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Pros: Questions help students develop a more positive self-image. Gives students a choice of response type.
Cons: Teachers may not feel equipped to respond to some personal revelations by students.
Bottom Line: This tool opens up avenues for conversation and relationship building between teachers and students.
At the most basic level, teachers can use Along to start conversations with students and get to know them. Asking simple questions such as "What is something you're grateful for?" or "What problem-solving strategies do you use when you feel stuck?" or even "Who is your favorite band or musician?" can help students feel seen and heard. Following up with relatable replies, encouragement, affirmation, or even a class playlist that includes students' favorites helps foster a classroom where students feel a sense of safety and belonging. Of course, all responses don't have to be digital; teachers can follow up with students formally or in casual conversation later on. One important note, however, is that teachers should plan for conversations to get complicated at times. Depending on the nature of the question or a student's response, some answers could require the aid of a parent or guardian, a school counselor, or an administrator. With this tool, like any that encourages reflection, teachers will want to prep parents and counselors for these issues.
Although the site's suggested questions are geared toward SEL skills, teachers can also create their own questions and use the platform for formative assessment. Often, struggles with course material get students more stressed, so it's appropriate to factor this in. Ask students what they're feeling good about and where they need extra support academically. This gets trickier in the upper grades, where students may confide more in their peers than their teachers. In that light, it might be a good idea to provide choices as to whether students want to reflect on a personal or an academic topic. Having that balance shows students you care while still respecting their privacy.
Along is a two-way digital communication platform focused on reflection and feedback through text, video, and audio. Teachers sign up using a Google or Microsoft 365 Educator account, and then browse the site's tutorials and resources. There's info about getting started, how to find time in the day for reflection, the research behind the site, and even a customizable Google Slides presentation to introduce the platform to students. Dozens of teacher practice lessons focus on skills teachers can use to connect with students, including lessons that focus on types of praise or giving wise feedback, for example.
Once teachers feel ready to interact with students, they can email students a sign-up link using their Google or Microsoft 365 account. Teachers then create a reflection question of their own, or draw from the questions and related resources on the site. If desired, they can also create a sample response to share as a model. Students will be able to see the question and respond via text, video, or audio. Student reflections appear on the teacher dashboard, where teachers can respond.
Full Disclosure: Along and Common Sense Education share a funder. However, this relationship doesn't impact the content of this review.
Relationship building is key to student development and success. The Along platform allows teachers to form meaningful connections with students while students reflect, give and get feedback, and focus more closely on their mental health and academic progress. That balance -- between positive communication and growing as a learner -- is what makes the recipe of Along special. Ultimately, though, success will depend on teachers giving students opportunities to let their true personalities shine through without feeling too exposed. Creative teachers might also slip in some questions that assess learning, but they'll need to be careful to do so without sacrificing the relationship building. Poor implementation of the tool could result in yet another platform for quizzing or understanding checks.
Ultimately, quality connections between teacher and students will depend on everyone's willingness to keep the conversations going and interesting. Thankfully, Along affords easy opportunities for teachers to do so without too much effort. And since students can respond in whatever way is most comfortable to them (vs. having to just record videos, for instance), they'll be more likely to stick with Along than other feedback platforms.