Teacher Tech blog with Alice Keeler

Paperless Is Not a Pedagogy

Alice Keeler

Graduated Point Systems and Leveling

Graduated Point Systems and Leveling

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!


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.

6 thoughts on “Graduated Point Systems and Leveling

  1. I’m interested in doing something like this with my students “Advertising Graphic Design” 10th-12th graders. I’m curious: What do you do when a student who CAN do a level 3 project goes for a level 1 project? Who or How do you determine what level the students should be on? Do you have links that are helpful to you for setting up a system like this in the classroom?


    1. Why is that a problem? Maybe the potential level 3 student has some other things that week such as a karate tournament, family vacation, test in another class… I try not to be so myopic to think that a students interests revolve around my class. If they complete the quest at a level 1 then they met minimum competencies. They also get less XP for it than if they did a level 3 project.

      Teaching is about building relationships. I like this system because it encourages goal setting. So you ask the kids what are their goals and how are they going to get there. When a student makes lower goals than you think is appropriate for themselves, you talk with them. Why do they not want to do the higher activity, can you encourage them to stretch themselves? If you have a positive relationship with that student, very likely you can motivate them to stretch beyond where they are at. It also helps to create a low risk of failure. They might not choose the higher level quest because they are afraid they can not do it. Put their mind at ease that you want them to do their best and that you are there to support and encourage. And if the students still does not want to do the higher level, they met minimum competencies.

  2. Brilliant! Our student expectations may not be the same as the expectation the student has. Through this leveling of points, quests for advancement, choice of grade, life lessons are built. Students need to understand the value of completing a task for personal growth rather than a quantifiable grade. The work world does not hand out grades, instead it hands out money for meeting and exceeding expectations. The more you exceed, the more you advance. However if one is content to just make it through with the bare minimum then that is a life lesson to be learned. What a safe place to learn it in, where leveling, quests, or points are awarded instead of money.

  3. I agree our current grading system has many problems. How did you use your XP points to transfer to a grade? Or was this only for the students to see? If so, what did you base their grade on? I am trying to get away from the traditional grading but having a hard time finding a useful replacement.

    1. My feelings about grades and points are that we should not use them. They distract from the purpose of learning and are often used inappropriately. We let math determine a students “worth.” They math systems are not valid measurements, but we pretend they are meaningful. Leveling does not have to be connected to their grade. It could be, but does not have to be. At a basic level, the levels are connected to the total accumulation of points in the class. You do not need to make any changes to your classroom grading policies or procedures.

      I recommend letting students define their own grade and to justify it with evidence… rather than you telling them their grade.

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