Running With Class – GM as Facilitator

Hello there. My name is Tracy, and you might remember me. or maybe not. It’s been a while since I’ve posted. Kinda shameful for one half of the duo that runs this place. Well, I do have a valid excuse, and it feeds directly into the topic at hand: I started student teaching.

As I said in my initial post about this article series,, I’m studying to be a teacher, and the last step of that process is, well, actually teaching. As you might imagine, that has done two things for me.

1. It made me busy enough that, sadly, writing posts for TiMG became secondary to things like recovering from the day’s exertions.


2. It has given me a lotto think about in regards to the whole teaching/GMing thing that this series is about.

Facilitate. What the what does that even mean?

Well, Webster’s Dictionary defines facilitating as… Wait. Did you really think that I was going for the “dictionary definition as intro” bit? I did tell you that I’m going to be an English teacher, right? That doesn’t fly in my classroom, nor my writing. What facilitation means to me is this: doing whatever it is that I need to do to engage students in learning. If that means direct lecture, study guides, group discussion, scaffolded lessons that are differentiated nine ways to next Sunday, or any combination of those items, among others, I will try to do it.

As a GM, things flow a little differently. You’re not really teaching unless you’re helping someone learn the rules to a new game, or leading by example. For GMs, facilitating means this: get the group to the goods, and bypass the junk. In other words:

Get to the Fun

The above words are a mantra that I have tried hard to adopt. I love to talk (as if my writing weren’t an active indicator of that), and I love exposition. Problem is, exposition is just as likely to bore the players to tears as it is to actually serve in setting up a scene. Too much front-loading is a bad thing.

The same is true in teaching. I subscribe to a philosophy called Constructivism, and one the principal ideas behind it is something called the Zone of Proximal Development, or ZDP. Here’s a wikipedia entry for the idea. The basic concept is this: you want students to work in a mental space where they can work to learn on their own. You do that by setting them up for success. You scaffold information (giving them the groundwork they need to explore the topic), then step back to let them work. You step back in to re-scaffold when they reach the point at which they can no longer work constructively by themselves, and that point can be different for every student and topic.

In gaming, the term needs to be changed. Something like the Zone of Proximal Empowerment might work. As a GM, you need to get your players to the point where they feel empowered to let their characters’ thoughts, agendas, emotions, and struggles take canter-stage. If you can do that by letting the players sit back and just role-play, engaging with the world and your NPCs, so much the better. Those are my favorite moments in a game. I see my group working with what I’ve given them, and I lean back, smiling.

Now, like all of my analogies in this series, this isn’t perfect. But, the point is this: as a GM, you need to work to make sure your group is empowered to have the most fun that they can have while still maintaining control over your game. It’s a fine line to walk in both the classroom, and at the gaming table. But in those moments where it work? Magic happens.

I’m Tracy Barnett, and This is My Game

Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. Unrelenting font of ideas, both good and bad. Co-owner of Exploding Rogue Studios, and on Twitter as TheOtherTracy.

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About TheOtherTracy

Unrelenting font of ideas, both good and bad. Co-owner of Exploding Rogue Studios, and on Twitter as TheOtherTracy.
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3 Responses

  1. Interesting advice and view points.
    One commentary though, as an English teacher you are against opening on a common footing of defining a term by using standard definitions from a recognized source as opposed to an opinion? Then later you prefer to link to some one else’s opinion with cited sources rather then provide a summation? By your own words this is what flies in your classroom?
    Other than that little nit pick, I greatly value the point to get to the fun and avoid front loading the session like an over blown lecture.

    • Axe: Thanks for the comment! In regards to the dictionary definition, I think it’s a horribly weak way to start a paper, and is one that bespeaks a real lack of original thought from the writer. I would never recommend someone begin in that manner. Beyond that, I thought it might be a funny bit of teacher-humor.

      As for the linking to the article on ZDP, I hadn’t really equated the two things within the context of this article. Since it’s an editorial piece, and since I meant the dictionary thing as a bit of a joke, I was cool with linking to what is honestly considered an unreliable source. If it had been an academic paper, you can bet your sweet boots I’d have gotten a better source. =)

  2. Congrats on the teaching. Great profession to be in! I love it. Good luck with the rest of it.

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