ClassDojo: Less Time Policing, More Time Teaching

ClassDojo is a free classroom management system that has attracted the attention of over 3.5 million users since the startup’s launch last year. Before starting the company, founders Sam Chaudhary and Liam Don identified what they perceived to be the biggest problem teachers face in the classroom: Managing student behavior.

Teachers use the site to assign each student a cartoon avatar. Based on their behavior throughout the day, the teacher can dole out rewards or consequences (‘punishment’ isn’t the right word here) from a laptop, tablet or smartphone. The system tracks data over the course of the semester, allowing teachers an at-a-glance profile of a student’s behavior, which can then be shared with parents.

ClassDojo taps into the latent competitive side of many grade-school children by creating what amounts to a public leaderboard. No typical student wants to be ranked last on a leaderboard, so he or she is compelled to behave. Apply yourself, perform in class, and you get good marks made public for your peers to see.

Coachella Valley social studies teacher Ricardo Higuera found himself yelling too much in his classes before discovering ClassDojo. The system had a positive impact on his class, especially when he turned up his computer’s volume. ClassDojo issues an audible “ding” when a student has a point deducted which acted as a cue for other students to get in line.

(This brings back memories. My third-grade teacher used a check-mark system. All of our names would be up on the blackboard, and if one of us acted up, he would solemnly and dramatically walk to the board and place a mark of shame next to our name. It instilled a quiet fear in us. A good kind of fear. He was actually a wonderful teacher.)

Earlier this month, ClassDojo landed $1.6 million from a number of investors, including a personal contribution from Y Combinator co-founder Paul Graham. One of the startup’s earlier investors includes Tabreez Verjee, founding partner at Impact at Scale, who appeared at Technapex’s EdTech Investor Panel.

TechCrunch reported on the unusually strong growth of ClassDojo: “A large part of the attraction it seems has been the company’s viral growth over the last 11 months. At the end of its first year, ClassDojo was seeing 10 percent week-over-week growth, pushing it across the 3.5 million users mark. Hitting that milestone in under a year is impressive, especially given the length of time it typically takes for education startups to achieve similar metrics.”

The company’s blog features a guest post by Jeff Phillips who teaches in Kuwait City. When setting up ClassDojo, Phillips created a system for his 8th-grade language arts class that rewarded students individually and if enough students behaved, the entire class would be rewarded. “This system helped to motivate even the most challenging students, because they immediately saw the relationship between points and behavior,” he wrote. “Whenever our principal or vice-principal came into the class the students were eager to show off their progress.”

While ClassDojo assisted Phillips in reaching even the “most challenging students,” the site doesn’t seem designed to serve as a kind of digital behavioral psychologist. Its intention is not to actually solve a student’s behavioral issues, and certainly won’t stop the stereotypical “problem child” hell-bent on disruption that many teachers unfortunately encounter. It’s simply a tool a teacher can use to spend less time policing a class and more time teaching it.

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