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Classroom Management Gets Its Game Face On


As a first year teacher, I noticed that few, if any, of my students consistently turned in their homework. This fact did not lead me to conclude that my were unmotivated or unconcerned about their work. It lead me to consider what I could to make them more aware of their homework grade. Based on my own reflections and observations, I decided to create the homework chart [see image/watch short clip below]

This homework chart transformed my student’s behavior.  Before the homework chart, fewer than 5% of my students were consistently turning in their homework. Within days of hanging the poster, 80% of my students were turning in homework and, within a week, the majority of my students were getting “As” on the assignments they were turning in. These “As” continued to be earned despite of the fact that my homework assignments became increasingly difficult.  At that time, I was too overwhelmed to consider the reasons for this remarkable turnaround and simply reveled in the “miracle” that had taken place. Since then, I have come across studies that may explain my student’s positive response to the poster.

One explanation came from an article written by neurologist Dr. Judy Willis, which  “ Makes the Case for the Video Game Model as a Learning Tool”. In it, she explains that “the human brain, much like that of most mammals, has hardwired physiological responses that had survival value at some point in evolutionary progression.” According to Willis’ article, one reason my homework chart was so successful was because it made them aware of their achievement and able to clearly recognize their progress, which triggered my student’s dopamine reward response. Unlike before, the chart caused my students to experience the reward from the release of dopamine, which prompted them to seek future opportunities to repeat the actions that led them to be successful.

Much like a sequential, multilevel video game, my homework chart’s feedback of progress was ongoing, and took the form of accumulating points and visual tokens. However, the real reward, according to Dr. Willis’ article, was the  jolt of dopamine that my students experienced in response to achieving the challenge, solution, sequence, etc. needed to earn a higher grade and move onto more challenging assignments. According to Dr. Willis, “[w]hen the brain receives feedback that this progress has been made, it reinforces the networks used to succeed. Through a feedback system, that neuronal circuit becomes stronger and more durable. In other words, memory of the mental or physical response used to achieve the dopamine reward is reinforced.”

Stepping Up My Game: Why Google Docs. Don’t Work.

This year, I decided to not only have a homework chart, but also a class participation/behavior chart for my students. I made this decision based on the fact that I wanted the class performance chart to provide my students with “real time” feedback for their positive and negative contributions to the class.  I used Google docs. to create columns in which I could award points for turning in homework, class participation and “other”. This system provided some positive results however, its drawbacks were numerous:

1. Vague Feedback:

My system was not behavior specific. A student knew they got a positive or negative point for class participation but the point was not explicit in terms of the reason for which it was rewarded.

 2.  Limited Freedom of Movement:

In order to give feedback, I had to be standing near my computer, and unable to do it while walking around the room, which caused the system to be less authentic, and took my attention away from my students as I glanced at the screen to ensure that I had input the information correctly. I tried to correct this by accessing the document on my iphone, however, this was not ultimately a workable solution because the system was incredibly slow and made me less effective as a teacher.

 3. More paperwork

Friday afternoon, I would be exhausted and done with grading, but still have to go through the class participation Google docs and spend at least an hour counting up each student’s points, add points to my gradebook and then transfer notes on student’s behavior to their individual records.

It was Friday’s like the one described above that made it an absolute pleasure to test the beta-version of Class Dojo. Seconds after I began using this program, I thought “This thing is going to make me into a feedback rock-star!” My next thought: “Goodbye google docs!” After an extensive review of the program, I dubbed ClassDojo a “teacher approved technology” because it improves my practice and optimizes my student’s learning.

Class Dojo: Teaching  the Art of Self-Control

Class Dojo optimizes a teacher’s routine of providing recognition and rewards in class. With one touch of a smartphone or computer button, teachers can instantly award (or take away) points and badges based on student’s behavior or participation; it gives students and parents access to a profile page that is updated in real-time to display how the student is doing in class, and what badges/points she earned in class (e.g., for helping other students, for showing great creativity). During class, Class Dojo’s reward system provides instant visual notifications for students to see (‘Well done Josh! +1 for helping others!’). This tool is based on a whole host of game mechanics: think level-ups, badges and achievements to unlock, in-classroom games, avatars and leaderboards. These “game-like” notifications make students aware of their achievement, recognize the correct choices they made, and reinforce their understanding of the behaviors/skills necessary to succeed in class.

