Why You’re Misusing ClassDojo Just the Way it Was Designed (and why you should keep using it!)

Towards the end of last year, I read a tweet from an esteemed educator about how horrible ClassDojo is, and how there were no redeeming qualities about it.  [what is classdojo?] I prodded a little at that notion, but the responses were resolute – there’s nothing good about it.  Typically, I tend to believe that there’s nothing inherently useless (or pristine) about any tool, that it’s all in how you use it.  So, this seemed like a good opportunity to put that theory into practice.  The more I looked around, and thought about the subject, the more I realized that most people I’ve seen use ClassDojo (or similar systems) are doing more harm than good to their students.  But, I have also seen plenty of what I would call good examples of ways to use it to build a more effective classroom community.

Practically any time I have watched a classroom teacher see ClassDojo in action for the first time, I watch them fall in love with it like Romeo seeing Juliet on the balcony.  They picture an engaged, well-behaved classroom of students vying for points in a sort of “behavior judo” match (to extend the “dojo” analogy).

Here’s the problem: reducing classroom expectations to a set of instantly-observable protocols does far more to dampen the learning process than to help it.  If I am a student in your classroom and I can go all day (or all week, or all year) without violating a single “class rule” and still not learn anything, your rules stink.

Not to mention the appalling nature of a system that pits students against each other for who can rack up the most points for behaving.  Don’t give me that “My kids love it” line.  Some of your kids love it… the ones who score near the top.  Some of your kids hate it, and you’re doing nothing to help them by continuing to use it.  They know they’ll never “win”, and they will quit trying if they haven’t already.

That said, I don’t believe it should be added to the district pornography filter list.  There are ways ClassDojo (and its ilk) can and could be used by effective teachers to help everyone in their classroom have a positive educational experience:

  • Use it sparingly, not every day.  Understand that any time you use it, the students’ (and the teacher’s) focus is on the scoring system, not the content.
  • Use it as a scaffold for developing skill, not a “token economy” for compliant behaviors that may or may not actually be contributing to real learning.
  • Use real behaviors you want to encourage.  Try including items like “learning from a mistake”, “positive collaboration”, “creative problem-solving”, or “made your team laugh” in your list.  They take a keener observer than “answered a question” or “turned in homework on time”, but they are closer to the stuff of real learning.
  • Use design thinking strategies like “prototype”, “ask expert”, “observe”.
  • Use effective discussion strategies like “restatement”, “challenging assumptions”, “citing evidence”.  Or items from a system like Six Thinking Hats.  The same list of behaviors shouldn’t fit every classroom learning encounter – they should change as often as the classroom learning expectations change.
  • Don’t use behaviors dead people can do.  If your “positive behavior list” includes things like “sitting quietly in one’s chair”, “not interrupting when others are talking,” and “is not disruptive,” you’ve gone beyond managing your classroom to attempting to control it.
  • Let students take it in turns to do the observations. You can do this either on your ClassDojo account, or with another high tech/low tech system.  Peer feedback is powerful.
  • I never use the negative behaviors when I use ClassDojo.  The only time I’ve seen it used what I would call “effectively” is when a teacher caught herself making exasperated statements about how her class was “always doing such-and-so”.  She added that behavior to a ClassDojo list and kept track of it, privately.  Within two weeks, she realized it wasn’t happening as often as she thought, and she was letting herself be too negatively affected when it did.
  • Enter and track groups, not individual students.
  • Don’t track everyone in the class.  Any way you use ClassDojo that makes kids believe their success is predicated on other students doing poorly is probably working against what you really want in your classroom.
  • ClassDojo basically assumes you will use it to track “person X exhibited behavior Y”.  But why not use it for “person X observed behavior Y”, or “person X inspired behavior Y in someone else”?  Those are examples of what teachers really want to see out of their students in their classrooms, and it is absolutely the sort of behavior that should be recognized and encouraged.  It is also the type of behavior that can largely go ignored if we don’t remind ourselves to look for it.

So, there you have it, my few suggestions for how you might effectively use ClassDojo (or any similar behavior tracking system) in your classroom.  I am pretty certain that these suggestions will not be enough for the original detractors I mentioned to say “Well, maybe there could be a good use for this.”  However, even though they inspired me to write it, I didn’t write it for them.  I wrote it for me, and for you.

As always, your comments are most welcome.


2 thoughts on “Why You’re Misusing ClassDojo Just the Way it Was Designed (and why you should keep using it!)”

  1. Thanks for the suggestions here Michael. I used it a bit last year and it just seemed like a digital version of writing names on the chalkboard and giving check marks for bad behaviors. It seems that what you are advocating is implementing it like a badge system. Am I wrong in thinking that?

    1. It does come out a lot more like a “badge” system with at least some of my suggestions. Of course, badge systems run the same risk, substituting extrinsic motivators for intrinsic ones (ask any Boy/Girl Scout).

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