Badges are one of those tools that I have liked as an idea, but I have never found the right time or place to put them into my classes. This last week, I decided to give them a time, mostly as a last resort! I had been having a sense of losing control and needed something other than a stern voice to regain the momentum and energy in the class.
Let me start by acknowledging that the weeks between Thanksgiving and Winter Break are hard for most teachers. We are tired, and the students are ready for a break. Thanksgiving gives us a taste of some Down Time, but then it is over too quickly. We return to the classroom wanting more relaxation and less focus and concentration. The way that that manifested itself in my classes was with lots and lots of instant questions, usually before I had finished giving directions or they had had time to actually read them for themselves. Hands in the air, questions shouted out:
“Where do I find that?”
“When is it due?”
“Why are we doing this?”
It seemed like a disease had attacked all of my classes with endless streams of questions. All of the classroom management strategies that I had put into place seemed to have been washed away during the break time. I will admit that my initial response was to answer one after another, repeating myself and acting as if they were all legitimate queries. My classroom is a place of learning, so of course I want to make sure every student feels secure.
The next reaction was to feel irritated. I just wanted them to listen to me! Isn’t it their job to be quiet and do what I say? No, of course not, but still couldn’t they just pay attention for a few minutes? Luckily, I have been down this road before, and while that reaction wasn’t great, it quickly led me to acknowledge that if what I am doing isn’t working, it is time to regroup. What could I do to re-engage them in their learning? What strategy was needed to shift the power to them, to make them think before they shouted out questions that they could figure out if they wanted to do it?
That’s when I thought about badges. Was there a badge that I could make to challenge them to think before they asked a question, to consider if they could figure it out themselves. Questions, legitimate “I really can’t figure this out” questions are great; the “Make it easy for me so I don’t need to think” ones are not.
I went to Credly, made an account and connected it to my classroom Haiku sites. I called the badge Figure It Out, putting a figure of Atlas holding the world on it to encourage strength and self-reliance.
The next day, I introduced the badge to my classes. I explained that for each time they were tempted to call out a question, the goal was to pause for 3 seconds. We counted out 3 seconds together to give them a sense of the time. If they still didn’t have the answer, then they could raise their hand. If they figured it out in that time, they were to give me a small fist pump to let me know that they had had success and then record it. I handed out sheets of paper that had the badge at the top and ten lines. We had a good conversation, making some goals for asking questions. They were easily able to identify why I had made the badge, laughing when I asked them if they knew what I was talking about.
They really loved the idea of the badge and of being in charge of giving themselves the points. I told them that this was between them and their thinking. I can’t get into their minds and know when they are wrestling with some confusion. They have to do that themselves. It is all on an honor system, but they understood that and were excited to take on the challenge.
In the last week, the interesting effect hasn’t been lots of students recording that they figured it out. It has been them policing each other.
“You’re not going to get a badge that way!” being my favorite.