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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Behavior Management for the Primary Grades - Class Dojo

Last fall I was student teaching in a great first grade classroom. I really wanted to experiment with behavior management and ended up finding this app called Class Dojo. It's available in the Apple store on iPhones and the web and is very easy to sign up for:

Anyway, what I love most about Class Dojo is the reaction my first graders had to it. It took a few weeks but once we all got in a rhythm the students became excited to use it. There's a option on Class Dojo that allows you to see a pie chart of the positive and negative behaviors for that day, for each student, for the week, and for the whole year. My students got so excited to see that chart at the end of the day and we actually decided to make a class goal of getting 70% positive for the whole week. Every day, they'd see if they were working toward that goal (getting 81% some days) or falling short (64% other days). I tried to be very consistent with marking behaviors so that the percentage wasn't skewed by my inattention to the app.

What I liked about that goal was the attitude my students learned. They were thinking long-term, across the whole week (which is long-term for 6-year-olds) and their moments of falling short weren't as disheartening because they could remind themselves (and their peers) that another day was coming that they'd up the percentage. That long-term attitude to the bumps of life is a very important thing to develop and I was overjoyed to see my students start to display that understanding.

The app also offers positive and negative behavior points, and tracks which ones the student earned, which I like better than those vertical rainbow charts. (You know, the ones that have magnets or clothespins and the student's name is moved to a positive or negative color to reflect their CURRENT behavior.) Using Class Dojo, I can go into the data and see that Student A usually gets fidgety around 11am because that's when I've been noting that they are "Off Task" most days this month. It allows me to track behavior over time so I can spot patterns, which is much more information than just "ending on green".

Speaking of data tracking, parents and students get a log in code when you enter them in your class. This way parents, and students themselves, can see their behavior fluctuations and specifically what it was about their behavior that was marked! Again, much more informative than a smiley sticker. For instance, a student can recognize that they need to work on not "Blurting Out". It could also help in a parent-teacher conference because you can point to how Student A is great about "Raising Their Hand", but gets "Off Task" regularly. This way you aren't trying to remember student behavior details off the top of your head (or the night before), because it's all in front of you on this handy app.

The app also lets you select and design the behaviors you want to track, so if your class doesn't have issues with "Talking Out-Of-Turn", but is always "Running Through The Halls" you can make that a behavior choice instead! One thing that I like about the app but my first graders probably didn't totally understand was a point system the app uses. Positive behaviors are +1 point, and appear in green. Negative behaviors subtract from any existing total and then go into the negative numbers. So a student might have "-2" in red by their name and monster. Oh yeah, the students each have an adorable monster avatar on the app. I don't even like monsters but these are cute. And my students liked them a lot. Also, the students can change their avatar using when they log in. Negative numbers are a bit upper-level but this app is a good introduction to that idea of subtracting below zero. Either way, they recognize the red.

I tried to not show individual students' daily percentages at the end of the day check, just for privacy and to not rub it in if they'd fallen short that day. We focused on the class goal of 70% weekly, which emphasized that we all work together to achieve success. Students and parents could see their individual progress on their own pages.

One thing I'd like to change about how I used Class Dojo previously is to have the students award themselves the positive or negative points. I think having me click it continues the idea that I am the holder of subjective behaviors decisions, and having students physically give themselves points could help emphasize that they are responsible for their choices. I think the students should know that my reaction to their behavior is secondary to their understanding of the behavior as negative or positive. It's about providing agency, and I think that after some time with the app students can easy learn to recognize the behavior choices, even if they can't read the words perfectly. Symbols go with each behavior also, so that will help. Besides, what a mark of maturity for a young child to be able to recognize that "Blurting Out" isn't an appropriate behavior and record that misstep without adult intervention? And what pride and self-esteem could be cultivated by having a student consciously identify that they were "On Task" the whole activity or that they'd "Shared"? Yes students need adult recognition, but how powerful is their own self-recognition of their choices?

Another thing I will change when using Class Dojo in my new classroom will be to not have it displayed as publicly as I did previously. Behavior management is important, but it's not central and so shouldn't be a focal point when you enter the classroom. Students should know where our system is and have access (especially with my above change) but I don't feel that there is any benefit to seeing a red "-4" by your name when you are trying to work. This will certainly be a discussion I have with my class at one of our first class meetings, but at least to start the year I will have the Class Dojo pulled up on an iPad or side computer in a designated location.

I hope you give Class Dojo a try. It's certainly designed for the primary grades, but I think with a willing class the upper elementary grades could find it beneficial. Post comments and questions below! Or email me! :D

Happy teaching and traveling,