What’s all the fuss about ClassDojo?

Recently the New York Times published an article bashing an app for education called ClassDojo.  I was quite shocked at the negative tone in the article.  Teachers were being accused of releasing harmful data about children into the universe.  The app was being accused of making money on advertising, even though I’ve never seen advertising on their site.  Basically, teachers were being accused of openly shaming students into being good.

Bottom line, a good app does not a good teacher make.  As with any app or with any use of positive feedback, things can go wrong.  Teachers can abuse students using discipline programs that were created to promote a more positive classroom atmosphere.  If you are not good at controlling your students, if you don’t have a positive relationship with your young scholars, a fancy app is not going to help you become a better teacher.

How I used it:

Giving feedback on content rather than reprimanding.

Giving feedback on content rather than reprimanding.

I often struggled with how to keep my students engaged and interacting in a positive way on day 2, 3 or 4 of a project.  There was always that one group of students that would self-distruct day 2 over a petty issue.  There was the always that group that was trying to complete their work,  but one of their group members would refuse to do anything.  There was always that group that would gossip and doodle, look busy, and accomplish nothing.  Some days I felt like I was playing teacher “wack-a-mole”.  And when I would travel around the room keeping kids in line, I ended up stopping the flow of learning at the tables.

ClassDojo helped me keep them all in line without a personal reprimand.  Instead of walking around the room reminding them to stop it, pay attention to their group members, and stay at their tables, I could walk around the room discussing with the students the content of their work.

Here is how it works:

What I would project on my classroom screen

Here is what a sample class might look like.  Again, I didn’t take away points, I only gave them.

Create an account on ClassDojo.  (I know, I know! Yes, you have to make yet another account.)  I created 2 classes for my 6th graders.  The program allows you to enter one name at a time, or copy and paste from your class list somewhere else.  Then it randomly assigns your students a little monster or bug.  It comes with some awards already created, but you can personalize what you want to reward your students for.  There are both positive and negative behaviors to choose from, but I only used it for positive feedback. Struggling with how to use the IB Learner Profile in class?  Add those to your positive behaviors list as well.

Once your classroom is set up you are ready to go.  Log on to your class, hook it up to the projector, and your class can now see their points and who you are rewarding.  If you want to be more mobile so that you aren’t tied to the desk for rewarding your students,  download the ClassDojo app for your Android, iPhone, or iPad.  This allows you to roam your room awarding points, while still being able to talk with students and encourage them in their work.


Students working cooperatively with ClassDojo on the screen.

Students working cooperatively with ClassDojo on the screen.

It made an amazing difference in my classroom when working on long range group projects.  6th graders, in general, are always looking for their teacher’s feedback.  They want to please you.  I saw students who normally would sit passively in a group actively engage with their peers.  When they noticed people in their group were getting more points, they would begin entering the conversation more.

If used as a simple formative assessment, students will view it in a positive light.  I didn’t open the accounts to parents.  I didn’t print off reports for kids.  It was just an easy way to hold my students accountable in that moment for exhibiting the skills and behaviors that are needed when doing group problem solving.

This kind of a system won’t work for all kids though.  Once students hit the 9th grade, they only want to know, “Does this count toward my grade?”  A little cartoon monster might become meaningless.  But then again, I might be wrong.

Have you ever used ClassDojo?  In what ways do you catch your students/children being good?

10 replies

  1. At the start of the year my kids and I negotiated what were acceptable and unacceptable behaviours. They identified and weighted their own points system. They managed their own classroom interactions like this. They are fully empowered in our feedback. I also get points from them .
    Love love love Dojo!

  2. I read the articles…and I have to say, I agree with the Times.

    I remember in primary school, my teacher also used a rewarding system. A fairly simple one, which involved little stamps in your books if you had done particularly well on your reading assignment. Now, I was really set on learning to read faster than my older sister. I really trained hard every time, for this, and for the stamps. At the end of the year, I had exactly one stamp in the my book.
    The reason? Well, there was no time for every student to demonstrate that they had done their reading. And the teacher had favourites (which I wasn’t because I happened to be very different from my sister, who used to be one of her favourites). So she first let her favourites read, and then perhaps one student more. And I was called up exactly one time in the whole year. I also had the goal to get a “sehr gut” (best mark in the German school system) at least once, but those were only for favourites. It didn’t matter how much I struggled to get it, there was always a reason to downgrade me, until I stopped trying. (I would eventually get the “sehr gut”, year later, on my final university degree).

