Sunday, March 31, 2013

Reflecting on Marzano - Reinforcing Effort and Providing Recognition

In continuing with my series of blog posts related to Marzano's Classroom Instruction that Works, this post will be about Chapter 5, Reinforcing Effort and Providing Recognition.  Specifically, I am going to compare what I read in this chapter to Gamification.  The two main areas I will focus on are providing specific, task specific praise for reaching standards and symbolic recognition and its power.

Remember back to college, praise was something we did discuss briefly.  I do remember hearing that when praising a student, you want to avoid two things.  First, you don't want to just say good job.  Tell the student specifically what they did well on.  I try and carry this with me every day.  Sometimes, I struggle with this.  However, I do believe I am always making a concerted effort.  Secondly, you want to avoid praising for basic completion or participation.  I believe that teacher's expectations need to be high for our students to reach them, so rewarding and praising them for every little thing they do with contribute to a higher need to extrinsic motivation, not the intrinsic motivation we are trying to foster.

So where does gamification come in for the above paragraph?  Games provide students with specific feedback for completing standards.  You gained a level!  Yippee, you get 5 stamina, 3 intelligence, and 20 gold!  Oh, you lost.  Hmmm, maybe I should try a different spell next time to break down the weakness of the enemy, and use a defense potion earlier in the fight.  Regardless of whether that seems Greek to you, the main point is that video games always let you know where you stand, so you can focus on what to improve, and measure where you are getting stronger.

This leads well into my second point - symbolic recognition.  I have found students seem fairly content with being "The PowerPoint Master", or the winner of the "Tout Scavenger Hunt".  They enjoyed the task without needing a physical reward.  In fact, my sixth graders who were declared "The PowerPoint Masters" were so excited that they wanted to share their skills with the group.

Video games provide similar experiences.  I play an online game.  My character is a Halfling Druid.  Besides being a pretty amazing (and unfortunately accurate) character portrayal, I get to role play that online.  I find it gives me a lot of freedom, and actually, breaks down barriers that I would normally encounter.  When I gain a certain amount of levels, I get certain titles.  In fact, and I'm sure those of you who aren't into gaming will find me slightly unbalanced, you can work certain trade skills, like baking, in the game.  By increasing your skill by making hundreds of thousands of virtual recipes, you earn new titles and trophies.  To be completely honest, I've felt more accomplished earning those virtual rewards than some rewards in real life, because of the effort I put in.

So, to wrap up from that wild tangent, I believe that gamifying our classes could open students up the way I have experienced in my personal life.  Younger students, especially, will likely revel at the opportunity to be an Elvish Magician.  As they complete assignments and demonstrate mastery, they can gain levels, giving them special powers and new titles.  Michael Matera (@mrmatera) is an excellent resource for this type of environment.  I myself haven't gamified my classes yet, but I've seen the power in what others do and the passion in their voices as they talk about it.  When done correctly, reinforcing student effort and providing recognition to students in way that they appreciate and understand, as well as ways that foster intrinsic motivation and lifelong learning are key.  Gamification may just be one great avenue to achieving that.

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