Behaviour Control

If I bought in to the idea that the right way to enable each student to fulfil their long term future in life was through behaviour control and that a teacher’s principle role in the classroom is ‘child control’, then I might be tempted to believe that Classdojo was one of the greatest innovations to hit the classroom. Certainly, plenty of teachers have been buying in to it, with enthusiastic support from lots of parents. These parents would be the kind (I’m not going to name names or even say in which school) who tried to persuade me to have CCTV installed in the classrooms and buses and to give them online access to the live footage – “so we can see what our children are up to during the day.”

Here’s an article about the rising use of Classdojo in English schools:

The Guardian – Good Day At School? There’s An App For That.

I’ve experienced Classdojo over a few months as a parent and also had many interactions with teachers who were using it for a while, and those starting to experiment with it in their classes. Most of the teachers with whom I’ve discussed it had very positive intentions. They talked in terms of reinforcing positive behaviour, encouraging the good etc. etc. However, whenever I talked with teachers who’d been using it for some time and asked the question, “which generates more discussion, the plus marks or the minuses?” their answers were always the minuses.

There’s the first problem. Like test marking, in the minds of students the avoidance of minuses (crosses) becomes far more important than achieving success, mastery or simply getting things right. As a parent I could see clearly why this was so. Human nature dictated that inevitably a day where my son’s Classdojo record showed maybe a single plus would pass without comment. However, as soon as minuses started to appear I inevitably felt the need to question him about them. He, in turn, would become naturally defensive and invariably there was some complex story involving others, provocation etc. In short, it didn’t provide anything of great value and probably was a negative for trust. After a while I became so uncomfortable with it, that I stopped looking at the record.

When it comes to negatives, the article quite rightly picks up n the potential issues regarding privacy. However, it barely touches on the bigger and more important issue – that use of such an app is inherently manipulative and seeks to bring about positive classroom behaviour through coercion and pressure and through wielding external ‘carrot and stick’ motivation. Does this really serve any purpose in the longer term development of the child, or just buy some peace and quiet for the teacher? Also, we’re not talking here about the nature of what’s going on in the classroom and how that encourages and motivates the very bad behaviour that Classdojo then tries to eliminate
or control.

Those educators in the article all say that the scores on Classdojo are a private matter between the child and the teacher (and their parent), but never shown in front of other pupils. However, I’ve even known educators to delegate the inputting task to a student in the class – presumably because the teacher found it distracting from the lesson activity (so what is it for that student?)

There’s a telling sentence in the article – near the beginning where it refers to “at least one teacher in half of all UK schools,” which is very telling about schools culture on this and many other issues. Individual teachers are given the freedom to decide whether to use such software, independent of their peers and the leaders in their school. When a parent admits their child in a particular school, don’t they have a right to expect some commonality, some consistency in policies and the school’s ethos on such matters as discipline? Doesn’t the issue of how children are motivated and the use of extraneous and intrinsic motivation methods come under whole school policies and practices, defined and riven by the values of the school? In short, too often, no it doesn’t. The values, mission etc. are all too often defined poorly, debated and discussed little with the result that each teacher can pretty much choose to define them however they wish in keeping with their personal ethos.

There is a need for innovation in schools and no question in my mind that technology has a great deal to offer in terms of enhancing the learning experience for every child. However, the tail shouldn’t be allowed to wag the dog. Children, their learning, development and their needs should be the drivers of change.

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