With the thousands of ed-tech tools available to teachers, it can be difficult to find those that work well and complement teaching strategies. It takes a lot of time to research and integrate, and for teachers in cash-strapped schools, access to some technology is completely out of their reach.
Sam Chaudhary and Liam Don, the co-founders of ClassDojo, had the tech limitations of many public schools in mind when they designed the free service, a behavior management tool meant to reduce the amount of time teachers spend trying to get students' attention. Classes need just one device -- an interactive whiteboard, a computer connected to a projector, or tablet or smartphone.
ClassDojo works on three principles:
- Build positive behaviors through positive reinforcement -- basically “catch kids being good” and use specific praise to call out good behavior.
- Real-time feedback is the most effective at improving and changing behavior over a period of time.
- Any tool focused on behavior must engage parents as well.
HOW IT WORKS
Each student gets an avatar and either receives or loses points. The point tallies can be projected on the board for real-time feedback. Teachers and students can come up with mutually agreed upon behavior expectations, and because the categories are framed using positive reinforcement, the tool has the potential to do more than just call out good behavior. For example, a teacher might create a category like “was able to counter another’s point of view without insulting them.” And that behavior becomes part of a classroom norm. ClassDojo can also take attendance and creates pie charts and percentage breakdowns to share with parents.
Teachers' experience with ClassDojo spans the spectrum. Jennie Dougherty, who taught English at a large urban public high school in Brockton, Massachusetts for three years, recently left to become the technology instructor at a school in East Palo Alto, a low-income Bay Area town. When she first encountered ClassDojo she thought it was just a virtual sticker star chart, a paper version of which she already used. ClassDojo met her basic need -- then she discovered it could do more.
“Educators have a specific objective in mind when we select a tool and then we customize,” Dougherty said.
Dougherty also used the tool to get her students to model more mature, college-level behavior. And in higher-level classes she allowed students to award points to one another and found if she prepared them ahead of time, students took this task seriously. And the act of withholding points from one another opened up great discussions for students. For example, she remembers one student refusing to award a peer a point in a debate because the speaker had gotten too emotional. That started a larger discussion about when it’s appropriate to insert oneself into a debate.
But Dougherty was willing to take a risk, and had the support of the administration.
“The classroom is a very high stakes environment," Doughtery said. "You are getting evaluated. It’s a place where we expect teachers to always be on their A-game.” And that means they may not have time or freedom to try something new. They may even be at risk if they do.
While Dougherty found ClassDojo useful, some of her colleagues didn't have the same positive reaction. “What I saw teachers struggle with is how to get the value out of a tool without changing the structure of what they were doing,” said Dougherty. ClassDojo fit her style because she was spending most of her class time on group activities, and less time up front lecturing. It was easy to move around the room awarding points as she checked in on each group’s progress. Teachers who focused on lecturing found it hard to juggle the points system with their usual style of delivering the lesson.
Joan Young, another teacher at a San Francisco Bay Area school, found the service just didn't fit her class well. She tried the tool, but found that the point system brought out more challenges than benefits. She asked her class what they preferred and they voted for a non-tech strategy she had been using where they could earn “fascination time” at the end of the week by transitioning quickly and quietly between activities. She also felt the tool was too focused on the teacher's actions. She’d rather see students evaluate their own behavior, learn from mistakes and take ownership of their own learning progress. She felt awarding points stifled that kind of thinking.
Still another teacher at Brockton never got the chance to try ClassDojo because his classroom didn't have a computer. Brockton is a large public high school south of Boston with more than 4,000 students, and the administration hadn't been able to get computers into every class. ClassDojo requires a minimal level of technology, just one device. Still, the gap between what many classrooms have at their disposal and what much of the ed-tech world is designing can be unbridgeable.
The ClassDojo team understands that their tool must work for educators, so they are responsive to suggestions and feedback. They are also far from done with the tool. Sam Chaudhary is excited by what it has been able to do so far, but has big plans for its future. “There’s a whole other half of education that's almost completely ignored by ed-tech which is beyond building test scores, it’s about building character,” Chaudhary said. He’s thinking about adding a self-evaluation element for students on ClassDojo, to help move it away from teacher-centered instruction. He also wants to strengthen the parental engagement element. He doesn't feel the current offering of and a percentage breakdown of behavior tells the parent what they really need to know.