I Hate Stickers: Gaming and Education

I hate stickers.

I don’t like using them to reward a student for high achievement. I don’t’ like using them to reward good behavior. When I was in elementary school, I remember getting stickers for all of those things and I don’t remember what I had accomplished to get them. Going to school and doing well in something wasn’t so that I can learn a skill, gain an understanding or remembering some facts. I wanted the stickers to see the large collection of stickers on my folder (that I so carefully transferred).

Some rights reserved by rosipaw

My motivation to behave and do well was to get the stickers to increase my collection of things. The more I had, I felt like I had achieved more and that led to a sense of accomplishment. Not to mention, showing off my sticker filled folder to my classmates.

In that way, do I love stickers?

I am a gamer. I play all sorts of games. Video games, card games, board games, you name it, I’ll play them. Specifically with video games, I’ve been playing them since I was in 3rd Grade with my first GameBoy system that I was glued to for an entire summer. I distinctly remember when I accomplished this that summer:

I remember figuring out the pattern that the final boss attacked, figuring out how to dodge them, and finally defeating the boss. That gave me a huge sense of accomplishment. Then, being able to share how I beat the boss to my friends who are stuck. Why is it that I can remember exactly what I did to feel that sense of accomplishment in a video game, but I can’t remember what I learned to achieve stickers?

With a little bit of introspection, I think there are three key factors: the sense of play, internal motivation, and social recognition. Playing is fun. If you can couple that sense of fun with additional internal motivation to achieve, and a level of social recognition for the accomplishment, that might be a tri-fecta for learning.

How can we bring that sense into the classroom?

I don’t think everything needs to be a game. But, I feel like students should always feel like they are playing when they are in school. When you’re playing, you’re not worried about making a mistake or failing. What if you can have a classroom environment where it’s okay to be wrong? What if the response when a student makes an error is, “Cool you got something wrong! What are you going to do differently next?” Won’t that lead to being motivated to try again so that you can reach a goal?

Play also involves exploration. Understanding what you have to work with and manipulating them so that it works for you. I often talk about math in the classroom as playing with numbers and shapes. We get to mess around with them to see how many different ways we can do (solve) something. That, can also lead to internal motivation. It’s the sense of accomplishment that the students crave. Different students seek this in different ways whether it’s teacher approval or something else that’s external, but leading the kids to start feeling accomplished themselves for what they have been doing would be key.

Finally, some level of social recognition. Being able to teach what they have done to someone else, to become the resident expert, or naming some sort of reading, writing, math strategy after them in the class can accomplish that. In addition, awards that allows an individual to be recognized for their achievements (Microsoft’s GameScore, Sony’s Trophy System, Foursquare Badges) can make the sense of accomplishment even sweeter. (Oh no, I might be back to stickers again).

Some rights reserved by jason carlin
Some rights reserved by jason carlin

So, how can stickers be used? As a badge. Not for one accomplishment, but as a way to show an increasing level of expertise. It probably shouldn’t be given often because the “badge” itself will lose meaning. Let it be a way for students to show that they are an expert at something and they can become “go-to” people for helping others.

I’m okay with stickers.

Sorry that this post became so long! Thank you for reading!



5 thoughts on “I Hate Stickers: Gaming and Education

  1. Hi Akio,

    I thought your blog post was thought-provoking and reflective. I too remember LOVING stickers when I was in elementary school, but after reading your blog I realize I also don’t really remember why I received them. Is it just because it was so long ago? I know we would receive a sticker if we did well on an assignment, and I was extremely excited to get one when I did that, but I agree with you about the fact that it’s not exactly the best motive for getting one.

    Associating the sticker with a badge of honor representing that the recipient is an ‘expert’ in something is the important key . I believe that that connection between the physical reward and the social recognition is what would make that type of reward work.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. I liked your post! I was actually considering turing my digital badges (for technology class) into actual stickers so kids could put them on their computers. Then, teachers and students can easily see who has accomplished tasks and who is a “master” at certain skills!

    They go so far…especially in middle school, which is what I teach!

  3. ‘I think there are three key factors: the sense of play, internal motivation, and social recognition. Playing is fun. If you can couple that sense of fun with additional internal motivation to achieve, and a level of social recognition for the accomplishment, that might be a tri-fecta for learning’ – these are GOLDEN WORDS. Nothing works better than these three factors combined together! When I have my ICT classes, sometimes I tell my students that, for example, during their today’s class they can ask each other questions, move around to see other students’ work, ask their friends for help and simply share their work with each other. In most cases the lesson goes smoother, the students seem happier and by the end of the class they produce better results. I think it’s because they have all the three factors combined here, especially when they show their work to each other and understand that it’s recognised by others.
    Also, your idea about stickers is great! I should try something like this.

  4. Love this sentiment:

    “When you’re playing, you’re not worried about making a mistake or failing.”

    Totally agree that school should always feel like playing, like a challenge that can be enjoyed and achieved.

  5. I think this was one of my favorite weeks in COETAIL so far. After finding out just how much games can be used for learning it helped me break down the negative association I had with them from when I was little. I have such strong memories of being asked to put them down and start my homework. Knowing that the unique ways that gaming teaches is now being infused in schools is so exciting.

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