One of the more recent debates in elementary classroom management is about behavior charts and rewarding students. Is it appropriate to publicly chart students behavior and have them clip up and clip down for good and bad behavior? What are students working for? Will they behave for nothing?
This year my school jumped on the Class Dojo bandwagon. As the new teacher in the building, I was willing to hear out what others had to say about Dojo. For those who are not familiar, this is an online, interactive classroom management site. Each student is represented with a character and gains/loses points for different behaviors throughout the day. Families are able to communicate with you through the website and track their student’s behavior in real time.
Pros for Dojo: Students are made aware of their choices.
It is an easy way to informally communicate with parents on a regular basis. (Something I felt like I didn’t have last year)
The program is designed to be motivating for kids right down to the silly characters that represent each child.
Cons for Dojo: I personally do not love the idea of a visual, public behavior tracker.
I am not a fan of extrinsic rewards.
I voiced my concerns with my mentor who loved the idea of Class Dojo. I told her that I didn’t want to give extrinsic rewards (stickers, candy, free choice activity, etc.). I wanted my students to do well because that’s what you’re supposed to do in life. She said that was great and what all teachers want, but the kids are going to ask, “So, what do I get?”
I took a risk. I drank the Dojo Kool-Aid but did not go in 100%. A brief overview of how Classroom Dojo works in my room. Students are told when the earn and lose points throughout the day (sometimes for everyone to hear and sometimes one-on-one). My computer makes a sound effect whenever points are changed, which is a perk that keeps kids on their toes. At the end of the day, students come up to me while they are packing up to get their points and color their calendar according to how many points they’ve earned. Ideally parents are looking at this calendar or online daily. And what do the kids gets for earning positive points??? Nothing. Zilch. Nada.
Ok. I am being a bit dramatic. Students are getting a lot more than nothing, but what they are earning can’t be kept in the prize box. When my students have a “blue day” (4 or more Dojo points), they get a high five and verbal praise. When they have a red day (-2 or more Dojo points), they get a consequence that ties into our school-wide behavior plan. And the greatest thing is, IT WORKS! We are officially three-quarters of the way through the year and not a single student has asked what they earned for getting points. Most frequently kids will tell me, “You’re forgetting something!” as they hold their hand up in front of me. What have I forgotten? The high five students earn from having a blue day. Another gain is students thinking about their own behavior. One of my students with the most challenging behavior now tells me how many points she thinks she has each day showing me that she’s reflecting on her behavior for the day.
My class is good, real good, but they are far from perfect. I work in a Title 1 school that has a representation for being that school in the district. (Flip back to that post about substitutes, of which our school has run off many.) These kids want (and need) love and positive attention. They do not need petty prizes for doing what 95% of students would do on their own. In fact, by constantly offering prizes for meeting expectations, I believe we are teaching kids that they are behaving to earn a prize not to be respectful, responsible learners. This is not a perfect system and won’t work for every child, but TAKE THE RISK. The amount of pride you will see on your students’ faces at the end of the day makes it worth the risk.
Give pride, not prizes.