In this episode, Kasey chats with Shawn Young, a former teacher, and CEO of Classcraft.
When so many teachers are struggling with behavior management, student engagement is at an all-time low.
Teachers are burnout.
We need tools and strategies to help.
Shawn shares the importance of building relationships with students (Ted Lasso style) and managing behavior with positive reinforcement through gamification.
He also shares the importance of formative feedback and tracking actionable data.
This episode is full of great ideas to help teachers and schools!
Listen to this article.
Strategies and Tools to Improve Student Behavior and Engagement
Shawn stumbled into teaching when he substitutes taught in a high school physics class while earning his undergraduate physics degree. After weighing the life of a laboratory researcher and the life of a physics educator, Shawn enjoyed the interactive classroom setting much better. Deciding to stay in the classroom meant furthering his education for certification. This led to a thesis on building student community through digital platforms.
A Scientific Approach
In 2008, there weren’t too many options for a digital platform to ask students to interact outside class. Shawn utilized Moodle as a way to encourage students to provide support and help on assignments. He measured how student interaction inside the classroom increased and raised morale.
Once Shawn witnessed the positive impact this was having on his students he wanted to take it a step further. All the fun projects and hands-on activities didn’t seem to be enough to build a strong community among students. With the experience and skill set for building an app, Shawn landed on an idea to gamify his classroom.
With the knowledge to build an app and a passion for gaming, Shawn put it all together to create Classcraft. Students design their own avatars within the app and earn points for mastering skills. A few examples include: being organized, managing emotions, including others, and respecting others’ opinions. All of which are lifelong skills teachers want to see their students growing in as they interact.
It’s also possible to include classroom management-type behaviors like turning work in on time or being seated at the start of class. Students gain points that allow them to level up and earn swag for their avatars. Points can also be earned for real-life powers like eating a snack in class or turning in an assignment one day late.
The goal then is to show students that when they behave in a way that is favorable to their education and those around them they will gain more control over their experience. Ultimately, this builds trust between students and teachers.
Students are also participating in this game alongside their classmates. This means that when the group works together more effectively they all win bigger. Think Ted Lasso. When a group with lots of different personalities can come together to collaborate and support one another it’s a win in everyone’s book!
It’s All About the Relationships
If you are a fan of the Apple TV+ fictional show, Ted Lasso, you’ve seen how Ted puts relationships above everything. He connects personally with everyone and builds a great soccer team.
“If you care about someone, and you got a little love in your heart, there ain’t nothing you can’t get through together.” – Ted Lasso
Even if you’ve never seen the show, as teachers, we know relationships are the foundation for everything in the classroom!
The power of relationships is something many teachers have experienced. Every educator’s why is about impacting a student’s life. In the past few years, the pandemic and major changes to education have in many ways kept teachers from fostering relationships with their students. Shawn explains how Classcraft allows teachers to notice students for their positive behaviors and reward them.
Of course, the expectation is not to be perfect every day but to be seen for the ways they are meeting expectations in the classroom. Shawn makes the point that for students the value of being at school has a lot to do with socializing. Most kids have discovered by now that they can learn to do pretty much anything from a YouTube video.
Creating schools that are safe physically and emotionally is the only way to ensure learning is truly taking place. Shawn asks, What can we do to make school a place where kids want to be? He believes that establishing a more positive social aspect can help make school a place where kids want to be.
An aspect of Classcraft that helps to foster relationships among students is the kudos option. This is a way for a student to send another student a positive message. Of course, all messages are teacher approved! These might be a thank you for the help or you were a good friend today. The students are earning points for these encouraging messages, which in turn teaches them to choose a positive social interaction.
As this behavior becomes normalized within the app it begins to happen more organic in everyday interactions. Many of the behaviors teachers award points for within Classcraft become habits for students.
Why Use a Game
Shawn shares how playing video games cater to several human fundamental needs. He points out that video games develop intrinsic motivation. The reason people play video games is that they want to. They are motivated to play because it’s a situation where the gamer has control. As humans, we are also motivated to achieve mastery and then share that with others.
Because these are universal truths Classcraft can work in upper elementary, middle, and high school. These are age groups who might also be drawn to the gaming experience because of their own exposure to video games.
At a time when many teachers have been drowned in technology, Kasey asks why use an app to manage face-to-face relationships. Of course, it’s not necessary to use tech for gamifying classroom management. However, the tech makes it a whole lot easier. Shawn explains that Classcraft is one of those technologies that exists and gets out of the way. To award students points it takes about five minutes and then teachers can move on with their day.
Shawn also points out that students receive, on average, very little feedback from their teachers. He also brings up that two-thirds of the feedback given by teachers during class is negative feedback. This is why at its core Classcraft is about letting students know they are seen. The majority of our students are well-behaved and generally don’t hear much feedback, whether positive or negative. Awarding them points for their positive behaviors within the app let them know they were noticed and appreciated.
The other reason for using technology for these purposes is to capture the data. It’s always a good idea to reflect on and evaluate our teaching practices. By using Classcraft it’s possible to record how often praise is being given to students. The data can also help to point out any bias or imbalance of feedback.
Another positive mindset shift that takes place with Classcraft as a management tool is the fact that students are always progressing. There is only the option to level up. Rather than having a label as a student who gets by with passing grades, this system allows students to gain confidence in themselves. Classcraft provides more specific feedback than a letter grade can provide.
The data points collected with the use of this app can lead to interventions for students who may need more help with social-emotional skills. When these SEL skills are addressed with intentionality students can show growth academically as well. While these data points are important for individual classrooms they can also be incredibly important for whole buildings or districts. This data provides insight into the culture within the school.
Generally, schools collect behavioral data based on referrals and suspensions. This highlights which students are not behaving as they should and this group is usually a small group. That means most of the students in the school are not being noticed. Utilizing a technology system that can collect specific positive behaviors about students develops engaged learners and can help build the relationships students need, along with the community schools are meant to provide.
About Shawn Young
Shawn Young is the co-founder and CEO of Classcraft, an innovative platform that helps educators make learning meaningful and motivate students through gamification. Since its launch, it has been a force to be reckoned with in transforming behavior and classroom cultures, having been successfully implemented by educators in their pedagogies worldwide.
In alignment with his mission to improve teaching pedagogy and students’ motivation in learning, Shawn co-chairs UNESCO’s MGIEP Global Collective for SEL and Digital Learning, serves as the President of the Edteq Association, and is an Ambassador for the Education Faculty of the University of Sherbrooke.
Shawn has an extensive experience in professional education, having taught 11th-grade physics for nine years. He holds a bachelor’s degree in physics and a master’s in education from Université de Sherbrooke. In addition, he is also a seasoned web developer, combining these skills and experience to start Classcraft.
School and district leaders are some of the many types of listeners that will definitely benefit from Shawn’s insights on motivation, education, skill development and culture, and leadership. He can’t wait to get booked to talk about creating a sustainable community in the classroom and the role of playful principles in teaching the whole child!
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