Reflections on the Class Dojo Kerfuffle

Based on the posts I’ve been seeing in my Twitterstream lately, I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I am a Class Dojo user.

I know the complaints that people have with the app:  Awarding points for good behavior feels Pavlovian; allowing peers to see points awarded and taken away from their classmates can be publicly embarrassing; and patterns established over time might just result in kids being unfairly labeled.

Heck, #edulegend Alfie Kohn took his criticism of Class Dojo straight to Defcon 1 in this week’s New York Times article.  “This is just a flashy digital update of programs that have long been used to treat children like pets, bribing or threatening them into compliance,” he argued.

Here’s the problem:  Our collective beef with Class Dojo rests in the flawed assumption that the tool FORCES teachers into crappy instructional choices. 

Take the examples shared in the Times:  The teachers spotlighted displayed their Class Dojo screen publicly in front of the class, left notifications — the dings and donks that announce that points  have been given or taken away — turned on for everyone to hear, and gave points for ridiculous things like bringing in supplies for classroom activities.

I can’t support any of those instructional choices, y’all.  The records that I keep about the struggles of individual students ought to be private — and displaying them in front of the entire class and announcing them with buzzers and bells is ludicrous.  So is giving awards to students who can bring in supplies — which inherently devalues students who can’t.

But there are lots of other ways to use Class Dojo to support responsible practice.  Here are a few examples from my classroom:

Recording anecdotal evidence of student mastery of required concepts:

One of the best sources of evidence that students are mastering required concepts are the countless one-to-one interactions that happen during the course of a school day.  Every time a student shares thinking in a classroom, makes a contribution during a group conversation, participates in a hands-on activity, or asks a question after a lesson ends, teachers gain insight on their progress.

The challenge for me has always been documenting these interactions.  Sure, I could probably give you a pretty good sense of which students have mastered key concepts and which students are still struggling to master key concepts — but with 120 kids across four class periods, I’d be lying to you if I told you that I know EXACTLY who knows what.

And I’d also be lying to you if I told you that I’d never been surprised by a student who showed me that they HAD mastered key concepts in the course of an informal conversation.  In fact, it happens all the time in middle school classrooms where kids are inconsistent, demonstrating mastery one day and struggling mightily the next.

Until Class Dojo, I kept no real record of the interactions I was having with students on a daily basis.  Now, when a student shows me that they have mastered content in a nontraditional way, I can pull out my phone and record the interaction.  That gives me a more sophisticated sense of who knows what in my classroom that is built on evidence instead of hunches.

How’s that a bad thing?

Spotting students who aren’t being challenged — or who are working beyond their ability level — in differentiated lessons:

One of the things that I’ve had to wrestle with during the course of my 22-year teaching career was the suggestion that kids who are off-task are nothing more than bad kids who don’t know how to behave.  In reality, off-task behavior — particularly in differentiated classrooms where students are working on different tasks all at the same time — is almost always evidence that the task that I’ve assigned to individual students isn’t appropriate.

So I’ve started using Class Dojo to record student behaviors during differentiated lessons.  My goal isn’t to figure out who needs to be punished.  Instead, my goal is to figure out who needs extra challenge — or who is working beyond their ability level.  Spotting patterns in off-task behavior has nothing to do with rewards and consequences for kids.  Spotting patterns in off-task behavior has everything to do with helping me to improve my own instructional practices.

How’s that a bad thing?

Reinforcing Classroom Culture:

One of the things that I am the proudest of this year are my efforts to build a positive classroom culture.  Stealing ideas from Pernille Ripp’s Passionate Learners, my kids and I developed a set of classroom promises at the beginning of the year.  The entire process — which I described here and here — was SUPER productive.  In fact, this was the first year that I actually felt like my kids were invested in the “rules” that we were creating to govern our learning space.

But classroom promises — like the norms in professional learning communities — are useless if you don’t spend time celebrating the people who are following them.  Kids in middle school classrooms need constant reminders of the reasons that classroom promises matter.  More importantly, they need to see constant examples of just what classroom promises look like in action.

So I’ve started to ask my STUDENTS to award Class Dojo points to kids who have honored our promises at the end of many class periods.

