Tagged: communication

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Stay in contact with students with Remind. But do so sparingly so you’re not annoying.

remind School is back in session. This means, invariably, that people are debating whether to ban homework and whether it’s OK for teachers to text their students.

It’s a tough question, this texting thing. There are definitely best practices, like (1) make sure it’s OK with your students and their parents, (2) don’t text your students too often, (3) unless it’s really important, don’t initiate a text with an individual student.

Now that SmashText is no longer, I like Remind, a service for teachers to stay in contact with students and parents via text messages.

Remind keeps everything easy and safe. There is a web version and a phone app, and both are beautiful and easy to use. Students and parents can subscribe to your reminders by sending a quick text to a phone number that is not yours. Most important, communication is one-way: You get to talk with them, but they don’t get to talk to you.

Here’s a screenshot of what Remind looks like:


I used to bristle at the one-way communication part. After all, isn’t it weird to receive a text message and then not be able to respond? I think the answer to that is yes.

(If you’re in that camp, it’s an easy solution to offer a Google Voice number to your students and parents if they want to contact you directly.)

Teachers are using Remind in many ways:
-remind students of homework,
-remind students to study for a quiz,
-distribute assignments,
-capture and send key info from day’s lesson,
-ask homework questions and do formative assessments.

Remind also has a ton of new features, which are pretty slick, including the ability to send attachments and audio recordings. The Stamps feature lets students and parents interact with your texts via the Remind app, so teachers can ask quick homework questions, take a poll, ask parents for help on a field trip, among other things.

I plan on using Remind this year with the 162 students participating in the Kindle Classroom Project. Because I don’t see them more than once a week, I might want to send out an announcement about new books or an upcoming meeting.

Teachers, what do you think about texting your students? Do reminders help or hinder students’ personal responsibility? When is texting too much or too close? Would your students like Remind, or is it too impersonal? 

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No response from students yet on their AP results

favicon The results from the AP test came back last month, and students received them a few weeks ago.

So why haven’t I heard anything from my students yet?

Is it because they’re upset with the results and don’t want to express their anger? Is it because they’re embarrassed and think I’m disappointed? Or is it just because it’s summer?

Before I left for my vacation, I texted one of my students to let me know when he received his results. He said he would. Then just a few days ago, I got a text from another student who had a question about college. No mention of her AP test results.

It’s very strange, especially because my students and I communicated daily during the school year.

I’m not sure what my next steps should be.

Should I maintain the silence and wait? Should I reach out to students individually? Or should I just forget about everything?

Please let me know what you think!

Update: A loyal reader tweeted, “What would you want your teacher to do, for you, in a similar circumstance?” What a perfect question. This led me today to start reaching out to students, one by one, by text.

So far I’ve texted six and heard back from three. They’re disappointed, sure, but not overly so, and they don’t harbor resentment or frustration. Instead, they enjoyed hearing from me and were excited to talk about college.

Most important, my students understand that the AP test is just one opportunity of many. One student wrote, “I was (disappointed) and I know you were too. I will not let a test define me!” favicon

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Should I require students to text me when they’re absent?

 One way I tried to increase attendance and accountability this year was to require students to text me when they were late or absent.

I wasn’t always successful. Some students didn’t text me. When they didn’t, I followed up to let them know the importance of following through with commitments.

My end-of-course evaluation was interesting on this topic. I asked, “Should students have to text me when they’re absent or late?” The results were mixed. Here are some of my students’ responses:

  • “No, because sometimes students miss school because they are too busy even to text.”
  • “Yes, it’s easy for them to let you know.”
  • “Yes, but it’s kind of weird because you’re the first teacher asking this of us.”
  • “No. In college, professors are not going to care if we’re absent. I think we should just check in with you the next day.”
  • “No. They are absent for a reason, but you don’t exactly need to know at the moment.”
  • “Yes, I think they should, just so you can know who’s going to be in class and also just so the student knows what’s happening in class.”
  • “No, I was late a lot, and it was a hassle.”

Looking at this data, which was a bit all over the place, I realize that I need to ask myself some questions before deciding how to proceed.

  1. Why this policy? Is it to increase attendance? or to teach accountability? or because I like order and don’t like surprises? or because I want the students to find me and the class important?
  2. What’s the enforcement of this policy, and is it worth it? If students don’t text me, what happens? A reminder? or another consequence?

