This is the first year is over thirty that I have started September not in the classroom! After our relocation to Texas from Oregon, I decided to take the year off of teaching. One of the many elements of education that I am missing is that of coordinating and working with other teachers. After teaching for over thirteen years, I have a few resources for teachers and parents that I would like to share. Below are three of the resources that I have used extensively in my classroom over the years. I am happy to answer any questions in the comments below.
1. Class Dojo
This is a behavior tracking app that I have used extensively and for many years in my classroom. I have used this with a 5/6 blended class, a straight 5th and a 3/4 blended class. Class Dojo is basically a way to keep track and save data that teachers already track. For example, while you are teaching a small group at the back horseshoe table, you probably keep track of a few students in the rest of the class that you need to follow up with individually. Sometimes it is because they are on task and very helpful, others because they are choosing off task behaviors that interrupt their and others’ learning. With Class Dojo, you can track this electronically and see patterns. There are many ways to track behaviors. You choose which behaviors to track, you can make your own or choose ones that Class Dojo gives you. You can also select any number of positive behaviors and challenging behaviors to track.
Logistically, the teacher (or parent, this can work at home too) sets up the class after the app is downloaded on the tablet or phone. I downloaded it on both of my devices so I had flexibility on what I wanted to have on hand. I used my phone in the hallway and other locations outside of my room, and I used my iPad in the classroom. The class is set up in the app by entering each child’s name, I always used first names only and organized it alphabetically by first name. There is no limit on the number of classes you can make in the app. I made one for homeroom, one for reading and one for math. Class Dojo auto-assigns a cute little monster avatar for each student, you can also print out a special code specific to each child for them to customize their avatar at home. I always did this the first day that I introduced Class Dojo so the kids would go home extra excited and I would get more buy in. This is also a good way for parents to check out the website.
In class, the teacher just opens the app and taps each child’s avatar to note behavior. You tap the avatar and the behaviors you have selected for that class pop up, you tap the one the child is choosing. Positive behaviors (working hard, helping others, on task…) award the child a point, and negative behaviors (off task, side conversations, not prepared…) take off a point. Each child has a running total. You can choose to show the totals to the kids or the class if you wish. I would make a percentage of positive points a goal for each day and each week, and display our class percentage. I have also displayed everyone’s points up on the board (through my Apple TV), almost all of the kids in my classes have always liked to see how many points/percentage they have. I recommend using the percentage rather than the points, so it is fair for all kids regardless of absences etc…
On Teachers Pay Teachers and Pinterest, there are many different ways to fully incorporate Class Dojo as your class reward system. I used a lot of different reward systems, not exclusively the app, so I didn’t use a lot of those awards/systems. As I said, I set a classroom goal for the week as well as the day for a percentage of positive points. Our goal was higher than 90% positive points earned. I also would choose about one week per month to do individual goals and rewards. The individual goals were the same, any child that earned more than 90% positive points would get an award sent home. I called up each student one at a time and talked about how they earned their percentage, what they would continue doing and what they set for their goal for the next week. I would do this over lunch time and also recess, kids would often choose to stay in to get their award.
There is an element of Class Dojo that is like a double edged sword- you can invite parents to track their child’s Class Dojo behavior in real time from any device. Almost all of the time, this turned out to be positive and helpful. Some parents would send me a message on Class Dojo and ask me for clarification why their child earned the point, most of the time this was for when I tapped the ‘no homework’ icon and their child lost a point. This did take up some additional time, but it turned out to be good discussion starters with parents and they would understand what I or other teachers had been communicating with them about their child. Sometimes it is easier to understand what is going on when a child is away from you all day when you can see their behaviors being tracked in real time. I found that the parent involvement and tracking piece was overall very positive and beneficial. The school district that I taught in for ten years was in which the families were very involved, so the results may differ in schools with different demographics.
Full disclosure, I had one parent in four years of using Class Dojo dislike it and want me to stop using it in class. She had read an article, titled something along the lines of Class Dojo is Like Tazing Kids, or something like that. This article was very negative toward to the use of the app, and claimed that Class Dojo was all about public shaming and punitive punishments. I read this article, after she emailed to me and the principal, and discovered that it was written by a new teacher who had not ever used this app. Even after I met with this parent and explained my positive use of the app
, she was not happy about my use of Class Dojo. After teaching for as long as I have, I just tried to work on our relationship in other areas. I had full support of my administration for using Class Dojo, and I still feel very confident about using this app.
This is a free website that has a huge variety of amazing brain breaks, with an element of competition built into the program. Teachers or parents just need to set up a free account with an email address and then you can get started!
My classes liked the dance and zumba videos the best. The videos are set to songs that the kids know and love, with kid dancers that lead them through the dance moves. Every time you have the class complete a brain break, their goofy monster avatar “grows” and then they earn a medal when it grows up to be an adult monster. There are other brain breaks as well, a countless number and type of ways for your class to take a break for a few minutes.
3. Ixl.com and Xtramath.com
I have used these websites in my math classes for years. They serve two different purposes and compliment each other well. Both sites require a small fee, there are volume discounts if you are having your grade level team all use these sites.
IXL is a great site for math problem solving. The categories are listed by grade and standard, so you can tell the class with specific ones to work on if you wish. I varied in how I approached IXL in my math classes. Sometimes I would have the kids work on their choice of skills, they most likely would choose the skill that does not challenge them. That was fine with me sometimes, as the self-guidance and love of problem solving is important as well as skill practice. When I would assign IXL for homework or a specific time in class, I would give the kids a choice of three standards to work on, based on what we were working on in class.
I would sometimes also use my IXL account as our daily Problem of the Day or for practice, it was as easy way to discuss strategies and have the children demonstrate the different ways they chose to solve the problem. This is a good way to quickly assess where each child is on a particular concept.
As a teacher or parent, you can check on each child’s progress as well as the entire group. There are multiple ways of extrapolating the data in whichever way is most useful for you. I have used this data in many ways. One way is to check on the number of minutes each child or the average of the class, works on the IXL site. Sometimes I would assign the kids to work on IXL for 30 minutes, and I would check that the following day. Another way I would check on progress is checking the number of problems correct by standard. I would use this as one assessment strategy.
Students can earn medals and badges by practicing problems on IXL, this adds a fun and competitive piece that the kids enjoy. Most of the prizes are based on the time it takes the kids to complete problems as well as their percentage of problems correct. This is great for most of the kids in class. However, some of the kids who struggle in math could get a bit disappointed with their percentage being lower than others, and that they’re not earning badges. In these circumstances, I would put the kids in a similar standard but in a grade or two below. There are many ways to do this so that the child’s self-esteem is preserved and that they are successful in their learning pursuits.
Xtramath is a great site for fact practice. The kids take an online practice test and the site evaluates where their skills are, then creates mini-lessons for them to practice where they need to the most. Each lesson is about ten minutes, and it is designed for the children to complete one lesson per day. This site is strictly for fact practice and working on fluency/automaticity. I used this site for kids that scored under 80% on their weekly math fact tests. I made this site optional for kids that scored over 80% on the tests. Often I would give the kids a choice if they would like to work on IXL or Xtramath, and most of the time the kids would make the appropriate choice on the site that was most beneficial for them.