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August 4, 2014

Communicating with Students

The new school year is about to begin and it is time to set up my web page and get ready for a new group of students. I post my class schedules, links to videos, handouts, solutions to homework and many other resources for students on this site. But the web page is jut one method of communicating with students.

A little over a year ago, a colleague brought my attention to a web service that allows me to send text messages to all my students. That service can be found at I've used it regularly ever since and I love it.  I've long had the capability of sending email to groups of students, but that method of communication was not as effective as I would like it to be for several reasons, primarily that students don't check their email nearly as frequently as I would like them to. But they check their text messages as soon as they arrive. I know because I have seen it happen: I've sent a message after school and, two minutes later, a student in the room pulled out his phone, saw the message and said "Thanks, Ms. Lietz." is a service that allows students (and parents) to enter their phone numbers on a web site and sign up for a very specific class. Some of the benefits of this service are:

  • I never see the student/parent phone numbers.
  • Students don't see other students' phone numbers. 
  • I don't have to give students my phone number.
  • It is a one-way service: students cannot respond to messages.
  • I can message as few as three students or as many as all of my students in all of my classes, all with one message.
  • There is a record of my messages on the website.
  • If a student doesn't have a text message service, they can receive the messages via email.
  • There is an app for my mobile phone so I can send messages from my phone.
  • I can schedule messages in advance so I don't forget to send them.

What have I used the service for? Like a tweet, the character limit is 140, so I use it mostly for short messages.

  • I can remind students about homework that is due, or an upcoming assessment (but I usually only do that if I forgot during class).
  • I can send them a text in the morning reminding them we are meeting in the computer lab.
  • I can remind them to bring in their money for a field trip.
  • I can text them during the field trip to remind them when and where to meet the bus. 
  • I can send them a link to a good video about the current lesson.   
  • I can let them know I sent a lengthy email that they should check before class meets again. 
Our school cell phone policy allows students to use their phones during passing periods and lunch, but only with teacher permission during class. And their phones are supposed to be off when they are not using them. However, I try to time the messages during passing periods if I send them during school hours, and most of my messages are sent during after school or evening hours (occasionally at 7 A.M.). I may send two messages in one day, and then no other messages for another week: I try to save messages for important announcements, reminders or things I forgot to say in class.  

Some colleagues have shared that they think this is enabling students, and perhaps it is. The homework schedule is posted on-line, so I don't text them each night to remind them about that. I prefer to think of it as communicating with them in a mode they prefer. Communication with them was much more effective last year, and I plan to continue to use the service this year. 

If you wish for students to be able to send you text messages, I recommend a Google Voice account.  I post that number on my web page, download the Google Voice app to my phone and communicate one-on-one with them as needed. Since we are a Google Apps district, the account is free. All the messages are recorded for my security and for the student's security. I haven't had this problem yet, but if I ever receive an inappropriate text message from a student, I have record of it in the cloud. I set up the Google Voice account so messages go to my Google Mail account at school. That way, I can respond to them in my mail program, and they get a text message. And I never have to give out my personal cell phone number to them. If they get sick on a ride at Great America during our field trip, they can reach me via Google Voice. And of course, if they text me after 10 pm, I return the "favor" by texting them at 5 am when I get up.  

Effective communication with students is essential for their learning, and these and other web-based tools can make that communication simpler, both for teachers and for students. If you have any you find effective, I'd enjoy hearing about them. 

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