When our time together starts, I’ll say something like, “Remember that if we are going to have a happy, safe and fun classroom, we are going to need to participate, cooperate and be positive during today’s lesson.  Be on the lookout for someone who does those things well today because at the end of class, I’m going to give you the chance to recognize them.”

Then, I’ll use Class Dojo’s randomizer to call on a few students right before dismissal.  “Who do you think deserves to be recognized?” I’ll ask.  “And what have they done to make our classroom happy, safe and fun?”

You see the simple twist in the conversation, right?

We have spent so much time arguing about teachers who use Class Dojo to shame kids into behaving that we have forgotten that Class Dojo can be just as valuable as a tool for reinforcing the positive things that happen every day in our classrooms.

How’s that a bad thing?

I’ve spent the past few weeks rereading Clay Shirky’s book Here Comes Everybody.

At the end of the text, he makes an interesting argument.  He says one of the barriers to change in any circumstance is the inertia of experience, which can often prevent us from seeing the full potential in any situation.  When we grow comfortable with how things are, we also grow less likely to consider anything that rests outside of what we know.

Here’s how that applies to the Class Dojo Kerfuffle: If the only thing that you believe about classroom management is that there are bad kids who need to be controlled, you are bound to use tools for recording student behaviors in coercive ways.  Similarly, if the only thing you believe about teachers is that they are classroom managers who are hell-bent to punish bad kids, you are bound to assume that people using digital tools for recording student behaviors are old-school curmudgeons who should be forced into retirement.

Avoiding these traps depends on people who are willing to unlearn the obvious.  Instead of making your decisions about new tools based on what was once true, start making your decisions about new tools by imagining what can be.

Any of this make sense?


Related Radical Reads:

If We Are Going to Have a Happy, Safe and Fun Classroom…

We Have a Life Outside of School, Too

The Role of Hunches in a PLC


Check Out What My Kids Created with Canva

Regular Radical readers know that I’m a huge fan of Canva — the digital service designed to make visual design easier for everyone.  What makes Canva so powerful as a classroom application is that kids can create pretty darn stunning images with ease.

Need proof?  Then check out this bit whipped up by two of my sixth graders today:

Not bad, right?

The fact that with little effort, they were able to create a graphic that catches the eye and communicates a key message matters, y’all.  In a world where we are surrounded by visual content, being persuasive increasingly depends on our ability to work with still images and video content.  Kids typically struggle, however, to create clean and simple still images and video content.

A part of that is our fault:  We spend TONS of time on written persuasion in schools while visual persuasion is rarely taught outside of elective classes dedicated to multimedia content.  But a part of that is because the tools for creating influential visuals have always required a level of technical skill that even the savviest students struggle with — and when technical skill gets in the way of clean creation, students (and their teachers) quit quickly.

Canva can change all that.  It takes technical challenge out of the process, allowing kids to simply create — and the quality of the finished products that they can create will leave everyone motivated to tinker a bit more.

Give it a look.  You will dig it.


Related Radical Reads:

Blogging Tip: Use Canva to Create Images for Your Blog

Canva Makes Your iPads Even MORE Useful

Using Canva to Teach Visual Influence

Five Instagram Accounts for #scichat Nation

It was a great week to be a science geek, wasn’t it?  After all, the European Space Agency landed a probe on a comet that is 300 MILLION miles away — and we are now collecting data that may just help us to figure out where all the water on Earth came from.

That’s cool no matter how you split it.

The best part for me:  The entire landing process happened during my regularly scheduled science class periods — which meant that I was able to tune a bunch of twelve-year-olds into a historic event that I hope will leave them straight jazzed about both science AND space exploration.

As we watched the Livestream from mission control and refreshed the #cometlanding hashtag on Twitter looking for new pictures, one of my students asked whether or not the European Space Agency was posting pictures on Instagram.

While the answer to that is no — the ESA posts its mission pictures in this collection on Flickr — there are a TON of other great Instgram accounts that science geeks will completely dig.

Here are five that I’ve already shared with my kids:

@nasagoddard – The NASA Goddard Space Flight Center is a major space research center.  Their Instagram account is full of remarkable pictures of rocket launches, alien planets, stars and galaxies — and the occasional penguin.  Kids are going to love the photos.  Teachers are going to love the fact that every photo comes with a detailed caption that kids can learn from.

