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Mission Punch Cards (Or, How Just About Every One of My Students is Independently Motivated)

Yep, you read that right. Almost all of my students are independently motivated. They line up, begging to retake skills to demonstrate mastery.


Even when the grading period is long closed and I can’t change their grade.


I’m not kidding.


And I don’t teach at some school for independently motivated students.

I teach very real students.


But I’ve come upon a system that creates a sense of motivation and drive to demonstrate mastery that is, well, kind of amazing.


And not hard at all to do.


Two summers ago, I read Explore Like a Pirate by Michael Matera. As I read, I recognized my students in the descriptions of the different kinds of gamers. I do not consider myself a gamer (though I grew up with Mario and Sonic and have been known to lose miserably to my kids in Smash Bros), but I knew my students would really respond to the idea of gamification in our class.


I liked the idea of badging, that as my students demonstrated mastery of a standard or skill, they could earn a badge, hopefully motivating them to collect them and keep mastering content. But, I also knew I struggle with organization and would have a tough time keeping up with it. So, after some trial and error, I settled on a system we’ve used now for 2 school years.


And I LOVE it.


I make my students 2 kind of punch cards, like the loyalty rewards cards some stores use, where you get a punch every time you buy a sandwich. One card is for conduct, and one is for content. On the conduct cards, I have point values that align to our use of Class Dojo. On the content card, I put skills or concepts I expect kids to master during that unit. At the end of each class, kids get their conduct cards punched based on their Dojo points. And when we assess a skill or concept, students who demonstrate mastery (typically 80% or higher), get that skill punched on their content card.






I allow relearning and retakes, so even if we move on as a class, students can continue to work toward a punch on an “old” skill, even on previous cards (and, yes, students independently ask me to work with them on skills from WEEKS ago if they don’t have it punched and are working toward a special reward).


When we start a new unit, I create and print a new mission card, but students can continue working on old punches during our flex period.


About those rewards...So, a card is considered complete when every skill or point value is punched. Completed cards can be redeemed immediately for a “level 1” reward or stacked for higher rewards. Students tweak our rewards sometimes--I even have them write problem/solution and argumentative essays to make changes--but I've included some examples of what we’ve used.


Students are responsible for keeping their cards and bringing them to class. To redeem a reward, they turn in that number of completed cards. I don’t make a big deal over them forgetting them, but I typically won’t let them go get them--hey, a bit of reward for being organized and motivated enough to actually HAVE them in class is OK! But, if they bring their cards another day, I’ll happily catch up the punches they missed.



I have tried a digital version of the card system, turning the mission cards into "quests," and though there are many people doing that very well, my students and I found that made their progress less tangible--there's something about holding the card in their hand, seeing the punched skills and unpunched skills, that makes their progress much more concrete.


Since using this system, I don’t have to hound kids to try harder or improve their grades. I don’t have to lecture on the importance of mastering every skill. They get it. They want those punches! Because, lets face it, EVERYONE wants to play with slime or bring their pet to school.


Now, OK, so sometimes a kid loses their cards and acts like they don't care. But then I have to reconsider what their leverage point may be and how to re-engage them. Or, maybe they've fallen behind in mastery and are feeling how hard it will be to catch up. So they need a little coaching. The cards are NOT meant to be punitive. This is a celebration of mastery and a tangible way to understand their progress. Do I really get it 100% of the time? Maybe not. But, seriously, it's pretty dag-gone close.


This very simple change has been very powerful. All I'm doing is basically printing my learning targets on a card for each student, grading work I'd already be grading, and then punching their cards so they can see their progress and take ownership over their development of mastery. Logistically, it's very simple. These mission cards don't require an overhaul in how you teach. There's no program to download. Nothing to learn to do. You're just making their learning visible. That's it.


But my, is it powerful.


To use any of my content in your own class, add the file to your own Google Drive, and then you’ll be able to edit it however you’d like. I print the badges 4 to a sheet, in black and white (because, woah, that’s a lot of color), on plain copy paper. The Power Ups, I print in color and laminate.

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Teacher., Speaker, and Author

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