Monday, January 15, 2018

Leveling Up: Gamifying Instruction to Increase Engagement

I told my students that my goal for 2018 is to have fun. I stopped straightening my hair, my husband and I set up a 15 foot trampoline in our family room for our kids (no really, we did that), and I committed to gamifying part of our instructional day. Let the fun begin!

Gamification Basics

I was introduced to the concept of gamification during my graduate course work last semester. Gamification is a fancy term that basically means using game design principles in a non-gaming context. It can be as straightforward as transforming learning activities into games or a more subtle application of game design principles to learning tasks. Game design principles include concepts like cooperation, competition, point scoring, genuine challenges, and character development.

Gamifying your classroom can be as simple or as complex as you choose to make it. Some teachers choose to make their own game for their classroom in order to customize features including backstory, characters, rules, and objectives. At the same time there are many user-friendly apps that you may already use in your classroom:

  • Kahoot A quizzing app allowing students to compete against classmates when answering questions.
  • Quizizz A quizzing app that can be teacher or student paced.
  • Class Dojo An app focused on building positive classroom community through teacher feedback.

Student Benefits

Playing games is part of our culture, and students can be highly motivated by game-based learning opportunities. Honestly, not of all my students are motivated by the grades they earn, but most are willing to spend hours working to beat a challenging level in their favorite video game. Pairing student motivation related to game playing along with learning tasks has the potential to increase student engagement.

Like with coding, failure in gaming does not usually result in immediate frustration like we so often see when our students are given a challenging educational task. In gaming, failure is an opportunity to gain immediate feedback on a mistake and try again. This type of growth mindset goes a long way in helping students develop perseverance and problem solving skills. If incorporating game design into learning tasks helps my students view challenging academic tasks in this way, then I’m all for it!

My Goal

My goal for this grading period is gamifying the blended learning portion of my reading groups.

I use a blended learning model for my guided reading groups because I want to maximize student learning when they are working independently. Last year, I created online lessons for students to complete independently. When we met face to face, I would provide instruction to further their progress based on their achievement so far. We experienced so many benefits of blended learning, and I found that my students were highly motivated to complete their online lessons at first because it was something new for them. There were also excited to have the responsibility of working independently on their Chromebooks. Unfortunately, when the initial excitement wore off, some students tended to stall out, and they lost interest in making progress.

My answer to that problem is using gamification to prolong student motivation and engagement while working independently. I’m looking forward to trying this with my students, and I’ll be sharing our experience in the coming weeks!

If you’re interested in learning more about gamification, watch this interview with gamification guru James Paul Gee. He makes some great points about teaching to meet the needs of today’s students.

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