Turning Your Students Into Web Detectives

Five vetted resources students can use to separate truth from fiction online.
A group of students focus on computer screens

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Improving Your Parent-Outreach Strategy

Use these communication tools to keep parents in the loop, reduce your workload, and boost student engagement.
By Jeff Knutson
Illustration of many adult hands, each using a different mobile device.

Effective communication between educators and parents is an important—if not crucial—aspect of helping students learn. But as any teacher will tell you, it can be one of the most challenging parts of the job. Of course, every classroom is unique, and we all face different challenges: Some teachers suffer from in-box fatigue trying to keep up with a constant barrage of parent emails, while others struggle to get parents involved at all. But effective communication remains the goal in every case.

  • Parents wonder less about what’s going on at school. When everyone’s in the loop, at-home conversations about schoolwork are more productive. Parents are empowered to work with teachers as allies to help their kids succeed.
  • Teachers have more time and energy to focus on in-class learning. Believe it or not, the more you reach out to parents (and students) proactively as a group, the less time you’ll spend reacting to questions and concerns over email or by phone. When questions do arise, they’ll likely be more informed and constructive.
  • Students take more accountability for their own learning. With clear expectations and a supportive team of in-the-know parents and teachers, kids are more likely to perform and do their best work.

The most important thing is simply to keep everyone on the same page—parents, students, and teachers. It’s probably never been simpler, thanks to a bevy of great edtech options available today. Consider how you might utilize one or a number of new tools in combination with the parent-outreach strategies you’re already using.

Kicking Off a Positive Dialogue

1. Reach out with a messenger app like Remind: If you aren’t already using it, consider one of Remind’s biggest benefits: the ability to send immediate, up-to-date information to anyone (that is, anyone with a text-message-capable mobile phone). Teachers can send messages and updates to an entire class (or a group of classes), and the app offers more opportunities for students, parents, and teachers to interact, whether in groups or privately.

Looking for a different way to connect? Check out ClassDojo Messenger, Bloomz, or ParentSquare.

2. Start a dialogue around students’ work with a portfolio tool like Seesaw: Go beyond simple messaging and consider how you might start conversations with individual parents about their kids’ classwork. Like a social feed of students’ work, Seesaw offers a more personalized—and often more meaningful—way for teachers and parents to connect. What’s more, parents can engage directly with all the great things their kids are doing in school.

For a different portfolio option, try Bulb. Want a built-in gradebook? Check out FreshGrade.

3. Keep parents updated with an online gradebook like ThinkWave: Face it—a lot of parent-teacher conversations tend to be about grades. Fortunately, an online gradebook can keep parents up to speed on their kids’ progress in class. If your school doesn’t already use a learning management system with built-in grade reporting, consider a free gradebook option like ThinkWave. To kick off a constructive dialogue, consider how you’ll contextualize students’ progress in related messages to parents.

Looking for another free option? Try LearnBoost. Need a standards-based grading solution? Check out JumpRope.

4. Start a classroom blog for parents with Edublogs: Are you looking to the web to get your students and their parents engaged? You can post at a pace—weekly, daily, or even more often—that’s right for both you and your parent audience. As a part of WordPress, Edublogs has plenty of options, offering you the versatility you’ll need. Your posts are bound to engage parents (and students!) in ongoing conversations about learning.

Need a more full-featured blogging option? Check out WordPress.

5. Create a class website using Weebly: Sure, messaging apps and mobile-friendly platforms are faster ways to reach most parents. But don’t forget how useful a class webpage can be as a catchall for general class information. For years, Weebly has provided solid, free website options for teachers. It’s never a bad idea to offer students and parents a one-stop shop for your class with links and other information that can be valuable year-round.

6. Feeling social? Try Twitter: If “brevity is the soul of wit” (thanks, Shakespeare), it’s also part of the zeitgeist of our time, for better and for worse. On its own, Twitter isn’t the best online tool for two-way parent-teacher communication, but it can still serve as a fast, simple tool for daily class updates. If you go this route, it’s probably best to keep things simple with quick, one-way classwork, homework, and announcement posts.

However, the goal in using any social network for parent communication should be to boost involvement and engage parents and students on the platforms they already use. In recent years, some teachers have turned to using a closed Facebook group for their class. Parents and students can join, and everyone’s posts to the group page show up only in the closed group, not in personal Facebook feeds.

As long as you’re considering a social media option, what about using Instagram or Snapchat to connect? It may seem far-fetched, but these platforms can offer powerful new ways to connect with and engage parents and students. More than a few teachers are already going this route and finding success.

No matter what kind of online parent-outreach strategy you use, it should go without saying, of course, to always keep your students’ (and their parents’) privacy and safety in mind. Never post anything to a public forum that contains anyone’s personally identifiable information, and be cognizant of what “private” really means on various social platforms. For more information, be sure to check out “Protecting Student Privacy on Social Media.” And no matter where you connect, remember to keep your posts brief, helpful, informative, and professional.

 

This article was written by Jeff Knutson from Common Sense Education in collaboration with Edutopia.

The Big List of Educational Grants and Resources Get a roundup of educational grants, contests, awards, free toolkits, and classroom guides aimed at helping students, classrooms, schools, and communities. Check this page weekly to get the latest updates!

 

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NEW! Small Research Grants from Spencer Foundation
Deadline: August 1; November 1, 2017

The Small Research Grant program from the Spencer Foundation supports education research projects with budgets of $50,000 or less. In general, the foundation funds projects that “will contribute to the improvement of education,” and the foundation accepts proposals in several areas of study, including the relationship of education and social opportunity, new civics, instructional resources, organizational learning, and purpose of education. See a list of past winning projects, as well as application details online.
Prize: Grants average about $50,000.
Mockingbird Foundation Music Education Grants
Deadline: August 1, 2017 Continue reading “The Big List of Educational Grants and Resources Get a roundup of educational grants, contests, awards, free toolkits, and classroom guides aimed at helping students, classrooms, schools, and communities. Check this page weekly to get the latest updates!”

Teachers: Summer Reading to Cultivate Your Emotional Resilience Immerse yourself in these books to renew yourself for the coming school year.

 By Elena Aguilar

 

Ever since I was a young child, the long days of summer have been for reading. Early in the morning and late into the night, sitting on a beach or lying on the living room floor, I devoured book after book. Novels took me on the journeys and adventures I yearned for; memoirs connected me with shared humanity. Books made me stronger: They put my sadness and loneliness into perspective, suggested routes around the obstacles in my life, and gave me clues as to how I could not only surmount challenges, but thrive in spite of them. By the end of summer, my literary immersion had renewed me for another school year.

A teacher discusses a project with a small group of students.

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Deeper Learning: A Collaborative Classroom Is Key

What’s ideal when it comes to collaboration in our classrooms? Here’s one coveted scenario: several children gathered at a table engaged in a high-level task, discussing, possibly debating an issue, making shared decisions, and designing a product that demonstrates all this deeper learning.

A photo shot from above of four girls working together at a table.

As teachers, we’d love to see this right out of the gate, but this sort of sophisticated teamwork takes scaffolding. It won’t just happen by placing students together with a piece of provocative text or an engaging task. So how do we begin this scaffolded journey? Here are some steps for supporting students in deep and meaningful collaboration.

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