Making Differences Ordinary With Minecraft

Minecraft Group 3 Day 1
Last week I read a post “Making Differences Ordinary” by Leah Andrews that really resonated with me.  In it, she wrote

For many students with learning difficulties, we know two things: routines are critical for them to be successful, and it is often difficult for them to develop meaningful relationships.  When we ask students to go in and out of the classroom for various interventions, this disrupts the students’ routines.   It also makes it more difficult for these students to develop meaningful relationships with their peers and their classroom teacher when they are being pulled in and out of the classroom setting. Do these unintended consequences outweigh the benefits of a pull-out intervention? Is there another way?

Leah talks about the unintended consequences of pull-out interventions during class times and the importance of student routines, and I agree completely.  However, there is one major school routine called recess that can be a huge obstacle for some students, especially those already dealing with learning difficulties. For these students, developing positive relationships is a challenge, one that is made even more so in the unstructured setting of the outside playground.  Others need to know that their relationships are real and based on meaningful activities, not just babysitting.  I work diligently to create a safe classroom community that includes all learners but then the bell rings – and for some stepping outside of the room for recess can be that pull-out with unintended consequences.

I was fortunate to work for several years with the very wise Susan Weisenburger who created a recess Friendship Club in her office for just those reasons.  Students who experienced difficulties on the playground were able to have their break with her and bring a friend. They played games, Legos or just sat and visited.  I loved walking by the room and hearing the hum of happy voices and seeing smiles on their faces.

I want to recreate that experience of growth and positivity that can come from a smaller scale, safe recess setting. In my class there are students who need help establishing positive friendships, and others who would benefit from participating in meaningful activities. I am using Minecraft to provide a safe setting and establish common interests as the beginning of friendships and building positive relationship skills.

I know that having meaningful connections and relationships with peers is a critical factor in student success at school.  Just as I plan provocations and activities to build reading skills, I also need to provide strategies and scaffolds for students to assist in relationship building.  This year I can use the Minecraft club for students as a means to do so. For a student with limited mobility, outdoor recess is a challenge.  Providing the opportunity to remain inside with friends is necessary, but so is the need to ensure that they are engaged in activities which allow all equal opportunities.  Playing Minecraft does just that.  All the students are very invested in creating the world.  The focus shifts from staying inside at recess to the conversations and discussions about the requirements of their world. When this is in the forefront, individual differences fade to the background.

Leah asks “How do we continue to strive to make differences ordinary in the everyday classroom? ” I am excited about using Minecraft as a tool to do exactly that!


3 thoughts on “Making Differences Ordinary With Minecraft

  1. championsforwellness

    I just came across your blog after following you on twitter. I have a child who would have absolutely benefited from some targeted positive peer relationship activities such as the ones you describe in this post! Too often the strategy employed with our son was “get outside and learn how to deal with it”, as if those skills would just come naturally…which they never did. So I applaud you and thank you for creating a safe, welcoming and positive environment for the kids who need it.

    Karen (@KarenCopeland3)

    1. kelliholden Post author

      Oh, Karen, that makes my heart ache. So many of our kids just need a little extra help and then they are off. In this case, after 3 weeks I asked my student if he was coming to Minecraft club, and he told me no, he wanted to play with his friends! It was a wonderful feeling – all he needed was a safe place to start building the relationships. A very small thing, but it really set the tone for a very different, positive year for him. I hope that your son found his place too. Thank you for sharing your story, I will remember it as we move ahead this year and be sure to look out for those kids who need it.

      1. championsforwellness

        When our son was in grade four, we were blessed with a teacher who went out of his way to create connections for him. He shared with me later that his Masters thesis was on how teachers have the ability to make a difference by supporting peer relationship development, but not everyone takes the time to do this. He retired at the end of that school year, but he still emails and checks in from time to time. He created the space for my son to be included and involved in his classroom. It was beautiful for all of us, in so many ways. We homeschool now (he’s going into grade 8) but I am hopeful we can get back into bricks and mortar for grade nine.

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