Educators can encourage behavioral improvements and positive classrooms with gamification.

Using gamification to improve schoolwide behavior

Educators can encourage behavioral improvements and positive classrooms with gamification

Now that online games have become so popular among K-12 students, school and district administrators can use gamification techniques to create a positive school climate and encourage positive behavior by individual students who have differing needs.

Shawn Young, co-founder and CEO of Classcraft, explained during a recent edWebinar how gamification techniques can be combined with research-based approaches such as Response to Intervention (RTI), to create engaging and systematic Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS).

Related content: I gamified my classroom and students are soaring

Shawn pointed out that esports—the playing of online games—have become one of the most popular activities for young people across all demographic and social segments of the school-age population. And gaming has evolved into a cultural medium with its own processes that many students find engaging and motivating, so using similar approaches to improve behavior and school environments  with gamification is a natural extension that can prove popular and successful.

Gamifying PBIS

The application of gaming techniques to PBIS works well because games are so engaging, and many are built to provide intrinsic motivation. They often develop autonomy, meaning and competence, and so are aligned with self-determination theory. They also provide zones of proximal development, enabling players to make continued progress, and many games enable young people to build social relationships through their participation.

These benefits can work well with PBIS, which has a three-tier framework similar to RTI. As shown in RTI’s well-known triangle diagram, about 80 percent of students are considered Tier I, roughly 15 percent require Tier II interventions, and only about 5 percent need more intensive Tier III interventions. In the PBIS model that Shawn presented, the Tier I students would be focused on activities that prevent negative behavior, while the Tier II students would engage in more targeted prevention activities, and the Tier III students would receive more targeted interventions and wrap-around support.

Focusing on bullying as an example of the behavior that educators are trying to prevent, Shawn explained that the goal for Tier I would be to create a cultural norm in which bullying cannot thrive, essentially making it “uncool” through game techniques that build empathy, inclusion, and other pro-social behaviors. Tier II students would be taught anger management techniques and engage in additional activities designed to develop positive behavior, and Tier III students would receive more intensive education and supervision, along with special challenges and opportunities to succeed.

The gamification techniques used to implement this model could include points and privileges awarded for positive behaviors, the use of scoreboards so that students can track their or their teams’ achievement and progress in comparison to others’, and the creation of levels and titles to manifest status. Negative behaviors would not be punished, but instead would result in a lack of progress or loss of position, combined with new opportunities to achieve success.

Systematic gamification

To make the implementation of gamified PBIS systematic and rigorous, there needs to be data-collection processes, analysis and decision-making procedures, and schoolwide practices in place. All teachers should be using the same rubrics in regard to behavior, so that the PBIS system is equitable and effective, as well as easier for the students to understand and comply with.

Shawn emphasized that the number of positive expectations should be limited—in the three to five range, for example, rather than 50—so that students can remember them and not feel overwhelmed or tune out. And the expectations must be explicitly taught, along with specific examples showing when and how behaviors should occur, because “it’s not enough to just put up a poster on a wall.”

There also should be specific procedures and interventions to address negative behaviors or problems, with the understanding that students will make mistakes and it’s OK to fail and learn from what was done wrong, which is something games are designed to accommodate. Last, there needs to be a clear communication system to identify students who are not in compliance, and to help them understand the expectations and requirements.

Parents and families should also be aware of what is being done and included when possible so the entire school community is engaged in improving behavior and creating a positive environment, with the result that everyone wins.

About the presenter

Shawn Young is a co-founder and CEO of Classcraft, the Engagement Management System for schools. Since its launch, Classcraft has gained incredible traction with educators worldwide, providing tools to gamify their classrooms. Shawn taught 11th-grade physics for nine years, holds a bachelor’s degree in physics and a master’s in education from Université de Sherbrooke and is also a seasoned web developer. Shawn sits on the Scientific Advisory Board for UNESCO’s MGIEP, sits on the corporate advisory board for Future Ready Schools New Jersey, sits on the corporate advisory board for SETDA, is the vice-president of the Edteq Association and is an Ambassador for the Education Faculty of the University of Sherbrooke. Shawn is interested in how we can create community in the classroom and how playful principles can help teach the whole child.

About the host

James has 10 years of experience helping organizations reach their goals by leveraging technology. After seeing the impact that can be made in the classroom, James eagerly joined Classcraft as its first partnership manager. Through his time at Classcraft, he has supported districts and schools to make meaningful changes to engage students and facilitated presentations at ISTE, TCEA, among others.

Join the community

Creating a Positive School Climate is a free professional learning community on that provides all education stake-holders with a place to collaborate on improving the learning environments of our schools to make them safe places for all students to reach their full potential.

This edWeb broadcast was sponsored by Classcraft. The recording of the edWebinar can be viewed by anyone here.

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