Daily Dispatches
Associated Press/Photo by Jim Fitzgerald

Teachers track student behavior with swipes and clicks

Education

Parents once relied on parent-teacher conferences or a call from the principal to learn about their children’s conduct in class. Grades record students’ academic progress, but education innovators are making programs to generate hard data on their soft skills. Today, teachers can use technology to track and share a student behavior.

Jennifer Medbery earned her undergraduate degree in computer science and taught with Teach for America before developing Kickboard in 2009. It allows educators to view academic and behavioral data together in one system.

Data-driven decision making in schools spiked in 2001 with the No Child Left Behind Act and its emphasis on standardized testing. But Kickboard’s publication entitled “Instructional Management Solutions” claims “an important stream of data is currently missing from the analyses of many educators”—data on student behavior.

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In an interview with Anibal Pacheco on Instructional Technology Solutions, Medbery described how “just a tap of a button on their phone or on their tablet or on their computer” allows teachers to track positive, negative, and neutral behaviors they see in their students.

A primary goal of the software is to easily identify where and when problems take place and what changes bring about better behavior. Teachers can also easily share the information on student behavior with other teachers and with parents at home.

Other apps and websites are providing teachers withbehavior-tracking tools as well. According to its website, over 1 million people have downloaded Teacherkit, an app to track student seating charts, behavior, attendance, and grades. A sample student report shows a graph of positive and negative conduct and the date of specific behaviors—“highly cooperative,” “helps others,” or “fight”—on the same page as attendance and grades.

On the website ClassDojo, teachers assign each student a colorful cartoon avatar and use their phones, tablets, or computers to award positive and negative points throughout the day. Many teachers use ClassDojo to make good behavior into a game where students can use points to redeem privileges or shop in class “stores.” Teachers can email or print behavior reports, or parents can log in to see the reports from home.

Such tools help teachers give feedback on student behavior and make informed decisions about classroom management, but they can also help set clear expectations. ClassDojo allows teachers to customize the behavioral categories they desire or discourage in students, and students see which behaviors, both positive and negative, they exhibit.

Some teachers say the data collected through clicks and shown in charts is too simple to give real insight into students. “Very little boils down to just one click,” said Canadian grade one teacher Karen Lirenman in an EdSurge article about ClassDojo. “I think it’s great that parents are aware of where their children are succeeding and struggling, but the one-click assessment tells them so little.”

ClassDojo touts its ability to reinforce positive behavior, but teachers also worry about students relying on extrinsic motivation such as points and rewards. “Rather than treating students like pets and offering them doggy biscuits (or chocolates or gold stars or Class Dojo points), shouldn’t we examine the tasks and the content of the curriculum, to see how it can be made more engaging?” asks history teacher Cameron Paterson on his blog It’s About Learning.

Still, in 2013 Forbes named ClassDojo No. 99 of America’s most promising companies. Erin Klein uses ClassDojo in her classroom. She told EdSurge teachers should adapt the technology to the needs of the classroom, not the classroom to conform to the technological tools: “Start with your classroom and your students in mind. Then use the tool to fit you and your students.”

Emily Scheie
Emily Scheie

Emily is a World Journalism Institute intern.

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