“These kids think school is just a game.”
If you’ve ever taught young learners, I’m sure you’ve heard this at some point (or maybe even said it yourself). Computer games are no longer the domain of geeky kids with a Commodore 64 or an Atari in their bedroom. They are everywhere - on laptops, on home consoles, online and now on smartphones and tablets. Kids (and adults I would say!) are now playing games more than ever before.
Image by @acliltoclimb via eltpics
But is this necessarily a bad thing? Is there someway we could turn these kids’ love of computer and console games to our advantage? Some people say ‘yes’ through a process called ‘Gamification’ - the adaptation and application of principles and ideas from computer games to other walks of life such as the classroom.
I recently came across a post on the Digital Play blog, run by Kyle Mawer and Graham Stanley to accompany their book of the same name (which I don’t yet have by the way in case you were wondering what to get me for Christmas! ) The post suggested adapting the concept of ‘unlockable achievements’ (meaning the gamer receives an in-game trophy or reward for performing a particular task or reaching a certain level) for classroom management situations, such as everyone completing homework assignments on time or full class attendance for a lesson. Successfully earning an achievement results in gaining a ‘level’ and repeating the same achievement will mean ‘levelling up’.
This sounded like something my kids would go for so I decided to adapt it. In the first week, I established my class rules and negotiated some further rules with the class (this was done in a similar manner to last year with this post containing the details). At the start of this week, I introduced the concept of unlockable achievements (which they were all familiar with) and explained how I would use them to reinforce the class rules. That resulted in the following achievements:
- ‘Ready to roll’ - earned when everybody is ready to start the lesson when the bell rings.
- ‘Listen and learn’ - awarded when all the students listen to the teacher and are on task throughout the lesson.
- ‘Completed in class’ - given when all activities (especially written ones) are finished within the lesson time.
- ‘Perfectly polite’ - earned when students behave respectfully to each other during the lesson (no laughing at mistakes or interrupting when someone is talking and so on).
- ‘Here’s my homework’ - obviously for all homework being handed in on time.
- ‘English everywhere! - initially, this will be awarded if the students interact with me in English throughout the lesson but as they reach higher levels, they will go into ‘advanced mode’ and need to speak to each other in English as well.
I made a chart to keep track of the levels as they are unlocked, with rewards coming after the class has attained level 5. The rewards vary from playing a word game to watching a YouTube video to having a few minutes of free time at the end of the lesson. To add a little extra ‘gamified’ element, I have prepared a PowerPoint slideshow with the rewards hidden behind different boxes. The students choose a number and get whichever reward is revealed. Just to show them how it works, I gave them a ‘bonus’ reward the first time they earned a level as a little taster of what will come when they reach level 5.
Of course, it’s early days but most classes have got off to a positive start. They love the idea of ‘levelling up’ and are keen to keep track of the achievements as they are unlocked. At the moment, we are keeping it simple with class achievements only but I plan to introduce some individual achievements (although that could be tricky with 180 students in 6 different classes!) once they have got used to the idea.
If you are interested in sharing some of your own tips, please do so in the comments or, even better, join me today (27th September, 2012) at 15.30 UK time for an online chat about classroom management and establishing rapport with students. The chat will take place on the Teaching English Facebook page - hope to see you there!