Despite its advantages, adaptive software used in a classroom environment has a notable downside. Because students are individually tracked by software and progress at their own pace, they work on different concepts at different times and generally don’t take class-wide quizzes or tests. This erodes the sense of competition that develops naturally in a traditional classroom and eliminates an often powerful motivator for students to push themselves academically.
So, how do we reintroduce competition to the classroom? We’ve developed our own academic challenge leaderboard, which is displayed prominently on a TV in our main workspace throughout the week. Each week, we publish a list of point-earning challenges that are aligned with our app-based academic curriculum. Students earn points by making progress toward their existing academic goals and we offer weekly rewards for top finishers — everything from daily popcorn to YouTube privileges to special lunches out. Each student selects a digital avatar that rises up the leaderboard as they meet more goals.
The motivational benefit of this leaderboard cannot be overstated. Our school does not assign homework, yet this competitive challenge has led students to spend hours logging extra academic work at night and on weekends — some parents even feel their students are doing too much voluntary school work! We’ve also seen astounding focus and motivation improvement among students that previously struggled to stay on task during school hours. Students hound us for leaderboard updates if we’ve fallen behind on logging points.
To build on this early success, we are fine-tuning this motivational system on a weekly basis. We’ve adjusted the number of points awarded for completing particular tasks to smoothly shift the balance of work from one academic area to another. When we noticed some students near the bottom of the leaderboard were losing interest, we changed to a team-based format (balanced based on past point totals) to keep everyone in the hunt and introduce an element of student-to-student motivation.
There’s no silver bullet for motivating every student in a classroom, but the academic leaderboard has become a key element in our portfolio of motivational tools. We believe that interest increases engagement, thus helping students learn faster.