While I first moved to Japan, the land of new-age toilets, robot companions, and insanely efficient train systems, I was shocked to find that their classrooms were remarkably free of technology. There were no classroom computers. There were no smartboards. Teachers wrote everything on the chalk boards. All the classrooms had TVs that were occasionally used to show PowerPoints, but these were often left in the corner. In Japanese schools, teachers only used technology when it aided their own instruction to a much better degree than older methods. The attitude was if it still works, no need to change it. On this note, all the schools used fax machines on a regular basis. Technology remained present, but never dominant in the class space. This rigorous minimalist approach to technology meant that the kids had few distractions and were always on the same page in terms of the lesson. Technology remained firmly in the role of aid and helper, never replacing good teaching.
This past week, I participated in a Webinar “Using Classcraft with Special Needs Students” hosted by Sean Arnold on Friday, September 8th, 2017. I learned a great deal about a new tool, a game-based learning system called Classcraft that I would love to share with you. I would encourage you to approach this discussion with this question in mind, does this system aid and encourage good teaching? Or does it replace it? Is this a tool that you could imagine using in your classroom, even if you do not traditionally rely game-based systems like these? A quick note, all pictures included are screenshots I made during his presentation, so I do not claim credit for them.
Now, I would like to introduce Classcraft, the focus of today’s post. I will go into detail describing the components of this tool and how it works in the SPED classroom. I do not claim to be an expert, this is all based on Mr. Sean Arnold’s talk, so please be aware, I may have made mistakes. Nonetheless, I think this is an interesting example of a comprehensive tool to use in the classroom and would love to hear your thoughts. Teachers, rest assured, gaming experience is not required or needed to use Classcraft. It may have a fantastical exterior, but given a little effort, humor, and openness, Classcraft has the potential to be a useful tool in classrooms, SPED or otherwise.
In Classcraft, an internet enabled game-based learning system, students work in teams. Classcraft is devoted to enabling positive teamwork interactions in class, so it is important teachers create teams that avoid best-friend groups and work with a diverse set of skills. These groups sit together and work together as a team throughout the year. I should note that it is best to use Classcraft for the year, to set up a consistent structure. Within the team, students take different roles. Each student chooses a character type to begin. This character can be a Warrior, Mage (magic user), or Healer. Each role has different skills, but all skills can be used to benefit the team. A Warrior can shield friends from damage (awarded for off-task behavior) by taking it themselves. Healers can heal damage after the fact, so Warriors need to make sure to stay on good terms with the Healers. Mages can share Action Points so that their friends can use their protective abilities, either healing damage or taking it for others. Every person has a role to play and their own individual skills. Also, the fact that each role covers the others’ weak spot encourages students to not all choose the same role.
So how does this work in class? Even when a student acts out, the teacher can deduct health points. If a student’s health points get to a low enough point, other classmates will need to intervene on that student’s behalf. This is where abilities come into play.
Everyone has the ability to help their classmates if their health points get too low. To use their skills, students have to use their AP or Action Points. Using a skill, like Mana Transfer shown below, costs health or action points, but in exchange for using their abilities to help their friends, students gain experience points. Students also can earn experience points through good behaviors (awarded by the teacher), so the Classcraft system cements the idea that helping out your classmates is a commendable and important part of playing the game. Those experience points earned are permanent. If a student earns enough Experience Points, they level up and gain more skills they can use to help their friends.
Now it is important to note, students have no obligation to help each other if they do not wish to do so. If a student is being disruptive and a bother to the class, it is well within the rights of the team to decide to let them fall. In this way, students are motivated to treat their peers well. If students have good relationships with each other, they are much more likely to use their powers to protect each other. If a teacher assigns a consequence, it is up to the students to decide if that consequence is merited or not, giving the students the power to direct how their classroom runs.
