This is the story of a friend of mine, whom we’ll call Jane, discovering Bogglific and getting better at it.
Bogglific and How It Is Played
What’s Bogglific? It is an on line version of Boggle on the social networking site Facebook. It is a 4X4 or 5X5 grid in which random letters of the alphabet are displayed. The game is make words from the letters. To form a word the letters have to be next to each other. The player enters the word they see in a box and hits return after each word is entered. Players can elect to play with penalties for incorrect words or without. The players receive points for words which other players don’t get. There are two lengths of game – forty-five seconds or three minutes.
This is a case study of how learning occurs in a very simple situation. I think it shows some important things about how learning occurs – which I’ll talk about after I’ve told you the story of Jane learning Bogglific. She has become quite proficient by now. She has a large vocabulary and is a quick learner. She is also quite analytical: her changes in perception (which I set out below) came from analysing what better players did. From a couple of months ago as a complete beginner she now rates in the top 200 of over 5,000 players.
How Jane Learnt to Play Bogglific
Beginning. At first Jane approached Bogglific by looking at a letter and seeing what other letters were around it and if they formed words. In this way it was easy to find three and four letter words. As she got better at this she was able to find longer words.
First realisation. Groups of letters form many words. That is a group of letters such as a,t,e,s make up several words (seat, eats, sate, eat, ate, eta, sat). Once you see a group of letters there is no need to look for these words you just ‘know’ they are there and can enter them without thinking.
Next comes the seeing of different groups of letters. There are prefixes, (such as an- and re-) and suffixes (such as -ing and -er). There are also groups of letters within words (such as double letters). These different groups of letters can then be put together to form longer words.
Second realisation. It is possible to see the whole ‘board’ and look for the clusters of letters within it. That is the first look at the board is the whole – not searching it for particular groups of letters but seeing the whole array of letters and where the different clusters are.
Third realisation. This perception of the whole leads to the possibility of developing strategy. It means that Jane can decide what to focus on: lots of small words, longer words, or more unusual words. It may be possible to win with one obscure word if no one else gets it. Or it may be possible to win by having a great number of small words.
At this stage it is possible, with simpler games to do other things while playing, such as have a conversation that doesn’t involve much thinking. The playing has become at some level a routine or ‘habit’.
Bogglific also offers the option of playing solo. This offers the player the possibility of trying out different ideas and seeing the results without the distraction of other players. Jane used this to increase her ability to see groups of letters and especially to develop her ability to see the whole array at once.
At this stage other factors than perception become relevant, such as the speed of typing and knowing the other players (different players are better at different groups of letters) so this is where we’ll leave Jane’s learning.
What can we learn from this simple experience of one person?
Firstly progress is by jumps in perception. Jane didn’t work her way gradually from seeing letters next to other letters to seeing groups of letters. This perception changed in a flash. In one game she saw isolated letters in the next game groups of letters.
Secondly the growth in perception is growth in seeing patterns. From “one letter next to another forms a word” to “groups of letters mean several words” to “this array of the grid offers these groups of letters” to ” this array offers the possibilities for these kinds of strategies”. Each realisation lead to a more inclusive way of seeing. It was a better organisation of perception. It wasn’t just seeing more letters next to each other, it was seeing differently.
Thirdly it helps to have a place where there is less pressure to compete where it is possible to try out ideas and see the results.
Fourthly, it is possible to learn from others. Jane could see that other players were doing something she didn’t understand – she then set about watching what they did.
Applying this to learning.
Education is the learning of patterns. Drill has its uses – to speed up the routine, once the patterns are perceived. But without this perception of the patterns drill is literally meaningless.
In whatever you are learning look for the patterns.
In whatever you are teaching help the students perceive the patterns (not necessarily by telling what they are, but by assisting them to see them for themselves).
It will be helpful to have ways that the performance of the better practitioners can be analysed. So that students have a way of learning and aren’t just told to ‘hang around’ in the hopes that excellence will somehow ‘rub off on them’. This is a problem with many a mentoring program.
It is good to have a place to try out different ideas. At this point pressure to perform will be counterproductive. The fad for frequent testing in education is very dangerous. People need the space just to play and tinker – to see what happens when they do something and if that doesn’t happen then to try something else.
Is Jane’s experience the same as yours? I’d love to hear about the good and bad learning experiences that you have had.