Why do students not do the reading assignment (or any assignment)? Well, a variety of reasons.

  • Assignment is not interesting to them.
  • Assignment is not relevant to them.
  • Assignment is too challenging.
  • Directions are difficult to follow.
  • Feeling that they will not be successful so they give up before they start.
  • Lack of a sense of connection with the teacher/class.
  • Personal challenges at home.
  • Sports Practice.
  • Too Long.
  • Drill and kill, not challenging.
  • Illness.
  • Bad study habits.
  • Previous failure.
  • Assignment is boring, not engaging.
  • Perfectionism.

I do not have solutions for all of the many reasons a student does not do an assignment. I would like to suggest a method of assigning and grading that may increase the motivation for some students.

I am not a fan of the A, B, C, D, F system. To get from level 1 (F) to level 2 (D) is a jump of 60%!! This is contrary to a game where usually getting from level 1 to level 2 is incredibly easy. A student who has an A has no where to go. What motivates them to keep learning when they already have an A?

I would prefer that students had a leveling system rather than a letter grade system.  With each assignment every student, including the A student, would see progress. Do a small assignment, see a small incremental improvement towards a goal. Do a large assignment and have the possibility of increasing a level in one bound.

My pivotal moment was when a failing student eagerly brought me his homework and asked “what’s my grade.” Since a single assignment was worth minimal points, to the student he saw no progress and was immediately dejected. Never to do a homework assignment again. Had I had a leveling system I could have said, “Excellent, that gets you 10 XP points. That puts you so close to level 5. You now have 57 points, you only need 63 to get from level 4 to level 5. Let’s see what you can do to get to level 5?”

Success Breeds Success

If my student was suppose to be level 20, but was only level 4, he would possibly feel that he is in a deep pit and can never dig out. I try not to focus on the level 20, we focus on where the student is at and how to find them success. Once he reaches level 5, we celebrate that rather than pointing out that 5 out of 20 is a failure. Now that he is level 5, what do we need to do to get to level 6?

In World of Warcraft I level from level 1 to level 2 with my FIRST quest. I need so few XP points, I immediately get a taste of success. Getting from level 2 to level 3 is only slightly more difficult. However, to get from level 85 to level 86 I needed 8.7 MILLION XP. Why do I not feel that is completely demoralizing and outside of my reach? Because I have 85 levels of success to back me up to help me to realize that I can do it!

Choice

I like to give all students a point of entry to the learning objective. A way to find success. I want them to do close reading and to find connections to the text, but some students might not be there yet. So I try to make 3 assignments for each objective. The assignments are of graduated point values. For a small amount of XP they could do something relatively simple. For a lot more XP they could do something more complex and higher levels of critical thinking and creativity.

Whatever “quest” the student chooses, they will find success. The student who chooses the 10 XP assignment over the 40 XP assignment would NOT receive a 10/40. Simply, his overall XP total would increase by 10 points. He sees success and he sees progress.

Now that the student see success and is not labeled a failure this is my opportunity to swoop in. “That was great, for this next objective you are dangerously close to level 7. If you did the 2 stars of mastery assignment you would make it, why don’t you give that one a try. I’m here to help, ask me lots of questions.”

Low Risk of Failure

From a game we learn the idea of a low risk of failure. When you start a game, do you read the directions? Okay, some of you do, but many of us just jump right in and try to figure it out. We fail, learn from the failure and try again.

If the student does not meet my expectations on the “quest,” I try to help him/her to fix it or try again. This allows them to risk trying one of the higher level quest options without feeling like they will be punished for not being able to perform at the higher levels.

I also give the option to switch quests. If they start the 3 stars of mastery quest and realize they are in over their head, they can switch back down. Although, I will try to encourage and help them.

On the other hand, if they do the 1 star of mastery quest and feel bold to try the 2 stars of mastery I would encourage them to do this without penalty. If they try and then decide to stick with the 1 star quest, no penalty. Note: If they receive credit for the 1 star of mastery quest and then do the 2 or 3 star quest, it replaces. The student does not have the option to add the quest mastery xp together.