Behavioural Science

I have more to say on Science Fair but it will have to wait for another day!

Today, I would like to talk about behaviour programmes involving points and prizes.

In my first EVER school, during my teaching practice, our mentor said “We do not have a behaviour system, we EXPECT good behaviour, we don’t reward it.”

In one school, we had a system in place. Students were rewarded with tokens and there were different prizes associated with the tokens.  

But that wasn’t why they behaved well. They were good because they also had responsibilities in the classroom, like taking attendance or choosing the next person to be questioned at random. We also had to do interesting lessons, with active participation and a feeling of getting somewhere.

In another school, there was no system. So, as you might imagine, behaviour was a problem for new teachers. Once the students got used to your face, they allowed you to teach but not really before.

Anyway, I moved to Denmark and didn’t NEED any of this. My students wanted to be there and were privileged with stable upbringings. So, I didn’t really need to reward them for good behaviour. I could just expect it.

In my last couple of years there, I got a class of really young students and I had to teach them English in my second language of Danish. They were a tough group. Some of them had major family problems, a few had behavioural special needs and a couple were undiagnosed dyslexics.

Classdojo was a life line! By gamifying my expectations in the lesson, I was able to capture their imaginations and help the children with behavioural problems visualise where their bad choices were leading. I didn’t have the negative points on display and I only took points away on exceptional occasions and after a warning.  Also, it meant that if one kid was being obnoxious, I could ignore the behaviour and reward everyone else for doing the right thing. Then the obnoxious behaviour would ‘magically’ end and I wouldn’t need to even challenge it verbally.

I remember being a good kid in school and I remember HATING how the bad kids would get point systems just for themselves and if they could just sit still for a few hours, they’d get a toy or something. The injustice really burned.

I think I would have liked Classdojo because I’d get points ALL THE TIME just for doing the right thing and being noticed for it.

One unexpected knock-on effect of it was a student of mine who hated reading started doing all the extra credit homework he could. He was crazy competitive and needed the dojo points, so he’d do a page or two of extra homework every week.

And as the year wore on, I could use Classdojo less and less, I’d log in and add points but I just didn’t NEED to anymore. Their behaviour was where I wanted it for their maturity level.  I had modelled the behaviour I wanted from them with extrinsic motivation and then once they understood the expectations, I was able to allow the interesting content of the lessons provide intrinsic motivation.

I moved to another school and the students are well motivated and behaved. But there was one student who was just a bit… disengaged. He was a lovely boy, bright and inquisitive. But he poured his attention and hard work into games like Minecraft and not my maths drills. I figured that Classdojo would inspire him to go the extra mile and sure enough, it made him work harder.

The next year, we had a lot of new teachers so I told them about it and we adapted it to reward different behaviours. The system was a good way to introduce this profile to them, they got used to the terms very quickly and could see what was expected of them. In the second term, I was able to stop using it because it had fulfilled its purpose. (Besides, the school introduced a point system rewarding different behaviours entirely, not using ClassDojo and it got a bit much juggling the two)

Anyway, someone at work shared a blog post with the school which was very much “DOWN WITH CLASSDOJO”. (It started with “I have never used Classdojo” which was not a good sign, to be honest. )

They don’t like the public shame aspect of having negative points on the board (neither do I, which is why I don’t use that function)

The blogger also claims that as extrinsic motivation (money) to be a teacher is secondary to the intrinsic motivation of doing a good job then house points or merits or Classdojo points are unnecessary and harmful.

While I never went into teaching to become rich and I too have often worked for free and used my own money for resources, it troubles me that the blogger thinks that this proves they are passionate about education. I think all it proves is that our society doesn’t value what we do.

I don’t think we need to become martyrs, do we? Isn’t our time valuable enough to be paid? Why is it okay to make us pay for things out of our own pocket because it is a caring job? Why are we expected to give away our time and expertise where a more ‘masculine’ profession would not think twice about submitting overtime sheets. Aren’t we worth the money? (I digress)

Anyway, they’ve missed the point. Classdojo points aren’t the motivational equivalent of a pay cheque. Salaries are compensation for your time and energy. As the blogger notes, people doing this job (and many others), are not motivated by payment but by squishier concepts like “making a difference”.

But let’s think of some other things we are motivated to do.

  • Exercise: motivated by ‘levelling up’ in fitness and health
  • Playing sports: motivated by winning
  • Watching sports: motivated by watching someone else win
  • Crafts: the finished product, getting better at the skill
  • Playing games: motivated by winning, points
  • Logging onto facebook: interacting with friends (getting little red numbers to light up)

I love to play Bejewelled. But if my boss asked me to match coloured jewels into threes, I would tell them to jog on. I don’t care how much I get paid for the task, I’m BETTER than such mindless pointlessness! But I’ll play Bejewelled happily for an hour for free. I’m motivated by the points and levelling up.

My students play a lot of games, my classroom needs to reflect that. The imagination of my students needs to be caught sometimes and getting points and levelling up can do that.

I agree that using extrinsic motivation exclusively is counter productive. But Classdojo isn’t about that. It’s training wheels , it’s a framework, we are scaffolding their behaviour… and slowly we can remove this external structure and their intrinsic motivation can kick in.


One thought on “Behavioural Science

  1. Manoj Lamba says:

    Hey there! Manoj here from ClassDojo. These types of stories/posts really excite the team. We think the best way to understand ClassDojo and how it works is to just try it, and see it for yourself! This is amazing and we can’t thank you enough for sharing. If you’re interested, we’d love to connect with you! Email me at: cheers!!

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