Can Mobile Phones Help Teachers Manage Classroom Behavior?

| September 7, 2011 | 25 Comments
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We can talk all we want about what students should learn in the classroom. But the reality is that most teachers have to balance “academics” with a multitude of other lessons: how to be good students, how to be good citizens, and simply how to behave. Behavior management is actually a significant part of what teachers have to do every day, and while there’s a wealth of information to help them with tips and tricks, there isn’t a lot of technology in place to help them with the implementation of best practices.

The startup isn’t just interested in “gamifying” good behavior. It wants to foster instrinsic, just not extrinsic, motivations in education.

There may be a solution with the use of tech — at least that’s what ClassDojo founder Sam Chaudhary believes. His startup is working on a Web and mobile app that will allow teachers to quickly and easily track class behavior. Those two things are key. Rather than filling out paperwork after a disruptive incident or trying to recall values to praise come report-card time when a child has no record of disruption, ClassDojo provides real-time feedback loops. ClassDojo hopes both teachers and students will benefit from this, and parents will eventually be able to tap into it, as well.

Currently, ClassDojo lets teachers track students’ behaviors with an easy +1 or -1 system — you can reward students for good behavior (participation, helping others, creativity, insight) or you can make note of negative behaviors (disruption, disrespect, tardiness). Reports can be generated per student or per class, so that teachers and students (and parents and/or administrators) can have a glimpse at what’s happening in a class.

And while tracking this sort of data is, no doubt, important for adults, its impact on the students themselves is also something that ClassDojo wants to highlight. Students respond better to feedback when it’s immediate — both when it’s reinforcing positive behavior and when it’s aimed at correcting disruptive behavior. Teachers can project ClassDojo onto a whiteboard or computer screen so the whole class can see their status; but in addition to updating the site via a desktop computer, teachers can also use their smartphones or other mobile devices in order to quickly flag these behaviors.

Each student has an avatar, and ClassDojo plans to implement levels to encourage good behavior. But as Chaudhary makes clear, the startup isn’t just interested in “gamifying” good behavior. It wants to foster instrinsic, just not extrinsic, motivations in education. How or whether that happens will be interesting to watch.

ClassDojo is still in beta, and the startup has a far broader vision than just this behavior management app. A former teacher himself, Chaudhary says his company isn’t merely interested in tracking and monitoring behavior — good and bad — in the classroom. Rather, he wants to share strategies for developing students’ characters. “We want to bring the same rigor to developing character as ed-tech as an industry currently reserves for developing test scores.”

ClassDojo is currently free while in beta.

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  • daria

    Will the police give +1 OR -1 when driving safely or dangerously, +2 or -2 for paying on time or stealing? When will we end using grades and points, as feedbacks? When will we ask ourselves first what is the reason why students or adults abide by the rule or beat the game, obey or rebel. New technologies will never be more than modern back up material if essential questions are not being asked before. Grading people using new technologies or not, won’t make them more intelligent, nor more independent or obedient.

    • Sam

      Daria – thanks for this comment! I completely agree that just throwing out points or grades is superficial – which is why we are not a superficial game, but a real-time feedback tool based on research. I wanted to respectfully disagree with some of your assertions:

      – Evidence shows that giving real-time feedback is more effective at stopping dangerous driving than giving driving tickets or jail sentences – you may find this article interesting, on the power of real-time feedback: http://bit.ly/loX33y.

      – I agree with your general point that ultimately we should (and
      ClassDojo will!) build self-regulation; however, in the meantime we
      can’t afford to not educate our students about what kinds of behavior
      are acceptable and which are not. You ask why students don’t abide by
      the rules – not only do many schools not make this kind of character education explicit, but they also set up a perverse incentive structure: the best that can happen if you do
      behave well is that you don’t get a detention. That is a skewed
      incentive structure where we’re not motivating or inspiring children to
      behave positively, but rather just not to behave (too) negatively. We can
      argue that ‘we shouldn’t laud children for being good, because they
      should just do that anyway’ – but that is an idealistic view
      of what should happen, not what is actually happening right now. We are bridging
      the divide with positive steps, to take us to a world where all our
      children are learning self-control and developing great character, so behavior management becomes a thing of the past. Our goal, of which ClassDojo is the first step, is to actually build those character traits – and to make it transparent and tangible to do so.