The neurological response that a student gets from successfully meeting challenges in class, makes it all the more likely that he will develop the intrinsic motivation to persevere in future situations. The specific features that qualify Class Dojo to be a “teacher-approved-technology” include:

1. Flexibility (Allows me to decide criteria, point value, and rewards)

This program is teacher-centered and therefore has greater flexibility to allow teachers to customize the reasons and incentive structure for each class. It allows me to not only decide the criteria and point value of rewards, but also add notes at any point in time that will not seen by students, which is particularly helpful when trying to keep track of follow-up to a particular event.

2. Mobility (allows me to be where I need to be, with my students and not at my keyboard)

What I particularly love about Class Dojo is the fact that I can control it with my iphone! No longer will I be forced to choose between standing near my keyboard or using a paper seating chart to record points that will have to deciphered, entered and analyzed at the end of the week!  This application allows me to be where I need to be-with my students, and frees me from being trapped at my keyboard.

3. Parent Feedback (enables me to tell each parent how their child did in class that day, and everyday)

Our circumstances often make it difficult for us to provide parents with as much feedback as we would like to. Class Dojo, however, is set up so that parents can access their child’s data and see how they performed in class each day.  Now I will be able to tell each parent how their child did in class that day and everyday.

4. Analytics

On a Friday afternoon, the last thing I want to do is enter student performance data into an excel spreadsheet and then use that data to update my grade book’s record of each student’s performance. This fall, I will rely on Class Dojo to provide me with a data analysis of the feedback I give my students. The applications analyzes each child’s progress overall (e.g. more positive than negative) as well as each type of behavior (24% of positive points awarded for correctly answering questions). This makes it even easier to keep track of my student’s behavior goals!  Additionally, it provides me with information about my own feedback patterns  in terms of my feedback ratio (Am I giving more positive feedback than negative feedback?) While the system already allows students to access their performance data and get a detailed view of their performance history, the company is currently building dashboards that show engagement and participation over time, to help teachers and administrators understand what is actually happening inside all of their classrooms, in a data-driven way.

I recently spoke with one of Class Dojo’s co-founders, Sam Chaudhary. A former teacher in the UK, Sam developed the program with the objective of helping teachers and is currently improving the program based on feedback he received from teachers who used the beta version. When I spoke with Sam and I offered him tons of praise as well as a list of suggestions to make the application even better than it already is. Some of my suggestions included:

1. Putting in a seating-plan style template of boxes, to reduce the amount of time it takes to scroll through a list of names looking for the student you wish to award a point to.
2. Using a time stamp that recorded the actual time rather than ‘3 minutes ago’, so its easier to see analytics
3. Create an easy way to print or text analytics/rewards to share with parents who may not have computer access.
4. Provide teachers with a button to document giving students a “bathroom pass” as an additional way to ease some of the record keeping.

Having already developed a powerful tool for any teacher, Sam communicated his enthusiasm for incorporating my suggestions as he refines Class Dojo and prepares to release it. “As former teachers ourselves, we want to make teachers’ lives easier by creating a positive learning environment in the classroom that will make it easy to manage behavior and engage their class. This will reduce the amount of work teachers currently have to do, and give them more time to do what they love (that’s teaching, rather than crowd control or data entry!).” As Sam sees it, “teachers have had bad technology pushed on them for too long. We promise to only ever make easy-to-use, powerful, beautiful technology that teachers love (we hope, at least – you tell us!), and will enable them to do their jobs even better and more easily than before.” Given Sam’s intention, and Class Dojo’s current level of quality, I have little doubt that he will be able to accomplish his objective of empowering teachers and enabling them to optimize student learning.

This fall, Class Dojo provides a data-driven system to measure and improve students’ social / behavioral development, makes it easier to share the information with students and parents, and gives teachers more time and energy to focus on our students. Finally, rewarding students won’t have to punish the teacher.

Related Article on Harnessing the Power of Feedback Loops 

This company loves teacher input! Anyone interested can sign-up for early invitations to ClassDojo at:!



Post a comment
  1. September 16, 2011

    Absolutely love it! Great stuff.

  2. November 5, 2011

    Class Dojo has become an integral tool in our daily classroom interactions. Your review is great. Check out how my students have negated the behaviour expectations in our classroom.

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