How do you keep students engaged at school?
How does engagement even work?
This is the first in a short series about examples of engagement that I have found and looked into. I am not an expert in engagement.
Scoreboards – Engagement Exmaple #1
“People play differently when they are keeping score”4 Disciplines of Execution
Scoreboards are everywhere
Sports are obviously full of them but they aren’t just sporting. Think of:
- A share price
- Total attendance at an event
- Sales numbers
- Google search engine rank
- New York Times best seller list
- Number of friends on social media
- Music charts
- Any Guiness world record
- Even Covid has a scoreboard (infections per day)
We do use scoreboards to rank or to compare relatively, but scoreboards aren’t necessarily adversarial.
- The thermometer charities use to signal the money they are hoping to achieve and have achieved so far
- Fire brigade – how many fires a branch have attended this year
- How many years you have been married
And sometimes scoreboards are just for us.
- Swimmers and runners keep their personal bests (over a certain distance)
- Score on a maths test
- Amount of savings in the bank
- Mountain climbers know the height and amount of mountains they have climbed
- Keeping track of your own steps in a day
What makes a scoreboard
A scoreboard may come in many different forms but what defines a scoreboard is the fast and simple way it reflects the score. The score being a record or tally of events that have occurred during a set period of time.
Scoreboards tend to be focused around one primary number (i.e. total points). Primarily because the simpler it is to understand, the more universal it becomes which in turn gives it more credibility.
The one number is important and is the thing that we think is the most important. It may not necessarily be the most correct way to record the event, but i’t is usually pretty accurate.
The effect of a scoreboard
I picked up on the idea of using a scoreboard for engagement from a book called the 4 Disciplines of Execution (4DX). It’s a book for managers about execution.
Watch until 4:10 – (Disciple 3)
What isn’t said in the video is that the scoreboard works as an incentive, while making progress (or lack of) clear to everyone (not just the ‘coaches’ or ‘players’) In this way it creates accountability and so changes the way the players play.
Players also use the scoreboard because as a player, I know how well I am playing, because it is reflected in the score. I can also have a direct impact on the scoreboard by my actions (like shooting a goal).
Some Detail on Scoreboards
Whacking up a scoreboard in a classroom on it’s own isn’t going to do much. Here are a few points to consider.
The game needs to be winnable
Firstly, for scoreboards to be effective the game has to be winnable for players.
If it isn’t players can disengage with the scoreboard (and the game).
We’ve all seen fans of a team leaving the game early when their team has no chance of winning.
We may have also experienced when students (and people in general) give up or they don’t give much effort.
The scoreboard is the third discipline in this system. The first two are identifying the most important goal and finding what actions will increase the likelihood of that goal occurring.
Players scoreboard vs coaches scoreboard
The video briefly touches on the difference between a players and a coaches scoreboard. Here is a little more detail:
A players scoreboard is what you see at the sports ground. A total score usually and the time. Sometimes there is a little more detail (goals and behinds, timeouts, etc.) but not much. Good scoreboards are able to be understood (not just comprehended or seen) instantly. Less is more with a players scoreboard.
A coaches scoreboard is a lot more complicated. If you have ever watched F1 it is a good example. The players scoreboard is who is coming first, and possibly the pit stops. The coaches sit on the wall in front of many different screens with a lot of data coming back from their car. That is the coaches scoreboard. It will include stuff like how worn each of the tyres are, how much air is passing through the engine, etc. In football it would include, tackles, time in forward half, assists, rotations, etc.
How do you know what to put on a scoreboard?
To make a scoreboard you really have to agree on something first and have an end goal that you all agree on. Then this becomes the action that drives the score.
Maybe it’s being better at communicating your ideas, persuasive writing, a particular Maths topic or the curriculum that’s in the course.
The start of the video (earlier in this article) is about deciding what to measure. You can watch the start below if you wish to understand more about this.
How accurate are scoreboards?
This is a good point.
Sometimes at the end of a sports game I have heard the commentators say ‘the score flattered team x’, but I don’t think I have ever heard them say ‘the scoreboard was completely wrong and not a reflection of what happened.’
If a scoreboard was off and not accurate it wouldn’t have the same effect over the players.
I cannot think of an example of a scoreboard that didn’t accurately record or tally events. That doesn’t mean one doesn’t exist. If you know of one then please let me know.
More than one scoreboard?
It’s possible that you may need more than one scoreboard to keep everyone engaged. Think of Mario bros.
You start by just trying to stay alive and complete the levels
Then collecting the coins and other objects becomes an objective. This allows you to demonstrate your skill rather than just try to stay alive.
And then time runs are for people who are very ‘engaged’ and want to study the levels, find cheats, etc.
Are all used as a way to measure success. They are just for different levels of players.
As an educator, I respect scoreboards for two reasons:
- They can take a lot of information and surmise it into a simple, easy to remember message
- They allow the players to see the impact of their actions (and make them care about the outcome)
In and of itself a scoreboard isn’t going to magically make students engaged. But when it is
- Easy to understand
- Updated regularly (once a class at least)
- Tracking the right thing
it will help engage students.
Although I have been pretty pro scoreboards here, I am not an evangelical, or going to start up my own consultancy (‘Scoreboard Schools’ anyone?), but I think there is likely a role for scoreboards somewhere in the classroom or even staff room.
I have trialled using a scoreboard in class before and will keep trying some different things, but i’m no expert. If you have thoughts/comments or experiences with using scoreboards in classrooms and schools please contact me
I have taken the video and some information from the book ‘The 4 disciplines of execution’. You can get your copy here or add it to your audible library here. Using these links helps support this website.