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Class Dojo Phenomenon – Does it work?

Recently, the media (NBC, Today, The Wall Street Journal, NPR) has highlighted a quick and colorful way for teachers and parents to track student behavior through an online program. When we heard about it at Think:Kids we were intrigued.  For teachers and parents short on time (who isn’t?), with many expectations they need their child or student to meet (who doesn’t?) a method to get a child to successfully comply is really appealing (who wouldn’t want that?). So we checked it out.  Here is the scoop from our perspective.

It’s nothing new – it is classic behavior management – but it is packaged really well. Class Dojo can be found and signed up for anywhere you have internet, it has easy steps to follow to get it running on your computer at home and in the classroom.  Its catchy in that each child gets to design a little avatar to represent themselves. Students get points by the teacher for doing things like handing in homework helping another student, raising his hand, cleaning up his work space, keeping eyes at the front of the room.  You lose a point for things like interrupting, not following instructions, talking during class. It’s just like a classis sticker chart but online and much glossier.

Here is our big concern.  Some kids have the skills to follow this type of program and can easily add points to their onscreen Avatar thus feeling good about themselves by the end of the day.  However, there are many kids who don’t have the skills to earn the points – plenty of desire to do well amongst their peers – but if the skill isn’t there then they can’t win the points.  For example, the child who never has their homework for the night before may actually struggle with organizational challenges and until those specific skills are taught she won’t get the point next to her cute avatar.  So no matter how much she wants to get points for handing in homework she can’t do it. This then leads to other problems such as the child feeling poorly about themselves, resentful of school, and perhaps angry.

Another concern is it’s all public.  The computer screen is visible in the front of the room for all the kids to see so as the teacher enters a point or takes away a point it lights up next to the student’s avatar.  There is an option to keep it private but many teachers don’t use it that way. Teachers are relying on peer pressure to get students to behave/comply. If you had frustration tolerance issues might this be a problem for you? How humiliating if you keep losing points.  How shameful will it feel if the class needs a total of 20 points to get an extra recess and you are the kid unable to make transitions easily and you lose all the points for the class?  The only way those transitions will get better is if you are taught the skills you need to manage them – losing points just won’t get the job done.

Finally, shouldn’t kids be focused on their learning experience and less on outward motivators to make them comply?  Don’t we want our kids to do well because they care about learning or are excited to get to the next class, or are looking forward to music or can’t wait for that game at recess?  Shouldn’t those be the reasons kids behave well rather than to gain a point or lose a point?  The overall controlling micromanaging incentivizing shaming feels wrong to us.

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