"The Humble Carrot by Nick Wheeler -BY-NC-SA- nickwheeleroz on Flickr"

"The Humble Carrot by Nick Wheeler -BY-NC-SA- nickwheeleroz on Flickr"I read an article in Mind/Shift recently that really bothered me. It was the title that drew me in: “What Works in Tech Tools: Spotlight on ClassDojo“. I had already seen that ClassDojo was a behaviour management tool and thought, ‘Really? This is a tech tool that works?’

From the article:


Each student gets an avatar and either receives or loses points. The point tallies can be projected on the board for real-time feedback. Teachers and students can come up with mutually agreed upon behavior expectations, and because the categories are framed using positive reinforcement, the tool has the potential to do more than just call out good behavior. For example, a teacher might create a category like “was able to counter another’s point of view without insulting them.” And that behavior becomes part of a classroom norm. ClassDojo can also take attendance and creates pie charts and percentage breakdowns to share with parents.

Admittedly the article states that the tool has been met with ‘Varying Experiences‘, which again makes me question the title of the piece.

I tweeted out my initial thoughts: (1)

Is it just me or do tools like ClassDojo http://flpbd.it/cxAxh  seem to take classroom management to the lowest possible denominator? #cpchat

 Gord Holden responded: (2)

@datruss Use whatever tool you want to replace engagement, but when the tool disappears, so does the behaviour it encourages. JMHO

 Then @ClassDogo also responded. In fairness to them, I appreciate their open approach: (3)

 @datruss Great feedback David! We’d love to hear your suggestions on how we can improve – can you email kalen@classdojo.com to set up a chat

My response: (4)

.@ClassDojo This sums up what I want to say about behaviour reward programs http://youtu.be/G59KY7ek8Rk  Not sure what else I’d add via email

Here is the video, Alfie Kohn vs Dwight Schrute:

 Again, @ClassDojo responds positively: (5)

@datruss Great feedback David! Would love to hear your suggestions on how we can build more intrinsic motivation!

 And then my last response before writing this post: (6)

.@ClassDojo I don’t have an answer? Not a fan of behaviour management rewards. Behaviour is expectation, engagement is the tool, not rewards

 I’ve seen a select few, very good teachers embed behaviour rewards into their classrooms, and I might even go as far as to say they have done it well. They seem to be able to embed team-building into what they do. But for the most part, and from my own personal experience, I find these reward programs punitive and judgemental. Beyond my own personal opinions, it seems research agrees with me. Watch Daniel Pink in this RSA Animate video, Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us.

 From the video, “There are 3 factors (that Science shows) leads to better performance and personal satisfaction: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.”

Rewarding behaviour really doesn’t work. Dressing it up in a flashy app doesn’t help. In fact, I’d say a tool like this makes it worse. Why? Because instead of this becoming a background tool, now it becomes a central part of what happens in the classroom.

Good teachers make most of their behavior management ‘invisible’. They circumvent behaviour issues by:

  • delivering engaging lessons;
  • creating student developed (mutually agreed upon) classroom expectations;
  • using things like their proximity to students to let the student know they are watching them, even without altering the flow of the lesson;
  • giving students that might struggle and be distracted added responsibility;
  • developing positive relationships with students;
  • sharing strategies that work among other teachers of the same students;
  • working with parents to provide a consistency of expectations.

The list can go on, but it really doesn’t include carrots and sticks, rewards and punishments. I appreciate that ClassDojo wants their tool to be better, but in my opinion, better would mean not using such a tool. I wouldn’t want someone to make a better strap for issuing corporal punishment in schools, or a better gestetner, or a better overhead projector.  I don’t want teachers toting the newest and best behaviour management tool as a means to improve their classroom structure. The fact is that if managing behaviour* is a focus in your class, learning isn’t.

[*Link added to newer post.]

23 comments on “Classes of Donkeys

  1. I agree that carrots and sticks aren’t going to fix a class and the best road to behavior management is a ninja approach, but I am integrating classdojo in a different way. I teach culinary arts and some of my classes include student supervisors. Classdojo allows my student supervisors to give ‘props’ to those students in their charge that they deem worthy. It’s a structured way for the student managers to evaluate their employees without having students ‘grading’ other students. I think the system has good possibilities, but our two problems so far have been remembering to use it when everybody’s working and deciding what the points can be used for.

