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.

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