Class Dojo – Great tool or behaviour modification madness?

I’ve used Class Dojo for 6 years now and love it. Well, at least really like it. However, I often see it getting bad press. So, I thought I’d write a little about what it is and how I use it.

Class Dojo started as what I would call a behaviour tracking/modification tool. Perhaps that is not what they intended, but it ended up how it was used for the most part and how most people view it. Teachers award points to students for ‘good behaviour’ and deduct points for ‘poor behaviour’. That would be it in a nutshell. Students could create their own avatar (how cute!) and teachers could make up whatever counts as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ behaviour; (so anything from not sitting properly in the chair to not handing in homework.) When a student gets a point the app makes a ‘bing!’ sound and when a point is deducted it makes a ‘bluuhh’ sound. Students like to hear the ‘bing!’ This is oversimplifying it, but as I said – in a nutshell.

students can create their own avatars.

Some people hate this idea,

‘…I see it as more of the same primitive behaviourist practices that should be abandoned. The philosophy and pedagogy behind ClassDojo is nothing new. Carrots, sticks, rewards, punishments, bribes and threats have been around for a long time. ClassDojo simply takes adult imposed manipulation and tracks it with mindless efficiency. ‘

‘ A lot of teachers seem to love it; other teachers think it’s ghastly because of this behaviourist reward system. ‘

‘ When I was in third grade, Mrs. Cartwright didn’t have a behavior chart. She had a paddle. And she used that paddle to control her students, even giving one boy a preemptive paddle every morning so he wouldn’t disrupt class. Of course, that didn’t deter him from acting out. Instead, it terrified kids like me. I never spoke voluntarily that year for fear of incurring her wrath…. Now, we are much more humane. We don’t physically paddle school kids or stick stars on them anymore. Instead, we wield the emotional paddle and gummy stars of behavior charts, clips, and computer systems like ClassDojo.

And my favourite title, ‘Thinking About Classroom Dojo – Why Not Just Tase Your Kids Instead?‘ Which starts off with, ‘Before I begin, I admit that I have never used Classroom Dojo.’

Well, you know it’s going to be a good, unbiased review then!

Now, before I write anything I would like to put forth my thoughts on public behaviour tracking charts. They are bad. Very bad. I disagree with them completely. For many of the same reasons the authors above have put forth. As Ms. Taser above writes, ‘ First, public displays of student behavior is nothing more than public shaming.  All children in the classroom are aware of what is going on – the kids know when someone is not behaving well.  However, by using a public symbol, whether it be a color card, a stop light, a clip, or a Dojo monster with points, it becomes a public display.  It also becomes a conversation at home around the dinner table.  “Johnny was on red today.  Abby lost points today.”  etc.  There is ample evidence that public shaming is not motivating, and does not encourage long term change.’

I totally agree. I would never have a behaviour chart up in the room where I daily moved students from green to yellow to red. It’s demotivating and dare I say it, just mean.

Three very good points against Class Dojo are made on this site, Let’s Discuss Class Dojo For a Moment, and I’d like to start by responding to them. (At least in regards to how I use Class Dojo).

‘My first hesitation is cemented in the public ranking system that it uses.’

I agree with this and to be fair, I have had some concerns from students (and parents) about how many points someone has and the competitiveness that it brings out. I always start the year stressing how this is not a competition, but just a fun way to make sure you are keeping on track and I straight up say it’s for helping develop good habits. Sometimes the first couple of weeks might be stressful for a couple of students, but they soon see how everyone can have different point amounts. I’ll say something like, ‘Well, you were sick two days, right? And that student had a class job that week. So that’s 4 points you missed because you were sick and they got an extra 3 because they had the class job…but when you get the class job, you’ll get those points and if they are sick then they won’t get them…but of course right now you’ll have different point amounts, right?’ To which the answer is usually, ‘Oh…ya. I guess you’re right.’ Perhaps this is because I teach grade 5 students and not younger children, who might put more emphasis on just getting/having points. I really reinforce it is not a competition between students. Students rarely see the chart and it definitely isn’t up publicly all the time.

‘ My second hesitation is the time factor.  I cannot imagine spending time in my day entering in behavior information for every child and handing them points for both good and bad behavior, even if there is an app for my phone. ‘

Ya, neither could I. That would totally suck and be a waste of my teaching time. I use it on average probably one minute a class.

