Connecting my learning by connecting at #nwpam14 and #ncte14

It is in this season of conferences that I recognize that no matter how long it's been since I've seen colleagues or friends, no matter how long it's been since I've engaged with my favorite work of the Writing Project and NCTE, that the network that has sustained me throughout both my High School and Higher Ed teachings, learnings, and doings, will always remain. It began in the airport when one of my favorite Red Cedar Writing Project fellows (Summer '05! Best Summer Institute Ever!), Paul Cryderman was on my same flight. Somehow, each year for this conference, we end up on the same flight. It is also the only time we get to talk each year. Since 2006. And every year he grades "My Personal Michigan Hero" Essays on the plane, which he passes to me to read when he comes across a good one. I make sure he tells his middle school students that a "college teacher" has read their essays and how much I enjoyed them. T

 he energy of the National Writing Project is so infectious each year. It is the dedication and commitment and innovation of this network that propels me here year after year. But I believe what I value most is the way that educators Kindergarten through University come together to share powerful practices, provoke questions, and explore this brave new world in which we are all figuring out the best ways to use the tech, to harness the network, and keep going amidst funding pressures, scapegoated teachers, poverty in our schools, and the myriad other issues that make teaching and learning the messy, time-intensive, rewarding, and heart-breaking paradox it is. Once I arrived, I immediately saw friends and colleagues, exchanged hugs, and jumped right into the last roundtable of the day at the NWP Annual Meeting. My friend Paul Allison and his YouthVoices crew led a discussion on an inspiring summer institute they conducted. They brought together a group of students and teachers in order to explore digital writing and technology in a shared space. The power of this shared learning, of students mentoring teachers, and teachers learning as students, was exciting and inspiring. It's a reminder of how much more we can do to improve the experience of learning when we tap community resources to support the work we do. It certainly takes a village.

Of course there is so much more to say, write, and reflect on. I am sparking with ideas as I always am when I come to the Annual Meeting and the Annual Conference. I am hoping to write more, but time is short and there are just so many inspiring friends to dream big with here. In the meantime, be sure to follow the #nwpam14 and #ncte14 hashtags on Twitter. 

Badges as Goals: Achievement Goal Theory

scout merit badges

Image by Flickr user zen and used under Creative Commons License

This is part of a series of posts that will build into my final paper for the Motivation course I am taking this semester. I want to emphasize that this a rough draft and welcome comments, especially ones that point out flaws in my logic or understanding of the motivational theory under consideration. I’m going to try and use my “blogging” voice here rather than my “boring academic voice” that I use in my official paper, but I apologize in advance if I don’t entirely succeed.

In achievement goal theory, it is the learner’s goals for learning that are most salient. In this conceptualization, students who take a mastery goal approach towards their learning focus more on their own individual ability to master new ideas and competencies. Students with a primarily performance goal approach focus more on their ability to prove they are better than others or that they can be judged successful by others. As Ames and Archer (1988) contrast them, the performance goal orientation is associated with “achieving success with little effort,” while a mastery goal orientation is described as valuing the process of learning itself “and the attainment of mastery is seen as dependent on effort (260).” In this theory of motivation, students adopting a mastery orientation have more positive outcomes, including a willingness to pursue challenging tasks, and use more self-regulating behaviors, and persevere in the learning tasks. In contrast, students with a performance goal orientation experience more negative outcomes, including an unwillingness to fail and anxiety.

Using achievement goal theory to predict the ways in which these divergent orientations towards learning might impact a learner’s motivation within a badge system can be useful. Badge systems are certainly patterned after similar systems within digital games, where these goal orientations have resulted in the negative outcomes associated with performance goal orientations. Studies that have examined gamers’ motivations have found a negative impact on mood when players adopted a performance goal orientation towards the game, valuing achievements over other aspects of game play (Ryan, Rigby, & Przybylski, 2006). Additionally, there are contextual factors that interact with these individual student orientations. Classrooms, for example, can be organized in such a way as to support a mastery over performance orientation and thus impact student motivations and outcomes, with classroom performance goal structures correlated with multiple negative outcomes for students (Lau & Nie, 2008). This suggests that these learning sites, like classrooms, should consider students’ achievement goal orientations and encourage a mastery approach whenever possible.

The Khan Academy emphasizes displays of competence over task mastery, an emphasis that aligns with a contextual goal structure that is performance goal oriented. By awarding badges and points for watching videos or answering rote questions without making mistakes, displays of competence are rewarded. These badges, in turn, are displays that rank users against each other, which could also explain the rampant cheating that some of the Khan Academy users have resorted to, certainly a maladaptive outcome predicted by the interaction of a student’s performance goal orientation with the Khan Academy’s performance goal orientation.


Ames, C., & Archer, J. (1988). Achievement goals in the classroom: Students’ learning strategies

and motivation processes. Journal of Educational Psychology, 80, 260-267.

Lau, S., & Nie, Y. (2008). Interplay between personal goals and classroom goal structures in

predicting student outcomes: A multilevel analysis of person-context interactions.

Journal of Educational Psychology, 100, 15-29.

Ryan, R.M., Rigby, C.S., Przybylski. (2006) The Motivational pull of video games: a

self-determination theory approach. Motivation and Emotion: 30, 347-363.