  2. David,
    Great post! I love how you kept coming back to the root of the issue (philosophical beliefs). Keep writing and sharing your thoughts!

    Some reflections…Why do your student supervisors have to evaluate students at all? What is your goal? Why can’t they simply offer feedback to help each other improve? If the reward/bribe is in a different hand, does it make it any less of a reward/bribe?

    1. While peer encouragement can be useful it is my experience that for someone who’s never been in a supervisory position, structure for evaluation is helpful. I could do without the monsters, et cetra but the system is similar to many incentive programs that I have experienced in industry as an employee and manager. Since my student supervisors can’t give anyone a raise or bonus I thought this a reasonable tool they could try out.

  3. While I agree that it can’t be used as a reward based tool, I do see useful applications in my student-centred classroom. I need to have observations of individual, community behaviour. Class Dojo allows me to walk around the class and watch students while keeping an ongoing record of on-task behaviour, completed homework, and communication behaviours. I take the time to discuss expectations for students and what behaviours I monitor. I get them to give me feedback about how they beilve they are doing and then I have a record that can be compared to their own perceptions. I know a kindergarten teacher who is using it to teach her students to self-monitor their behaviour. There are useful applications for sure, but it’s up to teachers to figure out those behaviours. I think it can be a powerful tool when used in these situations, but it loses power when you give parents access to the records online without a context.

  4. David – thanks for this thoughtful post.

    I’m Sam, co-founder of ClassDojo, and a former teacher, too. I completely agree with the point around sticks and carrots: that is not what behavior should be about. I’d really like to speak with you to ask how we can improve ClassDojo to make sure we aren’t about that.

    ClassDojo doesn’t contain any rewards or punishments; it is supposed to be a realtime feedback tool. We are trying to take ‘behavior’ beyond consequences, to actually building specific positive behaviors for learning by providing real-time feedback. This can then be used by teachers and students to self-reflect, and can also be shared with parents to build these positive behaviors at home.

    I’d really like to share the full scope of what we’re up to, and to ask your advice on how we can do better. Can we find time to speak, please? Do let me know when might work.

    All my best

    Co-founder, ClassDojo

  5. I fully buy into the pain of extrinsic motivators, but I’m also drawn to ClassDojo for many of the reasons I’m not supposed to like it. In NYC, I don’t have the opportunity to grow intrinsic from elementary up, like I feel is best, so the thought of having a feedback loop to help while teaching the students to care for the right reasons sounds nice. I’m also considering setting up one class that many people around the school can access and use to give props to students who struggle whenever they’re “caught” doing something positive towards their learning.

  6. Hi Dave,
    I share the opinions you conveyed in your blog post. I compare Class Dojo to an advanced, techy red-yellow-green behavior management system. If you’re not familiar with the common stoplight behavior chart that hangs in the front of classrooms where everyone can view it, all students start on the green light and get moved to a different color if they display negative actions (I did see one the other day where students could advance past green). My biggest pet peeve about this system is how individual students stand out when they switch colors. Usually, the same students get moved to yellow and red; therefore, they are the known students with “behavior management issues.” I do not believe that Class Dojo has an individualized component where a student can access his/her status on a mobile device (please indicate if I am wrong). Even if it did, we don’t have mobile devices of any sort at the elementary level. As a result, teachers project everyone’s “scores” on the big Smartboard in the front of the room. How can you reprimand or praise in private when everyone in the class can see the student’s score? In my opinion, this goes against best practices of teaching. I do like how Class Dojo focuses on recognizing positive actions, but we should encourage students to act appropriately because it’s the right thing to do – not because their avatar will earn a point.

  7. Feedback is important for learning. This is a feedback system/loop for behaviour and shaping behaviour, and subject to subjectivity, in my opinion. I would not receive such “information” well as a parent. It would cause me to have questions about the classroom conditions, learning objectives, as well regarding the level of respect for children. It may be seen as building postive behaviours, but can it build a child’s confidence in their own problem solving regarding behaviour and self-regulation?

  8. These are some great comments here, thanks to everyone for taking the time to share. I’m fearful of going on too long in response, (specifically to Sam since I’ve been invited on several occasions to email and offer suggestions), so I’ll start with a general comment to everyone first:

    “A tool is just a tool! I can use a hammer to build a house and I can use the same hammer on a human skull. It’s not the tool, but how you use it that matters.”
    (This post has been very influential to my thinking.)

