I don’t know about other parts of the country (or other countries), but here in Florida the public schooling gets real starting in third grade. Standardized tests are a must pass, and the A through F grading system takes over the “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory” rating system of the previous three years. My daughter and I prepared for third grade in the most predictable way possible for our procrastinating personalities—by waiting until the week before school to start worrying. She had a great second grade, so I doubted there would be any real problems adjusting to the third. And for her, there hasn’t been. My adjustment to the third grade is another matter entirely.

Every time I hear the words “math facts” my eye starts twitching. Mandatory science fair projects? Come on, people. Homework and homework re-do. Re-do? Can’t you just give her a bad grade and move on? I’m being slightly facetious (except for the math facts comment), and I do understand the need for teaching critical thinking and upping the standards. But this is a lot to add to an eight or nine year old’s life, and on top of that, change the way the classroom as a whole manages behavior.

Since my kiddo started kindergarten, we have adjusted to the color coding behavior management system. Students begin the day on green and move up or down colors depending on their behavior. For us, kindergarten was a wild ride of yellows. Not the worst of colors, but not the best. Kids need time to adjust and, since a mixture of yellows and greens became the norm, I learned to focus on the big picture of overall behavior. This color mixture continued in the first grade even though we changed elementary schools. Second grade was our very first year where she never went below green a single day. She also made honor roll several times. I believe she’d hit her stride along with having a very approachable teacher.

Class Dojo Graphic MainAt our elementary school, third grade is where the students begin changing classrooms and teachers for different subjects. It’s only two teachers for third grade. One teacher focuses on reading, language arts, and social studies while the other focuses on math and science. Both teachers are friendly and approachable (yes, this is a big must for me). One teacher uses the color coding behavior system, and the other uses a behavior management tracking program called Class Dojo.

Even though I enjoy all the wonderful things technology provides, as a parent I can’t help but worry about using an app to manage my child’s behavior at school. If you are unfamiliar with programs for classroom behavior management, I’ll give you a brief overview.

Class Dojo is a digital program used by teachers and parents to monitor a child’s behavior in the classroom and to improve communication between all parties. The teacher uses the app, usually on an iPad. The parents are given information to sign up and link to the classroom app either by computer, phone, or other mobile device. Once you are connected, your child builds a monster avatar that shows at home and at school. The teacher also uses an electronic device to project the entire classrooms avatars on a wall or screen so everyone can monitor the point system.

Points are given as a +1 or taken away as a -1 depending on the situation in the classroom daily. There is also a page where the parent and teacher can send text messages. Overall, it doesn’t appear to have a different philosophy than the color coding system. Yet, after a couple of months of monitoring, I have concerns about the consistency of the use of the program. What is this really telling me? Or the teacher for that matter?

I have a few examples of what the screen shows on my side, and I’ve removed all the identifying information to respect the privacy of the school and teacher. Over these different three weeks, there is a huge variation between points given. And to make things even more confusing, not all points are awarded or taken away from just my child. The teacher has the ability to grant points to several students at once or even the entire classroom. There is a scrolling list that tells what time the points are given and to how many children, but it is easy to get lost in all the text.

Example of a high point week

Example of a high point week.

Example of a low point week

Example of a low point week.

Example of negative point given

Example of negative point given.

So, when I see this I see someone picking apart my child’s day, sometimes minute by minute. What I don’t see is any consistency in how the points are given. Shouldn’t she get a point for putting her name on her paper every day?

I’m not one to keep my opinions to myself, and in a parent teacher conference, I explained that I preferred the color coding method. At the end of the day, the overall color is sent home in her agenda. I don’t need to know the minute by minute detailing of my kid’s school day. I’m obsessive enough without it. I’d rather she come home and tell me the highlights as they matter to her instead of me questioning that one red mark where a verbal warning could have worked just as well. I need an overall picture, and if there are problems, I want a teacher to take the time to call me. At this age, when things are rapidly changing for our kids, can’t we keep some things simple for just a few more years? When she’s thirteen and no longer makes conversation with me, an app of her school day may make more sense.

I do realize that as a parent, I can sometimes overthink things, and for that reason I did a mini-interview with my daughter on her thoughts about the Class Dojo program:

Me: Do you like Class Dojo.

Her: Yes.

Me: Why?

Her: Because … *big shrug*

Me: Is it better than just using a color chart?

Her: Yes. Because you have to get three points off to get a yellow. [Meaning in her mind she gets away with more with Class Dojo.]

Me: Does your teacher display everyone’s points on a white board?

Her: Yes, it shows on the wall for everyone to see. And there is first place, second place, and third place.

Me: Does it make you feel bad if you aren’t in first place?

Her: No. I usually end up in second or third a lot.

Me: Does it make you feel bad when you get a minus point?  

Her: A little bit.

Me: Does it embarrass you that all your friends can see it?

Her: No.

Me: Does everyone see the color chart in your other room?

Her: Yes.

Me: Does your teacher use the iPad all day?

Her: When she’s looking around and checking she’s giving points. Right answers get points and wrong answers don’t get anything.

Me: Do you kids talk with each other about Class Dojo when the teacher isn’t around?

Her: No.

Interesting, right? It would seem as if she actually enjoys the program, and I’m left to wonder if she was one of the kids with nothing but red marks by her avatar if she’d still feel the same way.

I know teachers have it hard, and I don’t have an answer for how to make their lives easier while dealing with seventeen children on a daily basis. I’m just not convinced Class Dojo is the right tool either.

Further Reading

Before I decided to write this article, I’d already poked around the Internet for other opinions on Class Dojo, and here are the more interesting articles on the subject, some from teachers, a parent, and industry writers.

In this review, a parent whose children don’t use Class Dojo gives her take on the program. More interesting than the review are the parent comments many which mirror my same concerns. August 23, 2014, Parents Review Class Dojo: http://gettingsmart.com/2014/08/parents-review-classdojo/

There have also been several concerns with privacy and sensitive information stored on the children:

Nov. 16, 2014, NY Times and Privacy: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/17/technology/privacy-concerns-for-classdojo-and-other-tracking-apps-for-schoolchildren.html?_r=0

Policy changes after NY Times article:  http://www.marketplace.org/topics/education/learningcurve/classdojo-learns-lesson-protecting-student-data

If you are interested in the inventor’s of the app, this article delves into the history: http://www.inc.com/laura-montini/2015-30-under-30-classdojo.html

This article is from a teacher who does not agree with the color coding system or the point system. You’ll notice in the comments there are several teachers who use it and believe the program makes their classroom a better place: Tase Your Kid Instead: http://www.teachingace.com/thinking-about-classroom-dojo-why-not-just-tase-your-kids-instead/

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