Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Vilification of Class Dojo and Other Ways To Avoid Taking Responsibility For Yourself


This is likely to be an unpopular post, much like my I'm Not Who You Think I Am post from 2010. The reason for its unpopularity will be that I am once again, going against the popular grain. Those of you who read this blog and/or who know me, know that I sometimes have a tendency to do that. 

There's been a lot of talk lately about student data, privacy, "the cloud," FERPA, and classroom management.  The latest "evil empire" to be held up as toxic to children is Class Dojo. Much like blaming cellphones for cheating on tests, social media for bullying, McDonald's for spilling our own coffee, and sugary soft drinks for our obesity problems, Class Dojo is being held responsible for punitive classroom management and violating FERPA. It doesn't matter that the TOS state that parental permission is required, schools and teachers apparently aren't to be trusted to read and abide by the TOS.  

Is there anyone left who is willing to accept responsibility for his own actions?

In case you've been living under a rock, Class Dojo gives teachers an easy (and more fair) way to track student behaviors. It helps teachers spend more time teaching and less time on managing their classroom behaviors. I've been following Class Dojo since they won the Innovation Challenge at Education Nation in 2011. I was there in NYC at the event and it was very exciting to hear their pitch, participate in the vote, and see them win the $75K for them to startup. With Class Dojo, teachers decide what to track, what to share, whether the behaviors are positive or negative, etc. Once a teacher and class establishes a class set of rules, she can give points (or subtract points) as she is teaching without interrupting the flow of the lesson. This is similar to checks on the board, stickers on a chart, words of encouragement, pat on the back, wink of the eye, smile, etc. Understandably, people are concerned when it comes to 3rd party companies holding information on our students. Unfortunately, there has been some recent articles where Class Dojo was misrepresented, most recently a NY Times post where even the teachers quoted were mischaracterized. Class Dojo has responded admirably here and here. 


While any tool in the wrong hands can be dangerous, I am still a firm believer in giving teachers some autonomy and subjectivity in running their classrooms. A well-trained teacher will not be punitive and will use explanation, logical consequences, positive reinforcement, behavior tracking, and anything and everything to keep the flow of teaching and learning happening. It is not practical to think that every time a student does something that needs correction, a teacher will stop what she is doing and have a conversation with the child to the point that she understands what she did wrong and what she can do better next time. In an ideal world, yes that would be nice. But, in today's teaching world of too much curriculum to cover, not enough time, and trying to keep up with which students are in the classroom at any given moment, it is just not practical. 

1984
I began my teaching career in 1984. In my first year teaching, my first graders earned stickers to put on their cards. A full card at the end of the week earned a visit to the treasure chest. From there I learned to put checks on the board without interrupting the flow of the lesson, then clothes pins on a chart, and dolphins on a chart, and red-yellow-green cards on a street light, and so on. They all accomplished the same thing; I was able to let students know they needed to put the skids on what they were doing (they KNEW what they were doing was wrong) and they had some leeway before I got their parents involved. I still see my students today (as old as 36) and they appear to be happy, well-adjusted adults, who are successful citizens who contribute to society. Although a few have landed in jail, I'm not sure I can specifically tie those results to their sticker cards. My students often tell me of their fond memories of our class. I've not received a single complaint, nor therapy bill due to damage caused by below sea level dolphins or red lights. 

As for using Class Dojo for keeping parents informed of every little infraction, I would not do that. I would use it (privately) for classroom management and only reach out to parents as needed. Just as I had done since 1984. Students should not be worried that their parents are breathing down their necks and are going to question every mark. In many cases, that would be the case. For example, I would have a student constantly interrupting a lesson. After a few gentle reminders, the student would have to move her dolphin, or clothespin, or turn her card, or whatever. The student would get hysterical because she wouldn't want her parents to find out. If she knew her parents wouldn't find out unless she moved her dolphin two more times that day, it was a lot less stressful for her and she corrected her behavior the rest of the day. And the business of learning continued...

Then, somewhere along the way, someone decided we shouldn't tell students they are doing anything wrong, so their cards should only stay on green, dolphins should only be above the water and sticker cards should always end up full. All kids should get an award. So, teachers started spending more time calling out students who were doing things RIGHT and ignoring students who were doing things WRONG for fear of violating FERPA. Problem was the students who were doing things wrong, weren't getting the message. They were just being ignored and were starting to hate the kids who were always doing things right. We've become a feel-good society where we don't tell our kids anything that might make them feel badly about themselves. 

Look at our youth sports teams. All kids play the same regardless of skill. Everyone gets a medal. I was cleaning out my kids' bedrooms (ages 24 and 21) and I asked them what I should throw away. My 24 year old told me I could throw away all the ice hockey trophies he won throughout the years, except for the ones where they actually won a championship. You see, getting a trophy for participating in the season doesn't mean anything to the kids either. 

Then, someone decided that these systems violated FERPA, so they must be private. Other students must not be privy to the dolphin-status, board checks, or how many stickers other students have. So, now the teachers do not publicly acknowledge students' behaviors right or wrong. Rather, they keep on teaching and if a student is disruptive, the teacher makes a private note and speaks to the student later on, in private. The other students MAY see the private conversation and surmise what it is about. Often, rumors will begin and circulate; rumors that are distortions of the truth. It would be unprofessional and against FERPA to clear the air.

