Motivating Students With Badges

This year, I’ll be awarding digital badges to students to celebrate and  document their achievements. I’m using ForAll Rubrics, a website that allows teachers to create rubrics, checklists, and badges. They also have a mobile app called ForAllBadges that will run on your ipad, smartphone, chromebook, or tablet.

Digital badges are little graphic images that can be placed on a student’s online “badge board” and represent an achievement, a completed project, or a set of skills. Think Girl Scout badges, except digital. The teacher can create specific criteria for each one. For instance, I will have badges for accumulating repertoire:  the Rep 10 Badge will be awarded once the student has mastered 10 pieces or 10 pages of music, Rep 20 for 20 pieces, etc. I’m making badges for completing projects:  the B.B. Blues badge will be awarded once the student completes and performs a 12-bar blues improvisation (this one has a crown graphic on it for B.B. King). There are badges for skills acquisitions:  the Fiver Jiver Badge is for students who can play all of the Five-Finger Patterns (pentascales) and the Grand Scale Master badge means the student can play all scales around the circle of fifths, hands together, two octaves. You can make as many badges as you want and organize them into collections such as Rhythm, Sight Reading, Repertoire, Scales, Theory, Creative Projects, and so on. Students can login to their personal badge board at For All Rubrics and see their badges, share them via social media, email them to Grandma, or print them out and hang them on the refrigerator. They can also view all of my available badges and “pledge” to earn them.

Here’s what I love. This is an incentive program, a parent communication tool, and a tracking tool all in one. Earning badges is an incentive that lives at the crossroads of internal and external motivation. The badge is a celebration of achievement, and the student is motivated by the sense of mastery that earning the badge provides. Because these badges are so quick and easy to make, I can provide a lot of them in each category and allow the student to “level up” often, tapping into the gamification model and giving lots of immediate feedback. Parents can log on to the website and see the badges earned, and can see the specific criteria for earning each one. This communicates very specific and meaningful information about what the student is learning, as well as the value of what I provide in my studio. As a tracking tool, this lets me see at a glance what skills and projects the student has completed so far this year. The student’s badge board is almost like a visual resume.

Another great feature is that you can allow students to self-assess. So, for instance, if students are assigned to sight-read a short piece at home each day, once they have sight-read a specified number necessary to earn a badge, they can award it to themselves. I like the potential for autonomy. Students might be creative and suggest additional badges. You can even set it up so that students can award badges to other students. Imagine the group class possibilities! There are just so many potential ways you can use badges.

If you like this idea and want to try it yourself, there are several sites to do it. ClassBadges is where I started, and the graphics for the badges there are super cute, but the program has some serious bugs. Deleted things never went away, moving around the site was awkward, and worst of all, there was no good help page. I mourned my wasted time and moved to another site. For All Rubrics is much more powerful and versatile, and has very clear explanations on the help pages. My only complaint is that their badge designer tool wasn’t so hot. I am using MakeBadges to design my badges and then uploading them to F.A.R. It’s very quick once you get the hang of it. MakeBadges doesn’t have many music icons to use, but you can upload your own images if you want. Since I’m making so many, I’m doing them the quickest way possible. Other people seem to like using Mozilla Open Badges. I haven’t tried it out, so I can’t offer a review.

You will need to set up your class and make your badges on the website, not the mobile app. You can upload an entire class roster using an excel template that F.A.R. provides. You can set up your entire studio as one class, or make different groups. Then create your badges. This is the most time-consuming part, and I’ll probably be creating badges in my spare time for quite a while. Once your students log in, they can upload a profile pic. When you get your class set up, download the ipad app, login on the ipad, and your class will appear. Tapping on the student picture brings up a page where I can easily choose the collection of badges I want and award one.

Here’s the best thing of all. Except for the time invested, this whole setup is free, and my students can accumulate badges year after year.

Let me know if you try this! I’ll be reporting back on how it works.