In a "Nutshell:"
This is one tool you'll wonder how you ever taught without!
The start of the school year brings many challenges. One of the greatest, and most daunting for many of us is quickly building that engaged, well-behaved classroom community that leaves you feeling in control of your classroom. A lot of teachers I’ve spoken to have struggled with this - and given how much theory there is out there about how to manage and improve behavior: intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation, PBIS, RTI, Alfie Kohn, Doug Lemov, Lee Cantor - its amazing just how few tools there are available to help with it. In fact, struggling with classroom behavior is often cited as a big reason teachers leave teaching, and is what a lot of instructional time in class ends up being spent on. I found that the term ‘classroom management’ (or ‘behavior management’) masks many, many sub-issues. Here are just four that kept coming up:
- Engaging students is painful: too often new teachers get met with blank faces and disengaged students, and have to go through a long, painful process to engage them. What’s more, low motivation and engagement in class have consistently been linked to increased dropout rates and reduced levels of student success.
- Even where teachers have successful strategies, these create a lot of admin work both in and out of class: administering these systems in the classroom (e.g. moving cards and marbles around in class) and out of it (e.g. entering data - if at all - on to spreadsheets etc) distracts from instructional time, and adds work after school. In many cases, the extra work means data doesn’t get recorded: the lack of data generated by these systems makes it difficult to effect permanent improvements in behavior over time.
- Most tools focus too much on the negative: these tools make 'behavior' equate to 'discipline'. Rather than allowing teachers to focus on building the positives, they enforce a focus on logging referrals: by which point its too late to intervene effectively.
- Time-consuming for teachers to engage parents and administrators: engaging parents and other teachers becomes a chose, involving lots of phone calls or emails, and sucking up a lot of time after school.
Essentially, ‘behavior management’ seemed to be a painful, punitive, time-consuming process, and one where very few tools have been offered to support teachers.
One solution: ClassDojo
The good news is that recently I happened to come across one new tool coming out of Silicon Valley that tries to fix these and many other problems: ClassDojo. ClassDojo is an easy, quick-to-use tool that is completely customizable, but also lightweight enough to be deployed in an individual classroom in under 2 minutes - no need to wait for a lengthy pilot. Oh - and its free to use for beta users (sign-up and find out more here: www.classdojo.com). The team are two British entrepreneurs, former teachers, who have just moved to the US. Just to show yo you how they’re fixing the problems above:
- Engaging students easily: ClassDojo allows teachers to recognise positive behaviors and accomplishments and provide real-time feedback instantly in class. It also has engaging visuals that set up engaging real-time feedback loops that encourage students exhibit desirable behaviors, and build intrinsic motivation over time.
- Reducing admin work in and out of class: teachers can award or take away points for desirable behaviors or accomplishments with one touch of a smartphone or laptop button: there is no additional data entry required, and it is all done in real-time. This allows teachers to actually get real-time data on what's happening in their class, allowing them, for the first time, to objectively track and improve behavior - it feels a bit like magic.
- Focusing on the positive: ClassDojo actively focuses teachers on the positives, allowing teachers to track and improve positive behavior over time, rather than waiting for a referral to happen. ClassDojo is also completely customizable to specific classrooms or activities.
- Engaging parents and administrators: ClassDojo automatically creates behavior reports, charts and analytics, and allows teachers to share these with parents, students and administrators with just one click - eliminating the need for laborious emails and phone calls.
Talking to the ClassDojo team, they tell me that they realized that behavior management is in fact a subset of something much bigger: building positive character. In fact, extensive research by Nobel prize-winning economist James Heckman (read more here) suggests that building character - and in particular, the ability to control oneself (cf the Stanford marshmallow experiments!) - is the key to really, really huge improvements in a whole slew of socioeonomics indicators: from average income, to health outcomes, to incidence of substance abuse, to likelihood of criminal prosecutions: multiple studies* have shown that self-control is one of the single biggest predictors of these in later life, have shown these findings too. The good news is: self-control can be built - ClassDojo’s big vision is to fix this neglected 'other half' of education: they want to make it easy for parents, teachers and students to measure, track and build the ‘intangibles’ - like self-control - that are even more important than good grades for academic and lifetime success (and incidentally, are critical for improving grades, too!).
* Including the HighScope Perry pre-school programme, and the Dunedin studies by Professor Terrie Moffitt.
Some background on us:
The founders of ClassDojo are two British entrepreneurs, Sam Chaudhary and Liam Don. Sam was a high school teacher, and subsequently worked in the education practice at management consultancy firm McKinsey & Co in London. Liam was previously a games designer at Jagex, the creators of Runescape, and recently took a leave from a PhD in the Technology Enhanced Learning group of Durham University. The two boys moved from London to Palo Alto to help improve US education, after receiving funding from investors running an education technology incubator in Silicon Valley.