Providing Student Reminders; Protecting Student Privacy
During my first year teaching, I provided each of my students with a homework assignment sheet at the beginning of each week and posted the daily agenda and homework assignment on the board each day. (See Images Below)
While this helped many of my students who struggled with organization, it was not 100% effective, and so I recently took a look at the research on more effective strategies for helping my students.
Terry, Twitter and Trouble-Shooting
The first report I read was ultimately my favorite because it’s author painted such a vivid picture of students with disorganized work habits. As assistant professor of special education at the University of Missouri-Columbia, Dr. Melissa Stormont-Spurgin began her report with a description of Terry, a student of average intelligence who was taught in a general education class and not receiving any special services.
“Terry’s teacher, Mrs. Smith, has noticed that in addition to his activity, impulsivity, and attention problems, Terry never seems to have his pencil, paper, or books. Her drawer of extra pencils and paper has been depleted and she has given him two copies of every book.”
The abstract goes on to detail that Terry does very well on achievement tests, but, because he did not turning in his daily homework assignments, he would ultimately fail many subjects. “In a recent parent-teacher conference, his mother indicated that Terry usually does do his homework at home because she checks it when he’s done. However, when Mrs. Smith asked Terry’s mother how he was progressing on a book report that was due the next day, his mother replied, ‘What book report?’”
While reading Dr. Stomont-Spurgin’s description, I couldn’t help but think, “I know Terry! Terry’s in my class!” However, upon deeper reflection, I considered the fact that all of my students exhibited Terry-like qualities at one time or another, and this insight strengthened my resolve to find additional research on effective strategies. The next report of interest came out of the proceedings of the 2009 Chais Conference on Instructional Technologies Research. This study found that students using a handheld computer reported an increase reliance on the device compared to those using a conventional planner. Additionally, students using handheld computers were more likely to: insert new reminders, insert new data, and open the planner. According to the authors, the handheld computer had several advantages. First, the handheld computer’s reminder function raised the students’ awareness of their commitments-both personal and academic. Second, as compared to the conventional planner, which had to be manually opened and perused at least once a day or its utility was lost, the handheld device provided reminders at a pre-set time and date.”
While many of my students would benefit from having an electronic reminder of their assignments, the advantages noted by the study’s authors would not have been observed with students like Terry, who was unable to record his assignments in the first place. This technology is best utilized by students who are organized enough to understand how to record and regularly update their planners. Even if I had the capacity to purchase handheld computers for each of my students, Terry, and many students like him, would require something more.
The fact that a reminder function would likely improve my student’s academic success, was not lost on me. Since the advent of social networking technology like Twitter I have often wished for the capacity to utilize it as a means for providing my students with assignment reminders and class updates. For many teachers, myself included, the idea of bringing such technology into the classroom has been perceived as uncertain at best.
At Edutopia.org, a website created by the Geroge Lucas Educational Foundation, one can find teacher’s posts to chats, discussions and articles about social networking technology. Many of their comments center around determining the very nature of social networks. Are they necessarily intimate and revealing? Appropriate when professional? or an extension of established connections? The reason I’m so interested in all the fuss is that such technology, namely Twitter, offers a means for providing my students with an electronic reminder. At the 4th International Scientific Conference on “eLearning and Software for Education,” Gabriela Grosseck and Carmen Holotescu presented a paper on the use of Twitter for educational activities. Their paper explored the benefits, drawbacks and logistics of using Twitter in the classroom. Many of the report’s insights related to strategies that would prove useful to students like Terry, and are listed below:
Benefits of Existing Twitter Technology
- Fosters Community Bond – Reinforces it outside the classroom environment.
- Student Support- Allows students to use tweets to send out questions and observations t the teacher while engaged in the homework assignment.
- Reminder – Easily provide students with details on and reminders of upcoming assignments and other important class announcements.
Drawbacks of Existing Twitter Technology
- Twitter is a time consuming task
- The message will only be picked up by people in the network
- Forces teachers to be virtually “on-call” 24/7 and ability for students to intrude the teacher’s private life.