As a teacher, you never want to do something unless it’s critically important for the success of students or it’s fundamentally crucial to your values.

In my gut, I know that this is important. If not all of my students can attend class on time, they can at least acknowledge where they’re supposed to be. By texting me, my students demonstrate that they’re missing something important. They see me. In turn, I can text them back with the basics of what they missed. I see them. As a result, there is a mutual respect for learning and for each other.

What do you think about all this? 

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Texting students: Help or hindrance?

 Teachers, if you’re serious about communicating with your students, forget about making announcements in class. Don’t bother with assignment sheets or reminders on the board. Posts on your class website won’t work, either, and neither will updates on a Facebook group. And whatever you do, if you really want to talk to your students, please don’t call them on the phone.

You have two choices: talk to them in person or text them. That’s it.

This year, I noticed that I needed to maximize my students’ time outside of class. We had excellent classes, filled with deep thought and discussion, but the bulk of the work — like in many college-prep courses — came after school.

When I noticed in October that many of my students had stopped doing their homework every night, I started mass texting them.

It was simple. Google Voice made it free. SmashText made it easy.

It worked. At first, my mass texting was infrequent — only when I’d forgotten to say something important, or right before a major deadline, just to make sure I’d get 100 percent turn-in. But then I got a little text happy, and before long, I was texting my students (at least) once a day.

After a while, I wondered if I was annoying my students with all of my texts. It turns out, I wasn’t. Apparently, my once-a-day texting habit did not faze them.

My end-of-year evaluation confirmed it. Here are the results:

  • Did you find my texts helpful? – 100% yes, 0% no
  • Did my texts cause you to do homework more often? – 85% yes, 15% no.
  • Should I reduce the number of texts I send? 30% yes, 70% no.

So maybe I could stand to limit my texting a bit, but otherwise, this poll was overwhelmingly positive. Even though I appreciated the positive results, they led me to another question: Was my texting merely enabling my students to be less organized and less responsible?

This is a tough question. On the one hand, yes, some students may have become reliant on my texts instead of depending on their notetaking skills. And it’s sad in some ways that my students wouldn’t have completed as much homework had it not been for my daily reminders.

On the other hand, it’s my job to get the best results out of my students. If that means texting them once a day — which takes all of 50 seconds of my time — then so be it. Sure, I’d like my students to do more on their own, but it’s more important that they succeed.

If I’m not going to accept failure, then I’m going to find out what works.

Was that convincing? I’m not sure. Please let me know what you think. Am I helping my students, or just helping them be lazy? 

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Kikutext helps teachers stay in contact with parents

favicon As teachers, we understand the importance of building relationships with our students’ parents and staying in constant communication with them.

Except it’s not easy to do it. Other things — like planning lessons, grading papers, and sleeping — get in the way. Even though talking with parents is one of the most important and effective ways to help students, it’s often the first thing to go.

That’s why I like texting, and that’s why I like Kikutext.

Most of my students’ parents welcome texting. I text them, and they text me back. It’s quicker and more convenient than a phone call.

But there are a few problems: (1) That’s a lot of contacts to organize, (2) What if I want to send a group text to all my students’ parents? (3) What if they (or I) don’t want to share my personal phone number?

Kikutext takes care of all those problems.

You sign up for free and get a Kikutext phone number. Parents can sign up by sending a text to that number, or you can invite parents individually. After everything is set up, you can send texts to parents individually or collectively. Parents can also text you back. You manage all your messages online at the Kikutext website. It’s pretty easy.

In addition to being free, Kikutext separates itself from its competitors (among them: Class Parrot, Class Pager, SendHub, WeTxt, and others) by offering a wonderful feature called “Status Reports.”

This one is huge. Status Reports allow you to send automated yet personalized messages to individual parents. Let’s say you’re in class, and two students are absent, three didn’t complete their homework, and Sally made an excellent point in discussion. From one screen, you can send different texts to different parents, all at the same time. Even better, you can modify the choices and personalize the texts. This is a feature no other service currently has.

In short: You could easily contact all of your students’ parents every day (meaning: it would take three minutes, tops). (Just be sure that your parents aren’t annoyed by the constant communication!)

When I text students, I still prefer SmashText. It’s a free desktop application that allows group and mass texting using your Google contacts. When students respond, their texts go directly to my phone (although I could change that setting in Google Voice). I find that I like the real-time interactive nature of SmashText. After all, students can’t wait; they need their answers now.

