ClassDojo has taken heat lately. Education bloggers overlook the positives and focus on children being publicly compared. Principals who want a common behavior system ban it and revert to clip-charts, where clothespins with names get attached to green, yellow, and red pages at the front of the room. (How is that not public?) Finally, there is that well-debunked article about how ClassDojo violates FERPA rights. (If you suddenly have privacy concerns, visit here).
As a ClassDojo mentor at my school, I love it. I loved it when I had 36 3rd graders with some seriously disruptive behavior made worse by crowding so intense that chairs could only move inches. I loved it when I had 12 5th graders who used it to prove they could dispense with chairs altogether. I loved it when a “Dojo-addicted” mother helped her son’s positive percentage climb from the low 80’s to 100. He still smiles about it. I loved it when a girl sorely behind in academics topped the class in points. I loved it when my classes hit 10,000 positive points. Imagine that. Ten thousand positive choices.
As I watch teachers give up Dojo, as my class nicknamed it, I cry a little inside. There are so many wonderful, positive ways to use this system. To help those teachers and persuade some of those bloggers to look again, here are my best ideas for using ClassDojo.
Be positive! In the beginning, ClassDojo changed me. Our school’s goal was six positive comments for one negative, but we didn’t measure. After a few days of ClassDojo, I pulled a report… 75% positive. That’s three to one. Ouch. I stay well above 86% now. Keep it positive, light, and fun.
Be real. I don’t throw points for nothing. Each of my positive buttons contains a pair of our character words. I also give points for “On Time” (for quick transitions) and “Caught Reading,” a great idea from another teacher. I give points freely but always give real feedback. Once you start noticing, it’s easy to see.
Be consistent. Besides catching them being good, we have specific times for points. After students tap in on the attendance screen, we do an “Enthusiasm” point for the first smiles of the day. After returning from special classes, we do a quick reflection. Students who admit they should have done better get an Integrity point. Everyone who feels they were at their best gets a point. Anyone who interfered with learning and didn’t admit it gets nothing. We’ll try again tomorrow. During different activities, we also check for quick transitions, listening, and working hard.
Be public. Turn on the screen and the sound. One positive ding is usually all it takes to get everyone focused. Whenever we aren’t otherwise using the Smart Board, ClassDojo is displayed. After a few days, it is about as fascinating as wallpaper unless a child, or the whole class, is close to a reward.
Give rewards. Many teachers let students “spend” points. I use a level-up system similar to video games. Rewards come quickly at the beginning and then farther apart. It gets everyone engaged, and new students quickly get acquainted with our procedures. Nearly all the rewards are free like choosing their own monsters, bathroom passes, homework passes, the right to chew gum, computer time, extra recess, and lunch and a movie in the classroom. A few like erasers and mechanical pencils cost me a bit.
Let students choose points. I often let a student choose any whole class point. I also let them give each other positive points. After surviving a work conference, a student can hit Random on the Smart Board and award a point to the student that pops up. While conferencing with the next child, I sometimes stifle a laugh because I hear, “Randy, you came up on Random! Get back to work!” If the line for me is long, I will pass my down my iPad, letting each student reward a peer.
Give points for complex behavior. I often give points when I see Caring, Curiosity, or Commitment. We struggle with listening, so when we pair-share, I ask students to report out what their partner said and give an Empathy point to both of them. Then I ask another student to discuss what they just heard for their Empathy point. It makes for attentive listeners.
Use your Smart Board markers. ClassDojo has Groups, but sometimes I am in a hurry. I grab my red marker and circle a group of names. Blue is next, then green, and black. I have four teams, no one forgets how they numbered off, and if anyone sneaks over to another team, we all can see it.
Use no positive instead of a negative. Sometimes the classroom needs a quick visual check. I bring up the Award Multiple screen and run through every name, “Bea, show me your folder? Great. Brenda? Find a pencil. Charles? Thank you…” clicking a positive for every child who is on task and skipping the others. The consequence is minor, a missed opportunity. No red mark, but they re-focus, and I follow up. Rewarding is much more effective than punishing.
Don’t stand there and wait. When I run through an Award Multiple screen, inevitably children will call, “Wait, wait, I’m getting it!” or “I have it now! Go back!” I don’t. Otherwise, I teach them that wasting precious learning time is acceptable. They can try again next time. To keep it fair, I change the starting name every day.