If a student loses all their health points, they fall in battle. Classcraft chooses randomly from a list of remedial work that the teacher provides. A teacher can even include an event in which nothing happens, so students have a chance to escape punishment. Classcraft has a system of negative feedback which corrects but does not defeat the student. Mr. Arnold stressed that this mechanic was very important, because many Special Education Students struggle with defeat and shut down quickly when things go badly. Unlike other systems in which you gain and lose points based on behavior, students do not lose experience points earned for good behavior. As long as student’s meet the remedial assignment requirements, they can rejoin the rest of the class without any lasting negative effects or lost effort. Failure can become a teachable moment. A teacher can remind a student to treat their teammates well, so that they will help them next time. Classcraft allows for positive and negative feedback without penalizing students, allowing them to bounce back quickly and try again.
Classcraft not only focuses on team dynamics, it provides a variety of tools for a teacher to play with. I will focus on one example of many, the volume meter. The volume meter can be set up during normal classroom activities to allow students to keep track of their volume level. If students get too loud, they lose points. In regards to special education, the volume meter particularly provides direct visual feedback on behavior, helping students become more aware of their volume, even if it’s just to save points. This volume meter can also be adjusted to meet the needs of the class, so the teacher has the ability to make the volume meter fairly sensitive to loud sounds during quiet activities and more forgiving during more active tasks.
In addition to the rewards systems, volume meter and other components for classroom behavior, Classcraft has a quest-based component for organizing assignments and classwork. Teachers can create a map of tasks to do in class, which can include rewards of experience points for completion or remedial work for failing to complete the task. In Sean Arnold’s talk, this functionality was not explored in great detail, you will only see a linear example of work, but it seemed like an easily customizable function with great potential. This could be expanded to give students options and control over the tasks they do and how they progress through the material for the day. On that note, please check out my post “Forget Tests, Give Me Quests” for deeper insight into quest-based learning and its benefits.
Last but certainly not least, Classcraft has a fun function known as the random event. Every day, you open the random event which may be negative, positive, or neutral. This is a place where teachers have the chance to introduce events that might be helpful for their individual students. Mr. Arnold mentioned introducing events like “The Curse of the Gollum” where students are not allowed to move their legs during class. Students in wheelchairs have an advantage there, because they can use their wheelchairs to get around without breaking the rules. He also mentioned “The Curse of the Mime” in which students are not allowed to talk and can only mime to communicate. Students that are non-verbal may have iPads or other devices to communicate, so they would have an easier time and the rest would have to “walk in their shoes” for the day. This random event can be used as a fun tool to build empathy and introduce a little excitement in the classroom, given a little thought and attention from the teacher.
And that, dear reader, is my introduction to Classcraft. I went through a lot of different components and there are many I didn’t even touch, but I hope this gives you some insight into this game-based learning system and how it works.
Now before we delve into my personal reflection, I would like to challenge you, the reader, to organize your thoughts. I would also like to remind you of the Japanese model I brought up at the beginning of the essay. In your opinion, how would you characterize Classcraft as a tool? What role does it play in the classroom? What do you think of the choice to use experience points to reinforce good behavior? Do you like the idea of giving students the power to choose whether their classmates get punished or not? What are your thoughts?
My Personal Reflection.
I, for one, am very intrigued by the Classcraft model. The emphasis on teamwork, empowering the students through skill application, and constant opportunities for feedback through the teachers, peers, and even a volume meter seems like an admirable framework for more positive class interactions in class. Classcraft emphasizes customization, which allows the teacher to take control of this tool and make it work for their students and their classes. I failed to mention, there are also language functions so ELL students can participate as well. Teachers know their students and they can use their knowledge to build a fun and engaging structure that helps students grow in confidence, teamwork, and resilient thinking. This can also go the other way as well. If you have a set of negative consequences that are too stringent or too forgiving, or if you as the teacher do not award experience in a consistent and proper manner, this system will probably not work well for you. I see this trait as the mark of an excellent tool. Classcraft does not create good classroom environments on its own, it relies on the buy-in of the teacher and the students. importance of tools like Classcraft? They prevent teachers and students from getting too complacent. The more work you put in, the better the result. The process can grow with you. I have yet to use Classcraft in a classroom environment, but if it lives up to its framework and personalization options, this is the kind of tool I would like to see in my classroom.
So, what about you? What do you think of this description of Classcraft? Would you ever consider using it in your classrooms? If you use it, what do you like about it? I would to hear more from you!