Summer is always a time of reflection for me as a teacher. I consider what worked well in the past year and what needs to be changed or modified. To be honest, I reflect all year long and tweak systems and routines when needed, but when looking to make big changes, it is during the summer that I make my moves.
Last school year I implemented gamification with my 3rd graders; that is the incorporation of game like elements into our classroom. No I didn’t make everything a game, rather I added motivating components that resemble what we love in games. Leveling up and earning “badges” to be specific. (See the video of the launch of badges here). So what are badges? Well they are like digital stickers that students can earn when they achieve something. The goal is mastery of skills and top quality work so attempts at earning badges can be repeated. Certain badges unlock new and exciting options in the classroom so there is an increased incentive to work for them. And kids just like to “collect” stuff!
The top row (and first two in the 2nd row) connect to reading response letters which will be explained in more detail later, but the rest are all detailed in the “badge catalog“. Each and every classroom element and routine is then taught explicitly and carefully. It seems confusing but once we get each part in place, the GREEN ROOM becomes a hub of self-directed activity!
In the past, I’ve given students “points” for their assignments. Since we do not give more traditional “letter grades”, we use a number system to communicate progress; 1, 2, 3, 4. However each task is practice in developing and mastering various skills so I do not put these numbers on assignments. Rather I have used “points” to let students know I’ve carefully examined their work and while I give feedback too, the points are sort of arbitrary. That is, they don’t carry weight, per se. Think of a video game. Players earn “points”, but what do those points really mean? It is just a way to show a player is moving along through various scenes. Some players are motivated by high scores; others don’t really care about the points…they play for the fun. So I don’t encourage students or parents to put too much emphasis on points; take it for what it is… a way to track completion of tasks and measure some degree of quality. (For example, I generally give station work 10 points if it is completed satisfactorily and at top quality effort. If the quality isn’t the best then I will give less and if I am blown away, then I may add a few more points).
Of course gifted learners need to have options and choice. This is where I use a “menu” system. Some learners will seek out every opportunity they can while others will just do the minimum. I respect and honor that (noting that “minimum” in my classroom is above grade level quality, effort, and skill). Therefore I DO NOT compare students. I encourage children to do his or her personal best. The other element is working towards internal motivation to learn so this is where I work to help each child take charge and be self-directed.
My menu system works like this: we have non-negotiable learning that has to take place. As a child’s reading teacher, I am responsible for ensuring the 3rd/4th grade curriculum is met. I do this through the “main dish” activities. These are must-do. The choice comes in the form of when to do, how to do, or what materials to use. Main dishes are both tasks done in class and for homework. (More about homework expectations in another post). Then I have “side dishes” which are choices in materials. Basically I have stations or areas/spots in the classroom with designated resources. Stations are intended to advance or accelerate specific learning goals. Next come “snacks“. These are bonus activities; they are not required but students soon learn that they need to invest the effort if they want to unlock some of the more interesting assignments, which come in the form of “desserts“. For 3rd graders: Menu Menu Information For 4th graders: Menu Menu Information
The menus used in the GREEN ROOM give students choice and opportunity to be self-directed and motivated in their own learning. It is my goal to instill our routines and then allow students to work while I am then available for support and facilitation. I’ve been fine tuning this system for the past 3 years and I’m excited to go into my 4th year as GIS with a solid classroom management system in place to grow eager readers!