‘ I almost always forgot to award good points which meant that once again my focus was just on the negative behaviors.  ‘

I only use Class Dojo for positive reinforcement. Well almost always. All but one of my ‘rewards’ are positive. I once had a button for ‘math homework not done’ but it didn’t reward or take away any points. (I actually had to make it a negative in the end, only because it wasn’t showing up to the parents as a ‘0 points’ option. I just wanted the parents to see the days I wasn’t getting math homework from their child. It’s great when a parent comes in and you have documentation showing ‘of the past 13 weeks, I have gotten the weekly math homework….once?’) I also have a ‘waiting for class to settle down’ -1 point where the entire class looses a point. This is used when I’ve asked for attention, done the countdown etc and students still aren’t settling down. When I hit that button and the speakers make that ‘Bruhhhh!’ sound, the students get real quiet, real quick. Looking at this year’s report, I have used it 3 times with one class and 0 with the other….and it’s almost March. So, it shows you how often I use it to ‘punish’ negative behaviour. Plus, even when I use it this way, the whole class looses a point. Some students always pipe up, ‘but _I_ was being quiet!’ To which I reply, ‘We’re in this as a class together. Either we succeed together or we go down together.’ It helps them start to ‘self police’ each other and peer pressure can be a powerful tool at this age. But I never single out anyone for their behaviour…which does frustrate some students, but I want to develop the idea of the class as a team, where everyone is responsible.

So what do I use it for? Mainly for developing and enforcing habits. Students come to me from elementary to middle school and there are a whole slew of new expectations. I want students to be on time with their materials. First day I tell them my expectations and give them a point. Next day, first minute of class, ‘Ok, who is here (on time)?’ Point. ‘Hold up your book. Hold up your planner. Hold up your pencil case.’ Point. ‘Ok, let’s get started.’ Easy things every student should be doing anyway, but you know, that little extra motivation to ingrain the expectations can help a lot. It just becomes the norm. Two months later, when I stop giving points for these things because ‘it’s too easy, you should just be doing it now’, it’s become so habitual for students that they naturally do it. At the end of a class I might say, ‘Wow, you guys were really focused today’ and give a ‘focused point’ to everyone. Or, ‘I saw a lot of collaboration today, it was really good teamwork’ and give a ‘teamwork point’ to everyone. I might ask a big idea question at the end of class and give a ‘participation point’ to anyone who answers…but everyone has the chance to answer and they can even give the same answer (because if it’s the main idea of the lesson, well they should have the same answer!) I don’t do these every class, but again, it gives students a feeling of ‘well done!’ and rewards the behaviour I want to see – and everyone gets the point, from the child who was super focused to the one that maybe had some difficulty. Everyone feels good and succeeds together. I also give points for class jobs or for helpful things I notice, ‘Did you stay behind and untangle all the chromebook wires and plug them all in correctly? Thanks, that’s really helpful!’, ‘Did you just go up and change the board to today’s date without anyone asking you too? Thanks, I appreciate that!’, ‘Did you put away <student’s> materials because you saw they were busy with <something>? That was very nice of you!’ However, I refuse to give points when a student comes to me asking for a point because they <did something>, because I don’t want students focusing on doing things for points (which some of them always start to do.) The point is just an extra bonus.

I could go into my points philosophy much further, but basically, I make it really easy for anyone to get points, only reward positive behaviour (to encourage and promote more of the same) and don’t spend a lot of time on the app. It’s ‘an extra little fun thing’ not ‘a major focus’.

But the whole points system is only one part of the whole Class Dojo app now. In the past few years they have developed a series of videos or ‘Big Ideas’ which include videos on growth mindset, perseverance, empathy, gratitude and mindfulness. I’ve watched these videos with my class and we’ve had discussions about them throughout the year. It’s just the kinds of things I want to give Class Dojo points for. (I have a point for ‘helping others’, ‘teamwork’ and ‘perseveres when challenged by work’.)

They also introduced direct messaging to parents. Now, I know a lot of teachers who want to have as little communication with parents as possible, but I like having this. As I say at open house, ‘You might send me an email about having to pick up your child early, or asking me to tell them they have to take the bus today…. but I might be busy, not look at my emails and miss it. If you send me a message on Class Dojo, my phone will send an alert and I will see it right away.’ I take a picture of the student with thumbs up and not only has the message be conveyed, I have documented proof the child received it. Parents appreciate it, and I have yet to have one who has abused this. I don’t want parents to have my phone number, but I recognize there might be times they want to get a hold of me (for a small thing) very quickly. This works perfectly.

Class Dojo now also has a class story section, where you can post pictures, videos and messages that parents (and only parents) can see. It’s kind of like a private class blog. I don’t use this function as often as I’d like (because as I said above, I’m not spending my class time consistently on an app), but when we are doing labs, or group work and I remember to record something, I have received good feedback from parents. It doesn’t take the place of my weekly update on Google Classroom, but it can be a way of involving parents and giving them some insight into what is happening in the lessons. Last week, we did our CWW trip and I regularly posted picture and video updates. I find it a good compromise between allowing students the independence and freedom they need and letting parents see their child is happy and doing ok (for what is for many of them) their first time away from home without parents. I always get great feedback.

‘ Once again, thank you for the photos cos we really appreciate knowing what the kids are doing and it gave us talking points with XXXX when she got back. You have made a difference in our lives and we really appreciate you!’