    Sure, in this case the conduct of the teacher undermined the system to a certain degree, but teachers are only humans, they will never be totally fair. And I’ll tell you what the system did to me on the long term.

    1. I no longer learned because I liked learning, learning became to be about the reward. When I started school, I was excited to learn new things every day, but the system taught me that learning is only worth something when it is connected to some sort of direct gratification. And when the gratification didn’t came, learning became a chore.

    2. At one point I stopped making my home work altogether. Because, what was the point? Most of the time the teacher didn’t even notice if I had done it or not. I usually did most of my homework when I was bored during lessons, and if I didn’t get the opportunity to do it then, I just banked on the teacher never noticing (and they rarely did). Because what the system didn’t taught me was that doing the homework was for my own benefit, and not for some sort of reward.

    3. Said teacher also gave me a complex concerning the way I write to this very day. I remember when I finished primary school, the teacher called all the pupils to the front and discussed the mark with them in front of the whole class. When it was my turn she said that I did will in every subject (I was actually a fairly good student despite the lack of effort I put into it – imagine how much better I would have been if I had actually put some effort into it), but I really should improve my penmanship (yeah, it would have been helpful if someone had told me that I was holding the pen wrong from the get go, something I didn’t discover before I was way in my teens).

    The story ended well for me because I had encouraging parent who also paid for the tutors I needed to catch up when my intelligence was no longer enough to keep my marks up without putting some additional learning time into it. But it could have ended very differently, which is why I am firmly against any sort of rewarding system, especially one which puts students on the spot. I can see it helpful for teachers to have a better idea which student has done what, but it does nothing for the students imho, aside from teaching them that learning is about competition. I know that children want praise, but one shouldn’t teach them that learning is about that. The long term effects can be very negative, because in the real world, nobody will give you praise easily.

    Concerning the advertising: What the Times means is that nobody gives your anything for free. All the data which the teacher send back the software provider will be used for something. And most likely for creating profiles, which then are often used for advertising means. I can’t stress enough how questionable it is to send extensive data about the habits of a bunch of children to a company who will do who knows what with said information.

    • Thanks so much for what you have written here. I totally agree that sometimes rewards kill intrinsic motivation. But as I said, I do this kind of thing rarely. I think that is also why it works. If I used it everyday, it wouldn’t be as effective.

      As to the data collection, that too depends on how the program is set up. If I have 22 kids listed with first names and no other data is entered, what good is that data to anyone? The programmer will see that 10 of the kids were awarded points for their positive leadership. 10 of the kids were awarded points for working cooperatively. So really, how is that helpful to an advertiser? to a software developer?

      Data collection can be a scary thing. And as you pointed out, we need to be wary of free. At the same time though, my 20 bugs/monster icons aren’t really going to be that useful to anyone but me.

      • Perhaps for social studies? I certainly know that I wouldn’t want that my behaviour can be tracked by anyone (I don’t even use bonus cards for exactly that reason). It might be paranoid, but just because a use is not obvious it doesn’t mean that it won’t be there, especially if they find a way to link it to additional data. It’s not really difficult to find out the full names of the children in your class, especially not if the parents log themselves in and check their progress.

        Not saying that the tool can’t be useful…I just think that the Times is right about pointing out the dangers if it is used unchecked.

      • Dear Swanpride,

        I am very sorry that your teacher was unable to develop a system that rewarded all children for their work. I have recently started using Class Dojo at the invitation of a first grade teacher. I love it because I do not have to walk around passing out paper “chits” when children are at work. I am able to be much more aware of all students and can instantly reward positives–which are specified, on task, teamwork, completed homework, helping others, persistence, participation, ready to learn. The “needs work” side includes calling out, disrespect, improper seating, off task, poor material, as well as positives and needs work for library and PE. The first grade teacher reviews each child’s points at the end of the day, to give specific feedback. It helps the child to identify their strengths and to look at what holds them back from doing their best work.

