Letting go of the curriculum and allowing students to have some control over their learning is a terrifying. This is especially true in my US History class because at the end of the year my students are required to take an End of Course Exam. The tension is two fold – 1) for the students it is 20% of their grade and I feel it my responsibility to prepare them and 2) I sit in a data meeting every fall and have my students’ scores compared to other teachers in the district. Both of these factors would seem to be designed to foster less innovation and less risk taking on the teacher’s part. I have literally sat in professional development sessions that have advocated for ‘drill-and-kill’ methods in order to squeeze out a few more percentage points in gains. All that goes through my head in preparing for units and yet so do the students like (let’s call her) Betty. 

If we think of students as playing a classroom game some kids are out for the grade. They will do anything necessary to get a few more points on their average. These are at their best ‘Achiever’ types and at worst the ‘Player’ player type. The Achievers are interested in mastery and want to demonstrate their skills – it’s a pretty powerful internal motivator. Achievers tend to provide quality in completing assignments because it is honing the craft. Good grades are a by product of the action not the initial motivating factor. Players on the other hand are looking for external gratification of the grade. These students are what one fellow teacher calls ‘grade grubbers’ – these are the students that will challenge every mark and ask for extra credit even with a 100% average. The grade is the desired ‘ends’ which are justified by any means. 

Teachers should of course factor in these player types but most class design is already centered around these types. The issue is that these are only 2 of 6 types (according to Marczewski’s Hexad) and the other 4 need to be factored into lessons as well.

This is where Betty comes in. She does fine in class but grades and mastery are not primary motivating factors. Betty is a ‘Free Spirit’. She wants to explore the space and wants to interact with the game universe. The Betty’s of our classrooms can take many forms because they are interested in autonomy and self-expression. I have typically struggled with this type in my US History class because of the traditional forms of historic expression. Free Spirits don’t want to be tied down in writing a 5×5 argumentative essay. 

The Rogue Missions (Rogue Missions Post) have unlocked many of my Free Spirits. One of my Bettys has decided to research the buildup of Nazis aggressions against German Jews in the 1930s. She and her group members are writing original poetry to capture events like Krystallnacht and the Nuremberg Laws. They are diving deeply into the sources to understand and then create a product to represent the tragic events. Betty was not satisfied with that though. She decided that she wants to create original artwork to go along with the poetry. The opportunity to provide her unique self expression has motivated her to go far beyond my expectation for the project. Even better she started working on the artwork before the XP value (our grading system) was even discussed. At the time of this writing she is nearly done with the first in a series of paintings and poetry without anyone in the group asking about grades. 

Free Spirits are sometimes misunderstood as only seeking ‘easy fun’ or as ‘intentional non-learners’. This Betty is not my only Betty engaged by the opportunity for autonomy and self-expression in this project. In the 21st century teaching environment we have amazing new opportunities to engage our traditionally overlooked player types.