Pictured on this page are some tickets for a test my students need to take, surrounded by the “P-Daddy bucks” (class currency) that the students need to buy their tickets. They can’t take the test without a ticket. More on that in a bit.
While it is fair to say that it is not yet (by far!), the science of motivation should be the cornerstone of teacher education. What to do with bright students who will not plug in? What to do with students who don’t seem to care much…about anything? How do I get these students to take interest in these things which I think are so important? That is the knowledge teachers need on a daily basis, but I almost never hear teachers talking about it, getting professional development about it, experimenting with it. It is nice to see that Daniel Pink’s popularization of some of the current research findings on motivation and what drives people (Drive) has been making inroads in some educational circles. We as teachers need to experiment (in the best sense) more with the technique and philosophy of motivation. Pink points our how current educational and business thinking does not work toward leveraging intrinsic motivation, the only kind of motivation that can really be game-changing, lasting beyond the next test or sale. This should be the holy grail in education. We should be ever hovering around the search for those things which can awaken the slumbering giant of self-motivated students. What power could be generated by unlocking student initiative and the type of personal responsibility that flows from an intrinsically motivated learner!
I have shared in this blog how I have experimented with gamification and found it helpful in building engagement. Students may not be immediately excited about World History, but they like the challenge of fighting as a tribute in my Hunger Games World History class. So somehow the gaming element, artificially imposed, provides a framework for them to engage in … class content. It works, at least for a time. So while it is not the holy grail, fully intrinsic, it is like baby steps in that direction. Who is to say that a baby step here, and a baby step there of these gamifications might not lead to a longer, intrinsically motived change because the many small gamifications “fooled” the students long enough to give them the chance to realize that there IS something to like in this content! I have heard of more teachers around me using Kahoot (www.kahoot.it). It is an online application that allows relatively easy gamification of class content. Not overdone, this kind of gamification definitely lights up most classes. The excitement of competition seems to electrify many students. Teacher friends, keep it up! Keep it up and keep your eyes and ears open for the next small step of changing the way you do things to help build engagement, interest, motivation. Is this not our true calling?
Our district has recently been embracing standards-based grading (SBG). Because of this many teachers now heavily discount homework grades if they count them at all. This is the natural effect of following the first two of the 7 guiding principles our district has adopted:
- Grades should reflect proficiency on well-defined standards-based
learning targets that are clear to all stakeholders.
- Grades should be based solely on academic performance using
formative and summative assessments.
I have heard some teachers lamenting how hard it is to get homework from students because it is not worth it for students to do it, from a grades cost-benefit analysis. So I got an idea from a new book built on profound research on human motivation, The Small BIG: small changes that spark big influence. Robert Cialdini, one of the most renowned social scientists on motivation, and his co-authors explain how they helped the British government collect 560 million pounds of outstanding tax money by adding one sentence to the nag-letters they were sending out to delinquent tax payers. That one sentence? It simply told the procrastinators how many of their neighbors were paying on time. This single sentence, built on the phenomenon that psychologists call “social proof” led to the collection of the bulk of outstanding tax payments! Social proof is sort of the idea that people, even though they don’t recognize it, or admit it, like to follow the crowd. They like to fit in. They share fascinating studies that show this. Social proof.
So what I came up with is this: You can’t take the next test without a ticket. Okay, fair enough. How do we get a ticket? You have to earn the money for it, I told the students. How do we do that? So for each one of their coming units, I listed a bunch of things for which I would pay “P-Daddy Bucks”, the currency of this class. I have had the nickname from students “P-Daddy” for many years now, so I simply printed up a bunch of dollars, with my picture on it, and called them “P-Daddy bucks.” ($P) So for this chart you could earn up to 15$P. For this essay you could earn up to 25$P. For this worksheet you could get 10$P. For taking notes on that podcast you can get 10$P. And so on. So for each test in the unit, I set a price for the ticket to take that test. Giving them a bunch of variety, so it was not “one homework assignment for everybody.” For the first test I started this with, the Renaissance test, which the students took last week, I began easy. You just needed 15$P to get the ticket to take the test. Students had a bunch of choices as to how to earn those $P, including the option, available in every unit, “you name it.” Students can run by me anything, and I will make an offer of $P for it. “Mr. Pahl, I would like to draw a sketch of the School of Athens.” “Okay, I will give you 15$P for that if you do a decent job,” I said.
So in my two classes last week, totaling 66 students, every student earned the ticket to take the test, including a few students who had never turned in any homework. The “social proof” effect. They wanted to take the test, like everybody else. The “homework” they did to earn the ticket for the test does not go in the gradebook. It is not rewarded with grades, but P Daddy bucks. This week, on the Reformation test all students but one earned tickets to take the test. That student worked on something with which to earn P-Daddy bucks while the other students took the test. He will have to make up the test at another time.
I feel very positive about this. Let me give another example. I told my new seniors in this new semester about how well last semester’s students had done when I “flipped” the Constitution test. I did not lecture at all, but provided tools for the students to be successful on the test. I was in the class to help, but the responsibility was on them. I explained this in my last blogpost. So I emphasized to my new students how, in my “flipping” of their Civics class, THEY were responsible for their own learning. And I explained how well last semester’s students had done with that. When I gave these students their first test, on Chapter 1 and the concept of “power”. I could not believe the results. Better than any of my students had ever done before on this test. My second period class average was over 98%. I thought something was broken when I put their tests through the Scantron machine and kept seeing “100s”. I did check the machine to see if it was broken. It was a short test, as my tests go, just 29 questions, but these kids did really totally master this content, without me ever once lecturing about it. They had done it! They had been like those students I had told them about last semester. I think that story helped acclimate them faster to the “flipping” pedagogy, because many teachers write and talk about the learning curve to get kids from the usual teacher-centered class to a “flipped” class. Almost no learning curve here! My other two Civics classes also averaged an “A”. This never happens! Social proof, coupled with flipping seemed to be working something special.
How long will this last? How long will students keep doing “homework” for $P, and not for grades, so they can take a test on which they will be graded? How long will a bunch of seniors get “As” as a class average? I don’t know. These are just more baby steps. It is working now, just like Kahoot.it has, just like the Hunger Games gamification has. So I keep searching. I keep trying. I am in the game. I am a student not just of world history and civics, but also motivation. I have not yet found the holy grail.
But if you keep following this blog, I will certainly tell you if I do!