ClassDojo and How Tech Can Help With Soft Skills

On Thursday, Corwin will release my new book Breakthrough Leadership in the Digital Age: How to Use Learning Science to Reboot Schooling. In it, Bror Saxberg and I suggest that today’s ed tech has immense promise, but that today’s excitement will amount to just one more in a litany of tech-inspired disappointments unless we get a heck of a lot smarter about how we think about and use technology. To mark the launch, at AEI on Thursday, we’ll be exploring these questions (for more information on the event, whether you care to attend or watch live, see here).

Now, there are a lot of ed tech providers out there. Some don’t impress (like this attempt to fleece concerned parents) but others offer products and services that really do offer new capabilities and opportunities for students, teachers, and parents. Bror and I make note of many of these in the course of Breakthrough Leadership — and one of those is ClassDojo, which is helping teachers and parents use tech to tackle soft skills. Last week, I had the chance to chat again with co-founder Sam Chaudhary about what’s been going on with ClassDojo (you can find a Straight Up interview with him from last fall here).

ClassDojo has developed digital tools that can help teachers, parents, and students improve classroom behavior, develop good learning habits, and support character development. It provides teachers with a convenient way to use a laptop or a smartphone to give students immediate props for good behavior or to flag them for misbehaving, and makes it a whole lot easier for teachers and parents to communicate about the kind of critical behavioral and character stuff that can get short shrift given today’s fascination with test scores.

A year ago at this time, about 3 million teachers, parents, and students were using ClassDojo. Now, Chaudhary told me, ClassDojo “reach[es] more than 17 million teachers and students in more than 120 countries.” Chaudhary notes that ClassDojo currently spends “nothing” on marketing and that, “It’s all social media and teachers pulling over another teacher to show them.”

A big part of the growth is that ClassDojo is being adopted around the world. Chaudhary says, “Initially, we weren’t sure how we’d handle language issues. But now international teachers are translating ClassDojo for us, on a voluntary basis. Right now, volunteers have translated it into 15 languages, and 30 more are coming. That’s been a matter of really passionate teachers wanting to do it.”

Chaudhary does a nice job of explaining why something like ClassDojo One is distinctive, and how smart ed tech can help us reimagine the teaching job. He says, “The cool thing is the mission. We didn’t want to do better job of something already in place. As talked to lots of teachers when we were launching ClassDojo, the big insight was the other half of education that’s almost completely unaddressed by tech is the nonacademic half, the side that goes beyond facts to developing who you are.” He points to traits like “persistence, curiosity, optimism, zest, gratitude, self-control, and social intelligence.”

Chaudhary says, “Teachers kept saying, ‘I got into teaching to help kids be happy and successful, but instead I have to discipline kids all day.’ They said discipline was the biggest waste of instructional time in the classroom and that they needed tools to help with it. So, the first version of ClassDojo solved that really narrow problem, helping teachers recognize and reinforce those behaviors without depending on punishment and bribes. Now we’re taking steps to move from that initial behavior management to helping with that broader mission. That means more focus on parents and students. Parents and students are key parts of ClassDojo, but last September they couldn’t sign in.”

He says, “In February, we introduced parent accounts where teachers could invite parents to view their child’s report and could send basic information home. For the first time, parents are getting insight into how their kids are developing at school every day. We’re seeing enormous engagement from parents with that. Now, we’re just starting to introduce student accounts, and asking students questions about some of these character traits.” It sounds like the student piece is only being piloted and is very much still to be developed.

Chaudhary also says, “We are taking some small steps towards allowing multiple teachers in the same school to collaborate. We’re allowing teachers to share information for classes between themselves. So if you and I teach in the same school and share students, we can see what each other is reporting and share information. Now teachers can see who else in their school is using ClassDojo and begin to network with them. You ask to be connected, and they can say yes or no.”

Researchers take note. Chaudhary says, “We have not done any academic-style evaluation yet,” but says they are very open to partnering with researchers to evaluate impact. He says that ClassDojo only has ten employees and is currently focused on “building what teachers want, students want, and parents want.” He says that internal surveys of users have found that teachers reported a 50% to 90% improvement in instances of positive behavior and 40% to 80% reduction in disruptive behavior. Now, I’d want to see third-party figures before being comfortable with claims like that, but even more modest effects could matter a lot.  More to the point, ClassDojo is a terrific illustration of how a focus on problem-solving and a little creativity can create powerful new opportunities and tools for students, teachers, and parents.

-Rick Hess

This blog entry first appeared on Rick Hess Straight Up.

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