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Writing as a Minecrafter: Exploring How Children Blur Worlds of Play in the Elementary English Language Arts Classroom

by Cassie J. Brownell - 2021

Background/Context: Educators have considered how Minecraft supports language and literacy practices in the game and in the spaces and circumstances immediately surrounding gameplay. However, it is still necessary to develop additional conceptualizations of how children and youth’s online and offline worlds and experiences are blurred by and through the games. In this study, I take up this call and examine how the boundaries of the digital were blurred by one child as he wrote in response to a standardized writing prompt within his urban fourth-grade classroom.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: Through snapshots of Jairo’s writing, I illuminate how he muddled the lines between his physical play experiences and those he had in the virtual world of Minecraft. In doing so, I argue that he carried over his personal interest as a fan of Minecraft into the writing curriculum through creative language play. As Jairo “borrowed” his physical play experiences in the virtual world of Minecraft to complete an assigned writing task, he exemplified how children blur playworlds of physical and digital play in the elementary ELA classroom.

Research Design: Drawing on data generated in an 18-week case study, I examine how one child, Jairo, playfully incorporated his lived experiences in the virtual world of Minecraft into mandated writing tasks.

Conclusions/Recommendations: My examination of his writing is meant to challenge writing scholars, scholars of play, and those engaged in rethinking media’s relation to literacy. I encourage a rethinking of what it means for adults to maintain clear lines of what is digital play and what is not. I suggest adults might have too heavy a hand in bringing play into classrooms. Children already have experiences with play—both physical and digital. We must cultivate a space for children to build on what was previously familiar to them by offering scaffolds to bridge these experiences between what we, as adults, understand as binaries. Children do not necessarily see distinctions between “reality” and play worlds, or between digital and physical play. For children, play worlds and digital worlds are perhaps simply worlds; it is we as adults who harbor a desire for clear boundaries.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 123 Number 3, 2021, p. -
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23622, Date Accessed: 7/24/2021 5:34:24 PM

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About the Author
  • Cassie J. Brownell
    University of Toronto
    E-mail Author
    CASSIE J. BROWNELL, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in curriculum, teaching, and learning within the Ontario Institute for Education at the University of Toronto. Brownell’s scholarship focuses on children’s cultural practices in classroom spaces, with special attention to how children use play, concrete media, and digital tools to compose. Additionally, she has explored how children, youth, and teachers can use sound as a tool for writing with and through communities. Brownell’s research has appeared in Language Arts, The Reading Teacher, English Teaching: Practice & Critique, Multicultural Education Review, and The Journal of Curriculum and Pedagogy.
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