But with parents, I’m definitely going with Kikutext next year. The developers are working hard to make improvements, and I look forward to seeing what they do over the summer.

Important Update, August 2012: Much of this review is no longer accurate. Kikutext now offers tiered pricing, and its free option is too restrictive to be workable. Its pro service is $10 a month, too expensive for most teachers. In addition, the “status reports,” as far as I know, are no longer available. Therefore, although I understand that Kikutext needs to make money, I no longer think it’s a good solution. I’m staying with SmashText. favicon

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What does it mean to care about a student?

favicon A student left me the following comment on our class website:

Mr. Isero, you know that I cannot go online because I do not have [the webcam] but obviously you do not care due to you have not given it to me yet.

The details of the story don’t matter. What matters is that a student thinks I fundamentally do not care about her.

This comment triggered me. I have long wondered how well I communicate care, especially across difference.

At first I was defensive: What do you mean, I don’t care? Look at all the things I’ve done to help you! Of course I care!

Then I got angry: How dare you address me with that tone! You should be honored to have me as your teacher!

I decided to do nothing until I met with her in person. After all, maybe I interpreted her meaning incorrectly. Maybe she was trying to be funny.

Nope. When I asked her whether she was serious, she said she was. And now I’m left to figure out what to do next.

My reflection: It’s pretty clear that there’s a breakdown in communication and trust. What I’m communicating as care is not being received in the same way. There is something lost in translation.

Also, I must be doing something (or not doing something) to create a sense of distrust. I’m not sure what that is. When the great majority of my students find me extremely helpful, and this student thinks I’m uncaring, there is something wrong.

My theory of action is that we need to talk more, interact more, and spend more time doing work together. It worked with a few students, so I have to keep on trying. My uncaring self wonders: Why does this have to be so hard?

In the meantime, I think it’s important to have a meeting with the student, her mom, and her adviser. We need to get out into the open what’s troubling us or else this negative dynamic will never disappear. favicon

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How to talk to teachers / How to talk to students

 I have four students not passing my AP English class right now. It’s not too bad, actually: They will all pass at the semester (unless they miss a major assignment).

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about why they’re not passing. Yes, their reading and writing skills need improvement. Yes, they sometimes miss assignments because of poor time management or because they feel overwhelmed with their academic and personal lives.

But one thing in particular that I’m noticing is that all of them have trouble talking to me in complete sentences.

They might be unwilling. They might feel uncomfortable. They may not trust me. Whatever it is, it’s a major problem. After all, if I don’t have a free-flowing dialogue with my students, there’s a barrier there. There’s no chance for an academic breakthrough. Plus, I can’t support them effectively.

The good news is, I’ve made a lot of good progress with one of the students. And you know what? She’s doing much better now. She knows I’m on her side. We talk about our different tastes in music and about her favorite songs. She asks for my help. She comes to office hours. I help her with technology. We’ve exchanged texts, emails, letters. We know that we’re in this together.

I wouldn’t say I have a horrible relationship with the other three. We’re cordial, but we’re distant. In fact, when I’m talking with the students, I feel an extremely awkward distance between us. I’m sure they’re feeling the same thing, that they’re talking to an impossibly old man. I ask questions, and I get mumbling back. Sometimes, when I say hello, there isn’t even a response.

In the next few weeks, I’m going to make it a point to try to change up our script. Instead of trying really hard to communicate and instead of feeling weird when things go awry, I’m first going to be direct. I’m going to tell the students that I want to improve our communication. Then I’m going to keep things lighthearted, positive — and as natural as I can.

What do you think I should do? 

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Teachers, stay in touch with students with SmashText

 I don’t review apps and services as much as I used to, but if you’re a teacher, you must absolutely check out SmashText by Despain Computing.

SmashText lets you send texts to groups of people in your Gmail contacts.

For me, that means my students. If I want to text just a few of them, I use Google Voice. But if I need to text an entire class, SmashText is the answer.

My students report they find my texts helpful. I always tell them that they can opt out, but none of them have. It’s clear that texting is by far the best way to communicate with students: They all have cell phones, and they check their phone much more often than they check their computer.

SmashText is what’s making my “Your Homework is Due Tonight” project happen. Students who don’t turn in their homework by the 11 p.m. deadline get a text to finish it before class the next day or to meet with me before school. SmashText makes this process easy.