      – Classroom management skills have consistently emerged as one of the most
      difficult problems facing new teachers, and one of the biggest barriers
      to effective learning in our classrooms (http://bit.ly/nSr29B). The reality of a classroom is that 4/10 teachers report that managing
      behavior in class takes up more than 50% of their class time
      (http://bit.ly/pHUUrP) – that’s
      half a school career teachers spend not being able to teach, and
      students spend not being able to learn. We want to solve that problem,
      so more learning can happen, more effectively, right now rather than at some unspecified time in the future when society thinks differently and values character development more. I’m sure we all agree that we can’t bear to see half our kids’ school lives wasted because of this
      problem: what’s worse is that it may not even be our own child –
      whenever another student disrupts class, they rob everyone of the
      education they deserve. While we still send our kids to school, its got to be our responsibility to equip teachers with the tools they need to do the best job they can: we’re building ClassDojo to do just that.

      – On a final point: it turns out building self-control is actually the biggest predictor of children’s life outcomes: from average income, to incidence of criminal prosecution, to health outcomes: this is based on 40 years’ worth of research, including some by a Nobel prize-winning economist: see, for example, James Heckman (http://bit.ly/l7UvlA), or the results of the Perry pre-school programme (http://bit.ly/bA0jDZ)

      In sum: we’ve started our work with teachers as they feel the pain acutely in class, and we are in complete agreement on a key point: we need to go far beyond building better behavior in the classroom, to actually building character and self-control in society – and we will. We’re 3 weeks in; we just need a little time to get there :)

      Sorry this has turned out so long Daria! I get passionate about this :) if there’s ever anything we can do to help, please do let me know at sam at classdojo.com.

      Cheers

      Sam
      Co-founder, ClassDojo

      • Davidhlemon

        FAKE AND GAY

        • Guest

          Sorry Davidhlemon, but you sound fake. 

          Okay, I would like to ask one question to all of the people posting negative comments:  Have you ever taught Middle School in an inner city school district with no parental support?  If not, do NOT knock this program or think any type of research will tell you how these children will respond to “close relationships” or “behavior management”.  These children are NOT self-motivated and their parents do NOT make them do better. 
          I have taught in a very prominent public school system for the last eight years and can tell you that ClassDojo has made a difference with students who misbehave, disrespect others, and refuse to complete homework- all in a three week period.  

          Please, if you are not in the classroom, do NOT assume you know because you read “research”!  Ask a teacher who is actually dealing with issues on a daily basis and is FIGHTING to teach students to be responsible for their behavior.  This is what ClassDojo does.  

          Sam and Liam, you have done and are still doing an excellent job.  As a teacher, I can tell you this program works and I look forward to all of your proposed changes!

          Signed,

          A Teacher Who Loves ClassDojo!!!!!

      • Bobbi

        I think what the opposers are sensing, Sam, is that the feedback is public if displayed on a SmartBoard. It is really not about self-control if it is used in that way, it is top-down control, and possibly control through humiliation. With that said, I think that your fabulous site may be used in a more private way. I plan to use it for independent goal setting. Sometimes a child really doesn’t understand the frequency of a negative behavior. Seeing that frequency, working toward lessening it, and analyzing the positives that come from the improvement helps a child gain self-control.

        • Melissa

          Bobbi,

          I understand the concerns that some might have regarding “public humiliation.”  Fortunately, Sam and Liam have incorporated tools into ClassDojo that help teachers only display the positive points and the negative points are not seen or heard.

          I am looking forward to using this tool with my classes when I conduct Socratic Seminars.  One of the goals of this type of class discussion if for students to lead the group.  If a natural leader can look up at the board and see that their are five different participants who have not yet spoken, he/she can encourage response from one or more of these students.  Participation helps students learn.  Having a goal of EVERYONE participates in a discussion forces all students to be held accountable for the days learning.  In addition, the teacher is supposed to remain as quiet as possible during these discussions.  The students ask and answer questions.  They predict; they analyze, they theorize.  I can just imagine using my iphone to record each time a student provides insight into the discussion.  I will not have to say a single word, just listen and record information, precisely my job during one of these seminars.  How powerful is that?

