Tagged: texting

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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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Is it OK for high school teachers to text students directly?

20110305-220630-pic-55603229favicon We all know that the best way to communicate with students is by texting them. After all, teenagers don’t email, and they’re definitely not going to answer the phone or go on the computer to check a teacher’s class website.

But is there a line? When does texting become too much or too close?

This year, I’ve heard a mild backlash from some parents, who say that teachers have become too lax with their texting habits. One Oakland parent told me, “I just don’t think it’s proper for my daughter to get so many texts from her male teacher. They’re non-stop.”

Last year, I was a huge proponent of texting. For example, my students texted me their homework. I reminded them of their assignments. I cheerleaded and cajoled.

And now, I must say, I’m having second thoughts. Here is my current thinking:

1. Texting should be infrequent and for important reasons.
Too many texts can make the teacher come across as a creeper or as too much of a friend. It might be confusing to students. Texts for informational purposes only (e.g., reminders to turn in field trip forms) do not encourage students to be accountable. The best texts, I think, are for individual students to send a message of care or concern or congratulation.

2. Parents need to know and sign off on the communication.
My advisees’ parents always appreciated my texts and thanked me for my involvement in their child’s life. But that’s because they knew me, trusted me, and understood how I worked. An essential step for teachers is to make clear in your syllabus your methods of communication.

What do you think? How about participating in the first-ever Iserotope poll? (Beware: This fancy poll syncs up with Facebook and Twitter, but you can also vote anonymously.)

[socialpoll id=”6982″]

Let’s see how this poll turns out. Also, share your thoughts in the comments. What should teachers know and think about when texting their students? favicon

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A shoutout from SmashText

favicon If you’re a teacher, texting is the best way to comunicate with students and parents. There are many texting services out there, but my favorite is still SmashText.

SmashText is simple. If you have a Google Voice account, you can send texts to groups in your Google contacts for free.

Yes, I like SmashText — so much so, in fact, that Matthew Despain, its creator, recently added Iserotope to his website. Take a look!

SmashText shoutout

See, I’m loyal! SmashText offers a lite version for free and a pro version (my recommendation) for $5.45. It’s one of the best investments that a teacher can make. If you have questions, let me know. favicon

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Tips for texting your students

favicon If you’re a high school teacher, you know about the importance of communicating with your students outside of class time.

Maybe you want to send out a reminder about the homework. Or maybe you forgot to say something important in class. Or perhaps you want to check in with a student.

Some teachers set up class websites or use Edmodo for this purpose. Others rely on Facebook or Twitter. And many teachers still email their students. The problem with all of these methods is that there is no sure way to know that your students have read your message.

That’s why texting remains the best way to communicate with your students. Cell phone ownership is nearly universal, and most students have unlimited texting plans. Plus, in my experience, students do not mind receiving texts from their teachers. You can be fairly sure that your message will read its destination.

Nevertheless, it is important to follow some basic tips before deciding to text your students:

1. Make sure it’s OK with your school and your students.
Some schools don’t allow contact — particularly if it’s teacher-initiated — between students and teachers outside school hours. So it’s best to check with your administration first. Once you get the go-ahead there, it’s also very important to ask your students (and perhaps their parents) for permission to text them. You should also make clear that it’s not mandatory to be on the texting list (though it’s the best way to stay in touch).

2. Use Google Voice as your contact management system.
There are many ways to keep track of all your students and their phone numbers, but the easiest and fastest way is by using Google Voice. You add contacts and organize them into groups. Plus, your Google Voice number gives you some separation and privacy between your work and home lives.

3. Use SmashText as your group texting service.
Google Voice lets you text five people at a time, so in order to text all of your students at once, you’ll need to use a group texting service. My favorite is SmashText, an excellent and free program by Matthew Despain. It syncs with your Google contacts and groups and lets you text whole classes (or even all of your students) all at once.

SmashText has many great features. For example, you can text an entire class at once or choose specific students within a class. This is great when you want to send different texts to different students (e.g., absent students, students who didn’t complete homework). Even better, the program allows you to include a student’s name in an otherwise generic message. After all, people prefer a personalized message over a generic one.

The only limitation to SmashText is that it is currently available only on PC.

4. Teach your students about the different types of texts you’ll send — and what you expect from each type.
This is the most important tip. Sometimes, you just want to send out information and don’t want a response back. But other times, you might want your students to reply. Say that you want to make sure that a student feels confident about the next steps of an essay. So you write a personal text, ask a question, and get nothing back. Then what? Try again? Forget about it? Or is there a better way?

I’ve found that the more I am clear with students about the way I communicate (and what I expect from them), the better my students reciprocate. Here are my three types of texts:

  • Alerts. These will tell you some important information. Read them carefully. You don’t need to respond, but you can if you like.
  • Personal message. These will include your name. I encourage a response, but if you don’t want to respond, that’s fine.
  • Personal message with question. These will include your name and a question. I expect a response back as soon as possible.

I know this level of specificity sounds a bit over-the-top, but I’ve learned that unless I’m really clear, students will either over- or under-respond. (Another option is to include NNTR, no need to respond, or PR, please respond.)

5. Text sparingly.
Truth be told, I got a little carried away last year. SmashText was so great, and my students appreciated my texts so much, that I began to text too often. This was bad because it created a dependent dynamic; for example, students didn’t need to pay attention to the homework because they’d likely receive a reminder at night. It’s important to limit texting only to emergency alerts and one-on-one communication. Other non-pertinent information — like homework or daily class activities — is best left for a class website.

If you follow those tips, you’ll have success with texting your students, and they’ll feel supported and appreciative of your communication.