Soon, more FERPA complaints ensue: Students raise their hands to answer questions in class, and some students get the answers right and some get them wrong, and all the students in the class are privy to that information. Some students finish their work more quickly than others, and students are privy to that information. A student leaves to go to the clinic, and other students are aware.

Have we gone too far? How long before this political correctness gets out of hand? I think we are dangerously close.

Some people have asked why we would use a behavior tracking system with students if we wouldn't use them with adults, for example in a faculty meeting or team meeting?

  1. There are a lot of things we do with children we don't do with adults. Children are works in progress. Children, for example, are expected to raise their hands to speak in class. We don't usually do this with adults. 
  2. I think many people would actually welcome some behavior tracking in their work environment, if it were done privately. Negative behaviors are often discussed from an emotional point of view rather than a quantitative point of view. Wouldn't you welcome the opportunity to have a conversation about what you are doing right and what you could improve on?

We really need to take back parenting and teaching. We need to stop letting kids interrupt into adult conversations and asking their permission before we make adult decisions. I'm afraid we've created a generation of youth who do not understand their place in the world. They don't understand patience, respect, courtesy, manners, or authority. 

What will it take to turn things around?

Friday, November 07, 2014

Thought Leader's Summit: Who's Leading The Thought?

I'm excited to have been invited to attend the Thought Leader's Summit next week hosted by the National Education Initiative as a part of National Education Week. I'm a little concerned though with the lineup of speakers because I don't see enough representation of active public school classroom teachers.

So, what exactly is a "Thought Leader?" I will have the opportunity to set up interviews with the speakers... er, I mean thought leaders.

If you were in my place, who would you want to speak with, and what conversation would you want to have? http://www.nationaleducationweek.com/presenters/

Monday, September 08, 2014

Students Learn Money Doesn't Grow on Trees



Here is a great opportunity to involve your high school students in a fun competition where they can learn finance and earn REAL money. When tested on general financial knowledge, nearly 50% of high school seniors fail. H&R Block working on changing that and is committed to helping teens learn how to manage finances.


The H&R Block Budget Challenge is a simulation and interactive competition for high school students. Teens act as recent college graduates who've started their first job. They receive regular paychecks and have to make decisions about cell phone plans, where to live, credit card offers, etc. They must pay their bills on time and earn points for making smart financial decisions. The H&R Block Budget Challenge is free to play and H&R Block is offering both classroom grants and student scholarships to the winning students.
Tweet: Enter to win and learn about finances! Fun, free to earn $ prizes for HS stu & tchrs. Join @HRBlock Budget Challenge http://ctt.ec/a6PO9+
Click to Tweet This!

Over $3 million will be awarded in total prizes:
  • 60 opportunities for classroom grants up to $5K 
  • 132 opportunities for student scholarships of $20K 
  • Grand prize scholarship of $100K 
  • Student incentive during game play
When teachers sign up they will receive a free print kit to get them started, including a classroom poster and lesson plans. They have also developed videos that teachers can use to teach some of the financial concepts. This is a great opportunity to dip your toes into a "Flipped Classroom" concept. Kids can play "Would You Rather?" with Justin Long Play the Would You Rather game by texting START to 38383. You'll answer outrageous questions and learn real tips to stack your cash. Then challenge your friends to play and see their answers.



Parents and Students:
H&R Block Budget Challenge is free to all teachers and students, but since Budget Challenge is limited to those students playing in a classroom registered by their teacher, be sure to tell your teachers to enroll your class for the chance to win some big bucks to put towards your future. Just copy the text below and send your teacher this message:

Dear _________, 
I learned about this great competition where we can learn about finance and earn real money at the same time. There is even an opportunity for you to win a classroom grant of $5000. My classmates and I would really love to participate but you must register our class first. It's time-sensitive and I'll be happy to assist, so please let me know how I can help get this going. Thank you for considering this. To learn more, check out: http://www.hrblockdollarsandsense.com/what-were-doing/budget-challenge
Respectfully,
__________________ 
I'd love to hear what you think about this challenge. Please let me know if you participate. I look forward to your comments.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

How To Study: An Infographic

Photo Credit: Amy Dunayevich
As the new school year begins, many students bring along old, and sometimes bad, study habits. Spend some time with your students sharing study tips and strategies. Most students do not know HOW to study and have never been taught. It will be time well-spent.


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Tuesday, August 05, 2014

EdTech Jargon BINGO

Here's a game to play at your next conference session, meeting, webinar, or sales pitch. You can even play in the comfort of your home while reading educational blogs, Facebook posts, or Tweets by educators.

You may find it interesting to know that it took me less than 15 minutes to create these BINGO cards using words off the top of my head.

Why do these words annoy me so much? Because they are being used as FLUFF. When used correctly, they are fine. Here's how I define "correctly:"

There is other contextual information to support the use of the word or phrase. Don't just tell me your program transforms education. Tell me what you mean by "transform" and then show me an example. Hint: using an iPad to create videos is not transformational, and neither is using technology to engage students. Teachers have been engaging students for years. 

What words would you add?




Thursday, July 31, 2014

One More Thing…Please, No Worksheets

A must-read!
http://www.kindergartenworksheets.net/
"Based on what I’ve learned over the past 18 years in the field, I have to tell you, I don’t care if he walks out of your room at the end of the year and he can’t write numbers up to 20. He will pick that skill up as his life requires it."
Read the entire Open Letter To My Son's Kindergarten Teacher by Phillip Kovacs

If you were his son's kindergarten teacher, how would you respond?