- Associated Press - Saturday, January 30, 2016

GROVEPORT, Ohio (AP) - Long ago, teachers tended to be unreachable during the day except during a dire emergency.

Fast-forward a few decades through the advent of answering machines and email and the social-media explosion, and you arrive at today’s hyper-connected classrooms. Teacher Maura Elliott uses a free mobile app to ensure that every parent or guardian of her students receives a kid-customized classroom report every day.

Elliott, who teaches second grade at Madison Elementary in Groveport, is the school’s coach and head cheerleader for ClassDojo, an app that lets teachers track and instantly share what their classes are doing and how each child is faring.

After observing Elliott’s use of the app for a couple of years, Madison Principal Tricia Faulkner made it a buildingwide requirement starting with the 2013-14 school year.

“I love this because it is a way to partnership with the parents, and the two-way communication is amazing,” Faulkner said.

Districts and schools vary in how they require teachers to connect with parents. All require parent-teacher conferences and set an expectation that teachers will communicate.

In Bexley City Schools, all teachers use a learning-management platform called Canvas, which posts course syllabuses and other information. Teachers are required to update their postings at least once a week.

The Hilliard district doesn’t require teachers to use a particular tool, but many have classroom Web pages, and some use learning-management software they have chosen.

In Groveport schools and in some Westerville classrooms, ClassDojo tracks student behavior as well as communication between home and school. Coupled with the classroom smartboard, it replaces the discipline-tracking methods that schools have used for decades - red-yellow-green flip cards and wall charts - with up-to-the-second tracking.

A teacher creates an account for her classroom and assigns each child a cartoon-monster avatar. Then she creates lists of behaviors she wants to encourage or discourage. Staying on-task, participating and helping others might earn points; getting off-task, being unprepared or talking out of turn could cost points.

Kids can see, when the teacher displays the whole-class tally on the classroom’s interactive whiteboard, how they and their classmates are doing. Elliott sets a class point goal for the week. With her phone usually in reach, she gives kids points and takes them away throughout the day.

“Sometimes I leave (the app) up with the sound on, so they can hear whenever I give a point,” she said. “That really keeps them focused” on their conduct.

Parents get periodic customized reports showing the positive and negative points their children earned.

Beyond the behavior management, ClassDojo links parents to teachers and one another via text messages, emails or a website. Teachers can post photos, news of the classroom and general announcements; they also use the app to communicate directly with a parent.

Abby Palmer, who has a second-grader at Westerville’s McVay Elementary, was dubious when her son’s teacher introduced ClassDojo. “I thought it was a little much - a lot for the teacher to do,” she said.

Although she still isn’t convinced that her son pays much attention to his behavior points, she’s impressed with the school-to-home communication.

Elliott, in Groveport, said it isn’t as time-consuming as it sounds. She keeps her phone handy. “If I see someone participating, I can record it. I might text a parent while I’m walking down the hall. A lot of times, it’s easier than trying to reach someone by phone.”

The reliance on social media is a good fit for the parents of Elliott’s class, who skew young, she said. “They may not see an email, but they’ll check their text messages,” she said.

Parents who join the ClassDojo site can use the platform to communicate with the rest of the class, too. They can ask Elliott questions or share pictures.

“One mom wanted to share a photo of her son’s new tae kwon do belt,” she said. “He was so excited.”


Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, https://www.dispatch.com

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