Reassessing My Gamification Approach
I realize that it’s been some time since I last posted anything. Well, in a surprising twist, last year my students threw me a curve I wasn’t expecting – they weren’t interested or motivated to compete or game any aspect of the curriculum. Very few even liked to use technology in the classroom, no matter how I modified my approach. Not only did that put a pin in my enthusiasm and knock my passion down a few notches, it became increasingly stressful and somewhat depressing going back to using traditional teaching methods. Even without a gamified curriculum, my students scored at the top of their grade level in our district on the state’s year-end assessment.
Toward the end of the year however, a few students (that weren’t even in any of my classes) helped me to reconsider my approach to gamification in a way that was as equally surprising as the twist my students gave me at the beginning of the year…
It was the day of the annual faculty/student basketball and volleyball games. Since it was a school-wide reward activity, only students who had not had any discipline issues during the last grading period could attend. Students who were banished from attending were known as No-Gos. I had attended all of the other school-wide reward activities and decided that I’d take the opportunity to stay back and have a few No-Gos assigned to my classroom during the two hour event.
A few boys were escorted to my room and they had work from their teachers to complete, most of which was work they hadn’t turned in yet. After awhile, one of the boys asks me, “Mrs. Alvarez, why do you have Pokemon and Nintendo action and Ty figures around your room?” They were all amazed when I told them that I liked gaming, but they seemed to be even more shocked to find out that I had my own DSI and was on the last level of Pokemon Platinum. “You’re the coolest teacher at school!” one of them said. I told them about my gamified curriculum and how students would earn virtual tokens for completing assignments and that they could use the tokens to buy Homework Passes and Extension Passes. “You mean a Homework Pass can be used instead of doing a Reading Log?” (a school-wide required assignment that most students found no value in completing). “An an Extension Pass could get you a extra day or two to turn in an assignment and not lose any points?” They were astonished to learn that only a handful of my students were participating in or even using the game elements at all. “I wish I had you for my teacher!”
As we continued to talk about gaming, I began to notice that they were actually working on their assignments as they talked! A science teacher even brought in another assignment for one of the boys and he actually completed the assignment in about 15 minutes – an assignment that he hadn’t been motivated to complete on time in class or at home. Wow! Then it hit me – maybe I had been approaching the wrong audience with the gamification. Instead of targeting the gifted and advanced kids, I should be targeting the lower achieving and less motivated students. There are likely many low achieving students who would rather spend more time gaming than doing classwork and learning. Gamification might actually motivate them more and help them to achieve more academic success.
My administration has reassigned me to teach three sections of eighth grade language arts and two sections of sixth grade critical thinking during the upcoming 2014-2015 school year and I’m actually excited about it. I’m planning on modifying my existing Flipside website to support the new eighth grade curriculum. I also plan on incorporating game elements into my Critical Thinking classes, but without an interactive website.
I’ll keep you posted on my progress!