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Forest Grove, Ore., Teachers’ App Tracks Student Behavior, Reports Live to Parents

The ClassDojo app allows teachers to assign positive and negative points, and reports each student's progress on a private feed that each parent can monitor by logging in with a teacher-provided code.

by Kelsey O'Halloran, Tribune News Service / October 2, 2014

At the beginning of each school day, Sienna Garrett mills around her third grade classroom, iPhone in hand.

To an outside observer, the Joseph Gale Elementary School teacher might appear to be checking Facebook or sending text messages as her 31 students settle into their seats and pull out their homework.

But Garrett is hard at work — and the phone in her hand is helping her students stay on task, too.

Joseph Gale Elementary School teacher Sienna Garrett is using an app called ClassDojo to track her third grade students' positive and negative behaviors and share this information with parents. Here, she uses the app on her phone to award positive points to students who are on track at the beginning of a school day.

This year, Garrett — along with another third grade teacher at the Forest Grove school — started using an app called ClassDojo, which she updates from her phone throughout the school day.

The app allows Garrett to assign positive and negative behavior points to students, and it reports each student's progress on a private feed that each parent can monitor from home or work by logging in with a teacher-provided code.

Turning in their homework or sitting quietly at their desk could result in a high-pitched "ding."

Bullying, talking out-of-turn or acting disrespectfully are sure to earn an unhappy "bong."

Not only do students respond to the sounds they hear from ClassDojo, Garrett said, but parents have an idea of their child's behavior and performance throughout the day.

One mom told Garrett she keeps the ClassDojo feed up on her computer all day while she's at work.

"She knows what's coming home — what conversation to have with her child," Garrett said.

Garrett updates ClassDojo about 15 times a day, typically when students are working or transitioning to another activity.

If most students are working quietly and only one is off task, Garrett says she turns off the sound effects on her phone before subtracting a ClassDojo point, to prevent embarrassing the student or distracting the others.

She can choose from a list of behaviors provided by the app, or add her own based on her students' strengths and challenges.

For her students, walking up and down the school's concrete staircase quietly was a challenge at the beginning of the school year, when some students were excited about the stairs and others afraid of them. Garrett added "Walking in line" to her behavior list to encourage positive behavior during this time.

While the Forest Grove School District was unsure about how many teachers use the app in their classrooms, Director of Technology Brian Hawkins said via email that the app "can be a useful tool for teachers."

A new tool for teachers

The app, which was launched in 2011, was designed by a former teacher and an educational technology specialist.

ClassDojo marketing lead Manoj Lamba said the group interviewed 500 teachers before developing the app.

What they found was that "curriculum wasn't the difficult part," Lamba said. "It was getting students to pay attention, or in a mindset where they were eager to learn."

To date, 2.5 million teachers have signed up and a total of 45 million teachers, parents and students are using the program, said Lamba. Students can use the program to monitor their own progress or change the randomly-assigned monster avatar that pops up next to their name on the app.

One of the app's newest features is a messaging element that allows parents and teachers to communicate without a single phone call or meeting. Parents can use the app on a phone, tablet or computer, or log onto ClassDojo's website.

If parents don't have access to internet or a computer, teachers can print out daily, weekly and monthly results for each student and send them home with him or her.

"What we really want to see is more open partnership between teachers and parents," Lamba said of the messaging feature. As a result, he said, "hopefully you'll see greater positive development in children."

Efficiency or 'hands-off' teaching?

Not all parents have warmed up to ClassDojo.

Joseph Gale parent Jessica Carter said her generally well-behaved third-grade son was confused when, one day as he contemplated what he was working on, he heard a "bong" and realized he had been marked "off-task."

"As far as he was concerned, he was doing all the right things," Carter said.

When she contacted his teacher, Carter was told that her son had appeared to be daydreaming, rather than working, when he received the negative mark.

Carter was concerned that her son's teacher had handled the assumed poor behavior in a "hands-off" manner rather than approaching her son.

"Doing an arbitrary noise and then not ever talking to the student, how are they ever going to learn anything from that?" she said.

Streamlining parent-teacher communication

Still, Garrett — who is in her 12th year of teaching — says she's already noticed a difference in how the app allows her to track student progress and communicate with parents in her first year using it.

Out of the 31 students in her class, 24 parents are using ClassDojo.

At the end of each day and week, the app compiles a chart of her students' behavior so that Garrett can see how her class as a whole is doing well, and what they need to work on.

The app also time stamps each of her updates, so she can see what times throughout the day students are struggling to stay on task.

After school, the app's messaging feature allows parents to ask her questions about their student's behavior or that night's assignment.

"It pops up like a text message on my phone," Garrett said, allowing her to quickly respond to questions that parents, in the past, may have held onto for conferences or one-on-one meetings.

"It's simple, but it works," she said.

©2014 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)

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