Let the games begin

This is the fifth in an ongoing series of entries about my experiments in gamifying the Latin classroom. In doing so, I am relying heavily on Classcraft, a web-based classroom-management system that facilitates my multiplayer classroom. Future posts will be grouped under the category ‘Gamifying Latin.’

My classroom

My classroom

“Salvete, omnes! Welcome to Latin 100! As of today, you all have an F.”

Lee Sheldon’s favorite opening line really works.

It works to grab the students’ attention, and it works to begin the explanation of grading by attrition. About half my class are freshmen, but the other half signed up for Latin 100 back in April and before I made the decision to gamify the class. Although I had engaged in some publicity in the week before semester began (gamification is a great way to separate your class from the rest of the pack!), many of them were going to learn about the peculiar set-up of this class on the first day.

My general approach was one of selling Classcraft to the room. I explained why I had set the class up this way, and why I thought it would benefit them individually and as a whole. I emphasized the transparency of grading by attrition, and how all the assessment was configured as a series of rewards for mastering the core concepts of the class. It was important to situate Latin 100 as part of a sequence, one with the ultimate goal of preparing them to read Latin. I also gave a brief introduction to Classcraft, explained how I would separate the 20 of them into 4 teams based on a questionnaire they had completed, and set them the task of familiarizing themselves with the rules of Classcraft before our next meeting.

There were three additional aspects of my syllabus that I underlined at this meeting. Firstly, that although they only needed 9,000XP to get an A in the class, I had planned things such that there would be more than 9,000XP available across the semester (my initial estimates aimed at 12,000, although I think I may surpass that mark by December). This was partly because I wanted to ensure that any imbalances in the way I had structured the class benefitted the students, rather than punishing them. It was also rooted in my belief that there’s nothing wrong with continuing to reward them for continuing to demonstrate competency in Latin. I promised that any students earning over the requisite 9,000XP could roll those points over into next semester’s class (which has the added benefit of incentivizing them to continue with Latin).

Secondly, that I placed a premium on their attending class regularly, and so would award every student 75XP for every class they attended. With 40 meetings scheduled this semester, that meant they could earn 3,000XP just for attending assiduously, getting halfway to passing and a third of the way to an A. To my mind, this presents a vast improvement over other attendance policies I have instituted, and I am happy to report at the end of week 6 that attendance has so far been excellent. The XP/HP system all provides a way to penalize tardiness while still rewarding them for presence (and means it’s still worth their while to turn up, even if they’re late).

Thirdly, I emphasized how important the teams would be. My colleagues and I have always yearned to get students to study Latin together outside of class, and it’s always proved very difficult. I pitched the teams to them as a built-in support network for the class, but I also let them know right away that as individuals they would undertake challenges that could benefit or harm their team as well. Therefore they owed it to their team-mates to keep up with the material, and it was in their interest to make sure the rest of the team was keeping up. I also offered a one-time 200XP bonus to each team if they sent me a picture of them studying Latin together outside of class. So far half of them have taken me up on that offer.

To run Classcraft properly, it helps to have a room with a projector. To run Latin with Classcraft, it helps to have a board in addition to the projector, so that you can run the game and the class in parallel. Fortunately, my classroom is blessed with both features (although I frequently find myself wishing for more board!). The general set-up calls for having the game open on the projector at all times, so you and the students can keep track of stats, damage, and powers while you conduct the class. This has the added benefit of meaning they don’t need to watch the game on electronic devices, allowing me to ban their use completely.

You can find yourself bending over the computer a lot, which can distract from your regular lesson plan. It is important to remain committed to the game, however, since the students take their cues from the instructor. While I began by adding all XP on the fly, I have since moved to logging the day’s awards on a piece of paper and updating the system later, to save on some of the fiddling. All reductions to HP, however, need to be dealt with as they happen, so as to enable students to use protective and healing powers. This means that most meetings start with me inputting the grades from the last assessment, and the students then mitigating damage as necessary. So, between explaining the rules and running the game, it is important to acknowledge that Classcraft will take a bite out of your class-time.

So far, I think it’s worth it.

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