Gaming the Educational System

Gaming the Educational System
Marja Brandon

Head of School Marja Brandon talks about traditional grading systems and asks the question if we should rethink the way we assess students in a way that rewards points--like as done in gaming.

I did not grow up a “gamer.”

I never played D & D. We had an Atari, but I had no thumb intelligence. I had no interest in PS anything, Nintendo, or truly any of the other game systems. I watched, observed, and truthfully just studied kids playing lots of games through the years (both formally and informally) and how it related to their brains and education and let my own hypotheses form.

And yet I know certain things about gaming. Gaming gets some things very right that we in education have been doing, well, backwards, and maybe, just maybe…wrong.

I am not the first person to point this out (nor will I be the last) but it bears repeating—when it comes to student engagement, mastery, and assessment, we have taken the whole idea of grading and approached it backwards and honestly, made it self-defeating and somewhat demoralizing. Let me explain.

Current educational models assume all students start with an “A” or 100 points and then lose points from there as mistakes or errors are made—it’s a subtractive model. The worse you do, the more points we subtract. You, in fact, can only go downhill from where you begin. It punishes students for taking risks and potentially even for trying to be creative!

Now let’s look at the gaming model. In gaming, you begin at the bottom—you gain points as you acquire skills. The more skills, the more points--and most of the time, you cannot acquire more points until you have truly mastered the skill. Typically, you can try and try again at the same level until mastery is achieved and then you move on. Pride is taken as new levels are achieved. Students can go at their own pace, achieve as many points as they need to complete mastery for themselves versus attaining a specific grade and stopping for fear of losing more points. True growth mindset is encouraged versus fixed mindset being cemented.  This kind of additive system of grading allows for problem solving, flexible thinking, mastery, self-pacing, differentiation, better engagement, and perhaps even more fun.

So, is this the end of the letter grade? Unlikely… and there are still times when traditional assessments may well make sense (rubrics given in advance, clearly explained, agreed upon, etc.). Other times when we need rethink our goals and maybe, just maybe, game the system.

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