When Classroom Culture Conflicts With EdTech (Christina Quattrocchi)

The following guest post appeared in EdSurge, February 9, 2014

 Teachers have a multitude of tools to choose from. Not every tool can exactly match every teachers’ pedagogical approach. However, for some when it doesn’t quite match up it can be the difference between trying it out or walking away.

Elementary teachers Erin Klein and Karen Lirenman share their thoughts about ClassDojo, a free tool for classroom management used by … million[s of] teachers. The tool allows teachers to give students points to reinforce positive behaviors, assign negative points for undesirable behaviors and allows teachers to track behavior data over time, sharing with parents and administrators through reports.

Here’s how these two teachers address the conflicts that arise between a tool and the culture of learning in their classrooms.

Karen Lirenman: Can’t See Eye To Eye

Before I begin I need to be perfectly honest that I have never tried ClassDojo with my grade one students. Normally I wouldn’t critique something without trying it first, however, philosophically ClassDojo just doesn’t sit right with me. I strongly believe children should be in charge of their behaviour through being taught and using self regulation skills and ClassDojo takes that away from them. Here’s why.

ClassDojo seems to enforce external rewards. And no matter how you jazz it up, external rewards don’t work in the long run. Yes, you may see results in the short term, but what happens when you remove the reward? From what I’ve seen, there is little authenticity and ownership of that said action. Using ClassDojo would make it hard for students to self regulate.

The one click assessment also bothers me too. It doesn’t allow me to differentiate and add any specific individual details as to why they are receiving, or not receiving a click. Whether it be a specific behaviour, or a learning objective, very little boils down to just one click.What that one click system is vastly missing is the information that the child brings with them surrounding their behaviour or performance of learning outcomes. I can have two children in my class who have not yet mastered a learning outcome but for two completely different reasons.That specific child-dependent information is extremely important to me, yet there is no way to differentiate that information with ClassDojo. It’s what my formative assessment is built around and it’s what guides me as their teacher. The simplicity of the one click negates all of that assessment data.

To take this even further, it is this simplified data that is shared with families. I think it’s great that parents are aware of where their children are succeeding and struggling, but the one click assessment tells them so little. It  would undermine my ability to be specific with their child’s needs, and to provide suggestions on ways to support them.

I am also bothered by the fact that the assessment is done in front of the class. For those who are successful on a consistent basis, I’m sure this isn’t really a problem, but for those who struggle I can only imagine that it would be.  Kids know when they are struggling with something and the last thing they need is to have it pointed out to them in front of their peers.  What about a child’s dignity? When has humiliation ever helped anyone?

As a teacher it’s my responsibility to build an authentic relationship with each of my students. This relationship is key to help my students overcome their area(s) of difficulty, and to push them along with their learning.  If I really want to make a difference in their lives I need to support, nurture, and guide. I need to help my students learn to self regulate, because ultimately the rewards should come from within. Because of a philosophical conflict, I won’t be using ClassDojo with my class.

Karen Lirenman is a grade one teacher in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada who loves to provide her students with choice in how they learn, show, and share their knowledge.

Erin Klein: There’s More Than Meets the Eye

I’ll admit, when I was first presented with ClassDojo, I was a bit apprehensive about using a tool that relied on extrinsic motivation. You see, building intrinsic motivation in my students is an important part of my educational philosophy and at first glance, ClassDojo didn’t quite fit. I thought there was no way I could get behind a technology tool that was based on points, or rewards and punishments.

And yet, I was excited to offer support to a new startup. So I agreed to help, reminding myself to be open-minded. I found, it’s not about the tool itself, but how the tool is used. Here’s how I used it with my second graders to go beyond extrinsic rewards:

 Attendance: My students love entering the classroom and touching their Dojo Character to mark themselves present for the day. This was a great way to track how many days of school each child had attended. They loved seeing the days of school tracked on the SMART Board using ClassDojo because it gave them ownership over their attendance. ClassDojo now has a separate attendance feature that is awesome!

 Anchor Chart Workshop Expectations: Each year, we come together and brainstorm a list of expectations for our reading and writing workshop time. We typically use chart paper and jot down our notes. Then, we hang these charts and reference them as needed.  We did the same this year, but we integrated ClassDojo to track whether students were successful in meeting their own expectations in the workshop. This also helped track what students needed to work on as well. You can click here to read more about how we used this in our workshop.

Special Needs and IEPs: Because ClassDojo is also offered as an app, teaching assistants use their smart phones to monitor student’s focus, interest level, attentiveness, and participation. The program tracks and stores all data that can be configured into brilliant graphs automatically. Each graph can be easily shared with parents, teachers, special education directors, etc. This helps the adults better understand student behavior so we can better support our students.

 Classroom Behavior: ClassDojo was designed to track student behavior and encourage positive interactions. My former school used a district-wide positive behavior system. So, ClassDojo supported exactly what my school was doing. Students could earn points for following the classroom expectations. This information was saved and could easily be shared if needed.

