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Badges, Rewards, and Barking Dogs

Badges are a new thing in education at the moment. Read about them here. They seem a harmless, if not motivational, way to assist learning in the classroom; much like old-fashioned sticker charts, smiley faces and stamps. The idea being that scouts seem to be motivated to achieve badges, gamers seek achievement badges in games, and it’s an alternative to traditional grades. Why not include these ideas in classrooms?

I’ve never liked the idea of students playing the role of Pavlov’s dog – barking on queue to earn their reward, regardless of what the reward is. I’ve always tried to develop an intrinsic desire to learn in my classroom; a love of learning, rather than a need to achieve.

I’m also wary of this ‘gamerfication’ of education – not because I don’t like video games, quite the contrary. I feel we’re missing the point of why children learn outside of school. Children learn when the value of what they are doing is high. Just because you attach the same reward to a task doesn’t make it valuable.

Too often, our focus as a teacher is on how to teach curriculum. We look at the successes children have outside of school and try to emulate them in the classroom. But, maybe, we should be looking at the things children are learning in those endeavours, and try to make that the curriculum instead.

What’s the old saying? You can’t polish a turd. If your curriculum is a turd, giving kids a badge (‘Ooh, a sticker! Thank you, Sir!) is just asking them to bark on queue. It’s a behaviourism gimmick that will wear thin.

‘But, I’m having success using this,’ huffs the offended teacher.

Here’s my bet – if you are truly having success using a reward system like this it’s because you are a passionate teacher who creates a tremendous learning environment regardless of rewards, and your students are responding to you – not the reward.

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