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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


  1. Chris Mercer

    Excellent! I especially like post their comments to the website and having them on the screen. It really validates their effort and creates a reason for them to write thoughtful, well crafted, text based responses. I mean hey, nobody wants to look like a chump.

    Great work.

  2. Mark Isero

    Yeah, I think the publishing aspect of the assignment is important. Students do their best work when it’s for each other or with each other.

    It takes a few minutes to post their texts to our class website, but it’s worth it. I could always expedite the process by having students fill out a Google Form on their phone (instead of sending a text response), but I worry about the digital divide.

  3. stuart

    This is a neat concept. You’re connecting with them in a technological way that they’re accustomed. My guess is that the high turn-in rate isn’t a fluke or a novelty, it’s the simplest form of communication for kids that age.

Please share your brilliant insights!