"Are you CRYING? There is NO CRYING IN KAHOOT!!" This thought echoed in my mind as I watched a student break down sobbing in class. How do you make an 8th grade boy cry in a room full of his peers? From my recent experience, the answer to this question could be, “Use technology.” In February, I was conducting a learning walk in an 8th grade classroom. It was near the end of class and the teacher was closing the lesson with the platform known as Kahoot! For those of you who are unfamiliar with Kahoot!, the quote below is how its developers describe it.
So how does a gaming experience that promises to “make it fun to learn” turn into an activity that tears are shed over? As I reflected over what I saw, I believe these factors sent this well-intentioned lesson element into a downward spiral.
• The class was an advanced-standing class (Pre AP) with students that are grade-motivated. Earlier, it was communicated to the class that this activity would be for a grade. Unfortunately, many of our high achieving students define themselves by the grades they make rather than the learning they engage in. They have been celebrated all their lives for being ‘smart’ and things have come easily for them historically. When these fixed mindset students struggle in an academic setting, it sets their world on edge. Some devalue and disengage from the activity itself. You can hear them processing this when they say things like, “This is so stupid.” In this case, the young man took his failure personally and it impacted his self-esteem. If one could hear the self-talk from students in this state it would sound like, “I am so stupid.”
• The Kahoot that was used was created by a different teacher. This became an issue during the game because one of the questions referred to a specific acronym. That acronym was not taught in the way the question was phrased. It was a classic example of a misalignment between instruction and assessment.
• Students only had 15 seconds to answer before the game moved on to the next question. For certain questioning, this amount of think time is more than adequate. In this case it was not. One could hear the audible expressions of frustration as the game moved forward prior to students inputting their answers.
So what do we do to avoid situations like this?
• Let’s be cautious about assigning grades to certain assignments. If a game show atmosphere is something a teacher wants to capitalize upon to create engagement, a grade might not be appropriate. We need to remember that the purpose of a grade is to reflect and communicate mastery. If factors are involved that impact a true representation of mastery, let’s not assign a grade. Develop practices that deemphasize the grade and focus on giving your students feedback. Celebrate mistakes, hard work, and the process. These things support a growth mindset and set our kids up to persevere through the struggles they will inevitably need to conquer on their life’s journey. Quit telling your students that they are “smart.” Feel free to acknowledge achievement but remember to celebrate the effort. Make this statement part of your vernacular, “Wow, you demonstrated your complete understanding of this by making a 100. You must have really worked hard!”
• Let’s remember that technology is meant to be a tool for instruction. Often times we become enamored with hardware, software, or web tools and bring them into a lesson without a clear instructional purpose. This is akin to purchasing a drill and hunting around your house for a hole to make.
• Extend the processing time you allow students to have when assessing what they know. We need to move away from celebrating a quick response toward recognition of deeper answers that show complex thinking. Let’s be purposeful in allowing our kids the think time they need. A quiz show simulation may engage students in the moment, but we do not want to reinforce the misperception that learning is all about answering quickly.
I want to end this post by celebrating the teacher in this story. After the lesson, I scheduled a coaching conversation with her to give her feedback. My goal was to coach her up on the use of Kahoot! and some of the issues I raised here. Once we sat together, she had already taken steps to improve her use of this technology as a tool. She researched how to extend the time students have to answer. She shared with me the struggles of the emotional 8th grader who was crying. It is clear that she knows and cares about her kids. I was very proud of the fact that she was reflective about the lesson and had already taken steps to improve it next time around. This is just what I want from my staff as we move from congeniality to collegiality.