- Writing 140 characters could lead to bad grammar skills.
- Privacy: issues related to “spam” and provides opportunity for student’s to mistakenly reveal private information.
- Requires teachers to know and then teach their students the “vocab.” of Twitter.
While I could provide further insight into the logistics required to troubleshoot and incorporate Twitter in your classroom, I prefer to focus solely on introducing Remind101, a new technology that’s in beta, because it enables teachers to reap the benefits of Twitter while avoiding its drawbacks and tricky implementation.
Remind101: Providing The Scaffold For Everyone to Succeed
The best part of Remind101 is that it allows me to send messages directly to my students without having to know their phone numbers or worry about protecting them from “followers”. At the start of this school year, I will have my students access Remind101 and enter a code specific to my classroom. My students will not need the internet to set up their account because they will be able to do so from their phones. Once their account is set up, I will be able to send them “tweet-like” messages from my own computer or phone. I will be able to get messages and reminders to them while protecting their right to privacy. Unlike Twitter, Remind101 will not require me to waste time on explaining the lingo of Twitter, or worry that they will have missed my message because they were not logged in. While some may consider sending tweet-like messages to students as “time consuming”, the fact is that Remind101 will save me time, reams of paper and entire cartridges of ink I would have used to make copies of “assignment updates”, “what you missed”, and “important reminder” handouts (See Below for Examples).
At least 30 minutes a day will no longer have to be spent creating, photocopying and distributing reminders for students who were absent. (This would have been a huge help during my first year of teaching, when 23% of my students absent on any given day!) I take the time to make these handouts because they are essential in helping the Terrys of my class succeed. However, I also recognize that these handouts will not be as effective as the electronic reminder that Remind101 will allow me to send directly to the phone of a student or parent. The beauty of Remind101 is that it allows me to invite parents as well as students to set up accounts and receive updates on their child’s homework assignment. This is a strategy that will enable the Terry’s of the world to succeed because it does not require Terry to record the assignment in order to be reminded of it later on.
Unlike Twitter, the program will eventually allow me to send messages to particular students or sub-groups and thereby differentiate the message to meet each student’s need. I will now be able to regularly contact my students without jeopardizing my career, risking students’ privacy or exposing my own personal information. Remind101 protects my professional relationship with my students while providing me the freedom to use the benefits of social networking technology. Messages sent to students are stamped with the day and time that they are sent and saved as records that I can refer to later.
In the past, I would have usually used my own funds to purchase an assignment book for each of my students. However, those conventional planners would never be as effective as Remind101. An upcoming feature of Remind101 will also allow for tweet-like communications from my students to me. While some teachers may be concerned that this technology will force them to be accountable 24/7, I see it as a liberating technology in that it allows me to answer student’s questions from the comfort of my own home and gives me peace of mind knowing that my students have been given everything they need to be successful. If the idea of your students communicating with you during evenings or weekends is a deal breaker, you will be able to set Remidnd101 to only send outgoing messages from you to your students and not vise versa.
Although Remind101 can’t magically make all my student’s messages 100% grammatically correct, it can help students demonstrate their abilities by providing the support necessary for them to succeed. It is easy for me to use, and an effective at protecting student’s privacy while providing them with reminders. After all, my students don’t always have their bags, but they always carry their cell phones. When students like Terry fail, it is not because they are unmotivated or unintelligent. Remind101 is a teacher approved technology because it provides all students with a simple support system that enables both teachers and students to see their true potential. Brett Kopf, a co-founder of Remind101, loves speaking with teachers and helping to build technology that meets their needs and those of their students. Anyone interested in trying out Remind101 should visit Remind101.com, and be sure to let Brett know what you think.
 “I Lost My Homework: Strategies for Improving Organization in Students with ADHD” by Stormont-Spurgin, MelissaIntervention in School and Clinic, v32 n5 p270-74 May 1997
 College Students with Learning Disabilities and/or ADHD Use of a Handheld Computer Compared to Conventional Planners
Betty Shrieber firstname.lastname@example.org; Tami Seifert email@example.com Kibbutzim College of Education, Tel-Aviv.