Catherine Horton Flippen is a foreign language and fine arts teacher at Mill Creek High School in Hoschton, Georgia. She is an educational technology evangelist, effective digitized pedagogy integrator, and all-around technophile. You can follow her on Twitter (twitter.com/CatFlippen), read her blog Ctrl+Alt+Teach (www.ctrlaltteach.com), and browse her digital footprint (about.me/CatFlippen).
I’ve been a victim of communication failure. So has most every other educator I know. It’s practically a pandemic taking over our email and snail mail and leading to even more time spent outside of the classroom desperately trying to reach students and parents. Take, for example, the following scenes from a particular school day that I have experienced at least twice any given semester:
2nd Period Student: “Sorry I’m late. I didn’t know our class had moved. You can’t mark me tardy.”
Teacher: “You should have remembered. I wrote it on the board and reminded you at the end of class. Now you’ve missed the main instruction, and I’ll have to repeat everything again.”
Group of Students in Every Class: “We have a test? You didn’t tell us we had a test!”
Teacher: “Well, it’s been on the class calendar online, and I mentioned it yesterday in class. You all should have written it down in your agenda.”
Parent Email at the End of the School Day: “I didn’t know my child had a big project due / needed to bring something to class. She needs an extension / to be excused from the activity / should get an automatic 100%.”
Teacher: “I posted information on my website and even sent a letter home three weeks ago. Don’t you check my website and didn’t you receive the letter?”
Sound familiar? Just thinking about it makes me shudder. Every educator puts forth so much effort into making calendars, sending home information, and emailing notifications that it becomes a huge disappointment when parents and students are clearly not using your resources. Throw in phone logs, email difficulties and masses of paperwork, and I’m on the verge of bypassing important teacher-parent and teacher-student communication in lieu of spending my time doing even more important things like, you know, grading and planning.
Thankfully, I’ve discovered a communication revolution following on the footsteps of the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and Mobile Learning movements: TEXT MESSAGING. No, not the kind that requires your phone number to be shared among adolescents and teenagers (and the potential mess involved with that scenario), but the kind that is FREE, SECURE, and even DOES THE WORK FOR YOU. No actual phone numbers are exchanged, no personal information is shared, messages can be scheduled in advance, and every message you send out is recorded on the Remind101 website for professional and legal reference.
Thanks to Remind101, I’ve been able to circumvent communication failure so far this semester. My students are still talking about how awesome it is to receive messages from their teacher. They come to my class prepared and on time more regularly than I have ever experienced. Parents have told me that they enjoy feeling more “in the know” of what their student is doing in my class. And after I shared Remind101 with other foreign language teachers at Mill Creek High School in Hoschton, Georgia, the entire department adopted the practice en masse.
Here are some specific examples of how real teachers use Remind101:
My classes are heavily integrated with educational technology, so we are often in a computer lab two to three times per week and sometimes on short notice. I send out frequent messages to each subject I teach to remind them at least twice of our relocation beforehand.
- Paula Sanchez at Mill Creek High reminds her students at 6pm almost every night what is or what will be due tomorrow.
- Lindsey Barwick Brouillard at Berkmar High School in Lilburn, Georgia sends a message to her Language Arts students in the evening once or twice a week asking one or two reflection questions that they are meant to answer as a homework assignment for that day.
- Mill Creek Foreign Language classes switch classrooms once per week to use language labs for listening and speaking practice. Whenever Jason Smith or Claire Wise, both of whom have language labs in their classrooms, need to switch with other teachers, they send reminder texts to each individual class period to reduce confusion and tardiness.
- Courtney Alexander Lowe at Loganville High School in Loganville, Georgia will text interesting facts and news to her Chemistry students to make learning an often difficult field of science more interesting and relevant.
- While she was recently ill, Gillian Bradley of Mill Creek High texted her students to let them know that although she was absent that day, they were still having their vocabulary quiz.
- Some of the other ideas we’ve generated involve sending out parent-only reminders for major tests, texting shortened links (using bit.ly) to digital assignments or information, and even sending out a “vocabulary word of the day/week” that students can use on classwork for extra credit. The uses for educational text messaging are endless.
So, why use Remind101 when other SMS options are available? Remind101 was the only one with the easiest user interface as well as simple sign up instructions, e-mail option for those without mobile devices, unlimited texts, up to 10 groups, and amazing one-on-one assistance availability. This service was the best for teachers with extensive technological experience as well as teachers skeptical or unsure of using mobile technology in association with their classes.
Harnessing the power of mobile devices and Web 2.0 communication can connect teachers with students and parents more readily than email, static websites, and send-home paper notifications, and that connection makes your class more relevant and accessible to a generation of students attached to their cell phones and smart technology. Seeing as Remind101 makes text messaging so simple and secure, everyone should be utilizing this resource in their classes. Maybe one day we will see the end of frustrating communication failures and teachers will have one less thing to worry about during their busy days.
(Ironically, just as I finished writing this blog post, a student approached me and asked, “Mrs. Flippen, how do I sign up for that text message thingy?” Even teenagers who are initially unsure eventually see the usefulness of Remind101!)