Increasing Student Engagement with Gaming

In March of 2020 a raging pandemic brought the world to its knees. Families lost loved ones, businesses, jobs, and the comforts of life we have come to know and love. The last year has been devastating, exhausting, and challenging. Despite all of that, professionally, I am coming to the end of the best year I have ever had as a school librarian.

In September of 2020, my district created a plan for returning students to school safely. The plan included a combination of remote and in person learning options, and for specialists, a traditional weekly specialist schedule at the lower elementary school for students in grades K-2, and a rotating 34 day schedule at the upper elementary school for the 3-6th grades, where we would see the same 4 classes every day for 34 days and then switch to a new rotation of students. The 34 day rotation was a vastly different model than we had been accustomed to. Typically, as a school library teacher, I would see every student in the district, about 600 students, each week. To reduce exposure, we switched to the rotation model at the upper elementary school.

This meant I needed to be prepared with 136 lessons, one lesson for each rotation day for 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students. My lessons needed to be suited for live in person instruction, remote in person instruction, and asynchronous instruction. I immediately saw the potential with this model. I set out to develop lessons that would work for all models, and ones that I could use in the future. Since this was to be my second year in the district, and my first year was cut short, and before arriving in the district I had never taught 5th and 6th grade, I had quite a bit of work to do to come up with lessons for all grades.

I started by assessing the work I did my first year in the district. Some of my lessons had been very successful. Those I kept in-tact. Others had been good, but not great. Those I revised. Some did not work at all. Those I eliminated. One thing I have learned as a library teacher is that behavior problems come with bored students. If they are not behaving, then the fault is with me and the lessons I have prepared. During the 2019-2020 school year, I could see the better students trying very hard to please me, their library teacher, but I lost the other students. I needed to fix that.

Looking at all of the lessons I have ever done, I chose only those that were the most successful, and ditched everything else. I relied heavily on an AMAZING 5 week course I took over the summer at the Midwest Teacher’s Institute, MTI563, taught by Jacqui Murray at Calumet College, where I learned about digital tools to engage learners. Talk about ‘just-in-time” learning that course came exactly when I needed it, and while I consider myself extremely tech savvy, the emphasis on differentiation and student engagement provided the inspiration to invigorate my instruction, using digital tools, some familiar and some new, to do so.

It took me about 6 weeks of long hours with my computer on my lap, from sunrise to almost midnight, every day, to reinvent my library lessons. I stopped to eat, bathe, sleep, and then when school started, teach, but did nothing else. It was a LOT of work. But when I was done, I was done. My lessons were set for the year, giving me time to tweak as needed, but not plan. Every second of that time spent has been worthwhile. I love what I came up with, and even better, so do my students.

So, what worked?

  1. Planning daily lessons for the 34 day rotation means that my lessons are done. I don’t have to spend planning time planning. Instead, I use planning time to give students feedback. I make tweaks here and there to lessons, but the hard part is done. I know what I am doing each day when I walk in the door.
  2. Everything is digital. We use SeeSaw at the lower elementary school, and Google Classroom at the upper elementary school. All assignments are digital. All of the student work is digital. I am not making photocopies. I am not wasting paper. When it comes time for report cards, I have a digital record of all student work. I can make comments, provide feedback, and see version history. I will never go back to a paper model. Never. For a library media teacher, digital is best.
  3. I built differentiation into every assignment. I provide word banks, templates, and graphic organizers for all assignments. They are there for students who need them. Students get directions three ways: (1) live during all class instruction, (2) recorded videos for revisiting the lesson, and (3) written step-by-step instructions.
  4. I gamified the classroom. The students are all sorted into Hogwarts Houses using a Google Form that I created and earn points for everything they do in library. There is a winner at the end of every rotation and there will be an overall winner at the end of the year. The winning house will get to keep the house cup in their area of the library. In addition, my assignments are game-like. I created digital breakouts for the older students, mystery research projects, web search challenges, and WebQuests. There is competition built into everything. This seems to motivate the students.
  5. Students get to choose their own topics and areas to research.
  6. Student experts
  7. Research shows that students like to have an audience for their work. I think it is important for students to learn how to make presentations and how to be a respectful audience member. I tell the class howWith that in mind, most everything my students do, they share the result with the class, either on a Padlet, video presentation, or live presentation. To make sure students are listening to the presentations, I often follow-up with a Kahoot with questions from the presentations.

Library Goals

I had an amazing principal at one of the schools I worked at during my second year as an elementary library teacher who gave me some really good advice. We were talking about setting my goals for the year, something every teacher has to do every year. She said the mistake some teachers make is having too many goals. She said to choose one or two goals and make sure every lesson you create supports that goal.

Here are my goals:

  1. Citing Sources: By the time my 6th grade students leave elementary school, I want them to know about citing all types of information sources. I start creating those habits in 3rd grade and carry it right through all of my lessons right up to 6th grade. All pictures need citations. All information sources need citations. Any time a student uses an information source, I want them to tell me where the information came from. Every time a student uses a picture, even if it is a picture they took themselves, I want to know where the picture came from.
  2. Presentations:

Gamifying the Classroom

I created a Google Form that sorted students into one of the four Hogwarts Houses. Everything students did in library earned them house points (and occasionally, lost them house points). Students earned points for completing assignments, answering questions, volunteering, helping out, bravery, and even being the first to arrive in my Zoom waiting room, and there was a winning house at the end of each rotation, and there will be an overall winner at the end of the year. As I write this, Gryffindor has won two rotations, and Ravenclaw has won two rotations. It will be interesting to see which house has the most points at the end of the 5th rotation.

The other librarians in my district thought this sounded like to much work to manage. It really is not. I am able to assign points for assignments during my 45 minute prep. Since my lessons are done for the year, I don’t need to spend that time planning. Since my lessons are all digital, I don’t have to spend that time making photo copies. I have not made ANY photocopies this year. You are welcome, environment.