Gamification 101: Why A Badge Is Better Than An A

Gamification 101: Why A Badge Is Better Than An A  by Alison Anderson originally appeared on

I admit this title makes a pretty bold statement for a society that pretty much uses the first five letters of the alphabet to define every child from about age 5 until adulthood. But, I am hearing more and more about the use of badges in the classroom, especially in conversations about gamification and self motivation.

I first heard about badges because many games and web tools, like Edmodo and others, include the ability to award student badges to help encourage students to participate and succeed independently. But, we are not totally gamifying our classrooms or currently using Edmodo, so this year I was not really considering the possibility of awarding my students digital badges. That is, until I recently came across this awesome site and FREE web tool for teachers, and I knew I had to have these for my students.

After applying to become a beta user, I was introduced to the 100s of beautiful icons and class badges that I could immediately assign to specific tasks that we would be working on in the classroom all year. As I started browsing through the pages of awesome looking graphics, my head immediately started to spin with the potential. I couldn’t stop myself from immediately starting to create badges that will fit right into my curriculum. But before I really start to integrate this badge system into our classroom work flow, I knew I needed to define my reasoning for administrators, parents and, even the students, to make sure everyone recognizes their true merit, and doesn’t just write them off, thinking they’re comparable to a the stickers teachers like to add to quizzes and exams that receive an A or B.

Here, I’ve come up with my three specific reasons why I think badges should replace the letter grading system:

1. Badges are fun. They are super cute, especially these ones here on They are little works of art.  They are visually stimulating. They are little thumbnail icons that appeal to our senses, and attract our eye. They make people want to pay attention, look again and  find out what does that picture, or badge, stand for.  What does it mean? I think a collection of these badges is something the student will want to show others and something shareholders outside of the classroom will want to know more about.

2.  Badges focus on the positive. The point out what that student has done or has accomplished, first and foremost. The grouping all those specific accomplishments together, with representative visuals, can really give students and parents a clearer picture of who what is happening during the school day and what learning experiences are taking place.  A typical report card gives one final letter grade per subject.  Although the grade may assign the student to a achievement level, it doesn’t always point out specific strengths or unique achievements., or define the learning activities and projects students are working at to achieve their own goals.

3. (The most important) badges inspire and tell the stories of student learning. I imagine the collecting of badges throughout the school years could evolve into a treasure box of memories for students, making it easier to recall their past learning and use it to scaffold their current experiences. As my own daughter starts to prepare for high school, she’s required to write an essay about her educational experience that has led her to this point in life. How great would it be for her to be able to refer back to a collection of badges in order to remind herself and share all the accomplishments she managed to gain through her first 8 years of school. I picture them as almost a mind map, defining her strengths and interests and outlining the different milestones in her education career that formed her and made her who she is. A traditional “A-F” report card doesn’t inspire that type of insight for the students or the people they need to share it with in order to get into high school or college or get a job. A collection of badges from would be much more like sharing a personal “yearbook” of academic accomplishments. I love that idea.

I am just getting started on and am only starting to introduce the idea to my students. I am still thinking about a lot of the details. One thing I am going to request is the ability for students to embed badges onto their individual student blogs. That could be the ideal place to keep these badges.

Students could expand on the badges’ meaning with their own writing and keep them in this “digital portfolio” of their own. Life moves so fast for all of us, we can easily forget what we did in school last year, let alone last week even! I really am convinced a good badge will beat out a good letter grade any day.They are a superior “grading system” because they speak to and help us remember what is good and unique about every individual student.

Image attribution flickr user kjgarret

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