ClassDojo – Training Character Building at the High School Level – and Training Yourself To Teach It

  • A student sees a classmate who is lost or confused. Without being asked, he offers assistance.
  • A student runs into a problem in a lab, and instead of immediately putting up her hand, she attempts to solve the problem on her own.
  • A student has a setback on a quiz, but rather than give up, concluding that the class is dumb and the quizzes are impossible, she comes in for extra coaching.

Much has been written about traits like “Grit,” “Resilience,” and the ability to delay gratification – and the linking of these traits to long term success.

Imagine being able to communicate and give feedback on character traits like these, traits that we may wish students would learn – but because students are not tested on them, we often intend to build these traits in students but we are not consistent or explicit on how, when, and where these skills are addressed. We may hit our goals in this regard, but intending to teach something is a little like how I write my signature: I scribble something while I think about my name.

This works for signing checks. This is not, however, good pedagogy.

One Small But Very Big Step

While ClassDojo cannot teach these skills, it can train you to constantly be aware of them – a kind of pedagogical string around your finger. You see the badges when you open ClassDojo, and you get in the “habit of mind” to write opportunities for character development into your Class Norms, your assessments, and even your lesson plans.

For example:

Class Norm: On the first day of class, instead of only talking about your bathroom policy and your late work policy, talk about the power of independence in problem solving. Show students ClassDojo, and talk about times when a student might earn the badge: “Attempt to solve problem before asking for help.”

Lesson Planning: When you write up a lesson and prepare the worksheet, handout, or document, add a section about ways students can earn ClassDojo badges. For example, be explicit, in a lesson on reducing fractions, that some students will have trouble with the exercises. Students who are stuck can put a small flag – a checker, for example – on their desk. If you see a student with a checker, you may leave your desk to assist him or her, and earn the badge: “Assists others who need help.”

Assessment: In a complex, multi-stage project, you may write into the guidelines for the project that set-back may happen: the research may prove inconclusive. The interviewee might flake. Explicitly include a section on what proactivity means: seeing the problem before it escalates. Students who stumble but address the problem before it becomes a bigger problem can earn the badge: “Proactive in handling crises.”

ClassDojo will help you give feedback on these traits, but just as importantly, it’s a step in committing to teach them.

Please share below some of the character traits you would like to see students develop – and a situation where you might anticipate awarding a badge for that trait!

ClassDojo High School: Getting Started

When I was in kindergarten, my parents went to meet with Ms. Shanebourn and brought home what I would later call a report-card. In reality, it was like the check-list you fill in at a sushi-bar: plays well with others, cleans up after snack, spicy-tuna rising sun firecracker roll.

In middle school, the list was shorter, and letter grades appeared, but there were also areas for additional remarks. That’s where I learned that I am “funny” and “a pleasure in class.”

In high school, my grade was a letter with a few electronic tics next to pre-fabbed comments. There, no news was good news.

In college, just letters. Most were good. A few bummed me out. (Darn you, Stats!)

In short, from this trend, we learn that the older you get, the less “the system” cares about helping you to learn through providing thoughtful mentoring on your growth areas, and the more you are required to guess, assess, or maybe ask why you got a B and what you can do next semester to raise it.

ClassDojo, at the High School Level, can help you provide thoughtful, meaningful assessment on both “academic” and “character skills” which can lead to meaningful conversation, feedback, and growth. (I put those words in quote because while it’s useful to employ those terms to describe the range, it may be counterproductive to think of those categories as discrete or mutually exclusive).

Below, I’ve compiled four areas for using ClassDojo to provide meaningful feedback and a few strategies for using the data in meaningful ways. Mix and match, experiment, and let us know how it works for you!

ClassDojo Category 1: Student Ethic Modifier

How do you give a grade – or reward – or penalize a student for:

1. Contributing to discussion or disrupting discussion?

2. Showing up late vs. showing up on time?

3. Surrepticiously checking facebook during group work time?

4. Showing up for an appointment on time vs. not showing up?

5. Responding to emails promptly vs. ignoring them?

6. Coming to see you for problem-solving after a D- on a test vs. allowing problems to go unaddressed.

7. Helping students struggling with their work – or their technology – or not?

8. Talking out of turn, falling out of chairs, throwing things, leaving messes… cheering up a sad classmate, asking permission to assist a sick student, cleaning up after others…

It goes on and on.

Do you give a “Class Participation Grade?” If so, do you punish negative behaviors but “neutral” behaviors get nothing? Are they rewarded? Is a 100% class participation grade exemplary or normal? How do you weigh the relative merit of a student who raises his hand before speaking when also, he is late for class. Does he earn a B+? A-? C?

