In our original post on the principles of gamification, we pointed out that one reason games keep players engaged is because they provide ongoing challenge. And of course, what teacher hasn’t heard from a parent that, “Johnny’s not badly behaved, you just aren’t challenging him enough,” right?
Sigh. Well, we know that some parents (and kids) can be a little more challenging than others, but the part that hurts is that in some cases, this can be true. For example, students who are identified as being gifted in a specific area may also be a behavioral disruption in the classroom at times. Why, when they understand the rules so well, would your gifted students act up? Because they’re bored.
Boredom is definitely the root of many a…
“Stop kicking me!”
“You started it!”
“Yes, you did, when you took my pencil, you ripped my paper.”
By the time you intervened, hands waving, “Hey, hey, hey…” leaving your mouth, you knew that pencil stealing did not “start it.” The students were off-task somehow. Now it could be that they just didn’t want to do the work that was assigned, or it could be that they were already finished and/or bored. The assignment didn’t have enough challenge.
The greatest “challenge” in the game of teaching is providing challenge that is suitable to each and every student. This task of differentiation is no small one! You want to make sure that a student, just like a player in a game, is challenged, but not overwhelmed. If the given assignment is too hard they may give up, and if it’s too easy…well, pencil-stealing and kicking may ensue.
One of the best ways to create differentiated “tiers” of instruction is to make use of Bloom’s Taxonomy of instruction.
In Bloom’s taxonomy, students can continue to be challenged on the same topic by moving “up” the pyramid to higher and higher levels of engagement. For example, if the topic you are studying is buoyancy, you may have students move through the following a demo that you give to the class using different objects:
1.) Define buoyancy and list two objects that they know are buoyant. (Remembering)
2.) Ask them to select from a group of objects, which they believe will be buoyant and which will not be. They have to write down their predictions and explain why they think a certain object would be buoyant as in, “It feels lightweight.” (Understanding)
3.) Then they have to test their predictions using their own bowls of water and record the results. (Applying)
4.) Afterward they examine if they were right or not and why they think that is. For example, “I thought the object would not be buoyant because it was heavy, but it was also very wide and flat. I didn’t realize that it’s shape might also make it buoyant. But the teacher gave the example of big cruise ships and that made sense to me.” (Analyzing)
5.) Students compare the objects once again and list the kinds of qualities that led them to be buoyant (weight, shape, size, materials). (Evaluating)
6.) Students create their own “boats” out of a combination of buoyant and non-buoyant objects. The goal is to make it successfully float, even when wave action is applied. (Creating)
From this list you can see that not every student necessarily will be able to progress through the entire thing. Some may be challenged at the Analyzing, or even Understanding stage. That’s important feedback for you as a teacher! They may have been able to spit out the definition, but they don’t “get” it well enough to actually make predictions about buoyancy. They might need more chances to Apply in order to make the observations and put the idea together.
But students who ZOOM through those first stages and are bored will likely want to go all the way to the “build your own boat” stage. Giving them the chance to do that will keep them engaged and challenged, just like a game.
Ideally your formative assessments will also “track” with the “board” or level that a student has mastered. If a student builds a successful boat, asking him/her to define buoyancy on a multi-choice test is a silly retread back to things already learned and demonstrated. You might do better asking him/her to draw a model of his/her ideal boat and explain the parts/materials that will make it buoyant. For a student who didn’t get past the Analyzing stage the first time, an assessment that gives them another chance to predict buoyancy with a variety of objects will likely be best to confirm that they’ve “gotten” the factors that affect buoyancy.
Keep Pushing Me!
Regardless of the method by which you generate challenges, you’ll see that students who are being challenged at an appropriate level will be more engaged and enthusiastic, and choose to participate in learning, more than those who have “already beaten this board.” That’s one reason why students who have to be forced to do their homework can be convinced to spend hours mastering a series of tasks within a game.