    My fear with tools like ClassDojo, is that the easy and default use of this tool can be more hammer-on-skull than hammer-to-build-a-house. And please note that I’ve unfortunately demonized ClassDojo, without really going beyond the ‘about’ page on their website, as the ‘poster boy’ for all classroom management tools. The simple fact is that this is the tool that Mind/Shift wrote about.

    Now, Sam. Have a look at the video Chris Wejr shared in his comment:

    In the comments for that video, Chris says:

    I have some huge concerns with this program. I appreciate the teacher putting themselves out there but I have some questions/concerns:
    1. I notice the children looking over their shoulder. If the goal is responsible behaviour, how do the children respond when nobody is “watching”?
    2. Where is the ongoing coaching/descriptive feedback? Do kids understand WHY they are getting points added/removed?
    3. Is this technology enhancing or disrupting learning?

    Here are some more critical points that come out of the video for me:
    – The teacher gives ‘positive’ on Class Dojo for answering questions correctly. What about risk taking? Do I want students only raising their hands when the know the answer?
    – Students don’t hear the ‘negatives’ for things they may have done in gym class, ‘but they do know it when they come back to class’. At this point the ‘punishment’ is removed from the student both by time and connection to the teacher. What does research tell us about the separation between the behaviour and the consequence, especially in young children?
    – The length of recess is based on how well the class as a whole does. So a student doing their best is penalized because the class as a whole didn’t do well? Furthermore, taking away recess could invite resentment and further behaviour issues in the class.

    Beyond this video, what about a student that chooses to ‘opt out’ of getting these rewards (like Stanley from The Office clip I shared above), then what? When a student tries their best but never gets as many ‘positives’ as some of the brighter students, or more obedient students, what does this say about them? When a teacher spends more time looking down at their device than they do giving meaningful feedback to students, what does that do to the learning environment?

    I’m sure ClassDojo can be used in positive ways. In fact, it seems that a couple commentors here have found ways to make it work for them. But I fear this is a tool that is too easy to use in ways that are detrimental as default, or as a fall-back for teachers, where more effective practices would actually benefit them moreso than a classroom management crutch.

    In your comment you say, “ClassDojo doesn’t contain any rewards or punishments; it is supposed to be a realtime feedback tool.” I disagree. When my avatar gets a ‘positive’ I’m being rewarded. When my avatar gets a ‘negative’ I’m being punished.

    You then say, “We are trying to take ‘behavior’ beyond consequences, to actually building specific positive behaviors for learning by providing real-time feedback.” I don’t think you need a tool to do this. You need a human being reacting to another human being. You need a teacher being preemptive, not jumping in with a reactive tool. Students are not Pavlov’s dogs. While I think that there is potential for helping students with new learning analytics tools – tools that give students immediate feedback on their learning, I don’t think we need behaviour analytics tools in classrooms.

    Sam, I appreciate the openness and invitation to connect via email. But the plain truth is that I don’t want to help you make your tool better. I think your tool, and all the different behaviour management tools I’m seeing tossed around, invite teachers to focus on the wrong things in their classrooms. They invite teachers to become reactive, and tool-dependent, and they teach students to do the right thing not for the intrinsic value, but for the opportunity to be rewarded.

    I said it at the end of my post and I’ll say it again here: if managing behaviour is a focus in your class, learning isn’t.

  9. Just read Good instruction is good classroom management by Robert Slavin.
    Here is the last paragraph:

    Minimizing time spent on discipline
    Whenever possible, disciplinary statements or actions should not interrupt the flow of the lesson. A sharp glance, silently moving close to an offending student, or a hand signal, such as putting finger to lips to remind a student to be silent, is usually effective for the kind of minor behavior problems that teachers must constantly deal with, and they allow the lesson to proceed without interruption. Effective classroom management is just informed common sense. Exciting, engaging lessons with real “pizzazz” solve most problems, and simple strategies for effective use of time, like those discussed in this article, add to a sense of purpose and prevent most disciplinary problems. Teachers still need to be ready to deal with more serious problems, but in a well-managed, well-taught class, these should be rare. Happy, productive, successful kids are generally well-behaved, and well managed classes let teachers focus on content rather than discipline.

