When, at New Teacher Orientation, my mentor told me my team members would be doing these things, I tried my best to hide my hesitation. High school students using sticker charts and badges to track to their progress? Isn't that going backwards. They aren't kindergartners. A smiley sticker isn't motivational. Or, is it?
My first quarter teaching English in an alternative education school, students showed me that those stickers are everything to them. They earned them. They were badges that marked just how much closer the student was to graduating. The visual and tangible sign was far more motivating than simply saying: you have credits you need to catch up, you have required classes that you still need, you are ___ classes behind, you are at risk of not graduating this year. The sticker chart gave evidence to exactly what the student achieved and how much more they needed to complete a grade level and earn credit to graduate with a high school diploma. By busing this badge system, which is on display, students engaged more with their education progress and motivated each other as well.
When I read this month's articles, I had a "duh" moment when I realized that educators have been using this same system for assessing student progress, especially in writing. This "gamification" concept is yet another new idea that I will try to implement more in my own classroom.
Gamification: the use of game design and mechanics to enhance non-game context (Suzanne 2013). So, this original definition made me scrunch my nose is disapproval. Do we really need to turn everything into a fun game or iPad app? But, with further exploration in the readings, I began to understand gamification to be so much more than another grammar game.
According to Mascle (2014), "gamification supports learning by motivating and engaging students and it supports writing development. And there is something about gamification that encourages community and collaboration that a traditional grading structure does not." If I can use this in my classroom to get students more engaged with the course work as well as with each other, then I'm in. I've already at least offered collaboration via technology- like I've mentioned in previous posts, my students are all working on different assignments from different English sections at the same time. But, the engagement isn't where I'd like it to be. Now I'm considering ways I could implement badges for progress and encourage more engagement- especially when they take feedback and make changes based on that, or when they offer substantial and thought out feedback.
It was a relief to read Suzanne's points about the "regression" and "Kindergarten Stickers" perspective- like the one I initially had when introduced to this concept- and how it's working for Khan Academy and Oklahoma State College (2013). At Fremont's Learning Center, where I teach English, I've witnessed the success of badges used with graduation progress. I agree with Mascle, "Badges offer tangible, and perhaps more important, possible goals that they can achieve because we can create badges that focus on function as well as form." But, what does that look like with reading and writing? The thought of creating these badges and corresponding criteria overwhelms me a bit.
I can appreciate Sheldon's use of "experience points" (Suzanne's 2013), but I'm not convinced that will work in my classroom. What are the levels of mastery in the six traits? Do you award badges as the writing progresses on the rubric? Is there progress in how the student revises? What they choose to change or ignore? And, how do you track all of this for each individual student? How does this translate to ACT prep?
Suzanne suggested the use educational games stating that:
The use of games allows students to fail, overcome, and persevere. Students are given a sense of agency—in games, they control the choices they make, and the more agency students have, the better students do. Instantaneous feedback and small rewards (or big ones, like winning) are external motivators that work.
Again, this resonates with me because our students are all about control and choices. When they are in control of their education, they are immediately more engaged and motivated. The options are available in my classroom as well, I offer options (within state and district requirements) for what they read and write, what order they work on things, how they prepare and study vocab, as well as the amount of time they focus on these things. Maybe there is a connection, then, with making students the "agent" of their education by putting them in control of not just what and when they work, but also on the progress with specified tasks. How do I make writing persuasive, narrative, and analytical papers a game? How do I make them agents of their progress? Who controls that assessment? How do I make reading informational text a game? How do I create the criteria for such badges and how does this translate into HOTS? I'm sure there's answers to all of these, but time is rare in classroom prep these days and I'm not sure if it's worth committing time right now to answering these questions. Perhaps a good winter break project.
Maybe this is hard for me to connect with because I am not a gamer. I never made it passes Super Mario Brother's Lava World. I let my farm die after two weeks in Farmville and the only reason I hang out with my husband while he plays his computer games is because I'm guaranteed an uninterrupted hour or two of novel reading. But, I'm interested. I'm intrigued. The badges work in so many aspects of our alt ed school, certainly it can work in my classroom. I'm brainstorming. That is one area I can usually level-up. Game on!