        I am currently a long-term music sub, my assignment about to come to its end, and wish that I had known about Class Dojo at the beginning of the school year. While I would have included behavioral expectations, I could have also included things like, tuneful singing, expressive movement, good sense of rhythm, able to maintain steady beat, learned a new song–things appropriate to musical development in young children. Knowing that children develop these skills at different times, there would not be negatives regarding music skill development.

        As to objections about tracking student behavior, development, and achievement, we do this all the time–It is how we know that students are learning, growing in their understandings, and developing a knowledge base that will ground what lies ahead for them to learn. I would rather let students and their parents know the specifics of their child’s progress…because that’s what most parents ask when they meet me, “How is Liana doing in music?” I believe that students want to do their very best. Far too many do not know how to do their best. It is our responsibility to help them learn how to be their best. Feedback that is fair, honest, constructive, inclusive of their thoughts, and lovingly given aids the child in finding their best.

      • We do track students behavior all the time. But I think what Swanpride is getting at is where the data goes after we input it and how that data is used beyond our teacher/parent/child relationships. Data protection is a huge issue here in Germany. It is linked to their history, and it is something we should be mindful of.

        That being said though, a typical German school gives very little feedback to parents. And a good deal of parents are not bothered by this. It is only the Americans who are used to 24/7 access get frustrated when they can’t log on to an LMS to get information.

  3. I was pleased to read such a good discussion of ClassDojo. Thanks to all for their thoughtful contributions.
    I recently collaborated with some cohort-mates in my teacher prep program in an analysis of the pros and cons of ClassDojo. You can review our findings here:

    In short, we concluded that the appropriate use of ClassDojo depended heavily on the school and class culture. Alphie Kohn is a wonderful advocate for best practices for the whole child in education, but I feel like he is often speaking of ideal classroom circumstances, and there is always a tension between immediate- and long-term goals for students. Therefore, ideally, if you feel your classroom culture could thrive on intrinsic motives, then teachers should avoid using an extrinsic reward system like ClassDojo. However, we all know there are classrooms out there with chronic behavior problems and a lack of focus at times where ClassDojo could be effective if used judiciously. Teachers just have to be sensitive to these differences. There are many ways to use the app, some project the results, some don’t project it but let the negative and positive pings sound out without knowing for who, others recommend keeping the points tally private and having regular private conferences with students to discuss the results. Some teachers only use the app to reward positive points, ie no negative reinforcement. It is beloved by many substitute teachers for obvious reasons.

    As for the privacy issue, that is a serious one, and we have to monitor if/when ClassDojo’s policies change, and in the mean time respect the wishes of the parents. I use ClassDojo here in South Korea, I tried to get parent permissions and interestingly enough the school told me it was pointless because the parents would just agree with whatever I suggested as the teacher. It has been a moderately effective behavior management tool for me with a small group of 3rd graders who have emerging English skills. Due to our limited ability to communicate, the visual and auditory signals that ClassDojo employs really aid my management efforts. And just like the teacher featured in the NYTimes story, I give way more positive points than negative. I give warnings before giving negative points, I try to be as consistent and unbiased as possible. And I try to make it obvious why I am giving the negative points.

    Kathleen, I am making a note for myself that you use ClassDojo for only one specific learning activity, project or group work. That is an interesting strategy as well.

    • Thanks so much for your comments and re-post. I like the idea of playing the sounds, but not projecting the points. That would be a psychological reminder to stay on task as well. At the end of the period, I would probably show the final tallies. I always had the sounds on, but with a class full of kids group problems solving, you never heard the applause on the speakers. The kids would look up from time to time at the tallies, but they also were not distracted by it.

      I have also had epic fails with apps. Once I used a noise meter alarm app to try to regulate the noise. My 6th grade boys liked to see if they could push it into the red zone. Others use it with great success. I find calming videos of crackling fire places or snow fall do more to calm a class than the noise meter alarm.

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