          Once again, ClassDojo is a remarkable tool.  Perhaps a teacher sees how it can be used negatively, but he/she needs to accentuate the positive.  I can think of so many ways to use this FREE technology to engage my students…so many ways.  If I run into a potential problem along the way, all I need to do is adjust this tool and fix the problem.  Isn’t that what teaching is all about?  Trying new things, continuing to utilize the ones that work well, revise the ones that have potential, and eliminate the ones that prove to be useless.  

          To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel that I use as a tool to teach my students symbolism, parallelism, writing style, theme, character development, and vocabulary.  If I use this tool to teach racism, I’m doing something wrong as a teacher.  My goal, however, is to use all tools in my classroom to produce quality students with a desire to learn more.  ClassDojo is the tool for me.

          I do not know Sam or Liam, but I am fascinated with this tool they have created.  There must be many other educators who agree with me, or ClassDojo would not have enabled them to earn $75,000 for their impressive tool.  Great work!  Thank you!  I cannot wait to see what else ClassDojo will offer.  I look forward to seeing how my students respond to it and learning what I need to do differently to help it become the most effective tool possible.

  • Shelley Garza

    As a former classroom teacher & now trainer on
    behavior for educators & parents in a region of Texas that serves
    over 1 million students, I completely agree. If we look at basic
    behavior principles, we know that immediacy & consistency in
    providing feedback & the use of positive reinforcement for
    individuals helps change behavior & lasts much longer than the use
    of punishment. Expecting students to act the way they’re ‘supposed’ to
    is extremely idealistic, even well adjusted adults don’t do that…do
    you never speed or roll through a stop sign when no one is around?

    Tools such as these, which help teachers respond quicker & are
    presented in a format our digital native students enjoy, understand,
    & appreciate, makes being effective much easier. The research shows
    us when you decrease behavior issues in the classroom you increase
    student achievement outcomes socially & academically, which as
    educators we’re in the business of doing.

    Also, as educators we should be making data driven decisions, not just
    academically, but behaviorally…it’s called Response to Intervention
    (RtI), mandated by No Child Left Behind. A tool such as this makes
    taking that data easier for teachers to identify students needing
    targeted or intensive intervention much sooner, which in turn helps
    assure that we intervene early to help those students achieve & not
    fall through the cracks. It also allows other students whose learning may
    be disrupted, learn effectively in a well managed classroom.

    I’m excited we have this type of technology moving forward that I can share with the many educators I train!

    Shelley Garza
    Education Specialist

  • Pgroff

         During my lengthy career as a teacher and teacher instructor I spent most of my efforts in schools that enrolled children from low-income familes. I cannot find any of the content of this
    ‘mobil phones” proposal that would be useful toward the classroom management of these children. In short, it seems to me that such ventures will have little, if  any, influence on the type of  children’s behavior that is the most difficult for teaches to manage. Why do not proposals, such as the current one, make this condition clear?

    Dr. Patrick Groff, Professor of Education Emeritus, San Diego State University.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Henny-OHenthorne/100001267996308 Henny O’Henthorne

      This is a teacher use of technology, not asking that all students have technology. I think a simple, fast way to monitorthe behavior of allL the children in a classroom would be beneficial, and demonstrable to students, parents, and administrators using school technology.

    • Melissa G.