The Student Ethic Modifier is, on the one hand, the place in your gradebook where you assess everything that isn’t a quiz, test, or project. Some teachers call this a “class participation grade,” but for me, it’s at once more broad (covering not only how the student contributes to discussion or labs, but also things like correct computer use) and also more specific, covering things like whether a student deals with crises as they arise or lets them slide by until you chase him down in the hallway: aka the Cafeteria Intervention.

The Student Ethic Modifier covers some of the most important learning and growth goals; unfortunately, without gathering actual data, we rely on spotty recollection and anecdotal evidence.

How do you record this data and share this data?

ClassDojo

Step 1: At the beginning of the year, spend a class period talking about the Student Ethic Modifier. Cover how it:

1. Fosters a serious, constructive learning environment

2. Brings students’ attention to behavior patterns that can make them more or less effective in other classes, in jobs, and even in relationships.

3. Can ensure that the learning done in class sticks – and makes class worth their while.

Step 2: Present ClassDojo and the particular badges you will be assessing. In discussion or as homework, as students to review the list. What do they have questions or concerns about? What should be added?

Step 3: Present your ClassDojo Workflow.

  • Will you have the screen projected on the board for all to see?

My suggestion: at the high school level, and certainly in your first year, don’t project it. But offer that any student who wants to know what you’ve been recording about him/her can approach you after class or at your desk.

  • Will your tablet/smartphone ding or buzz when a student earns a badge, providing in-the-moment feedback?

My suggestion: for the first year, set all sounds to “off” while you get the hang of it. Then, experiment with it.

  • Will you hand out green chips for students in-the-moment which they bring to you after class to earn their badges, or will you commit to keeping on top of the badges on the spot?

My suggestion: keep ClassDojo on a smartphone for peripatetic feedback, and a tablet near your workstation for feedback during quiet worktime. If you can manage this, you may not need to hand out chips, especially at the high school level. That said, the extra visual, tactile feedback of a green chip may reinforce the behavior more effectively than a sound, and this technique might work well for certain students.

  • Will you provide them with the access code – and their families with the access code?

My suggestion: communicate with parents about the tool and your goals, field questions and concerns, but do not provide access in the first year, until you get the hang of it.

  • Will each red badge lower their grade and each green badge raise it?

My suggestion: reassure students that in almost every case, small mistakes that don’t reappear will have no effect on the Student Ethic Modifier. Trends (I usually call that three or more) will have an effect. Talk with students about what you expect of them if you inform them that they have been trending in a problematic way. For example, after 3 missed homeworks (yes, I count homework under Student Ethic), they are required to send an email to their advisor, apprising them of the situation. You and the advisor can then decide what the next course of action should be.

All this said, there is no “correct” or “incorrect” way to use ClassDojo. Make a decision you can live with and stick to it for a semester. Then reevaluate. This, by the way, is a great topic to discuss with your Mentor.

Step 4: At the end of the quarter and semester, when you sit down to grade and write progress reports or narratives, review the ClassDojo Student Ethic data, especially focusing on trends, shifts, and anecdotes noteworthy enough that, well, you took a note.

By the way, if you’re curious to learn more about the Student Ethic Modifier and would like to read more in depth about what adopting a Student Ethic Modifier can do for your class, check out the blog, here.

Differentiating in Baby Steps, Part 3: Differentiating by Interest through Credits

You may want to read Part 1 and 2 on Differentiating in Baby Steps first, here.

The course catalog, my freshman year of college, was almost as fun as a J. Crew catalog. I couldn’t fathom how many options were open to me, and the sense of choosing my own academic destiny was intoxicating.

Why must students wait until college before they can have the autonomy to choose the credits they need to meet their goals?

The most concrete form of differentiation you can employ in the classroom is to offer options to students for their major assessments. Would they like to create a poster, a NPR style radio show, or build a theme park?

There’s one problem: we all know that it takes much longer to build a theme park than it does to make a poster. Unless it’s a huge freakin’ poster.

How to solve that problem?

Create a table where you delineate how many credits a student can receive for a certain kinds of work, and what grade is possible by amassing a certain number of credits. Click here for an example.

Caveats

1. You must provide models of excellence and a few sub-par models and students must articulate what they see as the difference. They need to own what they’re getting into when they choose a certain project type, and many an amateur film-maker rued the day they chose to do film, even though it earns more credit; film can be a time consuming burden for a student who doesn’t love working on it.

2. Tag models of excellence each year to update the student model portfolios. Yes, the first year is hardest. I created a few of my own models the first time I allowed certain modalities.

3. When a student chooses to aim for less than an A (this tends to be more acceptable at the high school level where student autonomy is more encouraged), it might be wise to meet with his/her advisor (or send a note home) to make sure other responsible adults are in the know. In truth, this type of choice can be a “canary in the coal mine,” and help you find students who need more support and encouragement. They would know if this is a) someone about to fall through the cracks or b) someone who is on three teams and the school play, being responsible and realistic with time-management.

This is part 3 of a 4 part series. Read part 4, here.