Opinion Blog

Peter DeWitt's

Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Can a Text Message Keep Kids in School?

By Peter DeWitt — August 14, 2015 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Stay in school.”

Do your homework.”

Buckle down.”

Okay, I have to admit that the last one was for my mom. She used to say that to me all the time when I was growing up. I’m still not sure that I understand what it means, but I made it through school, so it must have worked. And yes, I made it through school. Considering I was retained in elementary school, struggled year after year until graduating near the bottom of my high school class, making it through was a good goal.

As a struggling learner growing up, I had to learn how to use strategies that would help me manage my time. And because I was always afraid I would forget something important, I would write lists for each day.

Not that I’m getting old, but I continue to write myself notes all the time to remember the tasks I need to complete during the day. Sometimes I look back at the note and shake my head when I realize I wrote “Write a blog today,” or “Call tax guy,” as if I wouldn’t remember to do those things. Yes, I actually used to write “pack lunch” so I wouldn’t forget before I left for work.

Apparently, as much as I struggled when I was young, I was ahead of my time!

These days, instead of writing notes to ourselves, some people rely on texting. They text themselves something they don’t want to forget, and they text friends to make sure they don’t forget something important.

And schools are catching on...

Schools are using text messaging to remind students or parents of important things like Open House, Parent-Teacher Conferences, PTA meetings, and projects that are due to their teacher in a few days. Many of the teachers and principals in schools are using Remind to...well, remind parents and students of important events. Considering they have 25 million users, it must be working, right?

In fact, there is even research behind it!

In a N.Y. Times article published in January, Susan Dynarski writes,

While they were graduate students at Harvard, two young professors designed and tested a program to help students stick to their college plans. Benjamin L. Castleman, now at the University of Virginia, and Lindsay C. Page, at the University of Pittsburgh, set up a system of automatic, personalized text messages that reminded high school students about their college deadlines. The texts included links to required forms and live counselors.

And the texting had a positive impact. Dynarski went on to write,

The result? Students who received the texts were more likely to enroll in college: 70 percent, compared with 63 percent of those who did not get them. Seven percentage points is a big increase in this field, similar to the gains produced by scholarships that cost thousands of dollars. Yet this program cost only $7 per student.

Texting didn’t just have a positive impact on adolescent students. Texting shows to have a positive impact on younger students and their parents as well. Dynarski writes,

Can nudges help younger children? Susanna Loeb and Benjamin N. York, both also at Stanford, developed a literacy program for preschool children in San Francisco. They sent parents texts describing simple activities that develop literacy skills, such as pointing out words that rhyme or start with the same sound. The parents receiving the texts spent more time with their children on these activities and their children were more likely to know the alphabet and the sounds of letters. It cost just a few dollars per family.

Teach Small?

Remind (formerly Remind 101) is launching their #teachsmall campaign. They recognize that teachers and principals do hundreds of small things each day that add up to make a large impact on students. Sending text messages can be one of those small things during the day that end up having a big impact on students and their parents.

I know what some of you are thinking. Are we enabling students and parents by doing all of this reminding and texting? It’s a delicate balance that needs conversation. I think the balance we need to find is putting information out there for students and parents, then having them follow through on whatever they need reminding about. We know that communication is vitally important to the success of students as well as the success of our relationships with parents.

By texting, we’re trying our best to communicate well and set our students up for success. We just have to make sure that we use tools like Remind to help students succeed and discuss the process so they understand that it’s only one more strategy. It should not be used to enable students.

Things to know about Remind:

  • Remind is free to use.
  • Personal phone numbers are kept private.
  • Students and parents can receive messages by text, email, or smartphone push notifications.
  • Teachers have full control over communication, so they will not receive messages from students and parents at all hours.

    • Announcements are one-way messages that teachers can send to the entire class.
    • Chats are two-way messages that can include up to 10 people. Teachers can set the best times for students and parents to chat with them, turn off the ability for students and parents to start individual Chats, and disable/enable replies to a Chat.
  • All message history is logged, saved, and can be downloaded at any time.
  • Remind does not share or sell personal information.

Connect with Peter on Twitter.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Christopher.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.