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Stories > 2015-16 > October > Teachers Tout Benefits of Remind Messaging Service
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Remind, ClassDojo Help Teachers Make Connections

Note: This is a two-part series. Scroll down to read a story about ClassDojo, a communication/classroom management platform popular mostly in elementary schools.


REMIND

Brothers Brett and David Kopf are still in their 20s and are considered to be among the most creative people in the country.

Their breakthrough? A free service that easily lets teachers send mass text messages and emails to students and their parents about homework assignments, upcoming tests, and more. The company is called Remind (formerly Remind101).

Remind is a prominent player in the growing education software market, and not surprisingly there are lots Manchester teachers using this service.

“I can't think of anything negative to say about it and I would definitely encourage everyone to use it,” wrote Gary Tracey, a social studies teacher at Illing, in response to request for teacher insights into Remind.

Compared to some other districts, Manchester has a wide array of ways to communicate with parents and students through digital means. Most notably, from Bennet through the middle and high schools, students and their parents/guardians can use the Home Access Center to check grades on line. But that’s not the case everywhere, which surely has helped Remind grow steadily since it was founded in 2011.

"We live in an age where you can have an Uber cab show up in two minutes," younger brother Brett said in a recent “Fast Company” magazine article.  "But if your kid is failing school, you probably don’t know for three months."

Hyperbole notwithstanding, Remind clearly has appeal, and the Kopfs claim that they have more than 10 million users who send or receive more than 65 million messages each month.

How does it work? Well, teachers create a “class” in Remind from the website or an app. Students and parents then “sign up” to get messages.The messages are one-way, so students/parents cannot reply. And nobody can see anyone else’s phone number. Remind also has a few advanced features, like the ability to send files and voice clips.

About a dozen Manchester teachers weighed in when we asked what they thought of the service, and the response was overwhelmingly positive.

Melissa Doherty, a Family Consumer Science teacher at the high school, said she loves Remind, calling it “a quick simple way to reach a lot of students with information.” She added, “At MHS, we receive so many emails a day that I find most students check their cell phones more often than their emails. I would highly recommend having your students, classes and clubs sign up for Remind101.”

Michelle Sampiere, a business teacher at the high school, touted it as an efficient way to keep in touch with groups that don’t otherwise assemble regularly -- such as clubs or mentors in the MHS “Imagine College” program.

Denise Batista, the MHS counselor who oversees the Imagine College program, called it a “great tool” -- echoing the idea that students “don't always check email but they always check their phone.”

Cathy Roy at Bowers just started using Remind this year. She wrote: “My number one purpose for using Remind is so parents know what is going on at school.  I want parents to know what to ask after they ask, ‘What did you do at school today?’ and their child answers, ‘I don't know’ or ‘Nothing.

Cathy, who is the mother of a kindergartener and second grader, said she also  sometimes sends “parenting and learning articles that I find interesting.”

Other Remind proponents included, Janice Uerz, Teri Norman, Jena Biondino, and Beth Fanfarillo (all with high school roots), Heather Sica-Leonard and Sarah Zalewski of Illing, and Beth Courtney and Giulietta O'Coin (both from elementary schools).

Matt Geary, the Manchester Superintendent, said he appreciates the value of products that can enhance communication between home and school, but he said they must be used fairly and thoughtfully.

For example, he said that teachers who send “quiz reminders” using Remind must be sure that appropriate steps are taken to also remind students and parents who might not have signed up for the service.

“Technology can be incredibly powerful and helpful,” Geary said. “But like anything else, we need to use common sense and be sensitive.”

 

CLASSDOJO

Any story about ClassDojo should certainly answer the question: What is a “dojo”?

Well, dojo is a Japanese term that means “place of the way” and has come to refer to venues where people practice martial arts.

There is no etymological info on the ClassDojo website that explains how they come up with their company name, but it’s likely a nod to the the self-discipline that characterizes martial arts.

It is behavior management, after all, that is at the heart of the ClassDojo digital platform. There’s no disputing that, but there are clear differences of opinion about the wisdom of using this program -- which is popular in quite a few Manchester classrooms.

Teachers says it’s a simple, convenient way to encourage students to behave appropriately while keeping their parents in the loop. The company itself proclaims: “ClassDojo’s mission is to reinvent classrooms by bringing teachers, students and parents closer together. … Classrooms become positive places - which means there's no more ‘classroom management’. Just happier classrooms.”

Critics, though, say ClassDojo reduces the complex subject of behavior into simple rewards and punishments. Further, critics contend that it doesn’t get at why kids behave the way they do, and kind of skirts the challenging work of helping students develop the skills and tools they need to behave appropriately depending on the setting.

Like Remind (which we wrote about last week), ClassDojo has been around for just a few years but has grown rapidly. They claim to have more than 3 million teachers using it throughout the world -- an impressive number especially considering that it features “little monster” avatars that would seem to appeal mostly to younger students.

As with Remind, teachers create a “class” and their students are automatically given avatars (which they can later change). The teacher can reward students with Dojos as positive feedback for trying hard in an activity or exhibiting good behavior -- and parents who have logged in can see their child’s progress from a mobile device (and also get personal messages from the teacher).

Teachers who responded to a call for insights were from our elementary schools, and they had common compliments: They found ClassDojo to be a fairly simple and fun way to reward good behavior and immediately and easily share information with parents who have downloaded the app.

For example, one teacher said she is a former Remind user who switched to ClassDojo -- in part because it allows parents to reply privately to her.

“I can access from my phone and communicate with parents quickly,” she wrote, adding that she had (at that time) 15 of 17 families signed up and they were communicating on a daily basis. “Parents have even gone to my Principal to discuss how happy they are with the home and school connection using Dojo.”

Another teacher said she has been using ClassDojo for three years. “I use it for classroom management as well as keeping in touch with my parents,” she wrote, adding that she also uses “Class Story,” a new feature that allows teachers to post quick pictures and give updates of what is happening in their classroom.

While there are many positive reviews about ClassDojo, there are also concerns.

For example, some privacy law experts have raised questions about what might become of the sensitive behavioral information that ClassDojo captures.

A New York Times story on the subject cited a parent who asked a teacher to remove information about his son from ClassDojo, fearing that it might be “aggregated and analyzed” some day in some damaging way.

“It creates a label for a child,” the parent said. “It’s a little early to be doing that to my 6-year-old.”

There are other critics who are far more vociferous.

Joe Bower a teacher/blogger from Canada, wrote a scathing assessment called “6 Reasons To Reject ClassDojo.” There’s another blog out there with an even more inflamatory take. The title says it all:  “Thinking About Classroom Dojo – Why Not Just Tase Your Kids Instead?

Other experts in behavior theory argue that while ClassDojo might produce short-term compliance -- for example, the mere mention of Dojos might get a class to quiet down -- it does not, on its own, help students learn to build healthy and sustainable behavioral habits, including self-awareness and self-monitoring, and self-control. Those three skills are identified by Michelle Garcia-Winner, creator of Social Thinking which has been adopted by the district, as critical in the development of young people.

Vincent A. Mustaro,  Senior Staff Associate for Policy Services at the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, said he has no special insights into ClassDojo but has general concerns about software programs used by teachers that are not subject to district vetting or oversight.

“Every device and application to  the Internet potentially collects student data,” Mustaro wrote in an email. “The district needs to exercise some control over the terms of use with the provider. The myriad of tools available for specific pedagogical needs creates opportunities for the release  of student data. In short, I’m concerned that these are being used out of the regulatory purview of the district.”









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