Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Failure Isn't Final

At the beginning of the school year, I identified four ways to increase personalized learning in my classroom. My overall goal this year is to empower students to take an active role in their learning.

I planned to increase personal learning through:
  1. Geek out blogs
  2. Personalized learning paths
  3. Passion projects
  4. Wonder day
The school year is halfway done, and I’m so excited to celebrate some success. At the same time, some of my plans haven’t worked out so well. I hesitate to call those moments failure because that seems so final, doesn’t it? And if I’ve learned anything in the last few years of my professional growth, it’s the value of continually learning from both positive risks and unfortunate mistakes. Failure doesn't have to be final.

Last Year’s Successes Are Not Guaranteed...

Perhaps my biggest failure so far this year has been expecting my students to excel in the same ways as my class did last year. As teachers, we comment all the time on the stark differences from one class of learners to another, but for some reason I naively expected my students to display the same maturity and skills as my students last year.

This year we have struggled with remaining on-task and displaying a willingness to try to solve one’s own problems. I’ve been disappointed, and sometimes discouraged. My students have also had the tendency to rush through work to be done rather than focusing on producing their best work. For this reason, I put our blogs on hold. I started using a few new accountability measures to encourage on-task behaviors and hard work for this next quarter, and I plan to use student blogs as a place to publish bigger projects so that students realize published work should be a reflection of our best efforts.

...This Year's Successes Are More Than I Anticipated

If I only measured success based on last year's experience, we would have missed out on some amazing learning. Success this year looks different, but it's still great! My students have amazed me with their deep empathy during our passion projects. They chose to research topics including homelessness, animal cruelty, modern slavery, girls' education, PTSD, and brain injuries. Later they created websites, video games, presentations, care packages, videos, websites, and original art to demonstrate their learning. Their work moves me! They see problems in the world and show genuine concern. I've taught them that their voice matters, and they have what it takes to change our world; they have taught me to stop underestimating their possibilities!

Looking Forward

I will begin implementing personalized learning paths for our gamified blended learning in the next few weeks. I’m fairly confident my students will do well with choosing which resources they will need because during the first half of the year, I provided many opportunities for my students to self-assess their learning progress and choose how much/what kind of support they needed to move forward. I’m anticipating that my students will need help tracking their paths, so I will create a paper path tracker so that my students can easily visualize their learning route.

I’ve planned our Wonder Day for the end of this quarter. I’m looking forward to this experience because my students have had such great success with passion projects! I’d like is to have my students help me plan this day. I think allowing student leadership and voice during the planning stage will increase buy-in and motivation.

Larger Lessons

As an educator, I’ve come to realize the value in all types of lessons. I don’t want to miss the opportunity to teach my students how to embrace failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. It’s what happens sometimes when we take risks. My own failures are great opportunities for me to learn; they are also a chance to model the mindset of perseverance. I took a few minutes at the start of the semester to talk with my students about my failures and what I was going to do about it. I guided them to reflect on their own progress so that they can make changes, set goals, and move forward. I want them to learn that failure isn’t final.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

I gamified my classroom and students are soaring

An average child today will have played 10,000 hours of video games before the age of 21. If playing games is part of our culture, even part of our identities, then it stands to reason that students can be highly motivated by game-based learning opportunities. So what if we make classrooms the game?

Gamification means using game design principles such as cooperation, competition, character development, and point scoring in a non-gaming context. In the classroom, it can be as straightforward as transforming learning activities into games or a more subtle application of game design principles to learning tasks.

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 teachers use to simplify those features.

As a classroom teacher, I gamified my classroom because I needed an engaging way to deliver the online lessons I created for students during reading and math workshop. I was able to turn my online lessons into an adventure with a storyline, obstacles, and learning challenges. I had read research about the benefits of gamification, but I was still surprised to see such a remarkable transformation in my classroom. In just a few months I saw amazing benefits!

Social-Emotional Growth

I’ve spent that last few years implementing different vocabulary and integrating specific read alouds to help my students develop a growth mindset. In particular, I wanted my students to develop grit and perseverance- a mindset that welcomes challenges and does not give up easily. When I gamified my classroom I realized that the nature of gameplay promotes positive challenge and helps my students practice and apply a growth mindset.

One of the most amazing shifts I noticed in my classroom was my students’ response to failure. Rather than feeling defeated when failing at a task in our game, my students have returned to the task with renewed determination, rising to the challenge with a positive attitude. In the past, a poor grade usually resulted in the negative feelings associated with failure. Within our game environment, however, mistakes are seen as an opportunity to try again and do better. Students are more willing to listen to and apply the feedback I give them because they are determined to master skills and level up.

Engagement and Motivation

Not of all 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 great potential to increase student engagement. My students are excited to work online every day, even asking me for extra work so that they can earn points to level up. With students asking for additional work and persevering through tough learning challenges, it’s no wonder that my learners have shown so much academic success.

One of my students last year struggled to complete school work and would avoid working at home also. After we gamified our learning tasks, he eagerly showed his parents his work, asked for help at home, and showed new focus at school. I was so encouraged to see this young man become excited to learn.

Positive Relationships and Community

Playing with my students broke down social barriers that usually take a significant amount of time to overcome. I have been able to build trust with my students quickly, and that has allowed me to challenge my students in new ways. Building a positive community within a competitive gaming situation is critical. Friendly competition is great, but what’s even better is a collective community that is genuinely interested in the learning of everyone involved. One way that we build our community is through collaborative battles within our game. When the class is counting on every student to work hard and be prepared, students are motivated to invest in their peers.

My Tool of Choice

I began gamifying my classroom by using Classcraft, a gamification platform in which students work both collaboratively and independently. Each player customizes their own avatar that they work to develop by earning points, and teams work together to support one another's learning and development. Students and teams can earn points a variety of ways that are fully customizable, allowing teachers to reinforce the learning and community behaviors their students need.

There are so many different apps available to help teachers with gamification. Some have specific focuses like behavior management or academic progress. What I like about Classcraft is that it reinforces so many aspects of my classroom: positive social interaction, collaborative learning, behavior management, personalized academic lessons, and of course fun. Classcraft’s quest feature allows me to turn my online lessons into an adventure with a storyline, obstacles, and learning challenges. My class works together during formative review challenges to defeat a fictional character. As students earn points and level up, they unlock rewards such as choosing a new seat in class, obtaining extra time on an assignment, or upgrading armor and pets for their avatar.

Other teachers in my school are beginning to use Classcraft as well, and the new Engagement Management System gives our teachers and administrators real-time feedback to track and improve academic success as well as social-emotional behavior. With this information, teachers like me are equipped to make informed decisions.

In all, I’m so pleased with the impact gamification has had on my students, from building a positive class community to strengthening social skills and increasing engagement. My students are shining, and of course, we are having so much fun along the way!

Note: This article was also published on eSchool News.