ClassDojo High School: Getting Started (Part 1)

dojoThis post was originally featured on Thought Partners, a blog for educators, hosted by the excellent classroom behavior management app, Class Dojo.

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, this trend suggests 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 a teacher provide thoughtful, meaningful assessment on both “academic” and “character skills” which can lead to meaningful conversation, feedback, and growth. (I put those words in quotes 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).

In this post, and three to come, 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 Solution: Student Ethic Modifier.

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?


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.

Hot Spots: don’t wait until the end of the semester for student feedback.

hot spotsMy inner voice upon reading student evaluations of my courses at the end of each semester: “Aw, man. I wish I’d known about these issues earlier.”

Assessments go into 2 categories: Formative: low stakes quizzes and “dipsticking” to see if students are on track; to give us a “heads up” for students who need intervention or additional support. Summative: the final exam. In many schools, teachers get a summative assessment in the form of course evaluations. But it’s hard to do anything about it by the end of the semester. After four months, we’re locked into our habits: good and bad. Whatever troubles our bad habits have cause are entrenched. Lets do formative assessments on ourselves! Low stakes, simple, easy check-ins!

Hot Spot Check-in


Just as a “hot-spot” is a place where your shoe is rubbing and about to form a painful blister, a hot-spot is something you’re doing (or not doing) in class that students want to bring to your attention.

I use Socrative every three weeks for this purpose. It takes three minutes to do, builds trust, and allows you to improve your practice month by month, and not just year by year.

One note on anonymity. I have always been a fan of feedback with names. (For an interesting article on the down-side of anonymous e-feedback, click here).

Before the first hot-spot check in, I speak with the students about the goal of the check in. I tell them I hope to gain their trust so that they can be honest with me, that no harm will come from sharing their experiences, and that they are assisting me in my growth – as I assist in theirs. We talk about my response to the check-in. I may offer more support, “parking-lot” the complaint to see what happens down the road, or immediately change my approach.

It also allows me to send an email like this:

Dear (student) Thanks for the honest and open feedback today!

Would you like to come in for an apt. so I can give you clarification on: (insert issue here)?

Q: Students and teachers learn and teach each other?

A: You betcha.

If you would like access to a Google Form version of the Hot-Spot Check in (to copy and adjust for your own needs), click here.