Apps and well-known social media sites can be used creatively to share more with parents
When I was in high school, no one emailed my parents to tell them I had a test. No one sent a reminder to tell them that I needed to bring back a permission form. Instead, I was expected to bring notices home to my parents.
Today, that’s not really the case. With the growth of technology, the reliance on students to fill in the communication gap between teachers and parents has disappeared. As a result, a new challenge for teachers has emerged. Many educators are good communicators by nature, but few are prepared for the huge amount of communication that is expected with students and parents.
Traditionally, teachers would reach parents about their students via phone, or via handwritten, snail-mailed letter, and typically only on important topics. Now, we’re expected to engage in a much more robust is expected due to our relatively newfound reliance on technology. The challenge of doing our job, the teaching itself, is one we expect as we enter this field. However, the challenge to communicate about upcoming tests, collect field trip permission slips, and ensure that our students have remembered to do their homework is one many teachers are still working to solve. E-mail is simply too slow and cumbersome. Way back in 2002, the High School Journal wrote that “School practices for contacting parents should be modernized because they lack reliability and are often ineffective.” In my experience, this is still true 13 years later.
Next page: Tools to make class communication simpler
One of my favorite solutions is Remind, a free service for teachers that allows messages to be sent out to a group of people known as a ‘class.’
When you get started with Remind, you share your class code and parents and/or students subscribe to your class. The message, once sent, appears as either a text message, app notification (iPhone or Android) or as an email, depending on the option that the subscriber has chosen. A nice feature is that you never see the contact information of the subscriber, and the subscriber never sees yours. I use Remind in my classroom daily. Here are a few tips and tricks to get you going:
- I set up two ‘classes’ for each group that I teach, one for parents and one for students. This way you are able to send messages to just the parents, just the students, or to both.
- I share my class code during “meet the teacher night” and parent-teacher interviews. I print mine on sticky labels and then stick them on their notes or handouts. For the students whose parents don’t attend, I stick the class code in their child’s agenda (planner).
- I use the ‘Stamps’ feature to get students to vote or respond to a message. I send a question out and see which student replies with a check mark, an “X’, a star, or a question mark. This is a quick and easy way to take a poll. I use it with parents as well to see who is attending parent teacher interviews, or who can help with a field trip.
- Remind is launching a new feature this spring that allows you to chat with an individual student or parent. Teachers will be able to start a conversation, set office hours, and pause/resume a ‘Chat’. If you want to tell a parent that their child did poorly on a recent test, or that they got an amazing mark on an assignment, you will be able to begin a chat with that parent and send them an individual message, as well as attach a photo, file, or a ‘Voice Clip’. You can communicate until you have resolved the situation and then close the chat. This one-on-one communication is still safe, because anyone can export a message history at any point and no messages can ever be deleted on Remind. Teachers can also use new reporting tools to help keep Remind a safe environment. All teachers will have the choice to opt-in to ‘Chat’ or continue using one-way announcements.
Next page: How to use Twitter and other tools
Another great solution to use is Twitter. Twitter can be used as a school handle (e.g. @myschool) or with a hashtag (#eng11c1) to send out information quickly and easily to engage a large audience. At my school we use Twitter to share accomplishments, to share photos at events like open house and to get a conversation going with the wider school community. A great example of what is possible with Twitter was shown by Jennifer Aaron, a kindergarten teacher from New York, who each day with the help of her students, sends a tweet summarizing what has been done that day in class. This way, when the students arrive home their parents can continue the discussion from that day. They can talk about dinosaurs or art projects with their child, without needing to guess what was covered in that day’s class. I have used Twitter with a hashtag to create a backchannel chat where students can be talking about their learning whilst it happens and then use a service such as If This Then That to collect responses to their tweets.
Google Apps for Education
I am a Google Apps for Education user and have recently started using Google Classroom with my students. By using the addon Doctopus from New Visions Cloud Lab along with the Goobric Chrome Extension, I can use a rubric to assess student work. One of my biggest challenges as a teacher was providing timely, constructive feedback. By using a rubric, I can show students what they have done, and what they need to do to improve. However, it’s the next step of placing a copy of the rubric into the document and sending an e-mail to the student with the rubric mark, your comments and a link to a sound recording, that make this amazing combination stand out.
Now we can put all of these bits together in a workflow:
- Assign a piece of work via Google Classroom
- Inform the students and parents about their assignment via Remind
- Students discuss the work using a Twitter backchannel chat
- Make comments on their work as they complete the assignment
- Assess it using Doctopus and Goobric
- Finally communicating any concerns with parents via Remind
This means that students, parents and teachers are all part of the discussion from the beginning to the end of the assignment, and the possibilities for further communication are open. And it ensures that students are involved and aware of their learning and, parents are also engaged.
Chris Webb is a high school math teacher at Lester B Pearson School Board in Montreal.
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