I have no interest in talking at my students about particular aspects of the material that I teach them. Lecture is not a great learning modality for a lot of reasons, but chiefly I find it boring. Generally, if I find something boring, my students will, too.
So fine. What does one do instead of lecturing. Certainly, there will be moments when I need to have a conversation about a topic with my class. How do I keep that from becoming a lecture? I have experimented with a variety of structures in my classes over the years to do this. Ultimately, it comes down to using questioning to drive a conversation. If I rely upon my students to drive the substantive aspects of the discussion, this generally results in a much better outcome for my students than it would were I to just give them the information and move on.
So far, so good. But I would be overselling this type of structure if I didn’t admit that there are issues. Some of the issues have to do with planning (how can I make sure that the conversation is ranging through the areas I wish to discuss?), some of them have to do with student motivation (what happens if a student won’t answer a question?), and some of them have to do with the mechanics of the conversation (is everyone participating?). The first two types of issues are more complex that I really want to deal with here. The last type is a bit simpler: I need a tool that helps me record which students are contributing to the conversation. I’ve tried a lot of them during the years, but for the past few years, I’ve settled on ClassDojo.
ClassDojo is an app that allows teachers to record student behavioral events. The tool can be accessed through the web, or on a smartphone, and it’s very simple to use. A student is selected, and the instructor records the event. That’s it. The tool comes with a major focus on behavior modification. Instructors seem to be encouraged to use ClassDojo publicly. If Johnny isn’t paying attention, the instructor can key that in, and the app will publicly broadcast the fact that Johnny is distracted. Johnny’s avatar comes on the screen, along a banner that read something like “-1 to Johnny for not listening” would come up (or +1 if Johnny is doing something “good”). Yikes.
Clearly, this type of public, extrinsic focus is not something that I would ever use in my own classes. In fact, it kept me from using ClassDojo for a good while, until I figured out that I didn’t have to use it publicly, and could easily adapt it for more covert uses. For me, recording of student participation is done on my phone, and is kept firmly to myself (students and their parents can access their Class Dojo accounts at any time to see what’s going on if they want to, but none of that business is happening in public).
What’s particularly nice about Class Dojo is that I have found other uses for it as well:
- I can track student homework completion without grading HW. If a student doesn’t do their homework, I can record that, and then if that student starts struggling in class, I have documentation that might help to diagnose the problem, without the additional “stick” of a HW grade.
- I use the random function on the app to make sure that during my conversations, I am calling on all students, not just the ones I might be prone to call on (this selectivity issue is a particular problem of mine, and Class Dojo lets me remedy that without too much bother).
- At the end of every quarter I can easily figure out which student has the most participation scores in Class Dojo, which entitles them to a small, unique token of gratitude, and immortality in my Gallery of Awesome.
Class Dojo is exactly the kind of thing I like as an ed-tech user: A free tool that I have been able to easily integrate into my practice in useful ways. It’s also been a great example of the notion that just because something is made with a particular purpose, that doesn’t mean that we have to use it that way.