Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

I Cast a Spell on My Class with Wizards and Fantasy

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

I Cast a Spell on My Class with Wizards and Fantasy

Article excerpt

Role-play game rewarding good behaviour is a magic incentive for pupils to toe the line

7W really are a wonderful group of children. Yet they are all possessed by the same demon. This demon can be found in almost every class in every secondary school across the land. It can defeat the most experienced teachers and destroy a cohort's exam results. The demon's name? Low-level chatter.

Teachers settle for the fact that there will be at least one difficult class on their timetable and I had feared that 7W was this class for me. I had to ask 7W not once, but three times, to be quiet at the start of a lesson. When I asked them to discuss ideas between themselves, most of the talk was off-task. For written tasks, if I didn't insist on silence, the work rarely got finished to a high standard. My relationship with 7W used to be one of overseer to the workers.

But while browsing through Twitter one evening, I came across a potential solution. Someone I follow tweeted a link to a free classroom resource called Classcraft, which promised to solve the behaviour issues of my class through role play.

I should state from the off that I am a fan of gamification. Having spent my formative years waiting for Manic Miner to load on to my ZX Spectrum, my A-level revision time trying to master Commando on my Amstrad CPC instead of reading Jane Eyre and a good deal of time at university escaping from Castle Wolfenstein on my 386 PC, I have long been a convert to the power of games.

And I had already experimented with various strategies to gamify my classroom to improve behaviour. For example, I had a running score board, based on the rewardand-consequence points that we have at the heart of the school behaviour-management system. These points led to certificates (wow!), perhaps a film at the local arts centre for the class with the most points (amazing!) and one contributory factor in awarding the House Cup (mindblowing!).

I also created digital badges to email to pupils once they had reached a set of criteria, for example, "Mastering the Battle of Hastings", and I labelled rows of tables "Division 2, Division 1, Championship, Premier League" and pupils could level up depending on their performance (note: not attainment).

Immediate reward

All of these strategies had only a limited impact. Why? The feedback or perceived rewards were hidden and delayed. Reward points were entered after the lesson, digital badges emailed in the evening, the decision to promote made between lessons. What video games have taught me is that feedback, progress and reward all need to be immediate.

It was with this in mind that I considered this latest gamification opportunity. It was a game aimed at improving behaviour (tick), it credited progress (tick), it was free (tick) and the rewards were immediate (big tick).

The one thing that made me wary, though, was that it was a fantasy role-play game (tick?). Pastimes once deemed "geeky" have encroached a long way into the mainstream, but had they encroached this far?

The game is web-based, controlled by the teacher and is easy to use. The pupils in each class are grouped into teams and each team member chooses to be a warrior, a mage [a wizard] or a healer. The teacher customises the rules of the game, so that each student can earn points for good behaviour or suffer for negative behaviour.

For any negative behaviours, not only does the pupil's character lose Health Points (HP), but so do the other members of their team.

If players lose all of their Health Points, they are entered into the Book of Laments, which come with a punishment. …

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