“I like it because you get rewarded for your good behavior — like a dog does when it gets a treat.”
-Grade 3 student on why he likes ClassDojo
Recently an article in The New York Times took a closer look at an App called ClassDojo.
While some see ClassDojo as a revolutionary new way to teach and manage a classroom, I see it as more of the same primitive behaviourist practices that should be abandoned. The philosophy and pedagogy behind ClassDojo is nothing new. Carrots, sticks, rewards, punishments, bribes and threats have been around for a long time. ClassDojo simply takes adult imposed manipulation and tracks it with mindless efficiency.
ClassDojo reminds me of Gerald Bracey who said:
"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all."Bracey was speaking of standardized testing, but I think the spirit of his words can be applied more generally:
Poor Pedagogy + Technology = Accelerated MalpracticeHere are 6 reasons to reject ClassDojo:
- ClassDojo gets character education wrong. Children's psychiatrist Ross Greene reminds us that when a situation demands a child's lagging skills, we get unsolved problems. Because we know that misbehaviour is a symptom of much more complex and interesting problems, we need to see these unsolved problems as teachable moments. ClassDojo reduces children to punitive measures where the misbehaviour is seen as nothing more than an inconvenience to the teacher that needs to be snuffed out. ClassDojo judges and labels students by ranking and sorting them and distracts even well-intentioned adults from providing children with the feedback and the guidance they need to learn.
- ClassDojo gets motivation wrong. There are two kinds of motivation: intrinsic & extrinsic. The problem here is that we need to stop asking ‘How motivated are my students?’ and start asking ‘How are my students motivated?’. Motivation is not a single entity that you either have a lot or little of. There are two kinds: intrinsic and extrinsic. If you are intrinsically motivated then you are doing something for its own sake; if you are extrinsically motivated, you are driven to do something, or not do something, based on a reward or punishment that may be waiting for you. But that is not even the interesting part—the real catch here is that these two kinds of motivation tend to be inversely related. When you grow students' extrinsic motivation by bribing them (or threatening them), you run the risk of growing their extrinsic motivation while their intrinsic love for what you want them to learn shrivels. Rewards can only ever gain short-term compliance from students when what we really desire is their authentic engagement.
- The public nature of ClassDojo is inappropriate. Making this kind of information for all to see is nothing more than a way of publicly naming and shaming children. I know very few adults who would put up with this kind of treatment at their workplace, so then why would we ever subject children to this? A doctor would never post their patients' health records publicly, and an accountant would not post their clients' tax records publicly. A lawyer would not post their clients' billing information publicly, nor would a teacher post their students' Individual Program Plans for all to see. So why would a teacher ever think that it would be appropriate to share ClassDojo publicly? To do so would be unprofessional and malpractice.
- ClassDojo pits adults and children against each other. Teachers who use ClassDojo spend a great deal of their day catching kids being good and catching kids being bad. Point systems, like token economies, pit children and adults against each other and ultimately rupture relationships through power struggles. With ClassDojo, children come too see their teachers less as safe and caring allies and more as judges-in-waiting whom they learn to keep their distance.
- ClassDojo can only ever be experienced as coercive and manipulative. Like Alfie Kohn says, rewards and punishments are not opposites -- rather they are two sides of the same coin, and they don't buy us very much other than short-term compliance. ClassDojo is by definition a way to do things to kids when we should be working with them. And for those who use ClassDojo only for the positives and the rewards, remember that with-holding a reward or removing a privilege can only ever be experienced as a punishment. The best teachers understand what Jerome Bruner meant when he said, "Children should experience their successes and failures not as reward and punishment, but as information."
- ClassDojo prepares children to be ruled by others. School already places a premium on blind obedience and mindless compliance, and an App like ClassDojo that implicitly and explicitly makes following the rules the primary goal of school prepares children to be ruled by others. When we allow operant conditioning to infect the classroom, we see children less as active, free thinkers and more as passive, conditional objects. Under these conditions, Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) is less likely to be a problem than Compliant Acquiescent Disorder (CAD). It's important to remember that mindless compliance is responsible for far more of the atrocities against human kind than needless disobedience.
In Japan, a dojo is considered a special place that is well cared for by its users, so it is customary that shoes be left at the door. Similarly, I propose that schools be considered a special place that should be well cared for physically and pedagogically, so it should be customary that before entering schools Apps like ClassDojo be left where they belong -- at the door.