      I’m sorry Dr. Groff, but you sound like a bit of a pessimist.  I have worked in lower socio-economic schools and with students who were on probation within my 17 years as an instructor and I have to say, teachers need to try to reach students at the students’ level.  Whether teachers like it or not, most students, regardless of economic status, are enamored by technology.  Immediate feedback helps students, parents, and teachers create a more successful environment.  ClassDojo does not appear to be a one-size fits all approach at all.  It is a tool and nothing more.  The teacher must figure out how it will work best in his/her particular setting.  If she works in a school where unexcused absences and tardies seem to be a particularly consistent problem, perhaps the only thing the teacher awards points for initially is attendance.  These earned points can be used to reward students in many different ways.  If a whole class reaches a specific goal, the teacher can reward students with a 10 minute dance contest during the last 10 minutes on a Friday.  This doesn’t cost any money and most students like to express themselves in one manner or another.  Now, not only has the teacher worked on a life skill with her students (on-time arrival for school, work, medical appointments, job interviews, etc.), she has also worked on developing a rapport with her students.  Imagine the laughter at watching their 42 year-old teacher try to dance to music selected by her teenage clientele.  Laughter bonds.  When a teacher is courageous enough to interact with her students in this way, even for only 10 minutes, the bonding begins and the students want to please.  ClassDojo was the tool that allowed the teacher to get to this point.  This could even work in a junior college setting.  Everyone likes to be praised.  If the negative points won’t assist a teacher with creating a specific rapport, then only use positive ones.

      Again the students don’t have to have access to the technology in order for it to work.  This can work in a one computer classroom with a poor teacher who does not have access to a mobile phone.  ClassDojo seems to have limitless potential as a tool.

      Perhaps you have been focused on what doesn’t work for so long that you have forgotten that thinking outside of the box isn’t just what we should teach our students to do…it is what we need to do on a regular basis.

      Best of luck to you, Professor.

  • Anonymous

    This sounds like something that will add distance between teachers and students, a verfremdungeffekt. All kinds of behavoiuristic adjustment are based on this distance, which is one of the main reasons why they don’t work. Well, for a while they do, but the only thing the student or the child learns is the how the program works. If you don’t have a close (but professional) relation whith the child or the young student, it’ll probably never understand the basic ideas behind good behaviour; they need to practise empathy. Which app teaches that?

  • Pgroff

          As a longtime teacher, and teacher educator, I would advise teachers who work in public schools that enroll almost exclusively students from low-income homes, to beware of advice such as that which is presented here. During my many years above I visited the above schools on a regular basis. Nothing is more obvious here than that children with the above parent(s)  are uniquely different from youngsters  in  middle- and upper-income families. As long as the assumption continues that all children are alike in their needs persists, I fear that the horrible statistcs that now prevails will continue. I refer to the fact that most of children from poor-families drop-out of high school by year two. Half of these quitters become criminals. Large numbers of their teachers currently are fired after being falsely accused as being hopelessly inferior instructors. I could go on with these dreatful figures!

    Dr. Patrick Groff, Professor of Education Emeritus, San Diego State University.

  • Anonymous

  • David Ginsburg

    Sam:

    I think you’ve confused behavior management with classroom management. And what a HUGE difference, as I explain in this article: http://bit.ly/fmBz6S.

    The reality is that teachers with strong classroom management skills spend very little time on behavior management. I know this from personal experience as an urban teacher, instructional coach, school leader. and consultant the past 18 years. And I also know this from research, including Martin Haberman’s 40-year study of the ideologies and practices of successful teachers of at-risk youth: http://www.habermanfoundation.org/Book.aspx?sm=c1

  • Sue Bartow

    This technology sounds like a nightmare reversal of some of
    the most democratic affordances of social media. Feedback in this form may be
    effective but what does effective mean? The development of the technology comes
    without questioning the assumptions on which it is based. If we don’t ask why
    behavior management is an issue, we can’t get to the reasons why some children
    don’t want to or can’t behave in classroom settings.

     

    It seems like the technology will only enable larger
    teacher/student ratios, more top-down learning, and more docile students.
    Genuine learning about real questions is the goal, not compliance to perform
    better on tests. Not only are our decisions about what to learn being driven by
    what can be measured (so we can make data-driven decisions that are based on
    only one kind of data), our decisions about how students should behave seem to
    be driven by how to make only one kind of performance better.

     

    This is a giant step toward putting collars on children,
    ones that give a gentle correction in the “invisible fence” vernacular, couched
    in language we are conditioned to accept as beneficial.  Who decides what behavior is being
    reinforced? Why isn’t it valuable to spend time on social/emotional learning?
    What happens when learning to engage others in a civic setting is completely
    dominated by learning subjects that have little bearing on being a full
    participant in a democratic society? The fact that we can be manipulated by
    feedback like this is not one of the aspects of being human that I’m proud of.

