On Using And Not Using ClassDojo*: Ideological Differences?

In a recent guest post, two British Columbia (Canada) primary grade teachers took opposite sides in discussing their use and non-use of the free behavioral management tool called ClassDojo. As described by the reporter in the above article, ClassDojo is software that “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.”

I was struck by what appeared to be strong differences between the two teachers over how (or whether) the high-tech tool should be used. Here I will summarize each teacher’s points, offer other teachers’ first-hand experiences, and then add what I learned based on my reading and an interview I had with a first-grade teacher using ClassDojo. There is an underlying issue over teacher beliefs in how children best learn that weaves in and out of the teachers’ comments, an issue I address at the end of the post.

Karen, the first grade teacher said that the tool was too point-focused and undercut her goals of getting six year-olds to manage their impulses. She admits that she  has not used ClassDojo in her classroom. Her reasons against using the software tool are clearly stated:

1. Class Dojo reinforces external rewards. They may work in the short run but fail over time to get students to regulate their behavior.

2. One-click assessments of children’s behavior miss the complexity of individual students and why they do what they do.

3. It is “humiliating” to display publicly those students who get minus points; shame doesn’t help students learn.

Erin, another primary grade teacher, felt initially that ClassDojo would undermine her belief that students learn best through intrinsic rewards since the tool depended on points, rewards and punishments. Yet she decided to use the software and discovered that ClassDojo reinforced a child’s responsibility for being in class. In the reading and writing workshop she does annually, ClassDojo helped students state and track their expectations in reading and writing. In addition, the software tool collected and displayed information that helped the teaching assistant monitor special needs students’ behavior in the class as well as the overall group’s behavior. In short, Erin used the tool to “go beyond extrinsic rewards.”

Karen and Erin are two examples of teachers using ClassDojo. There are others (see here, here, and here) that use the tool differently and express their support and reservations.

I wanted to learn more about the software tool so I contacted Sam Chaudhary at ClassDojo to find a teacher near where I live to interview. He found Mayrin Bunyagidj, a first-grade teacher at Sacred Heart in Menlo Park (CA). She agreed to an interview.

I spent over an hour with Mayrin, an experienced public elementary and secondary school teacher who has been at Sacred Heart, a private school, for four years. Her classroom has tables sitting four students each with four centers (teacher center for math and language arts, workbook center, project or game center, and computer center with five machines) that students rotate through over the course of a school day. She described how she began using ClassDojo and how she concentrates on the “positives” with her class of 16. Because the school focuses on building character–the “Code of the Heart” (e.g., being caring, ready to work, respectful, and responsible) she showed me on her Smart Board how she uses the software to reinforce “positive” student behaviors daily and connect those behaviors to “Code of the Heart.” With this tool, she no longer “nags students.”

When I asked her whether using rewards (e.g., sitting at the teacher’s desk, winning tickets for a weekly lottery to get bracelets and other school gifts) kills intrinsic motivation, she quickly replied that it has the “opposite effect.”  Children want to improve, she said. They work hard to do better, not for the rewards but because they want to. Mayrin suggested that ClassDojo helped her bridge the ideological differences between using extrinsic and intrinsic rewards in motivating students.

After the interview, I began reading in the psychological literature on motivating children in school. Intrinsic motivation, it turns out, is highest among young children and as they went from grade to grade in school, it faded considerably.  Older secondary school students seldom showed any intrinsic motivation and only worked for whatever point system was in play. That was the pattern that both teachers and psychologists found. But it was not either-or, a few developmental psychologists found. There were “in-between” examples that bridged the boiler-plated extrinsic vs. intrinsic rewards debate that has occurred for decades among educators and experts.

Some developmental psychologists have concluded: “we come to learn to do things not only because they are fun or likely to lead to some immediate payoff but because we have come to believe that we ‘ought’ to do them … to facilitate our own long-term goals (e.g., because it would be ‘good for us’). See: Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation PDF

Here is the bridge that Mayrin suggested in her description of using ClassDojo and other teachers who see the age-old debate over extrinsic vs. intrinsic rewards less in black and white and more in how  teachers can use points and rewards to help children internalize what they “ought to do.” These “bridges,” these “in-between” examples, helped me get past the tired arguments pro-and-con for how teachers ought to best motivate students.

I see these “bridges,” be they built with ClassDojo or names on the chalkboard, as primary ways that schools, past and present, socialize children and youth to live in a market-driven democracy where the values of private and public goods and cooperation and competition are highly prized. Some of us may question those “bridges” as working beneficially or for ill but I have yet to find anyone who can ignore this primary function of tax-supported public schools.


Dojo is originally a Japanese word for space devoted to physical training from wrestling to martial arts–the do arts. Thanks to Janice Cuban for suggesting I define Dojo.



Filed under how teachers teach, technology use

23 responses to “On Using And Not Using ClassDojo*: Ideological Differences?

  1. Very interesting post – thank you – the effects of such powerful motivational tools are rarely discussed in detail in schools – yet I hear of more and more schools using ClassDojo. Schools also use it in very different ways, which must further complicate things. I find the idea that ‘shame is not a way pupils learn’ as interesting – is rejection of behaviour by peers not a key idea in socialising? It’s true we have moved away from the ‘stick’ and moved towards the ‘carrot’ over the last few generations, but the negative impact of behaviour needs to recognised.

