Angry Birds – Part 2: Instruction

cc licensed flickr photo shared by kengo

I’m leery of writing another Angry Bird post, but while the concept is on my mind I thought I’d better follow through. It has been humbling to know that my first Angry Bird post reached a wide audience. Others have said blogging will change your life. I’m starting to realize what they mean! If someone would have told me a year ago I’d actually enjoy publishing my thoughts consistently through writing, I would not have believed them! Now, I feel blessed to share my thoughts with the world around me. I may never know exactly who my words reach, but I’ve been assured that others have found ideas or motivation through my posts.

So, what more can I share about Angry Birds?

How can this game be tied to instruction?

First of all, during the last week, I’ve found Angry Birds to be a great conversation starter with students!   I’ve received many tips from the fifth graders I’m currently working with one day a week. Their reaction to learning that I even knew of the game was priceless!  By validating an interest of theirs, connections have been made. Relationship building with students is essential. Once students know you truly care about them, the learning can take place!

“People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” – John Maxwell

In my last blog, I related playing the game Angry Birds to Assessment FOR Learning. I’m noticing other correlations to educational practices as well. As I increase in levels, I’m finding that I need more explicit instruction. No longer can I just fling a few birds out of a slingshot and simply destroy the little pigs based on luck. The pigs are nesting in much stronger structures. Rather than attempted the same level time after time, I’ve resorted to learning from others.

I’ve found videos on YouTube, like the one at the end of my last post, to be very helpful. The presenter (Jason) describes in detail the arch a bird needs to take and where it should hit for maximum impact. After viewing a few times and giving the suggestions a try, I’ve been able to feel a sense of accomplishment by moving to the next level. The explicit instructions have unlocked the “secrets” of specific levels leading to my success in overcoming challenging levels.

I’m not a video game expert. You can probably say I have difficulty with the concepts, yet I wouldn’t go so far to say I have a video game disability. In order to increase my skills, the explicit instruction in the videos (or from students) has been the key to my success. If I had only used the game to monitor my progress, I’d continue to be stuck. I wouldn’t be showing any progress. I would be feeling self-defeated.

Unlocking “secrets” to learning reminds me of the work of Dr. Gerald Duffy, author of Explaining Reading. I’ve been fortunate to have learned from Dr. Duffy in person on several occasions as he worked with the Iowa Department of Education and the Sioux City Community Schools.

The premise of his book is to help “to create people who DO read, and do so strategically, fluently, and enthusiastically.” (Duffy via presentation in Iowa) Students need to be taught to think when they read so they can access information and learn, understand and remember what they read. The strategies they need are a means to the end, not an end in themselves.

From: http://www.literacyleader.com/?q=node/477

His work follows the gradual release of responsibility model, like that of many others. (Vygotsky, Pearson and Gallagher, Fisher and Frey, etc..). Not only does he guide educators to understand the model of “I do, We do, You do” he helps break down key strategies revealing the “secrets” to successfully engaging in them. In order for the reader to grasp an understanding of “secrets” Duffy provides a few examples outside of the field of teaching on page 44 of Explaining Reading (1st Edition).

  • “A golf instructor teaches neophyte golfers the “secrets” to striking the ball correctly.”
  • “A flight instructor teaches neophyte pilots the “secrets” to navigating an airplane under instrument conditions.”
  • And my own … An Angry Bird expert teaches neophyte gamers the “secrets” to completing challenging levels.

Dr. Duffy goes on share with his readers that the concept of reading also has its own set of “secrets.” These “secrets” do differ from person to person, but by clearly modeling these “secrets” for students and then allowing them the opportunity to gradually gain control of the “secret” is an effective teaching approach, especially for struggling readers.

Duffy also explains that “good readers often figure out the secrets for themselves, but this does not always happen for struggling readers. Reading remains a mystery for them. Directing them to the “secret” minimizes that problem. Given explicit information, they are able to adjust what we say to their own way of thinking and put it to work in reading real text.” (p. 44 of Explaining Reading 1st Edition)

An example of one of these secrets can also be found on page 44 of Explaining Reading.

  • “The secret to making predictions as one begins to read is to combine clues the author provides with your previous experience to guess what is going to happen. The reader says, in effect ‘I’ve had experience with this topic, so, given what my experience is, what is likely to happen next here?’ “

The book, Explaining Reading, available now in a 2nd edition provides examples of a variety of “secrets” and an explanation of the gradual release of responsibility in the areas of vocabulary, comprehension, word recognition, and fluency.

Part of my job as an instructional coach is to problem solve with teachers when they have students that are experiencing difficulty in a specific academic or behavioral area. Together we need to determine what “secrets” the struggling learners may be missing, set up opportunities for explicit instruction with the gradual release of responsibility and monitor progress along the way. Our goal as educators is to provide students the opportunity to “unlock” one level to advance to another, and another, and another! We can’t allow them to become stuck and self-defeated.


  • Aviva (@grade1) 20 Feb

    Another great post, Kathy! I especially love the last paragraph, and even more so, the last sentence. You really show the importance in educators doing all they can to make sure that ALL students are successful: something I think is incredibly important.


    • Kathy Perret 21 Feb

      Thanks, Aviva. Your comments and feedback are much appreciated. I’m happy that my last paragraph resonated with you. It is incredibly important to set our sights on ALL students’ successes!

  • pharesr 20 Feb

    You continue to amaze me.
    I love this “Angry Birds” analogy. I am thinking how much fun it would be to have an in- service with this as the theme. I would have Angry Birds set up on a big screen and audience members playing 15 to 30 minutes before they come in and allow them to continue to play for the first 5 to 10 minutes. (You could also encourage audience members with ipads and smartphones playing.) Then, WHAM-O, hit them with your analogies.

    You, my cyber friend, could go on the road!
    P.S. If you need a techie road manager, let me know. 🙂

    Seriously, this is fantastic blogging!

    • Kathy Perret 21 Feb

      Thanks! Maybe you are on to something with this “road show.” Thanks for you kind words. Being somewhat new to the blogging world, I still am a reluctant writer. It is nice to hear I’m hitting the mark.


  • aquarium lighting 2 Mar

    I do not even know how I ended up here, but I thought this
    post was good. I don’t know who you are but definitely you are going to a famous blogger if you aren’t already 😉 Cheers!

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