They said it was boring and it broke my heart. How could something I felt so passionate about be boring to my students? Creating citations is where it’s at! But still, my students labored through the inquiry process, looking forward to getting it over with.

I struggled with how to engage students in extremely important skills like finding, evaluating, and citing scholarly sources; weeding through J.U.N.K. to find gems; becoming global citizens; making informed actions; and exploring digital tools. Then in 2015, my teaching partner and I decided to go one step further with our learning management system. Instead of simply delivering content, we would front load the entire year’s work and allow students to choose what they wanted to work on and when. We also created a rubric for students to evaluate their own work and decide for themselves if they have mastered specific skills. Finally, we created paper and digital badges for students to earn to record their achievements.

We have had success over the last three years empowering our students to choose what they work on and decide if the work they did meets the standards agreed upon with the class. Students are motivated to ask questions, find answers, and share their learning with classmates, teachers, and the Colchester (CT) community.

Some of the exciting benefits we have seen come out of this system are:

Colchester Digital Learning Day: A community-wide event at which students become the teachers and host an “edCamp”-style evening for families from the entire district. In just three years we have grown from 125 participants to more than 600 this year.

JJIS Day of Service: A day-long celebration of giving. Students identify a global problem, find out where it is going on, research organizations that exist to help stop it, and create a service project and media campaign to support that organization. This year we have 30 student-facilitated activities that address hunger, poverty, racism, women’s rights, animal rights, cancer research, homelessness, positive school climate, bullying, and deforestation.

Student empowerment: Students are more motivated to complete tasks and show they have mastered skills because they have chosen how and where they will demonstrate their learning. I teach process of research and all the skills that fall under that umbrella. (Some can be pretty dry; let’s face it, kids don’t get excited about MLA.)

Increased expectations and skill level: With motivated students I am now able to use digital tools to enable them to do some high-level things. Who expects citations from a 3rd grader? I do! We also expect MLA8 because we have introduced several digital tools that help even young learners understand and create citations.

Increased student engagement: Students are motivated and come in ready to work! They value the badges and are more likely to share the achievements they earn in the library with their families.

How to start your own badging program
Here are some things to consider before implementing a badging system in your library, classroom, or school:

What is the purpose of the badge?

  • Allow students to implement skills in real-world situations
  • Provide students with the freedom to choose what they are learning about
  • Give students opportunity to address concerns or problems they have

What motivation is there to earn this badge?

  • Address concerns of the students
  • Empower children to innovate and problem solve
  • Highly engaging tools and tech as resources
  • Cool stickers or clip art to show off

What do the students need to demonstrate to earn the badge?

  • Use an inquiry model to help guide research, innovation, and creation
  • Use a rubric to define success and guide their work flow
  • Embrace a FAILure as their First Attempt In Learning
  • Show perseverance, even when work becomes difficult
  • Share their learning with others

How do the students share what they learned?

  • Use digital tools to archive/share
  • Students become “experts” and mentor those who have not earned badge yet
  • Involve classroom teachers, specialists, and administrators so skills and knowledge translate into classroom projects
About the Author:

Barbara Johnson is an elementary librarian teaching grades 3-5 in Colchester, CT. She is the vice president of CASL (CT Association of School Librarians), a member of the AASL Affiliate Assembly, founder of the @MakerMeetup2018, and a social media junkie! Follow her at @technojohnson