Do you agree with these tips? What other suggestions do you have? 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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Two easy ways to increase student accountability

favicon Often I find myself feeling like I’m chasing my students down and making sure they take care of their business, rather than the other way around.

It’s like Hide and Go Seek. The student misses an assignment, tries to hide, and it’s up to me to follow up, find the student, and rectify the situation.

It’s exhausting. It’s enabling. And it doesn’t teach students how to take responsibility. And sometimes, it’s necessary.

But this year, I’ve been trying to flip things a bit and have my students take more ownership. Here are a couple things I’m doing:

1. Requiring students to text me if they’re going to be absent or late.
This sends the message that I expect my students to be in my class and to be on time. I want to make sure they they know that I care about them and that my class is important for their education.

When they text me, my students demonstrate regard. Another benefit is that I have a record of students, in addition to my attendance binder, who are late and absent, and I can easily text them back to remind them not to get behind and to check my class website for the classwork and homework.

2. Requiring students to write a thoughtful note if they miss an assignment.
I got this idea from a teacher in Lisa Delpit’s most recent book, Multiplication is for White People. I’ve just started doing this, and so far, it’s working well. For too many students, homework is an option, not a habit. When I taught ninth graders, it was not uncommon for less than half to complete their homework.

The note — in which students explain why they didn’t complete the assignment, how missing homework impacts their education, and when they will complete the assignment — does two things. First, it sends the message that when something is due, you must turn something in. You can’t have nothing. Second, like the texting requirement, it puts accountability on the student. Instead of missing something — instead of hiding — the student must be reflective and produce something. You can’t just run away and fail.

You  may ask how I’m doing with follow up. Do students actually text and write notes? By and large, yes. I’d say that about 90 percent of my students text me when they’re absent or late. The other 10 percent need follow up and intervention. Some of the non-texters rebel against the expectation and think that the expectation is a form of control. I respond by saying that it is a form of mutual respect, relationship, and commitment to education.

I’ll keep you posted about the no-homework note. I predict it’ll be harder to enforce. After all, a thoughtful note takes at least three to five minutes, much longer than a hurried text. But I think it’ll be worth it to put in the time to make this an expectation in my classroom. Otherwise, homework will continue to be something students will avoid without thoughtfulness and follow-through. favicon

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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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Why the Nightly Text assignment is working

favicon This unit, I’m trying something new to encourage my students to read the assigned book and to complete their homework.

I call it the Nightly Text.

Students get a few chapters of The Awakening to read, and in addition to annotating the text, students must answer one question that I send to them by text message. Their text message response is due by 11 p.m. that night.

The experiment is a total success so far. My students like the assignment. It’s quick and easy for me to do. The turn-in rate is high. Most important, there is much more reading taking place, which leads to better classroom discussions.

The Nightly Text experiment is new, so perhaps its success comes from its novelty. But here are some other reasons that I think it’s working:

1. It’s just one question. I’m not giving students a long list of questions. My students appreciate that the focus is on reading and annotating. If my point is to encourage deep reading, I can’t bombard my students with too much extra.

2. It’s not a worksheet. There’s nothing for my students to keep, organize in their binder, write on, or turn in. Students do nothing except read and then wait for their nightly text to arrive. Then they text back.

3. It makes a boring assignment dynamic. There’s nothing hugely engaging about reading a teacher-assigned book, but it has to happen for deep discussions to occur in class. By transforming the old-fashioned assignment into digital form — where it appears on a phone! — there’s enough interest and convenience for students to do it.

4. It’s great formative assessment. When I receive a text, it’s easy for me to determine how closely each student is reading. In addition, I can get a sense of the class’s progress. If my students are missing something, I can bring it up during the next class — instead of waiting until it’s too late.

5. It shows that I care about their learning. When I get a text, I usually text back a quick comment of praise or a follow-up question. My students appreciate the immediate feedback. It tells students that I care that they’re doing homework.

6. It starts a classroom discussion. When our class meets the next day, there’s already something to talk about. To facilitate conversation, I have been copying and pasting their texts to my class website. My students walk in and see their comments on the screen. That tells them it’s time to get started.

I’m really interested to see where this goes. Will the novelty wear off? What are my next steps? I have some ideas (Google Form? Edmodo?), but I want to proceed deliberately. I also want to make sure that I ask my students what they think.

Let me know what you think! favicon

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“Mr. Isero, you’re everywhere!”

favicon I’m pleased to report that my new text-me-your-homework experiment is working. My students have had three text assignments so far, and reading is up, homework turn-in is up, and better discussions are happening in class. There’s a good energy.

It’s been pretty easy, actually. I use SmashText to send out the questions and collect my students’ responses on Google Voice.

Doing that would be enough. But I’m also posting their responses (without any editing) on my class website, iseroma.com. Here’s an example. Each class, my students and I have taken a few minutes to look at the responses.

An interesting thing has occurred: The quality of the responses has improved (without any prompting). The texts are deeper and have fewer grammar errors. Is it possible that publishing their posts online has motivated my students to try harder? I hope so.

What I love about this texting experiment is how it’s not a big deal. It’s just one question. It takes just a minute of my students’ time. But it reminds them to stay consistent on their reading homework. It makes reading — which usually is invisible — more public.

In addition, it quickly and somewhat-unobtrusively lets me enter my students’ lives after school, when they want to tune out and turn off. For college-prep students, school can’t end at 3:30. You can’t go home and forget that you’re a student.

Yesterday, I asked my students what they thought about the texting assignment. The vote was unanimous; they like it. Several said the texts are combating their laziness. One student remarked, “Mr. Isero, you’re everywhere!”