    • Marty Higginbotham

      Sue, 

      What you are saying is, in some ways correct, but missing a very important factor: The reality of the classroom. Learning, of *any* kind, in *any* format, is impossible when students are popping in and out of their seats, yelling across the room at one another or throwing paper balls.   Ask the student to stop, they don’t. Next choice… what? Send the student outside? Great, they’ve learned that disruptions get them out of class. Call home? That has to wait until class is over and assuming you *do* get in touch with a parent, and the parent does say something to the child, the warning has faded long before they get back in your class. Send them to the principle? Students have to be escorted, which leaves the rest of my class on hold, NOT learning. Write the student up? Again, takes time out of teaching the rest of the class and leaves the offending student feeling like he’s gotten away with disruptive behavior. 

      Only once students have experienced what a focused, well-behaved classroom feels like can they benefit from the type of student-centered, participatory activities you mention (and that I, a 9th grade teacher, wholeheartedly believe in).  Yes, we want freedom in the classroom, but that has to happen within structure or no one learns. 

      I used Class Dojo for the first time today with a class that has a number of… exuberant… students. Today, for the first time, I spent more time working one-on-one with students as they worked on a creative writing activity than I have all year… because in the past, such “work with a partner” activities would have devolved into games of trashketball, as students jumped out of their seats as soon as I tried to give attention to another student. Today, I had students feeling like they accomplished something in class, because they could hear each other’s comments or shared work.  I am not sure yet how I will continue to use class dojo in the future, but I am *very* hopeful that after a few weeks, the students will see how much more they get out of class when they’re focused on learning. My belief (and sincere hope!) is that they’ll “wean” themselves off this external reminder and  eventually learn to monitor their own behavior. . We’ll see. but for now, I am very, very thankful to have this tool available. 

    • Melissa

      Wow!  I respect your opinion on this, but have to say, I am quite excited about using ClassDojo for the upcoming school year.  I have Honors students, but they still call out answers and some try to monopolize the class discussion.  They don’t even realize that they are not giving others a chance to speak.  Their behavior is certainly not meant to stifle the learning of others, but it does.  With a system like ClassDojo, students will be able to see the simple positives of inviting another student to share (leadership skill), providing insight for a group discussion and then waiting for others to provide input as well.  I plan to encourage my student athletes, band members, choir students, etc. to plan ahead.  If they know that they will be out of class on Friday for a game or activity, they should touch base with me prior to missing class, get any work they can completed before the day they are scheduled to miss, and make sure they do not fall behind.  This is a huge behavioral issue in an Honors English class.  Most of my 10th graders are unaware of the time they waste in our class when they come in after being gone and ask, “Did you do anything on Friday?  I wasn’t here.”  I would love to say, “I’m sorry you weren’t here, but right now I am not reteaching Friday, I am teaching Monday.  If you want something from me approach me before or after class and do not waste any of our today time.”  If one of the positive points relates to taking care of business ahead of time and at an appropriate time, I am not only saving the rest of the class from the waiting game, I am teaching a really good student the valuable skill of planning ahead.  Eventually, the skill will stick with them and when they are in an AP class, they will make similar choices on their own.  How can this be thought of as a negative experience?

      On the flip side, if I have a student in class who rarely turns in his/her assignments on time, chooses to sit quietly most of the time and blend in (go unnoticed for too long), and earns poor grades on tests and quizzes, I can use ClassDojo in many ways to help him/her.  First of all, I can begin at the student level.  The student and I can review his/her points (positive and negative).  We can develop a plan for the future and see if any progress is made.  If little to no progress is made, I can send weekly or daily emails to parents of the student’s PDF report.  Now when report cards come out, there is very little “I didn’t know” from either the student or the parent.  Phone calls take considerable time.  An email, however, is quick and the reports are self explanatory.  I can cc a counselor or administrator, too.  A HUGE part of teaching is communicating.  Anything that makes this process faster and easier for me is a plus.  I have four children of my own and very little time to talk on the phone.  ClassDojo looks like a great tool to help eliminate excess phone time.

      The best part of ClassDojo for me is that it is customizable enough for each teacher to use it with classes in a way that suits both the population of students and the school goals.  I love it!

