Month: October 2015

Levelling Up

This is my second year of using Classcraft. Now that I had a full year under my belt, I could roll it out with an idea of what works and what doesn’t. I had hoped that the experience would lead to a smoother year of gamification that led to higher levels of learning.

The first thing I considered was a rationale for using gamification. I reflected on Daniel Pink’s famous Ted Talk, where he demonstrated that rewards are not effective in motivating people to engage in higher level thinking or problem-solving skills. In fact, carrots and sticks can prove to be detrimental to the creative and innovative learning process.

This, then, begs the question, why do gamification? Why have any rewards at all?

Daniel Pink’s video itself gives a great clue: carrots and sticks might not be effective for improving innovative or creative productivity, but they can be extremely effective in promoting activities that are more rote and that do not require creativity.

This is the key.

Ultimately, every classroom, learning environment, and workplace has some degree of compliance. Although we have times and spaces (we should have much of our class time) for creative thinking and problem-solving skills, we as human beings need habits, routines, and procedures. A well-functioning environment needs people to comply with this in order to create the safe space required for the risk-taking and creativity that is part of the learning. In other words, the opposite of compliance is not necessarily creativity, but anarchy. As teachers, we must build well-managed environments so that we can then move beyond compliance to the levels of creativity and innovation, but we cannot simply have a non-compliant environment.

I then built several rewards around completing class jobs. I have several class jobs that allow students to take ownership of the learning space, both inside the walls and in virtual space. These include cleaning the whiteboards, maintaining a Google Doc for all the homework assignments from all teachers, maintaining a Google Calendar, maintaining the homework board on the whiteboard, and a few others. If I constantly have to step in and do these jobs, it takes time away from being able to give effective feedback and guidance to students. I gave the award of 100 XP every time a student successfully completes a class job for a week. This reinforces behavior that is not necessarily innovative but it essential to having a well-run classroom.

Another reward I implemented was 25 XP for turning in homework a day early. Because I open assignments on Google Classroom and OpenEd, it is easy for students to complete assignments early and for me to determine who has completed it and who hasn’t. If I can start the day knowing that all or most of my students have completed homework, I can then direct my attention to the essentials of giving feedback and having students correct and revise their work.

I also decided that students could use one extra incentive to buy into Classcraft. I decided that every Monday would begin with a drawing. Every student would receive one ticket for every level above the first level. That is, a Level 4 student would have three tickets in the drawing. The winner would receive a large box or bar of candy. I did this because I believe that we are much more motivated at the possibility of winning something rather than just being handed something in return for an action. The former becomes a game, the latter becomes a bribe.

Lastly, I made sure that every student learn how to log into Classcraft and that they do it on a regular basis. Last year, some students logged in, and others didn’t, which meant that some bought into Classcraft more than others. I made sure that every student logs in and learns how to use powers and train pets.

What I have seen is a culture that is much different from previous cultures in the past. These minor changes have created an emphasis on doing jobs and doing them well. Students have been coming and begging me for a class job so that they can earn XP. I have had barely anyone miss homework assignments. This has freed up my time so that I can focus on essentials like guiding students on the rigors and challenges of the Common Core skills.

By taking Classcraft to the next level, my students will have a productive year.


How’s Your Learning?

This post originally appeared in AppoLearning.

Throughout the course of last year, I read several books on effective teaching practices. After reading through these high-regarded books, I used some of their approaches in order to help students track, understand and invest in their progress. Before we get to implementation, let’s first look at the books that can really enhance pedagogy.

The first one I read was Never Work Harder than your Students, which has a deceptive title because it sounds like a gimmick. However, it is a book that thoroughly details how to become a more effective educator using a variety of strategies. In this book, authorRobyn Jackson discusses the importance of curriculum mapping, clear objectives and – this is the most important piece – students keeping track of how well they are meeting those objectives. She mentions the usual topics such as engaging lessons and feedback, but the crucial piece is that students must monitor their learning to track their progress. In other words, students need to own the learning. It is not enough for us to merely give feedback, but students must also take that feedback, track it, and use it to monitor their progress towards learning objectives. Without this crucial piece, students will be disengaged and not interested in the learning process.

I also read Classroom Instruction That Works, the latest version of the famous series created by Marzano. Strategy number one is for students to receive clear expectations and that they should receive feedback on progress toward those expectations. I also began reading Visible Learning for Teachers by John Hattie, and one of the most effective strategies listed was students’ expectations for themselves. They must be aware of the objectives and have guidance on how they can meet those expectations. Like Jackson, they argue that it is not enough to put objectives on the board (which may or may not be a relevant practice), rather, students need to know exactly what those expectations are and must be working to achieve those standards.

After seeing this clear strategy mentioned consistently in a variety of books, I decided to tackle this school year dedicated to this strategy. I created a variety of tools designed to tackle student-directed learning.

  1. I created a Google Sheet template for students to track how they perform on various formative assessments. I began the unit by having students enter their goal percentage on a final assessment. As students performed throughout a given unit, I had them enter their percentages so that they could track to see how they were progressing towards meeting their goal. I first used this method in grammar by giving them grammar formatives assessments on Google Forms so that they could track their mastery of grammar rules. These assessments included both multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank.
  2. For a reading skill, they tracked their progress by completing a graphic organizer assessing their mastery of inference skills. They read short story selections and completed the inference graphic organizer. These selections came from their literature textbooks and from resource books.
  3. To further bolster inference and close reading skills, they were required to annotate. I then graded their annotations on a rubric. With the graphic organizer and the annotated PDFs, I required that students re-complete the assignments after I had returned it to them, and they had to complete it to earn a score of 100%. I did this by showing students examples of 100% quality work, which opened their eyes to see what excellence looked like.
  4. They also completed an assignment on OpenEd, which is an app that allows students to see how they are performing on a Common Core Standard. It includes assessments and assignments, both of which give teachers and students actionable data.

As students progress through a given unit, they knew how they stood in relation to their goals. They knew how they were progressing and had to think of what they needed to do to improve to meet their goals. As a result, I have seen students taking ownership of the process of their learning. I have seen students reflect and find out what they need to do to master assignments. Often, students might want to succeed, but don’t really know the expectations or what they need to do to achieve those expectations. By placing ownership of the learning in students’ hands, we can see students achieve new heights. The more students own the learning, they more they will learn.