I am so pumped right now, I want to write a quick blog piece to share my joy!
I just acted like the ticket office at a major Broadway play. People shell out money because they want a ticket to see a show. We all get that. People pay to be entertained, to hear and see a story. So what was the product I was just taking tickets for? It was a test. A test on my World History course’s 9th Challenge, the topic of Nationalism. Thirty some students just stood in line to pay me to take a test.
We all know that at a Broadway box office different levels of tickets are sold, some more expensive than others. Similarly, I just sold different kinds of tickets. The basic ticket cost 30 “P-Daddy Bucks” ($P), our class currency. For that price, students got the privilege of being able to take the test. For 40$P they could use their notes on the test. And if two students wanted to collaborate on the test, there was a higher price still. The one student who did not buy a ticket is quietly doing the work he needs to do to get paid in $P from me, so he will have the “money” to take the test.
These are all freshmen and sophomores, kids who, generally, don’t take notes unless forced to. They generally have poor study skills and need encouragement and training in being able to gain them. I am forcing no one to take these notes, yet almost all of them paid for the privilege of using notes on this test. Most of the kids in my two World History sections are note-takers now, because of my little gamification, I am pictured on this page with Paul Tough, the author of How Children Succeed. He compiles scores of studies to show that, as important as cognitive factors might be toward future success, a correlation most high-stakes tests are built upon, more important are conative and effective factors such as grit and drive.
Somehow I see that this system I have built in this class as getting kids to work for things. I am not doing it with grades. At least directly. The work that students do to earn the class currency, “P-Daddy Bucks”, does not go in the grade book. So grades are not the direct motivation when it comes to earning the class currency. It is this fiat currency, these fake little dollar bills that have my picture on them (taken from a portrait of me that a street artist did in the artist district of Paris’ Montmartre!), that motivate students. They can’t take the test without the cash. It is partly peer pressure, so powerful at this age, that is operating here (you don’t want to be the only one not taking the test…), but partly a growing sense I feel in them, that they want to be successful.
I am sure that there is more engagement among my freshmen and sophomore World History students in the way this class is operating now, than there was in the ten years when I taught the class traditionally. In the past it always seemed like such a battle to get kids to care, to take notes, to try, to study. That will always be a challenge, for all teachers for all time. But I am feeling good, at least today, about what feels like progress in this age-old challenge: I am feeling the power of minor victories in helping kids become responsible for their own learning, in helping foster an atmosphere that encourages intrinsic motivation to flourish and real learning to take place.