In closing, I’m sure you can find fault with several tools, strategies, philosophies, methods, textbooks, and apps. But I encourage you to think beyond what meets the surface. I’m glad I invested the time to think creatively about the uses for ClassDojo.  It has really made a positive difference in the way I organize important information for my students.  Start with your classroom and your students in mind. Then use the tool to fit you and your students.

Erin Klein is a teacher, author, and parent who has earned her Master’s of Education in Curriculum and Instruction and currently teaches second grade. She has previously taught first, sixth, and seventh grade.



Filed under dilemmas of teaching, how teachers teach, technology use

13 responses to “When Classroom Culture Conflicts With EdTech (Christina Quattrocchi)

  1. Karen Lirenman raises some very serious concerns that are neither addressed nor outweighed by Erin Klein….

    • larrycuban

      Thanks for the comment. Karen does, indeed, raise deep concerns. I am curious to hear from other readers whether those concerns are addressed (or not) by Erin.

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  3. Thanks for bringing this conversation to my attention! I’ve written a blog about it. I hope I did well to carry on this excellent conversation:

  4. Karen’s articulates her key objection in a way I suspect all good teachers will recognise. “If I really want to make a difference in their lives I need to support, nurture, and guide. I need to help my students learn to self regulate, because ultimately the rewards should come from within. Because of a philosophical conflict, I won’t be using ClassDojo with my class.”

    Indeed, Erin echoes her when she writes: “…I was a bit apprehensive about using a tool that relied on extrinsic motivation. You see, building intrinsic motivation in my students is an important part of my educational philosophy”

    What I see, when I read these two accounts of the same tool, is a conflict between pragmatism and excellence in two different teachers. Like so many teachers who make the decision to integrate a given technology into their practice, Erin’s enthusiasm for the new tool and the decision she’s made, comes across very clearly in her use of positive terms like, “excited” “positive” “awesome” and even “love.” Her pupils “loved” this new experience and she accepts, without question, the premise that ClassDojo has been designed to reward “positive” behaviour. Something my experience of the way educational software is “designed” or comes to market, would question.

    I would simply qualify Karen’s reservations not as “philosophical” but “professional” because a child, whatever their age, who acts in a certain way purely to receive a reward, has learned no more than a Pavlovian dog. This is not to harshly criticise Erin for her choice: it just highlights the pragmatism involved in her decision and sometimes, teachers make very pragmatic choices in order to reach more “professional” ones.

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  6. EB

    Children (and adults) frequently respond initially to extrinsic rewards as a transition to intrinsic motivation for the same behavior. Think about two year olds; they can’t initially control their tendency to have tantrums so we simply don’t give them what they’re demanding — this is applying an extrinsic limit on the behavior. Quickly they learn to control those outbursts (since they don’t result in anything the child wants) and then they appreciate on their own that self-control works better.

    In the classroom, what this works out to mean is that extrinsic rewards have a place, but building in a system where the extrinsic rewards are permanent (Classroom Dojo) robs children of the chance to transition from extrinsic to intrinsic rewards either in terms of behavior or academics.

  7. Everyone, hi! This is Sam, co-founder of ClassDojo. I wanted to chime in with my comments on the original article, in the hope that they might be useful for this forum, too.

    All my best,


    Erin, Karen – hey! Thank you both for such a thoughtful piece; I love the open discussion here, and I wanted to chime in with a few thoughts. All of us in education are trying to do the best we can for students, and that is wonderful common ground to start from.

    I’ve said this before to @Betsy and the @EdSurge team, but it’s worth reiterating: since day one, ClassDojo has been built on countless phone calls, Google Hangouts, classroom visits, and in-person interviews with teachers, parents and students. As a former educator, I make sure the team is focused on reflecting that feedback in everything ClassDojo makes. That means – like most good tech products – ClassDojo is always iterating towards our ultimate vision (www.classdojo.com/mission). It also means we want to do more than we are doing at any given moment in time – building out all areas of a product to support a big vision just takes time!

    With that said: Karen, thank you for the feedback 🙂 I wanted to take you up on some excellent points. You’ve also been so honest, and in that spirit, I wanted to provide some more detail on how we’re thinking about or have been doing something about them:

    1. Student self-regulation – lots of teachers have told us they’d like us to do more to help students take ownership of developing their own behavior and character strengths – and we agree. So, we started work on this a while ago; we took a big first step towards this in January, by launching a free ‘ClassDojo for Students’ mobile app that lets students track their own progress. While it is still very simple, it is the starting point for many more student-focused features, that will help students own and improve their own behavior.

