Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Grades in the Gamified Classroom

https://twitter.com/mr_isaacs/status/885658805002018816

In a recent #games4ed conversation we were talking about gamified grading, and the two tweets above came up. This resonated with me for several reasons:
1. As I am sure it is true in most cases, at the end of the day (term, school year), I have to submit regular letter grades. 
2. I have been guilty of falling for the above-mentioned pointification, or simple substitution of traditional grading for an XP-like system and leaderboard. While the change did infuse some excitement in my classroom, the students quickly discovered that it was simply "a rose by another name" and rebelled accordingly - Gamification - Don't Fake It

Simply changing the grades to points does not change the student's mindset. At its core, gamified grading can be a visual representation of competency-based grading, which as Matt Townsley reminds us is different than standards-based grading.
"Competency Based Education is a system in which students move from one level of learning to the next based on their understanding of pre-determined competencies without regard to seat time, days, or hours.
In a competency-based system…
  • Students advance to higher-level work and can earn credit at their own pace. (In a building, district, or classroom using a standards-based grading philosophy, this is not necessarily the case. Students are likely required to complete x number of hours of seat time in order to earn credit for the course.)
  • Learning expands beyond the classroom. This may or may not take place in a standards-based grading philosophy. For example, in a competency-based system, a student who learns a lot about woodworking over the summer may earn credit when he or she returns to school the next year. Similarly, students are encouraged to learn outside the classroom so that they can demonstrate competencies at their own, rapid rate.
  • Teachers assess skills or concepts in multiple contexts and multiple ways. (This may or may not be the case in a standards-based grading classroom; however, it is non-negotiable in competency-based education.)"
How does this translate to a gamified environment?

1. Explicit criteria and targets are made available to students ahead of time. The students in a gamified classroom know exactly what it takes to "defeat the boss" (AKA demonstrate mastery). Basically, everything is assessed using rubrics. The rubrics are created using objective measures, provide actionable feedback and are presented in kid-friendly language. 

2. There are multiple opportunities to gain XP (practice the standards). Every piece of work submitted results in XP, even incomplete or half-correct work! Let's think about this from the gamer standpoint. A player going through the third level of Mario falls and must restart the level. The XP he gained does not go away, and he/she will try the level again using what he/she learned from the previous attempt in order to pass the checkpoint and proceed to the next level. This cycle continues throughout the game. This is also true in the gamified classroom. That half-correct work is re-done based on the feedback, resubmitted for a new assessment and opportunity to gain more XP.

3. Some may demonstrate mastery on their first attempt earning a set amount of XP and perhaps a badge that shows the students (and community) that mastery of the standard has been achieved. This does not mean that the "learning is done". The student can then go on a side quest to earn even more XP and continue to level up within that standard. While this is happening other students are re-working/adding to their work and even going through the same side quest that the "masters" are completing, practicing the standard until they have collected enough evidence of mastery and the total amount of XP available for the standard is achieved.

All of this made public to my students on the leaderboard. But what happens at the end of the week, when I am contractually obligated to publish at least one new grade in the grade book? For that, I choose the most recent evidence of learning. This means that what goes in is not the same piece for all, but rather the individual piece of work that illustrates the learning from that particular student for that week. So, for example, the student that demonstrated mastery on week one and decided to sit back and relax on week two may, in fact, receive a failing grade for the week (no evidence of learning), while the student that has not shown mastery could be receiving an A. 

I know that this system is not perfect, and there is a possibility of inflated grades. Have you found a different solution? I would love to hear your thoughts.