  10. Love this:

    “creating student developed (mutually agreed upon) classroom expectations”

    My concern is that the same time spent explaining the flashy website tool could be spent on a sincere discussion of what lies at the root of it all: constructive behavior, mistakes, expectations, hopes and consequences.

    I really really shy away from “tech-i-fy-ing” human behavior. If this tool works for teachers who haven’t been informed of good techniques from mentors than so be it- whatever works works. I honestly think a fifteen minute perusal of classroom management resources at the local education library and a few minutes of good discussion with five or so colleagues who have COMPLETELY different personalities would equip any professional with a huge toolbox of skills to test without ever clicking a mouse or touching a smartboard.

    Generate genuine classroom discussion about mutual expectations – use wait time. Give them time to think, give them some scenarios to react to if you have to. Ask for student expectations for the teacher, for themselves, for each other. Write them down together. Some can be written in more than one column.

    Make a contract. Discuss fair and unfair consequences. Justify consequences and make sure they dont discourage learning or task completion. Spend a whole block on it. Take it and type it, modify it if you have to, but the impact of the discussion has to be there in the class before they see anything typed. Send it home to be signed.

    Talk about how it’s ok to make mistakes – what kind of mistakes could the teacher make? Students? Friends? How do we fix mistakes / resolve conflict? Are we allowed to make mistakes and then try again? (YES!!)

    Great discussion – thanks so much for putting your ideas out here for us to read. Sorry to hear you won’t be at #edcamp on Nov 17th!

    Again, great post!

  11. David,
    I do see how this could be used for extrinsic motivation, however, it is possible to integrate this into a classroom without there being as much focus on the individual students positive and negative points. I used this in my classroom and marked throughout the class periods, but it was muted. At the end of class I would pull up the total percentages and we would look at our overall areas that needed improvement, and decide what we wanted to work on for the next week. It led to some wonderful discussions with my students, and did not single out students. However, it was beneficial for me to be able to track and see the different behaviors of students and have the capability of sharing those reports with parents. Students were able to log in and see how they are doing, and it increased positive behaviors and decreased the negative ones. I continued to see these benefits even after I stopped using ClassDojo daily. Isn’t ClassDojo like many other edtech tools? It’s not the tool itself that’s the issue, it’s how it is used by teachers.

    1. Hi Laura,
      You make an excellent point about ‘how you use the tool’ mattering more than the tool itself. The telling part of your comment for me is, “I continued to see these benefits even after I stopped using ClassDojo daily.” You didn’t use this as a behaviour management crutch, but rather as a tool that had a useful time and place. What I fear is that tools like ClassDojo become the modus operandi in the classroom, that the tool becomes ‘the’ way of managing behaviour. I’d love to see you write a post about your experience with ClassDojo and describe your experience in detail, about how it helped and how it served a purpose, but also about how it was not a tool that you got ‘stuck’ depending on.
      Thanks for your comment!

  12. Thanks for the Twitter mention – I’m putting ClassDojo on my list of future blog entries to write. This is my first year as an edtech specialist, so I’m adjusting to my new position, taking time away from blog. I love my job, but I miss working with students daily. I wish there was some way to do both!

  13. Love the observations here. I was very active in a debate in Mindshift a while back about motivation, and and more recently a MOOC about gaming and badges. It seems many educators are looking for easy fixes…but for living lives that transcend games there are none. Students who feel empowered and good about who they are do not need motivation…just teachers who know when to assist, and when to get out of their way. The thing is, you cannot GIVE empowerment or self-worth. If these are conditional it is pretentious to own them and an act that wears thin pretty fast when the going gets tough or the “rewards” are absent.. Imagine getting students to the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs with badges? It takes someone with the heart of an artist and the mind of a great leader to help students navigate their way to the top without all the prerequisites. A grade or badge vendor just won’t cut it. Sorry. JMHO.

  14. This is a great conversation. I love the video about the “Schrute” bucks. (What about Canadian Tire money?! ha!) The Daniel Pink video was already one of my favourites, even before I saw it on this blogpost.

