Students often have organizational problems. It's an ongoing struggle, so I've always done the best I could to help them stay organized. Years ago, that often came in the form of a planner students were supposed to fill out with assignments, and I'd sign off on it.
There was one particular student with a planner whom I remember. The system worked well when she remembered the planner, but sometimes she didn't.
On the whiteboard at the back of my room, I have a space where I write down the assignments for students. I keep my door open most days, so if they want to stop in and peek at the board, they can. I'm available anytime; the only thing I ask is that they kind of discreetly come in.
So, this particular student would appear in the morning during homeroom or at the beginning of class to check the whiteboard. Sometimes she got the assignment. But sometimes, what I wrote was erased. Anything can happen: Other students might erase it and write over it, for example.
Then her mom would send an email to clarify things -- and I'm really good about checking email, but sometimes email doesn't go through. And if you call me -- well, we work with voicemail extensions so it's not like there's a direct line to me. You have to filter through the office, and I'm always available to talk, but obviously if I'm teaching class, I'm not reachable.
Other students would pop in to check on an assignment, or they'd want to stop by and pick up a worksheet. I have everything in my room set out, but students would put papers down, and things would get covered up. So it might not be easy to find.
Or, the students would come in and leave notes saying, "I stopped by to find out ... " or "I wasn’t sure … ," and they'd leave me a note on the board or on my desk. But if I were going to be late or had a long meeting, I might not see those notes until the next day. And if my board was cleaned that night, I might not see them at all.
So again, the students came in to get help, and I wasn't there.
That's when I really started to ask, "What can I do?"
I thought the board was great because students could come in anytime, but that's not accessible in the evening when they sit down to do homework. Planners are great, too, but what if you forget them or they're lost? I was looking for something to fix a lot of these things I saw impeding the learning process. The lack of access to resources was really bothering me because I wanted to do more.
I first decided to use the messaging tool Celly to message my students. I used it to send reminders and answer questions. I could quickly respond to messages about homework or what was missed during an absence, and I didn't have to use class time to help students catch up.
I use it with my Spanish club, too, and now there are other groups in the school that use it for field trips and other things. It's really quite nice, because if you're on the bus and you're missing students, now you can reach them instead of waiting and wondering.
But students were still asking for help finding class materials and keeping them organized. I wanted some kind of assurance that everything was centralized and easy to find. And I hadn't found an easy way to keep parents in the loop. I decided to give another tool a try: Edmodo.
It's a web-based app, so students can use their phones to log in, or a computer at home if they don't have a phone, or a phone with data. Students get a join code so they can join a class when I've created one, and parents get a parent code so they can sign up and see what I post to the class and see their kids' work, the grade they got, and the comments I've made. They know everything we're doing in class.
Usually students log in once a day. I post homework reminders and share links. One of the nice things about Edmodo is students can reply to a post I've made and ask a general question, and anyone in the class can answer. For example, if they forget something -- a textbook or a worksheet -- they can ask, "Can somebody please share an image of the homework?" They help each other out.
It helps me, too, because if a student has been absent for a day or more, they can easily go back and see what you did in class. It's part of my routine now, and I have five courses. Generally if a student says, "I was absent three days ago. What did I miss?" I have some idea but I’m not exactly sure. So it's nice to have that reference.
It's more than just communication -- it's collaboration. And I keep thinking of new ideas I can use it for.
The first two assignments I gave my Spanish 1 and 2 classes this year were discussions on Edmodo. The first was on how they study and learn, with personal kinds of questions so I could get to know them and give them ideas. The second was to come up with five personal learning goals. I gave them a reply, and in a week or two we're going to reevaluate: "You said you were going to study every day for 30 minutes. What happened?"
You can use it as a reflection tool or as a digital portfolio. If the students do a project with technology, they can put it on Edmodo, and we can go back to it to share learning.
These tools have made a tremendous difference in my ability to provide the best possible learning experience for my students -- and that's what I wanted. And bonus: They've made my life easier, too.