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 create 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!
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 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, students see mistakes as an opportunity to try again and do better. They 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 showed his parents his work, asked for help at home, and displayed new focus at school. I was so encouraged to see this young man become excited to learn.
Positive relationships and stronger 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 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 in a variety of fully customizable ways, allowing teachers to reinforce the learning and community behaviors their students need.
There are 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, 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!