Use the zero point option for homework and bathroom. Don’t use points for things that are out of a child’s control. Children would rather take a negative than tell you their homework is at home, but they were at their aunt’s. She was the only one who had food, and their mom said not to tell. Bathroom trips can be just as bad. Some students will be so reluctant to use the restroom that they will make themselves sick. No one wants to make that worse.
Use negatives sparingly. Children need reminders, which are not worthy of a negative, but if a child hurts someone, steals, or refuses to work, it needs recording. However, once I award a negative, I stop. If it didn’t work the first time, it won’t work the second or third, no matter how frustrated I am. Pounding down the points is a great way to make kids hate ClassDojo. Points will not solve a deep problem that needs to be transferred to your school’s discipline plan.
Don’t threaten. Do. When my class feels like it’s edging toward chaos, I know exactly who the problem is… me. I have slipped from one reminder to “Three strikes, you’re out” or worse. I hate giving negative points, but when a disruption interferes with learning, it’s better to record and redirect than to let that continue.
Add notes. My classroom is busy so when parents ask me about negative points, I struggle to reconstruct what happened. Adding a quick note really helped. I keep my point buttons to a minimum using eight positive skills and twelve negative so notes allow me to explain what kind of Disrespectful a student was or the circumstances of Hurt Others.
[Update: A few readers wanted to see the buttons I use…]
Don’t use whole class negatives. It only takes four or five students to make it feel like the entire class is out of control. Asking all of the children to take consequences isn’t fair. Instead, figure out if you can give positives to everyone else. Also, asking self-disciplined children to manage disruptive teammates sets them up for bullying later. Figure out if a negative is merited. Worse, if you decide to give your whole class a negative, you may have missed the one time that a chronically disruptive child was actually working. Figure out how to give him that positive point he deserves.
Share your class. My notoriously difficult classes get compliments from their other teachers by the end of the first quarter. We do that behavior reflection (see Be Consistent), but I also Share my classes with those teachers. I can hear the dings and see who is succeeding while in my empty room. Even better, a parent who fears I am being hard on their child can see that other teachers have had a similar experience. Many perspectives on a student make for a much calmer conference.
Use percentages. A few privileges depend on a student’s ClassDojo percentage for the previous week, most notably video shoots, science experiments, and field trips. Since those can have students working independently, outside the room, and/or with a volunteer, I have to know I can trust them. Below 80% is a poor risk. I cannot let them use chemicals, leave the room, or attend a field trip without their parent. Below 90% has some limitations as well. Parents don’t challenge me because everything was well documented.
Use Messages. Phone calls about lost permission slips, late lunches, and forgotten violins have nearly gone away. Instead they appear as a message tied to a child’s name. Replies are quick and simple. Even better, I can blast out a single note about a class pet needing a home or a late field trip bus. Messages have become so essential that parents use them to notify me about car accidents and deaths in the family.
Use Class Story. Last year, some of my lengthy, handwritten notes with happy news never made it home. Fortunately, Class Story reported the fun things we did. I also knew who viewed it. Parents even “liked” the photos and sent nice comments back.
Use the Big Idea movies. Mojo Dojo, as we affectionately call it, is a class favorite. We love watching the monsters work through difficulties as they develop their growth mindsets. Those brief movies (here is the first one) have done more to normalize the frustration of learning something worthwhile than an entire year of my yakking.
Print weekly reports. Not all parents sign up and not all phones work. Every Monday, I send home a half-page printout of each child’s weekly summary, usually 100% positive. If a child had some negative marks, a parent can see where. Any student who returns it signed gets an Integrity point.
At the end of the year, I send home a full year’s summary. I love showing parents that their child made over a thousand positive choices. Imagine that. A thousand positive choices. That is profound, real, exemplary work worthy of celebration. Even students who collected negative marks will have positive choice counts in the high hundreds which brings me to my final point.
Those students who rubbed me raw, who got on my last nerve, who wore me out, were not always in trouble. The data shows they made hundreds of positive choices. I don’t throw points for nothing so I know they earned them. These children had difficult episodes, but clearly they also had many great moments we could build on. So I end where I begin with ClassDojo requiring me to see the abundance of positive in every child.