Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Texting with Students, or, Just One More Crazy Thing Happening in C8

"Oh Megan, you're so crazy!"

I hear that a lot. Especially at work, where I'm doing wacky things like letting students show their learning in a variety of ways and *GASP* giving students my cell phone number.

I signed up for Google Voice back in the spring, excited by the possibility that my students would be able to choose how they might contact me, much like I let them choose how they might demonstrate their understanding of a topic. All of my students have Gmail accounts, but very few of them really know how to use email very well. They send emails when they have a question, but then they never check their emails to get a response.

Pointless for them, frustrating for me.

"Surely," I mused, "They would text me if given the chance."

And text me they do.

Last night, our school's Google Apps was down. I knew about it instantly because I received 3 emails but I also received 15 texts. My students were in varying stages of panic, and I was able to reassure all of them that contacted me individually as well as send a mass text via Remind101 to let everyone know that, yes, I was aware of the issue and no, their paragraph draft was not due the next day so they needed to stop freaking the heck out.

It's only the 2nd week of school, but students are already texting me to clarify whether we have homework or not. When we don't, I suggest they work on independent reading and ask what book they are reading. And then they text back to tell me what book they are reading or ask if I have recommendations for a new book. I never got emails asking if we had homework, and I certainly never had conversations about independent reading books over email.

Sometimes, they even call me, which is totally awesome. When a Google Voice phone call comes through, the students have to say their name, and then I can decide whether I want to answer or not. This means I can screen my calls even if I don't have that kid's number stored in my phone. All voice mails are transcribed to text message, too. It's not a perfect transcription, but it's close enough that I can figure out what someone is asking and either call or text right back.

Finally, I have "Do not Disturb" hours, during which all calls and texts go straight to my inbox and my phone doesn't ring at all. The kids know that DND hours start at 9pm and end at 7am, so I won't be able to answer any late-night, last-minute, morning-of homework questions. Those hours are the same for emails too. It's working really well and encouraging my students to look at their work ahead of time so they can get their questions answered before it's too late.

While I think a lot of my colleagues think I'm texting with students just to be considered "cool," I really do think it's important to meet kids where they are so you can best support them. Email communication was not supporting a lot of my students, especially those with limited computer and internet access at home. It was time-consuming and frustrating and often one-sided and teacher-initiated. Texting with my students is quick and, I think most importantly, student-initiated. Moreover, my students know that I want to hear from them and want to help them, even when we aren't in the classroom together.

Until next time,


  1. I'm a teacher, and I think it's a great idea to use Google Voice. Many teachers now give their students their cell phone numbers and text their students, but Google Voice is (1) faster, (2) more convenient, (3) safer. When I use Voice on the computer, I can type out my text response within a few seconds of my student's question! They think I'm a texting champion when really I'm just typing. I'd love to hear more about your project.

  2. And again I'm in awe at what a great teacher you are, and how lucky your students are to have you. Plus, I can just imagine the conversation between kids and their parents:

    Parent "didn't I tell you not to text at the dinner table?"
    Kid "I'm texting my teacher! she's recommending a new book she thinks I'd like!"