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ClassDojo is an educational tool, don’t misjudge its purpose

Recently there has been a discussion around the usage of ClassDojo among educators on Twitter, but came to a head recently with a New York Times article about the company’s new policy related to student data storage. While the point of the article was to be focused on the fact that the company announced it would not be storing student data, it turned quickly into in my opinion, a harsh attack on an educational tool that was without full basis.  I speak up because the New York Times also included a snapshot of a Twitter discussion that I was part of without reaching out to me to explore further.

What struck me out of the comments, and subsequent posts related to ClassDojo, was the fervent opinions about it being humiliating, demeaning, and a “flashy colorful annoying waste of time” as one parent commented in the article. This shows me that there is a clear disconnect somewhere.

I love ClassDojo and so do my students.  For one, in my view it is not a behavioral tracking app, it is a reward system and reward systems are not new.  As educators, we are always using tools to mold and guide students to make good choices, participate, and find success.  I recall stickers on my papers, check marks and check minuses, reports of S, G, VG, and subsequently grades and reports that outlined what I was and was not doing well in class.

Since becoming a teacher myself, I am always trying to find ways to acknowledge my students success, while also making them aware of when they are making poor choices, so they can turn it around and meet the expectations of the class.  I used to use good old fashion sticker charts, also markings on desks, and then ClassDojo came along.  From the first moment I showed it to my students they were hooked, even the middle schoolers.  They love picking characters, they love seeing their gains and the acknowledgement for a job well done.  It’s an online sticker chart in their mind.  I do not share the data with parents specifically, but that is likely more in line with the what my school is about rather than anything else.  This is for me and the students.  Yes there are moments when I have to acknowledge students not being on task or not following directions.  Do they like that? Of course not, but don’t we always have to do that with students to help guide them to what is acceptable and what is not.  That is part of education.  However, I only use that for a moment, and then look immediately for an opportunity to reward a positive to help them see they can turn it around.  If a student is struggling with having a negative day overall, ClassDojo is not the place to address that.

I asked some students this week as part of a writing assignment what they liked and didn’t like about ClassDojo and if they preferred something else.  One boy made a list of positives and negatives, his only negative was the possibility of losing points, his positives had at least six items.  It led to a class discussion and they all of course didn’t like losing points at any time, but were also aware that losing points was in their hands, not the tool’s.  They expressed loving the fact it was more interactive, was reinforcing, was much more interesting than a sticker chart and gave them an opportunity to earn a reward.

ClassDojo is just a tool, just like any other tool we use in education to address an area of need.  And just like any educational tool, it needs to be utilized and implemented thoughtfully and carefully with good intent.  My students have had input on the behaviors that are acknowledged, good and bad.  They are pretty honest about those because first the rapport with my students was developed and the expectations clearly laid out.  ClassDojo is not for everyone, but it should not be personally negated without true understanding of what it’s intended purpose is and that they do have education truly at heart in what they are doing.

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