Many teachers create a rewards-based classroom management system to help curb undesirable behaviour. I’ve used one myself after one of our Board’s “behaviour teams” came to my classroom to observe an unruly student. They suggested a ticket system, where students were given a ticket when they demonstrated a particular positive behaviour. Once a week, they could purchase things from a treasure box, cheap dollar store items usually.

The key was that I had to specifically identify that behaviour so the rest of the students could hear. The hopeful outcome was that all students would want a ticket or want the praise,  so they would demonstrate the behaviour. At the start, all the students enjoyed the tickets and the praise, and in fact, demonstrated the desired behaviour. Within a few weeks though, many lost interest, desire or motivation (or all three). The praise was given out so often, it lost meaning. And, if I didn’t acknowledge certain students constantly, they felt no reward for their behaviour. For me, it took a lot of time and energy that could have been used more productively.

It’s true that some students respond to extrinsic rewards like this, but most do not. They often quickly become bored and disengaged. I’m sure that many of you could tell similar stories about extrinsic reward systems and their lack of efficacy. As educators, we all want our students to feel good about their learning, to be intrinsically engaged and motivated. How do we create that?

I struggle with whether or not a badging system is extrinsic or intrinsic. Isn’t a badge or experience points just like a ticket? If so, aren’t my students going to get bored with gamification of the classroom, just like they get bored with the tickets?  Does gamification create intrinsic feelings of success?

I’ve begun reading Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McGonigal, as suggested by fellow hummingbird and speaker extraordinaire, Michelle Cordy. By the way, she posts a thought-provoking and exciting blog here. I’m only two chapters in and I’m beginning to see how games can evoke intrinsic feelings. One only has to read the chapter entitled “The Rise of the Happiness Engineers” to understand that McGonigal wholeheartedly believes games make us much happier than reality does.

I’m not yet a convert, but I am starting to see the flip side here. There is so much more to gamification than just points, badges, etc. I’ll have to explore that and what it looks like in the classroom. Until then, I’m diving back into this book….a great summer read!