember that co-operative games do have structure. But the structure encourages players to work together rather than against each other.

Games involve interaction. When players need to beat each other in order to win the interaction is negative. All competitive games involve negative interaction. A team may use positive interaction within the team but negative interaction to beat another team.

Within sport it can be argued that teams competing against each other have agreed to do so. In other words they co-operate to create and participate in a competitive structure. They agree to interact negatively. But the situation comes from choice. Forcing children to engage in competitive games is a form of abuse.

Learning is joyful when it is intrinsically successful. I define success as the ability to overcome challenges. I define intrinsic as something within, something which springs from self. The euphoria of overcoming an extrinsic challenge is short lived. Self may be moved, but remains unchanged. Victory in a competitive game is extrinsic. Defeat awaits. The focus is on the result. This means that in competitive language games the language is only valuable for the result it brings. Like the cramming for a test the language can be forgotten after the results are in. There is no reason to transfer the language into daily use or incorporate it into one's identity. The language remains at the level of subject material. Language may be acquired but the process is inefficient.

So when designing games for language learning think about the nature of the challenge. Is the challenge within the structure of the game or does it come from beating the other players? Similarly the art of changing a competitive game into a non-competitive one is to replace the negative interaction with challenges within the structure of the game.

Spencer Kagan (1994) Co-operative Learning (p23:2) Kagan

Terry Orlick (1982) The Second Co-operative Sports & Games Book (p5) Pantheon

October 2001

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