This blog by Tom Vander Ark originally appeared on Ed Week.
New Tech Network (NTN) schools have had a long standing practice of trying to get students to reflect both publicly and privately about their progress and performance on school-wide learning outcomes,” said COO Tim Presiado.
However, he thinks public leaderboards “could could be more divisive than helpful in building a strong culture of trust, respect and responsibility.”
The 200 schools in the NTN share a project-based learning philosophy and a platform that tracks progress on each project and course. “This allows students to see if they need to improve on academic knowledge and thinking, written and oral communication, collaboration and agency.”
Some NTN schools have given awards or recognized student achievement in each learning outcome area; a different way to think about honor roll, less on summative course performance and more on recognizing students on skills and abilities that make them valuable members of a team or project.
“Leaderboards in my mind are more ongoing and are tied to a gamified classroom experience. I have seen these be tremendously successful, but they require a lot more time and effort,” said Shaw Rubin, Highlander Institute. He noted the need for a story arc that explains the purpose of the game and a point system that values higher level meaning making or application tasks. “In these cases when the teacher takes the time to build these story lines and point structures I have seen students more motivated than ever,” said Rubin.
“A leaderboard can be a positive tool if it used as a way to celebrate student achievement or student progress towards a goal,” said Turnaround for Children CEO Pam Cantor. However, warns Cantor, “when rankings from top to bottom are showcased, a leaderboard can become a tool for shaming children.” Cantor, an expert on the damaging effects of childhood trauma, adds:
“Children who feel shame are less likely to take risks and tackle difficult academic material for fear they will fail. We want children to feel safe and supported in school because then they are more likely to engage in their work and gain confidence to persevere as learners. Moreover, beyond fear of failure, children fear embarrassment, and will go to great lengths to avoid it. If we want students to have courage and persistence, then we have to create an enormous amount of safety, both inside and outside of the classroom. One critical thing to recognize is that if you look at why children hurt themselves, one of the biggest reasons is humiliation, often via social media. Shame is toxic to positive outcomes for children.”
Performance monitoring can inspire or embarrass. The intent is performance reflection and engagement in growth. EdLeaders should be thoughtful about how performance monitoring is used and when, how, why any of that data is made public to a school community.
Lessons from NTN suggest that individual performance dashboards, shared with parents and teachers, are critical to student agency. Lessons from Highlander suggest that classroom gamification hold promise if the data is timely and relevant. Dr. Cantor warns us that performance monitoring should never be used in a way that will promote shame for struggling students. In short, performance monitoring can be a powerful motivator for students within the context of a positive classroom environment.