Matthew Despain, the owner of SmashText, is also extremely helpful. When I’ve had trouble with the application, I’ve sent emails to him for support and have received responses very quickly, sometimes in minutes.

I love SmashText. It costs $10.58, and it’s worth it. It helps me communicate with my students much more effectively than an email message, a Facebook post, or a telephone call. If you’re interested in SmashText but are worried about spending the money (no, I’m not making money from this), let me know.

Update: Please see the comments. Mr. Despain is no longer developing SmashText, which is too bad for me and other teachers. (Kevin, thanks for writing in to confirm.) 

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Not in class? You’d better text me.

 Maybe my students think I’m crazy.

“No, really,” I say. “If you’re ever not in class, you have to tell me. You have to text me.”

For some students, this seems like a reasonable request. Mr. Isero expects me to be in class, so if I’m absent or late, I should let him know why.

Other students, however, need convincing. This means reminders, second chances, interventions, consequences, and stern talkings-to. This also means clearly explaining to my students, sometimes repeatedly, that I care about them and their education.

Since I implemented my new you-have-to-text-me policy last year, student attendance has been way up. Most impressive is that tardies have plummeted.

I think it’s been working because every attendance event is something to talk about. When students are absent or late and don’t send me a text, they know I’ll follow up to question their character and to reiterate my interest in their success.

On the other hand, when students do in fact text me, they’re acknowledging that they’re missing something valuable. Yes, the text is quick, but it says, I know you notice me. 

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Tackling the problem of information transfer in schools

 A student e-mailed me this morning. “I don’t know when school starts,” she wrote.

There’s some good news here: This student cares, understands that I’m a resource, and takes initiative to answer her question.

But there’s so much more bad news: She didn’t receive the school mailing. Her home number has changed or doesn’t exist. Her cell number no longer works. Even though my student got the information she sought, it was only after several attempts, my wasted time, her unnecessary anxiety, and her mother’s frustration with the school and distrust in my ability to communicate.

Just to find out the first day of school.

What does this mean when I’d like to communicate something slightly more complicated — like how to improve her graduation portfolio, or how best to apply for college, or the date of the school’s scholarship and financial aid night?

One of the struggles I find in teaching now is the problem of information transfer. I have something important to share. It’s helpful to the student. There are many ways to share that important piece of information. But somehow, more often that not, students and their families do not receive the information in a simple way. It takes forever.

Back to my student. She didn’t know about the first day of school despite one school mailing, two phone calls, one text attempt, one Facebook post, one post on my class website, one online schedule on my class website, and 18 friends in her Advisory who could have given her that information.

That’s a ridiculous amount of energy that needs to stop.

Some people say that it’s the school’s job to provide the information and the student’s job to figure it out. That’s the real world, the argument goes.

For the most part, I believe in that approach. But it often preserves the status quo, where students of color don’t succeed, don’t go to college, don’t get jobs that give them a chance. If I’m a teacher to help change the pernicious inequities in our educational system, I have to do something different.

But taking three hours every time I want my students and their families to get a crucial piece of information is not my idea of the solution. Telephone calls take forever and lead me to anger and resentment.

This year, I vow to figure out a system that works. This system involves five steps:

1. I tell students and parents the various ways they can stay updated on general, non-urgent items: my class website and Facebook. I ask them which one they’ll commit to check regularly. Then I encourage them to subscribe to my website or like my Facebook page.

2. I also ask them which way they’d like to receive urgent items: email, text, or voicemail. They sign up for one of these communication methods. I push for email or text because it’s easier, and notice that I say voicemail, not phone.

3. I tell them it’s their responsibility to let me know if their contact information changes or if they’d prefer a different contact method.

4. Then I do my part. For general updates, I post them on my class website and immediately push them to Facebook. For urgent items, I write a quick email, paste it to a mass text (using Google Voice Mass SMS), and then record and send a quick voicemail (using Phonevite).

5. I trust the system, and when it doesn’t work, I put the burden of fixing the problem on the student and family.

I think I can make this work. I know that things won’t be perfect. (Example #1: A student just texted to get my confirmation that school begins on Monday when we’ve already had a five-minute conversation about it.) But as long as I feel like I’m making progress, and that my students and I are on the same page, that’s what I’m asking for.

I welcome suggestions in the comments.