Gamers Like to Be in Control – Gamification and Classroom Management

by Randy Fairfield, 11/12/18

During my last blog post, I introduced my new blog series on gamification in education. In this post, I will be addressing my first point, “Gamers like to be in control,” by discussing gamification and classroom management.

Classroom Management: The Controller


Control. It’s something we as people like to have. We like to be able to make our own choices rather than having someone else make them for us. Perhaps that’s one of the the great appeals of gaming: You can choose what you want to play and how you want to play it. In fact, the more I think about it, this appeal to control and power is exactly what Nintendo was marketing to their younger audience back in the day. Consider the message: When you have a controller in your hand, you’ve got the power.

What makes this marketing strategy so effective is that control and power are not something that kids are often used to having in their everyday life. Part of the reality of being younger is that, whether it be at home or at school, you are going to be told what to do and how to do it for a significant portion of your day. While much of what adults tell kids to do is entirely appropriate, I wonder if, in general, we could do more to release some of that power and control to provide students with a greater sense of autonomy over their lives. For as much discussion is held about having student-centered classrooms, the reality is that the vast majority of classrooms are still very teacher-centered.

You know, it’s kind of funny that I’m now saying this because I’m quite literally cringing as I think about what my approach to classroom management looked like when I first started teaching. It was bad. Really, really bad. I was working with an extremely challenging group of students, and particularly as a young teacher, I felt the need to get in there and establish my authority early. I’d heard about young teachers coming in and trying to be too relational with the students, and I just didn’t want to give off that vibe. So what did I do? I took control of my classroom. Or so I thought.

38 Special: Hold on Loosely

Right out of the the gate, I hammered kids on the dress code. I stood and delivered from PowerPoints and expected silence and note taking. I frequently called home and let parents know when their students were misbehaving. There was little grace and a lot of sternness. Full transparency here, it probably wasn’t long before the sternness became meanness. I wish I could say differently, but I can’t. You see, what I was doing wasn’t working. I wasn’t happy, the students weren’t happy, and honestly I started to doubt if I wanted to teach for the rest of my life. What I didn’t understand at the time was a lesson perhaps best learned from 38 Special: “Hold on loosely, but don’t let go. If you cling too tightly, you’re gonna lose control.”

There’s that word again. Control. You know, we really desperately need to change some of the vocabulary we use in education. Why? I really think the language related to classroom management had a significant impact on my perception of what was expected of me as a teacher in the early going. I find it curious that “being controlling” is generally considered to be poor behavior, and yet that same behavior is often seen positively when describing a teacher’s approach to classroom management. That is, when a boss constantly tries to control his or her employees by telling them what to do and how to do it, we call it micromanaging; yet when an educator does the same to a group of students, we say, “Oh, wow! Mr. Fairfield has such great control over his classroom!” Do you see the problem here? Rather than teacher, I now prefer to be considered a facilitator of learning. Rather than rules, I prefer guidelines and parameters. Rather than a classroom management plan, how about an academic and behavioral engagement plan? Words convey meaning, and the words we use and the way we use them can have a significant impact on the way we are perceived by the students in our care.

Stop a moment and think: Are you in control of your classroom, or have you found ways to release as much of it as you reasonably can to your students?


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Randy Fairfield, MEd and MBA, is a teacher and consultant in the Richland School District in Eastern Washington. He is also a Google for Education Certified Trainer, Edmodo Certified Trainer and Hapara Champion Trainer and Consultant.

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