Managing Crowds: ClassDojo (Part 1)

There you stand trying to get the attention of your thirty-four students. Each one is so different from the others that it would take hours to list their physical, mental, emotional, and cultural differences. Yet, your job is to impart to this group a very specific body of information and skills in a prescribed amount of time using prescribed texts and materials — and you are to keep them quiet, attentive, and on-task after you give them an assignment. It is totally impossible to do hour-after-hour, day-after-day.

Further, you are to take into consideration that the students come from many different subcultures and families with very different philosophies of life, religious beliefs, and ethical-moral standards. In your presentations you must understand and anticipate these enormous differences and must be careful not to say anything that may contradict what their parents or subculture believes. Since, even though in each subculture, there are major differences in interpretation, you must not offend any of them. Of course, this is also impossible!

Every second of every minute of every hour you are faced constantly with split second decisions in what you say and do depending on what the student or students are really doing or not doing. You are expected to plan for and have alternative lessons for the majority and specific other lessons for the gifted and for the slower students. If you don’t you may see this on your evaluation….

You are expected not to tolerate the bored, the depressed, the apathetic, or the hostile student, but you are allowed to deal with them only in very limited ways. These often do not take into consideration the situation as it unfolds in which you have made the best possible response. Since those who will judge you weren’t there, they can easily second-guess you and see how you should have responded – from their limited view of it….

 The point is that you are dealing with an enormously complex situation in which there are many, quite legitimate, reasonable, and educationally sound ways to respond in these split second decisions.          Robert Rose (2011)


Yes, teaching is complex. Many factors deriving from the teacher, students and their families, school structures and demands come into play during every minute of a lesson. Robert Rose captures an important slice of those interacting factors shaping the act of teaching. One factor in particular accounts for the daily complexity of teaching: the organizational structure in which teachers work.

Consider first that both elementary and secondary school students have to attend an  age-graded school. Sitting in classrooms for up to thirteen years (K-12), children learn to live in a crowd where resources are limited (e.g., teacher praise and reproof), impulses have to be controlled (e.g., no yelling out, no hitting), and frequent delays (e.g., taking turns to speak in a discussion, waiting for teacher to recognize student) they see up close the asymetrical power between teacher and student displayed during a lesson. These are the are facts of classroom life. It is, as Philip Jackson put it a half-century ago, “The Daily Grind.”

Part of that Grind is the constant interactions between teachers and students. Elementary school teachers,for example, have 20-30 students in their classroom for five to six hours a day. They teach multiple and different lessons daily seeing students before, during, and after school. One researcher found, that elementary teachers engage in “as many as 1000 interpersonal exchanges each day.”

To survive and thrive in 900 square feet classrooms holding 20 to 30 students, teachers, then, must learn to manage crowds. To do so, teachers enact many roles in managing a class of children and youth who–keep in mind– must show up daily for lessons. Teachers, then, act as a “traffic cop, judge, supply sergeant,and timekeeper” to keep lessons on track covering content and skills consistent with district and state curriculum standards. Managing a crowd of 7 year-olds or 17 year-olds is the central task that every novice and mid-career teacher must master if student learning, however measured, is to occur. So managing a crowd well is both essential–in unmanageable or poorly managed classes, little to no learning occurs–and hard to do.  And that is where ClassDojo enters the picture.

Part 2 describes this digital tool intended to help teachers manage crowds.





Filed under dilemmas of teaching, how teachers teach

3 responses to “Managing Crowds: ClassDojo (Part 1)

  1. David F

    Hi Larry–before you write Part 2, are you familiar with this: It specifically addresses how ClassDojo (and others) seek to monetize education…

  2. Pingback: The impossible complexities of teaching | GFBrandenburg's Blog

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