Why a Badge Is Better Than an A+
I admit this title makes a pretty bold statement for a society that pretty much uses the first five letters of the alphabet to define every child from about age 5 until adulthood. But, I am hearing more and more about the use of badges in the classroom, especially in conversations about gamification and self motivation. I first heard about badges because many games and web tools, like Edmodo and others, include the ability to award student badges to help encourage students to participate and succeed independently. But, we are not totally gamifying our classrooms or currently using Edmodo, so this year I was not really considering the possibility of awarding my students digital badges. That is, until I recently came across this awesome site and FREE web tool for teachers, classbadges.com and I knew I had to have these for my students.
After applying to become a beta user, I was introduced to the 100s of beautiful icons and class badges that I could immediately assign to specific tasks that we would be working on in the classroom all year. As I started browsing through the pages of awesome looking graphics, my head immediately started to spin with the potential. I couldn’t stop myself from immediately starting to create badges that will fit right into my curriculum. But before I really start to integrate this badge system into our classroom work flow, I knew I needed to define my reasoning for administrators, parents and, even the students, to make sure everyone recognizes their true merit, and doesn’t just write them off, thinking they’re comparable to a the stickers teachers like to add to quizzes and exams that receive an A or B.
Here, I’ve come up with my three specific reasons why I think badges should replace the letter grading system:
1. Badges are fun. They are super cute. Especially these ones here on classbadges.com. They are little works of art. They are visually stimulating. They are little thumbnail icons that appeal to our senses, and attract our eye. They make people want to pay attention, look again and find out what does that picture, or badge, stand for. What does it mean? I think a collection of these badges is something the student will want to show others and something shareholders outside of the classroom will want to know more about.
2. Badges focus on the positive. The point out what that student has done or has accomplished, first and foremost. The grouping all those specific accomplishments together, with representative visuals, can really give students and parents a clearer picture of who what is happening during the school day and what learning experiences are taking place. A typical report card gives one final letter grade per subject. Although the grade may assign the student to a achievement level, it doesn’t always point out specific strengths or unique achievements., or define the learning activities and projects students are working at to achieve their own goals.
3. (The most important) badges inspire and tell the stories of student learning. I imagine the collecting of badges throughout the school years could evolve into a treasure box of memories for students, making it easier to recall their past learning and use it to scaffold their current experiences. As my own daughter starts to prepare for high school, she’s required to write an essay about her educational experience that has led her to this point in life. How great would it be for her to be able to refer back to a collection of badges in order to remind herself and share all the accomplishments she managed to gain through her first 8 years of school. I picture them as almost a mind map, defining her strengths and interests and outlining the different milestones in her education career that formed her and made her who she is. A traditional “A-F” report card doesn’t inspire that type of insight for the students or the people they need to share it with in order to get into high school or college or get a job. A collection of badges from classroombadges.com would be much more like sharing a personal “yearbook” of academic accomplishments. I love that idea.
I am just getting started on Classbadges.com and am only starting to introduce the idea to my students. I am still thinking about a lot of the details. One thing I am going to request is the ability for students to embed badges onto their individual student blogs. That could be the ideal place to keep these badges. Students could expand on the badges’ meaning with their own writing and keep them in this “digital portfolio” of their own. Life moves so fast for all of us, we can easily forget what we did in school last year, let alone last week even! I really am convinced a good badge will beat out a good letter grade any day. They are a superior “grading system” because they speak to and help us remember what is good and unique about every individual student.
I agree! I have started to award badges to teachers who participate in my workshops. It is a unique way to honor accomplishment.
Alison, do you think badges could be bundled to create additional, out-of-the-classroom, credits for students?
Great blog post Alison! We are currently working on a way for students to share all the badges they earned. I totally agree with your third point about badges allowing students to reflect back on their learning experiences and how report cards do not lend themselves to this.
I've been investigating how badges can reframe assessment in education for a year or so now, and sometimes I forget that the primary, simple reason badges are awesome is they are appealing to the eye--and as you say, super cute!
And THAT is the reason the "hooks" people in and gets them interested in learning more about and working toward badges. Then all the other benefits of badges follow.
Thanks for sharing, Alison.
Back in my day we used to call them certificates of achievement and the were printed on paper and signed by the teacher. Same idea, new name.
I really liked your post Alison. I am using classbadges.com and I really look forward to future posts about how you are using them in your classroom, how kids are displaying them (especially on kids' blogs), and how you use them for assessment. Thanks!
Great post Alison, and thanks for pointing me in the direction of classbadges. I have requested an invite.
Have you seen the work Mozilla is doing around openbadges? Your students could possibly use a Mozilla backpack to store their badges? (https://wiki.mozilla.org/Badges)
I am currently experimenting with class badges to encourage mastery in a grade 9 English class. Students are awarded levels form 3 to 1 and are encouraged to revise their work to attain that level 1 badge. I can see the motivation and sense of pride as students strive for mastery.
I think perhaps most importantly, badges can be used as a way to encourage learning towards mastery. You can't earn half a badge (C-), you need to master a concept before you are awarded your distinction.
Great post! It is really neat to hear your take on integrating badges into your classroom. I couldn't agree more with your argument for badges over grades.
If you have a second you may find what we are doing with edbadges as something that will spark more ideas in your classroom. We would love your feedback!
http://edbadges.blogspot.com/ is the actual badge site
http://edbadgeslog.blogspot.com/ is our thoughts on the little experience.
Hope to get some feedback! Thanks!
I would like to add to the "fun" category in saying that badge learning gives students the opportunity to follow their passions beyond the classroom walls and at their own pace. This is the opposite of the "one-size-fits-all" model that has pervaded our schools since the industrial revolution. And this always gives kids choice--which is huge! Thanks for this post.
Thank you for connecting with me on Twitter and sharing this great idea! We have student- led conferences next week and these would make great additions to showing growth, achievements and accomplishments. I signed up!!
Great post on the use of badges to motivate your students. Like you, many of the educators I speak with are constantly thinking of ways to motivate students and I think badges are a good start.
I was wondering whether you've thought about how to sustain students' interest in the badges over a longer period of time and whether you think it'll even be an issue with your class. I think that's where we struggle with sometimes, sustaining students' interests.
Would love to hear your thoughts!
I just want to remind all of us that we cannot "motivate" students. Motivation is something that comes from within. We CAN pique student interest, and work to engage them. The badges are certainly an effective, informative and fun way to do this.
I like how you mentioned that badges can actually inspire children to strive for accomplishment. My young son is joining a pre-school program now and he loves anything that has to do with the US army. I think that I can use his love for the army to motivate him to do better in school by giving him rewards of army badges whenever he achieves a goal.
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