Monday, May 5, 2014

4 Ways to Keep the Conversation Going Beyond the Classroom Walls

Learning is not, and should not be, limited to what goes on within the four walls of classrooms.  Students are constantly learning and usually new questions are sparked when that learning happens. How can we encourage our students to ask their questions? Without a way to communicate their ideas and inquiries when they occur, will our millennials develop the inquisitiveness that is necessary for them to become the innovators of tomorrow?

Here are 4 ways you can encourage your students to share their thoughts and questions when you aren't together in the classroom:

Google Drive

My students submit their multimedia creations and lesson reflections on public blogs, but what about work that is in the draft phases? How can they submit that to me paperlessly and still get the feedback they need? Google Drive has been the answer to that question for my students this year.  Students make me an editor on their notes, outlines, and drafts. Then I can go in and comment on their work-in-progress. The best part is that I get email notifications when they resolve problems or comment back based on my feedback. Here are some examples of important detailed conversations I've had outside of school hours and walls because of Google Drive.
Helping a freshman narrow her research questions early in a project
so she'll be more successful in the long run.

Helping a sophomore differentiate between scholarly
and encyclopedic secondary sources.

Twitter

Although many district AUPs prohibit teachers from communicating with students via social media, there is a way to get around them so that you can share the great tweets you come across with them. They can share their excitement, or frustration, with you too.  First, encourage students to follow you, even if you can't follow them back. Of course your tweets on the account they follow would have to be strictly professional, but you will be serving as a great model of the way to leverage social media to promote learning and PLN building.  Then, create a hashtag that is specifically for your class.  Be sure you clearly communicate that hashtag to your students and their parents.
My Twitter info is on the whiteboard in the classroom and
I mention it at the end of most emails I send home to parents.
 Then, of course, you have to use the hashtag often. Students start looking forward to seeing familiar names and ideas mentioned.  My students' favorite is #thankateenager because I give them shout-outs for going above and beyond.



Finally, if students are tweeting about something that's going on related to your class, encourage them to tag you or use your class hashtag in the tweet. It is important to establish a positive class culture and clear digital citizenship expectations before doing this, of course.  Recently some of my students' work was published and they tweeted out the links because they were excited. Here's one example:

iMessage

I know it sounds weird to text message with your students, but hear me out. iMessage allows users to create multiple iMessage accounts based on phone numbers or email addresses. I certainly would not give my students my personal cell number, but they already have my school email address. Sometimes it makes more sense to have a conversation via text message than via a long slow string of emails.  Once again, after establishing some very clear digital citizenship guidelines, I have been able to quickly address student questions outside of school hours using iMessage so that students aren't getting stuck while working at home. Often these are clarifications on assignments that can be addressed quickly.
This student wanted to confirm a good painting choice before
moving to the next step in his Romanticism Art Analysis project.

This student needed help crafting the research question
 for her semester long research project.


Email

Of course, the honest truth is that most of my students' parents' primary and preferred method of communication with school is email. Our district uses Edline and we can send out group emails to parents and students through our class pages. I make a habit of updating grades and sending out emails weekly so that both students and parents are aware of what is going on in class and what is coming up.  Included are shortened URLs to all notes, resources, and assignments.  Here is an example from last week's email to my sophomores and their families.

I'm sure there are more methods to communicate with parents and students (Remind101 comes to mind) but the combination of these 4 in the circumstance described has worked well for my students and their families this year. Feel free to comment with more that have helped your students be successful as well.