    Lincoln was mentioning that he was looking for a way for his students to peer-assess. I read an article somewhere that said that, “Challenge is better than praise”. Stickers, avatars, and points are forms of “praise” but it takes human-beings having a conversation in order to be able to offer up a challenge. Praise can be trite and hollow but receiving deep feedback shows that someone cares and took the time to notice beyond the surface. This encourages lasting motivation. To help students learn how to offer that type of feedback, it would be helpful to have assessment rubrics/grids with language to help students peer-assess each other. The language would give examples of how to go beyond terms like “good” or “nice”. Rubrics would be specific and tailored to the task/behaviour at hand. These rubrics could be developed as a class exercise even, so the kids own the expectations. Anyway, I’m talking from the IB framework, so that’s a bit too large for me to further explain here but I think it would be worthwhile to look at how students peer-assess in the PYP/MYP/DP programs. They do it without a class Do-Jo and very effectively! 😉

    Finally, I wanted to extend the conversation (and maybe throw a wrench into the discussion) and mention that our school did away with the Honor Roll system, last year. (I’m so proud of their courage!) The honor roll was a tradition for the school. The administrators that put it in (30 years ago?) have changed their minds and took it away last year. The reasoning is that their recent research has shown them that extrinsic rewards (including honor rolls systems) actually demotivate those that aren’t receiving them. Instead, they have developed an Effort and Commitment Award system which all students can obtain and where students are only competing against themselves for.

    School started up this past week for the new school year. I was so happy when one of the new parents (from the States) said to me that her high school child is so happy and just LOVES the new school and one of the reasons is because there is no honor roll. The child was one of those students who always tried her heart out but just couldn’t get stellar marks in one of the subject areas. It was not due to lack of trying but it was just not that child’s area of strength. So, we’re no longer punishing kids for things they can’t help. We’re no longer comparing them to others (naming and shaming).

    As a parent of 4 kids, I have one child that struggled her way to “Honor Roll” and cares about being on it a lot. I have one that could get it easily but doesn’t care and isn’t on it. I have another child that cares but will probably never make it as he struggles with spelling and writing and might have a mild learning issue. The 4th one is too young to tell, but his favourite subject is recess! Guess what? As a parent, I’d rather not have an honor roll system for the sake of the 3rd child that tries so hard, but just can’t make it. Instead, we have an Effort & Commitment Award and all 4 of my kids are eligible. 🙂

    The Class Do-Jo system is not exactly the Honor Roll system but both are based on external motivators. The child’s locus of control over his/her self-esteem is external and I don’t think that right. I don’t think it’s fair. Your self-esteem goes up and down as someone (a fallible person) outside of you gives or takes away rewards. Whatever self-esteem there is from being on the “good chart” is from the wrong source.

    This might sound backwards, but I coach my children (and students when I get the chance) to care less what people say or think about them (including any rewards or words of praise) but to measure themselves against what they think and expect of themselves and against their potential. As a result, their self-esteem is forming under their control. They’re not chameleons changing colours with every change of environment, sets of friends, sets of teachers, school systems etc. They are standing on a solid foundation that will serve them for their entire lives and will still be there after they leave school.

    Motivation is a complex thing and Daniel Pink’s study and the studies our school looked at fly against conventional wisdom: We have learned that external rewards demotivate over the long-run and especially for those that aren’t receiving them. (Next chapter to this debate? Report Card grades!)


  15. Vivian,
    Thanks as always for your comment and continuation of the conversation!
    I wrote a post about Challenging the Status Quo and there is a section on ‘Award Ceremonies’ that parallel’s with your thoughts on Honour Roll (I know you are Canadian and won’t mind the ‘u’ in Honour. 😉 http://pairadimes.davidtruss.com/challenging-the-status-quo/#AC

    I’d also like to thank you for pointing me to Thinking About Classroom Dojo – Why Not Just Tase Your Kids Instead? ~The same point I’m making, but from a different perspective.

  16. Hi Dave

    Sorry it’s taken me so long to return. It’s all queued up in my “to-do” list. I get to it; it just takes a long time sometimes. 🙂

    It’s the effect of my expat wanderings that sometimes I drop the “u” when I type as I am going so fast. Technically, there is only one way to spell correctly and that is the Canadian way 😉

    Thanks for pointing me to your Honour Roll post. Will check it out soon…

    Hope the new school year is rolling out smoothly.


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