Text Messaging Students: Is it Worth It?

May 20, 2011 at 5:06 pm | Posted in uncategorized | 10 Comments

Post written by Mike Burke

Like most teachers at the secondary level, one of the major issues I face on a daily basis is how to communicate with my students when they are not in the classroom.  There are times when I need to get a message to my students quickly, such as when I decide to change a homework assignment after I assign it.  I have a classroom webpage, but my students rarely check it.  The site is more for parents, and they do not use it very much either.  I needed a way to communicate with my students the way they communicate.  Of course anyone who has spent more than 5 minutes with a teenager knows that their link to the world is their cellular phone.  Students today are completely hooked to their phones, using it to communicate, as a portable music device, as a phone, and more.  Some studies even suggest that a students popularity and status can be linked to their cell phone (Faure & Orthober, 2011).  This year, I came across a website that taught me how to send a text message to a mobile phone using my email.  To do so, you only need the 10 digit phone number and the service provider of the device.  With this information, I began texting my Geometry students through my email.  Because I only sent mass messages (as opposed to texting individual students), and because the messages were sent from my school email, and not from my person phone, I have the full support of my principal.  The students love it.  It has given me the power to let them know about changes in assignments, and remind them about upcoming assessments.  I have found that students often text me as well, asking questions and making comments about class.  Text messaging in education has been a hot topic in research recently.  A 2011 study found that “students emphasized that the text messages helped direct their studies ore efficiently, and as such, contributed to their overall learning experience,” (Richardson, Littrell, Challman, & Stein, 2011).  What do you think?  Do you think teachers should be texting with their students, if done in a professional manner, or do you think the students should be responsible enough to check their email or classroom webpage?

Faure, C. & Orthober, C. (2011).  Using text-messaging in the secondary classroom.            American Secondary Education, 39(2), 55-76.

Richardson, A., Littrell, O., Challman, S., & Stein, P. (2011).  Using text messaging in an      undergraduate nursing course. Journal of Nursing Education, 50(2), 99-104.



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  1. Links to the reference articles:

    Using Text-Messaging in the Secondary Classroom

    Using Text Messaging in an Undergraduate Nursing Course

  2. Mike, I definitely think that you do have a powerful tool. Being effective and efficient is something I think we try and teach students and text messaging is both effective and efficient. If I were to text message students through my e-mail I would want to know a few things first. Can a student reply to all, meaning does his/her message go to everyone else in the class or only back to you? I could see how this might be an invasion of privacy to our students, if they did not want the entire class to have their number. Also, are we alienating those students who do not have cell phones? Like you pointed out, cell phones are connected to popularity and status, so would this not create an even bigger gap between the haves and have-nots? Depending on if my students agreed and everyone had access; I do think that teaching students to responsibly and respectfully use their cell phones is a great idea. This is a great article http://theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.com/2008/05/value-of-using-cell-phones-to-enhance.html that tells about other uses for cell phones and how we might be hindering our students if we don’t use them.

  3. If anyone is interested in trying this, check out this website for instructions: http://www.emailtextmessages.com/

  4. I think that using cell phones in this manner is a great idea. It’s a nice thought to say that students should be responsible enough to check classroom websites or even simply to check their e-mail often enough, but the reality is that most will probably not take the time to do so. Most students have their cell phones on them at any given time and receiving a text about class assignments removes the necessary motivation needed to check email or a website, which the student may not foster. Cell phones have become a large part of the lives of many people and are a technology that many children are becoming accustom to from a young age which is evident from the scores of youth you can find using them at any given time or location.
    One big snare as Jess mentioned is, that even with the growing popularity of cell phones, not every child owns one. I fear this could just perpetuate the learning gap that seems to be associated with income. Not only could this effect be looked at with in the classroom level but what about looking at the topic at a county level? Even if it may be possible to get all the students of a class in a suburban school setting a cell phone, what about the students in the neighboring urban school district? Wouldn’t this potentially just widen the learning gap between the students from neighboring schools.
    I however have a number of old, seemingly useless, cell phones laying around and know many others who have the same. Personally I would feel much better being able to donate them to a cause promoting the evolution of successful learning tools in today’s classroom. But even then, once everyone’s donated their old phones to children in need, who’s gonna pay to have them all activated? Maybe verizon can work on a new “family” plan for school districts/classroom.

    • (Former Developing Literacy student here)

      I have been “eavesdropping” here for quite some time. Time for me to give my two cents…

      I am currently teaching in what you would call an “urban” school district in Maryland. There is a very high poverty rate in my district which definitely creates a need for good planning. However, the one thing these students lack is their cell phone. They may not come with paper or pencil but they never leave home without their cell phones. I don’t think that the fact that students are in an urban district should be an obstacle to the potential power of using cell phones. They are more abundant then you think.

      Keep up the good posts. I will continue to chime in as I can.

      • Hi Jason. I’m glad to hear you are teaching in Maryland! What grade/s & subjects? How is it going?

        Thanks for sharing your observations about cell phone usage by students in an urban setting. It’s great to hear from others outside of class to add to our conversations.


  5. I agree with both statements above about how every student does not have a cell phone and would somewhat alienate them from the rest of the class. What about students that don’t have email or a computer so they can’t check the website that I had to create for school? How about the students that don’t have a simple calculator at home to do homework with? Their are plenty of issues to deal with when it comes to the advancement of technology and the educational/poverty gap will continue to grow, but does that mean we don’t use these great tools for those students who do have the technology?

  6. An interesting twist on the cell phone conversation: several weeks ago I left lesson plans for my substitute on my desk and as a matter of professionalism and preparing my substitute I always provide my cell phone number. This is usually in case of emergency only or if the substitute should have any major questions. Now during my last absence the substitute provided for my classroom was not actually certified in the course I was teaching and was completely lost when they were trying to troubleshoot circuits students were creating as per the assignment left for them. The substitute ducked out of the room at some point to go find help. Although this is ill advised it provided my students with the opportunity to access my cell phone number. This proved very valuable. I started receiving circuits as pictures in my inbox. The students had collaborated on a single circuit to send and some very pointed questions to ask about it. I was able to trouble shoot the issue and respond thoughtfully to them via texting. At the time I was two hours away and had I not been able to communicate with my students then they would have wasted the day’s lesson and i would have to surely repeat it when I returned. My real astonishment came from the fact that these students not only collaborated to solve their problem but they asked though provoking questions as a single voice. I couldn’t have been happier. I was annoyed that they had my cell phone number but it has yet to be used in a negative manner. The fact that I am always available has actually made my student more engaged and made my teaching easier.
    Since then we have used cell phone communication to establish study sessions at the local dunkin donuts and this is a huge benefit to me as a teacher traveling between two buildings every other day.

  7. I love the idea of using an electronic/email program to send information to student’s cell phones. The only apprehension I had when you first mentioned that you texted your students in class was that they then would have your phone number (which could open up a whole new can of worms). Although I think the parameters and the way in which you use the texting is great. Like you said, it’s the most effective way to get a message to them. While checking a website may involve many steps, opening a text is quick and painless. You mentioned that you have support from the administration, are there any teachers (possibly older/seasoned teachers) that have expressed disagreement with your choice to use cell phones and texting as a scaffolding device?

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