  • Jennie Dougherty

     Today, my second period lesson didn’t go as well as I’d planned. After staying up all Sunday night working to apply for grants to get technology for my student’s to use, I just didn’t get it 100% right-and in my classroom you get it 100%, or you do it again. After school, I stayed in my classroom to record and edit a video of the failed lesson so that my students would be able to have a quick recap of the information before diving into tomorrow’s agenda. In case my description wasn’t enough of an indication, I will be explicit in telling you that I am profoundly committed to my students’ learning.  Working in one of the largest urban comprehensive high schools East of the Mississippi, I am  tirelessly dedicated to optimizing my practice and my student’s outcomes. I want to be very clear in expressing my gratitude to anything and anyone who makes it easier for me to do this work, especially a program like Class Dojo. See, I already had a points system so robust it would take hours of my time to update and calculate participation averages for each student. My kids LOVED my points system, and that’s all the reason I needed to commit myself to maintaining and updating it each day. The reason I am so grateful for Class Dojo is that it makes it easier for me to reward my students for doing what’s right. In making this process easier, Class Dojo gives me more time and energy to focus on my students rather than the points I award them.

  • http://mulloverthings.com Matt Hurst

    I’ve been trying out ClassDojo in my classroom this week.  When I put the screen up that shows all the students’ avatars, they’re suddenly on their best behavior.  I’m not sure how exactly I will use it, as the way I use tools morph to fit the needs of the group of students I’m working with, but I really do like it.  You can see me using it in my classroom here in my demonstration video on my blog:  http://mulloverthings.com/2011/09/29-free-online-classroom-management-tool-classdojo/

    • Sanjmeh

      Good app. Which grade do you teach? And do you know of any competitor for this type of solution which runs classroom behaviour or rating systems in realtime?

      • http://mulloverthings.com Matt Hurst

        I teach grades 6-8.  I haven’t seen anything like it, and it offers a lot of unique features.  Keep in mind that it is in Beta – test mode right now.  The company is continually making updates and adding features.  I’m certain that ClassDojo will continue to improve what is already a well designed and intuitive behavioral management system.

      • Anonymous
  • Elizabeth Luff

    Fascinating.  I have mixed feelings.  I can see kids liking it — it almost duplicates interactive video games.   But I am flashing back to when my  son was in 2nd grade and the teacher gave out certificates for good behavior (which could be for good listening, or helping someone,etc.).  I was proud to have  a dozen or more certificates taped on my wall.   But my son was mad because his buddy Liam had more.  And he was disdainful of Jacob, who had none.   As a then 7  year old, Jacob was active and different in many ways.  Now, as a 17 year old he is in advanced math and science, a dedicated breakdancer and an undefeated wrestler. I am not sure the certificates helped the teacher or the students.  They certainly did not predict future performance.

    Best,
    Elizabeth

  • Autumnfawn

    Used this about 1/2 way through last school year for the chattiest group of kids I’ve ever had. It was fantastic! I use the mobile apps with my phone and ipad too (took it on field trips). The best part was at the end of the day we threw up the class average and reviewed it together, talked about what we did well and what we wanted to improve for tomorrow. Each student also had the chance to review their own report on the board. It was funny because even if I didn’t speak to a child about their behavior, they knew they knew when they did poorly and did not want their score projected. When this happened I could quietly call them to the side and discuss their report while everyone was packing up.  I can’t wait to use it next year with all of the improvements.

    I also like that if you are tracking someone’s behavior for RtI purposes you can program very specific things into the system…huge help in managing my time!

  • Parent

    I really have to say I do not like this app at all. I am a parent. I do not agree when teachers only track the bad behavior. It seems that this is alot of what they are doing. A parent looks at how there child is doing and sees they have been in red and scored a 20% possitive for the week. This showed that they do not track any of the good that the student does. So I thought that maybe my child was awful until I asked other parents. They showed me there child’s and all of there parents kids were in mostly red also. When teachers are using this for report cards it shows how inaccurate there grading system is. On another note: I think its awful to share with the entire class being in red. I believe the green kids should only be shown. Again this would be a positive reinforcement, something that kids could aim towards.