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Can (Role-) Playing the French Revolution En Français Also Teach the Eighteenth Century?

Peggy Schaller

Introduction | Changing the Game with a Game | Roles | Readings | Rules | Results | Post-Mortem

My Own Post-Mortem

The premise of this game was a lofty one, replete with great expectations of a highly advanced and engaging learning environment in which students would take charge and excel. In many ways, this was in fact the result. In spite of a rough beginning, students eventually settled into the game and ended the semester feeling positive about the learning experience and the progress that they had made both in language and in knowledge of the period. That progress was assessable using three distinct methods: the personal observation data and group survey responses already outlined above, and the more traditional final written exam.

The final covered the last third of the class and so referred only to the Enlightenment and the revolutionary periods. Having gone through the agony and elation of the game for four weeks, a written test almost felt like unnecessary punishment. Yet the need to summarize all of the socio / historical knowledge in order to reinforce and retain it was a driving factor in keeping this final challenge on the schedule.

The exam was broken down into three sections: Les Philosophes, La Révolution, La Réflexion. The first two parts consisted of multiple-choice questions designed to test general knowledge of time periods, significant dates and publications like the Encyclopédie, and the public intellectuals who drove these events. Section three consisted of five essay questions that required the students to present their perspective on specific subjects, using historical facts to support their arguments. Their answers responded to my often-repeated objective of having students use the historical context to formulate their own points of view on the class material. All five questions related the characters that students had played during the game to the socio-political topic of discussion and thus served as a final step in guiding students to be as engaged as possible in the work they were studying. For the most part, they rose to the challenge of defining their closest allies, their most influential political sources, and their most noteworthy accomplishments for the fledgling republic with thoughtfulness and thoroughness. Their comprehension was the most positive affirmation for a project whose outcome was uncertain at best when it first began.

In the end, the game was the culmination of many extra hours of reflection, preparation, deliberation, and determination on the part of the students and myself. My favorite student commentary actually came after the semester ended and students had time to digest the overall experience. Although it includes comments that overly state my role in the process (indeed, they actually did the reading, assimilation and arguing of the philosophic texts prior to and during the game play), it sums up the student experience in a way that touched and surprised me. It also validated my choice to use the game in C&C again this fall. It reads:

It really dawned on me while I was sitting in class yesterday how much I have not only learned about the French Revolution, but how much I enjoy talking about it after taking your class. The frustrations of the game certainly made me dislike the subject at times, but I really feel as if you did a great job explaining the role of the philosophes during the Enlightenment, and how their ideals brought about the Revolution. I just wanted to send you an email saying thank you for fighting through the chaos with us and I really can't believe how much I learned! 12

Ah, ça ira indeed!

Georgia College & State University

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