    Saying that, I am not yet convinced by Class Dojo, though I do prefer it when it is used for teams rather than individuals.

  2. Pingback: On Using And Not Using ClassDojo: Ideological Differences? | Educational Policy Information

  3. My youngest son’s middle school history teacher uses ClassDojo. As a parent, it does not provide me much “new” information as I talk daily with my sons to understand their day. As a teacher, albeit secondary school teacher, I do see ClassDojo could benefit primary, and secondary, classes. As you point out, Larry, the long-term benefit of extrinsic motivators declines as a student ages, so teachers need to determine if this tool might work for them.

    The most important sentence in this piece, however, follows: “..primary ways that schools, past and present, socialize children and youth to live in a market-driven democracy where the values of private and public goods and cooperation and competition are highly prized.” As a recent ed school grad, and secondary mathematics teacher with a whopping 2.5 years experience teaching, but 30 years experience total, I believe we must emphasize the socialization aspect along with mastery of content. Many in education seem to shun that aspect, however, as their no longer seems to be a common, shared vision of socially acceptable behavior, beliefs, mores, etc. It saddens me to see this as I believe it weakens the core of our great nation. Call me old fashioned.

    • larrycuban

      Thanks for your comments, Dave,on your reactions to ClassDojo used with your son in middle school.My guess is that the software tool is used most in elementary school, particularly the lower grades, less in middle school and even less so in high school academic subjects because of some of its features. Which at first glance appears odd since most high school teachers use point systems to motivate and evaluate student performance. I do not have those data on teacher usage, however. I am only guessing.

      • Somehow this discussion reminds me of a conclusion reached in the book, Self and Others, which is about Object Relations Therapy: there is relationship within techniques and techniques within the relationship. I think that good teaching (which is necessary for helping kids grow more than they would on their own) is much like good therapy. When ClassDojo works, it seems as if these two aspects of teaching are present.

      • larrycuban

        Thanks for the comment.

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  7. Great blog! I was researching ClassDojo and just came across this and enjoyed seeing the comparison of two teachers’ perspectives. My company, RedCritter, will very soon be releasing a Classroom Management solution that captures the benefits elucidated above while avoiding some of the concerns (e.g., no public shaming, real rewards, etc.). I’d love to discuss it with you and gather your feedback: you can learn more on our website at http://www.redcritterteacher.com

    I really enjoyed this post and hope you are able to take a look at our solution.

  8. Diana

    While I believe ClassDojo can be a useful tool to help young students be motivated to “do the right thing,” it’s not helpful to base conduct grades on this point system. My son is in 3rd grade and his teacher is basing all conduct on ClassDojo scores. However, she isn’t consistent, which presents a problem. Some students received points that other students have never received such as +1 for “being at school on time”. There are days that my child doesn’t receive any points. It would stand to reason that if a student doesn’t receive any negative points then he/she should certainly receive some positive points. One week my son received 22 positive points and 4 negative points – he ended up with 84% positive but that score falls into a “2” (with 3 being the goal). Another week she gave a total of 4 points, 2 negative and 2 positive. My son ended up with a 50 for that week. If things were consistent it would be a different matter. In my son’s case (he’s “academically gifted”) he received a conduct grade of 2 on his report card, but in all his other classes he received a 3 for conduct. I don’t believe this accurately reflects his true conduct and I don’t believe it should be used for conduct scores.

    • larrycuban

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Diana. On the matter of unfair treatment in using ClassDojo, have you discussed this with your son’s third grade teacher?

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  11. Debra Gordon

    My son is in 4th grade and is on his second year of dojo’s. He is above average on all subjects and not a “bad” kid ( meaning he is not in the office for being mean or misbehaving). He does however have ADHD which entails trouble staying on task and staying in his seat. I receive several dojo’s a day sometimes a minute apart regarding what he is doing or not doing in the classroom. He receives “0” positive reports on a monthly basis. He is embarrassed and thinks his teacher hates him or that he himself is dumb for not being able to stay on task. We put him on meds in the hopes that it would help which is did somewhat but not enough to change his dojo’s. I personally hate seeing that little monster pop onto my iPhone. It gives me a sinking “now what” feeling. We have a meeting scheduled to discuss the dojo issue but I don’t see any good coming from it. I look forward to next year with a new teacher and NO DOJO’s.

  12. Theresa Frederick

    Frankly the idea of a teacher being on a phone or table throughout the day while trying to teach a group of 16 1st graders blows my mind. How can you teach and honestly give ratings to children on an electronic device at the same time? My son averages 4 dojo’s a day and if each child is getting at least 4 that’s 64 times the teacher is on her phone, which my child’s teacher uses, a day. How is this reinforcing no phones in the classroom? How is this fair to our children? And she wonders why they all act up…maybe because she’s not paying as much attention to them as she should. I’m sorry but I do not like the dojo’s and the concept behind this idea is ridiculous! I can’t wait until next year, hopefully that teacher will not use the dojo’s…now I have to hold my breath about my younger son having to deal with this. Teachers need to just teach!

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