‘You are awesome for keeping us in the loop. The pics are great. You deserve a medal.’

I can understand for some teachers, using the app might be too time intensive. (Even I don’t use it as much the second half of the year.) I could also see it very easily being abused as a reward and punishment system. However, personally, I have had nothing but positive experiences with it; it’s a good mix of everything I need – blog, messenger, behaviour tool, positive reinforcement, social/emotional promoter, etc. There is nothing in Class Dojo that I can’t do somewhere else….but Class Dojo combines everything in the one app. I think if you just brush it off without looking deeper and giving it a try, you might miss out on how it could work for you.

5 thoughts on “Class Dojo – Great tool or behaviour modification madness?

  1. I love and hate the whole Class Dojo. All the points from both yourself and others are valid. It totally comes down to how the teacher uses it and what their philosophy is. Looks like you are using it in a positive way rather than a paddle, like Mrs Cartwright. Using to create positive behaviours rather than using it to stop negative ones highlights your own philosophy.

    I really like the idea about using it to get messages from the parents. I sometimes feel that the relationship between teachers and parents is distant and cold. This makes it seem fun and that both are on the same page.

    Lastly, I love that you only use the negative point for the whole class. The whole sink or swim together is something I value as an educator. I do something similar with my grade 9 football unit where the team gets and losses points for how they perform and interact. Causes them to help support each other and results in them feeling like they let each other down if they don’t perform.

    Awesome post and I have seen it been used so poorly by other teachers. Looks like you know how to make it a meaningful tool in your classroom.

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  2. I have never heard of Class Dojo before and I can see how it can be a big turn off for some people, but the way that you are implementing it makes it sound like a great resource that teachers could use. It’s great that it can be used as a communication method and blog for keeping parents up-to-date on what’s happening in the classroom as well as reinforcing positive behavior.

    I also like how you incorporate the element of teamwork. Kids tend to be so competitive at this age, it’s nice that they are reminded that they need to work together as a unit in order to succeed.

    Have you experienced any negative consequences when using Class Dojo?

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  3. I used Class Dojo for one year, my first year teaching grade 4. While I was very familiar with the app, and all the opinions regarding how it is used, this post really has me thinking about if it is all that cut and dry. As Jackson said, it is all about the philosophy of the teacher. I used it in a similar way, deducting only whole class points, but as an elementary school teacher, I found it hard to get the other teachers that my students worked with to use it the same way. It is, or can be, extremely subjective. For example- the French teacher would deduct for homework, the Arabic teacher would reward for raising a hand to ask a question, the PE teacher would reward for teamwork. We all have different styles, philosophies, and ideas. Is this tool better for just one teacher per class? How do we collectively decide the message we want to send the students? I found myself really giving up on using it for behavioral purposes about halfway through the year, and using it more as a photo feed for parents to see what their children were doing in school. I stuck with it for this purpose because as mentioned, it really helped strengthen the home-school connection. Great reflection, Rob!

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  4. Ah the paddle. My 4th grade teachers had paddles to. Half an inch thick paddles! Tommy, who was in my class, unfortunately ended up having the broken on his bottom while being spanked. He was spanked ALOT. Obviously this form of punishment was neither positive or corrective for anyone. We watched and heard both Mrs. Eden and Miss Butler strike our classmates in hopes that their behaviour would be corrected. All incredibly scary.

    Students connect with technology and positive reinforcement and when it is something they get to help create it has positive effects on them. Learning to manage all of the pieces of MS is hard and receiving enjoyment from even something small is positive. I realise that using a technology piece may not be something that all agree with but it seems that the tool is having a positive impact on the students?

    The fact that it has a class to home piece allows parents to be able to have a window into their students day, which they so want, especially when it is their first year in MS. Being a parent we just want to participate in their successes and help them to navigate what they find to be challenging.

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  5. Hi Rob,
    Your post was cool because I had never even heard about Class Dojo before and I like the way you use it as a tool to reward behavior instead of punishing behavior. Yay! I had a teacher in third grade who used a “sticker” system to reward good behavior every day. You either earned your sticker for the day or you did not. If I remember correctly names were written on the board and strikes were doled out as needed. It wasn’t super cool to have your name on the board…or to get stickers. Especially since they were really just bits of paper glue-sicked onto a larger piece of paper. I remember a friend not getting her stickers for the first time because she had slid across the pews of the empty church while we were there after mass. She BAWLED after the teacher told her she wouldn’t get her stickers! It may have been that moment that sealed the deal for me: gimmicky carrots and sticks are not to be trifled with. At the end of the day, a sticker, a point, a paddle, or a candy can help to shape behaviors, but do they really teach anything? I don’t know, but I do know that, while I am sincerely happy that it works for you and you seem to be doing it right, Class Dojo is not something that I will be implementing in my classroom.

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