One of the most rewarding experiences of my job as a first-year teacher was encouraging kids to write. One of my professors gave us an assignment called, Daily Warm-Ups. I chose to turn this into a math/literacy assignment which I will refer to as, Everyday Math. The idea of daily warm-ups is to engage students with short activities that require reading and writing at the beginning of every lesson, each day of the week. These daily warm-ups can be based on any subject. I chose math as my subject because it coordinated with my alternative licensing unit plan for my Colorado Work Sample and Portfolio requirements. This also happened to tie-in very nicely with my Math Literacy assignment which I wrote about earlier this week.
In the midst of my very hectic first year of school, I was given a rather intimidating assignment from one of my professors at Regis University: I was to construct not just one, but two brochures on the topic of behavior management programs and philosophies. With my hands already full trying to manage two different classes of 43 students and masses of papers to grade on the weekend, you can probably guess that I wasn’t real thrilled with the additional burden of constructing a couple of brochures from scratch. As I began thumbing through endless web literature on behavior management programs, I found one that made very good sense to me: Logical Consequences by, Rudolf Dreikurs. When raising my own children, I learned some valuable lessons the hard way. As with teaching, there is no substitute for parental experience. I think most of us made the same mistakes early-on in wanting to do everything for our children. When they weren’t doing what they were told we often interrupted their behavior and inflicted some type of punishment which had absolutely nothing to do with the consequences of their own actions.
The most valuable lesson that I learned from all of my classroom management strategies last year was that none of them are as important as what a teacher does on the first day of school. This did not come as a surprise to me. As a first year teacher, I was told countless times by numerous, experienced teachers, principals, and trusted family members, that the first day of school is the most critical time for establishing effective Classroom Management. There is even a very popular book written with the title, First Days of School, by Harry Wong. While I took this advice seriously, it rings more true to me now than ever. Now that I have had a year to reflect on my effectiveness at managing the behavior of two fourth-grade classes, I can see how my classroom management plan was rather vague, at best.
There are literally thousands of iPad apps for teachers who want to enhance their daily lessons or classroom management with new and innovative teaching strategies. If you are a teacher and are curious what works and what doesn’t work well in the classroom, Spirited Teaching, is the place to learn. I have probably tried just about everything and it is my goal to tell you about all of them. Because I am a first-year teacher, I could probably afford to be a little bit more experimental with Technology in the classroom than most established veterans who would prefer not to gamble with their proven methods. However, even the most excellent, veteran teachers are always looking for ways to spice up the classroom and their profession. The lengthy list of iPad apps for teachers includes more than just classroom management and educational programs.
Below is a class assignment and math literacy lesson plan that I created this year as part of my Colorado Work Sample. The Colorado Work Sample includes an entire Unit Plan comprised of 10-15 lessons based on standards from the Colorado Department of Education. This is an important requirement for receiving an alternative teaching license in Colorado. I chose a math fractions unit consisting of 12 lesson plans. A requirement for completing the Colorado Work Sample unit is to include reading and writing literacy in one or more of the lessons. Prior to beginning this unit, I had not given math literacy much, if any thought. Thankfully, one of my many excellent Regis instructors, taught an entire class on the subject of literacy in math. This had a profound impact me and on the teaching strategies I will continue to use to teach math from this point forward.
Class Dojo represents one of my many classroom management experiments used throughout the year that involved the use of technology. As I was looking around for new ways to tame two ornery bunches of fourth graders, I found Class Dojo listed among the numerous iPad apps designed for classroom management. Class Dojo offered me the most unique experiment of all the technology I tried. As a first year teacher, it was often difficult for me to know if my behavior expectations were reasonable or unreasonable. One thing a first-year teacher does not have is the history to judge and compare one class to another. Before I taught my first day of school I did have one piece of information to consider: All of the previous teachers of these fourth graders from 3rd grade down to preschool warned me that they were the most challenging group of kids they have ever instructed. As one teacher put it, “You picked a tough year to begin teaching.” You might think that this sounded like a death sentence for a brand new teacher, but it really didn’t make any difference to me. In fact, such a warning probably puts a much greater fear into a teacher who has the experience to know what to expect from his/her class. In my naivety, I didn’t know better. I simply figured that what I didn’t know wouldn’t hurt me. Without the experience to compare this to previous classes, Class Dojo, at least gave me a way to compare their behavior internally. Would it be the solution to completely solve all of my classroom behavior issues? No.
To be honest, a highly successful hope of managing my class went out the window with my first day of teaching, but that’s a topic for another time. By the time I got around to signing up for Class Dojo, the most I could hope for was to minimize undesirable behavior by engaging kids and parents to take more of an interest and become more actively involved. Before I explain my own experience with Class Dojo, allow me to explain what this product does.
What is Class Dojo?
Class Dojo is an online, account-driven classroom management software program for computer, iPad, and iPhone. It is an online system shared by parents, teachers, and students. Class Dojo allowed me to monitor and log the behavior of every single student in both classes and generate reports for parents. Good or bad behavior is monitored on a per-incident basis then allows the teacher to generate cumulative reports over days, weeks, and months. These reports can be shared with students and parents either by printed hand-outs or through logging into the system online. Don’t worry, students and parents cannot see the information of other students and parents. This is the first thing my very astute principal asked me when I asked her permission to use the program. The information on Class Dojo is completely private between each student and parent. What you can do, however, is display the behavior results of the entire class on the projector screen, which is a tactic I used several times to get kids to see how well they were behaving among themselves. Class Dojo is very engaging for elementary-aged students. Each student receives their own cute, animated avatar which they can edit and design on their computers or iPads at home. This was the most exciting part for my own students. As soon as I told them about Class Dojo, they were begging me to get started. Class Dojo is free for everyone who uses it.
How to use Class Dojo
Setting up and Getting Started
A teacher gets started simply by going to the Class Dojo website and signing up with an account. Once the teacher has the account, he/she can begin adding their classrooms full of students into their system. I recommend setting up an imaginary classroom with fictional characters to use as practice for a week before setting up your real class. As you can see by the example above, I chose 20 Denver Broncos football players to use as my own fictional class. My classrooms, which are very into sports, really enjoyed this. The Broncos had lost on the Thursday prior to me demonstrating the Class Dojo program. For fun, we decided to mark down a few players for poor behavior on the field (off-task) based on their performance of the previous day. This felt really good! When the teacher has finished creating their real classroom, they are able to print individual invitation codes that can be emailed or taken home by the students to the parents. In order to participate, the parents need to accept the invitation. Once they accept, they are able to sign-in to the Class Dojo website. I was not surprised that some of my kid’s parents did not choose to sign up. Unfortunately, the parents who are most involved and willing to sign up for these kinds of things are usually the ones with the most, well-behaved kids. Still, even without parental participation, Class Dojo can be displayed in the classroom to motivate students to work hard and behave. Once students have signed up with their code, they can begin going online to check their behavior status and modify their avatars. Signing up and getting started is the easy part. The challenge with any of these class management products is that they require action from the teacher.