Gamification for My Writing Instruction

Gamification in the writing classroom: Level Up!

I had a problem this year.

My 5th graders:

  1. Hated to write;
  2. Hated to actually follow the writing process even more than they hated to write;
  3. All had writing goals.

What’s an intervention teacher to do?

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know I’m a huge fan of SRSD for writing instruction. It’s research validated. It’s easy to transfer. It’s easy to blend into almost any curriculum. It’s scalable. What more could you want from your instructional method? The problem was, even if I was jumping up and down trying to build excitement for the genre and trying to engage them in the writing process, they wanted to just get writing over with. They hadn’t learned the value of planning, and really didn’t want slow down in order to do it. And then it clicked: Gamification and SRSD are a match made in heaven. In her book Reality is Broken (2011), Jane McGonigal defines games as having four major characteristics: a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation. It occurred to me that I had at least two with SRSD, and could easily weave in the others.

Gamification: What I Had

Goal

McGonigal defines a goal as an outcome that players want to achieve. That goal should be specific in order to provide a purpose for the game players (p 27). SRSD involves setting personal goals, but also the teacher setting a goal for her or his based on a preassessment. We know what the outcome is, and even have models that can show us where we need to go. Goals focus players’ attention in a game (McGonigal, p 27), just like I wanted to continually refocus and reorient my students toward the ultimate goal: a well crafted piece of writing. I also wanted them to make the connection that each step of the writing process was moving us toward our final goal and each part was equally important.

Feedback System

SRSD already has an excellent feedback system. Teachers create quantified rubrics with really specific criteria for proficiency. These rubrics often focus on the final outcome, but can be about specific portions of the writing process. I had generally just used to rubric for the end product, but I realized after observing some lessons taught by my fantastic colleague and SRSD master, Pooja Patel, (seriously guys, she wrote book and runs amazing workshops–go to one!) that if I made quantified rubrics for each part of the writing process, I would be much more successful. I could give my students more frequent feedback on their work, and in the process would create a set of mini-goals (or, dare I say, quests) that the students could achieve on their way to meeting the main goal of writing a well-structured paragraph. This is how I could provide more motivation for my students, remind them that each step of the process was important, and, as McGonigal says, be a promise that the goal is achievable. Calling each step of the process a different level also helped the students to see that the end was achievable (like a progress bar).

Gamification: What I Sort Of Had

Rules

Rules, according to McGonigal, not only place limits on how players can achieve the goal, but also unleash creativity and foster strategic thinking (p 27). SRSD is meant to build strategic thinking around writing through self-monitoring and self-talk, and even though going through the writing process isn’t really a revolutionary idea, each step of the process (POWER) is clearly defined and needs to be done in order to achieve the goal. But was this really enough to, as McGonigal says, “push players to explore previously uncharted possibility spaces” (p 27)? I’m not sure. I suppose it all depends on how we define “previously uncharted.” Since my students were so reluctant to engage in the writing process, perhaps this work really did get them to previously uncharted spaces.

Gamification: What I Had to Work Out

Voluntary Participation

Voluntary participation means, basically, that everyone playing the game buy into the rules, the feedback, and the goal (McGonigal, p 27). This is really the major issue I had with my instruction. Students didn’t really buy into the rules–that planning and organizing were an important part of the process, that each step needed to be followed. And only some of them really bought into the goal. And the feedback, well, they frequently ignored it. Not because they didn’t care, and not because it wasn’t clear, but because I wasn’t catching them in the moment–the big feedback came at the end, not throughout the process.

In addition, my group had a lot of difficulty with self-regulation, both in and out of the writing classroom. Building their own self-talk and their belief that they could be successful with writing was a barrier both to their voluntary participation in writing, and to their engagement in the activities that would help them improve their writing and feel successful. It was challenging to engage them in this critical piece of the work we were doing with writing. I thought that crafting a gamified system that was motivating and visually appealing would help them engage in the process so that they could apply these self talk skills became my way to get voluntary participation. And, for the most part, it worked.

More about how it worked out in my next post.

Have you ever tried to gamify your instruction? Has gamification worked for you?

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