The ‘loser’ problem

Losers are made, not born.

Every winner begets a loser. In a class of 30 who are kept ranked, 15 students are consistently being told they are below average, and probably no more than three trade the epithet ‘bottom of the class’. Tell someone (especially a teenager) something about themselves often enough, support it with peer feedback, and it rapidly becomes a belief. A placid but dozy 5 year-old can be turned into a streetfighting petty criminal fairly reliably with 10 years of this treatment.

Which is why norm-referenced assessments were thrown out almost 30 years ago (GCSEs introduced 1986), and is why I oppose leaderboards and other forms of individual ranking.

Leaderboards are a popular feature request, though, and of course I want to be responsive to our users. Many teachers see how competition motivates young people, especially the brightest, and they tend to simply not notice that it demotivates the bottom third.

We already support teams leaderboards. They don’t have this problem, because each team comprises a mix of strong and weak players. But I have been wondering what to do to support individual motivation as well. I think I may have found the answer.

We already have a standard Calibration feature that asks students to predict their quiz score before they start. I have covered the theory and benefits of calibration elsewhere. What if we introduce a leaderboard for prediction accuracy? It avoids the ‘long-term loser’ problem because it is much easier to improve your score simply by becoming more realistic about your abilities – and that, of course, is the first step to real improvement.

If we were to introduce a Calibration Leader Board, would you get behind it? If you as the teacher take it seriously, the students will too. And that will boost results, without leaving a trail of self-defined losers in its wake.


3 responses to “The ‘loser’ problem”

  1. […] There is a problem with competitive games: every winner begets a loser. We see all too often in education that the kid at the bottom of the heap gets demoralised, demotivated and disenfranchised. Organising into teams can completely solve that; here’s how. […]

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