@marscuriosity – My favorite thing about the Curiosity Rover on Mars is that it is taking remarkable pictures OF MARS.  I don’t think students today really get how cool that is.  Not only can they see detailed pictures of other planets, they can see detailed pictures of other planets being taken TODAY by a robotic SUV that we are currently controlling.

@natgeo – There’s no real surprise that National Geographic has an Instagram account, right?  After all, they have been taking and sharing amazing pictures of the world forever.  What I love about their Instagram page is that you are just as likely to find a beautiful picture of an intriguing animal as you are to find a shot sharing the culture of people living in remote corners of the world.

@sandiegozoo – The simple truth is that the San Diego Zoo is a national treasure — and while some may question the value of keeping animals in captivity, no one can question the #cutieness of the zoo’s Instagram page.  While I’m disappointed in the educational value of the captions that the zoo adds to each image, any kid who is interested in animals is going to totally dig this Instagram stream.

@airandspacemuseum – Who’s been to Washington DC?  What was your favorite museum on the Mall?  Chances are you said the Air and Space Museum, right?  It’s hard NOT to like a place with airplanes and rocket ships hanging from the ceiling!  It’s also hard NOT to like the Air and Space Museum’s Instagram page.  Not only are curators sharing really cool shots from the museum’s collection, they are sharing really detailed captions that can serve as starting points for continued study.

My goals for introducing these streams to my students were to steal a few of their online minutes AND to spark their imaginations.  

The way I see it, most of them are poking through Instagram every day anyway.  If I can convince them that stumbling across pictures of galaxies, gannets feeding on sardines, or the uniform of one of our nation’s first flying aces is JUST as cool as the random selfies that currently fill their streams, then Instagram goes from a genuine waste of time to a place where the beauty of the natural world and the glory of ingenuity and innovation can be celebrated one stunning image at a time.



Related Radical Reads:

Five YouTube Channels for #scichat Nation

Three More YouTube Channels for #scichat Nation

For Young People, Facebook is the Newspaper

Here’s an interesting quote for you:

If that’s true, how should our teaching change?

Is it ridiculous to ignore the reality that the kids in our classrooms are just as likely turn to social spaces for news before ever consulting more “traditional sources?”  Are we failing our kids when we design research projects that DON’T require them to reflect on the kind of content that they can find in their profiles and timelines?

Has helping students to evaluate the quality of the content that they stumble across online become an even bigger priority than ever before?  Should we spend time in class talking about the ways that Facebook manipulates our timelines for their own purposes?

And if the answer to all of these questions is yes, where should these conversations take place?

Is this work the responsibility of media specialists, who are theoretically the experts in understanding how the content that we are consuming is changing?  Would lessons like these fit naturally in social studies classes where effective participation in society is often a stated goal?  Could language arts teachers tackle these kinds of tasks while teaching students about bias in online sources?

And if the answer to all of THESE questions is yes, how often is this work currently happening in YOUR school?



Related Radical Reads:

Are YOU Teaching Kids about Attentional Blink?

They Will Be Amazed.

Quick Review: Net Smart – How to Thrive Online

Tupac — Yes, THAT Tupac — on Education.

A few weeks ago, my buddy Mike Hutchinson stumbled across a pretty remarkable commentary on just what education should be from Tupac.  I’ve Tube-Chopped it down to spotlight the best parts:

 Amazing, right? 

Here’s what’s even MORE amazing:  That interview was shot in 1988.


So what’s changed in our classrooms and schools since then?  

Pretty much nothing.

We are STILL teaching algebra and German and volleyball to every kid as if they are essential to surviving in today’s world.  We are STILL ignoring more powerful topics like racism and police brutality and political doublespeak even though our students are driven to participate and passionate about changing the world around them.  And our students are STILL completely disconnected, convinced that our schools are pointless places that they are forced to go to while we are at work.

Fairyland, y’all.  



Related Radical Reads:

Problemitizing the Curriculum [SLIDE]

My Beef with the Gameification of Education

My Kids, a Cause and our Classroom Blog

Are We REALLY Trying to Engage Students?