    As Erin says, today teachers use ClassDojo to encourage positive behaviors and character strengths like showing grit, being curious, working hard, helping others and showing leadership, to name a few. As for self-reflection, with the current version of ClassDojo, we rely on great teachers to use ClassDojo to start self-reflective discussions at school and at home. ClassDojo provides data and insights on those character strengths, and teachers use those as a launchpad for deeper, self-reflective discussions with students outside of ClassDojo (here, for example, is a video of how teachers might do that – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PhdYP4Hni3U). However, as you’d expect, rather than just being a launchpad, we want make self-reflection a core part of the product. I can’t say too much, but there are some cool features coming soon here 🙂

    2. External rewards – reading this makes me worry that we haven’t done a good job of sharing what ClassDojo does. There are no external rewards or prizes in ClassDojo. We’ve chosen not to build them in, and instead focused on creating a platform that allows teachers to give students consistent, targeted, realtime positive feedback for things they are doing well. It reminds teachers to focus on finding and encouraging the positives in their classrooms, rather than focusing on when things go wrong. Research shows that consistent, positive, realtime feedback actually changes behavior; that, together with making it easy for teachers to have clear, consistent, high expectations that are shared with their students is what makes ClassDojo effective.

    Now, we know some teachers use rewards in their classrooms (with or without ClassDojo); that works best for their students. There is no judgment from us: we presume teachers know their classrooms better than anyone else, and while we prefer not to build rewards in to ClassDojo, we also trust teachers. We believe teachers should have the option and the freedom to adapt technology to best suit their individual contexts. Presumably those teachers who use rewards would use them regardless, and they adapt ClassDojo to what they feel works best for their students, and their context.

    3. Adding specific individual details (rather than just ‘one click’) – again, I worry we haven’t done a good job of sharing what ClassDojo actually does. Adding comments to individual assessments / observations is in fact a key feature in ClassDojo, and is used and loved by many teachers. In fact, over 2 million comments have been recorded and shared with parents since we launched the feature – here are some instructions on how teachers do it: http://goo.gl/W3qUjc.

    4. Detailed communications with parents – we agree that more detailed communication is better; the key is in doing that without creating more work for teachers! So, ClassDojo automatically compiles simple reports that go home every week, saving teachers a ton of admin work. We’ve seen that even these simple reports create much more understanding between school and home: they start conversations between parents, students and teachers that otherwise never would have happened. Millions of parents now receive reports from ClassDojo teachers every week; for the first time, instead of having to wait for a conference at the end of the semester, or the sporadic, dreaded phone call about ‘what went wrong’, they can easily stay engaged with simple, digestible positive news from the classroom. That said, there is a lot more we depth we can go into here – and we have more features coming soon – but this is already breaking down the walls between school and home by shortening feedback loops, so parents and teachers can work together to correct things early and often, rather than only finding out once it’s too late. For example, here’s a story from Kendra Frank, a ClassDojo teacher using ClassDojo to communicate with her parents: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BUrVKvKCkI.

    5. Public usage of ClassDojo – we designed ClassDojo to be a positive tool, used to encourage and never to ‘humiliate’: in fact, almost all of the feedback points awarded every day on ClassDojo are positive points. 900 million pieces of positive feedback have now been given using ClassDojo – that means that in two years, a teacher somewhere in the world has recognized and encouraged a positive action by students 900 million times. So, while not all teachers display ClassDojo (many use it exclusively on their mobile devices), when teachers do display it, it focuses on promoting positivity. In fact, lots of teachers say this is one of ClassDojo’s major benefits: it helps them focus on recognizing and encouraging positive behavior. Behavior becomes a positive thing for the whole class to celebrate and recognize, rather than a negative thing to be punished. For example, here’s a story from Maranda Hanson, a teacher using ClassDojo to promote the positive, and make her classroom more positive: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36U_EFhdtpU.

    6. A teacher’s job is about building authentic relationships – we totally agree. Technology cannot replace authentic human relationships; it can merely enhance them, and make them easier and less hassle to manage – for example, by making it easier to communicate home, or track IEP progress, or keep track of how positive a teacher’s interactions are with each student. ClassDojo is connecting teachers, students and parents to help children develop as whole human beings with all the character strengths they need for success at school and beyond. Authentic relationships between teachers, parents and students are critical to that mission, and ClassDojo will help develop, nurture and support those.

    @Karen, I hope some of these thoughts help. ClassDojo is always evolving and iterating, and your feedback helps us improve. I’m hoping that in the spirit of open collaboration, these thoughts will help resolve philosophical conflicts: I feel we actually come from a very similar place, with similar points of view. I’d love to work together to make the best educational experiences we can for the students we both work with.

    Finally, we’d love even more teacher feedback. Karen, Erin, and any other educators who want your voices to influence what actually happens at an edtech company – I’d love for you to join the ClassDojo VIP list to get early access to all our new, experimental features! You can do that here:
    https://classdojo.wufoo.com/forms/welcome-to-the-classdojo-vip-list-7p8x7/. Furthermore, if you’d like to get in touch with me directly, just ping me an email on sam@classdojo.com.

    Thank you both once again for the feedback. Thank you also to @Betsy and the EdSurge team for providing the forum where all of us who are passionate about education can have these important discussions.

    All my best,


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