More than anything, distance teaching during the COVID-19 crisis taught me that forming bonds is a necessary component of teaching content. Additional to the Tuesday morning office hours I held and the Google Forms, weekly learning plans, and updates that I sent to the entire class, I used Schoology to send messages to individual students. I also hosted Google Meets with groups of four to five students upon request. My cooperating teacher and I increased these more personal forms of communication during high-stress times, such as when students were taking AP tests. I targeted messages to students who were not logging into Schoology or completing their assignments. Students often reached out to me with their questions or concerns about the course. Below, I have included the text of some of the actual messages I sent to students. To protect students’ privacy, I removed the students’ names and did not include their reply emails. For each message, I provide context for my communication. I organized the messages by the type of communications.
Message One: I sent this message to a group of students who impressed me with their podcast analysis of Twelve Angry Men. After receiving this message, one student remarked that the project sparked his interest in film students and that he wants to study filmmaking in the future.
- “Your podcast analysis impressed me in so many ways. It was fun to hear you consider not just the jurors’ rhetorical choices but to listen to your interpretation of how the filmmakers’ choices impacted the film’s mood and tone. I especially enjoyed the part at the end where you all argued what rhetorical choice you thought was most significant to the film; that’s college-level thinking and analysis.”
Message Two: I sent this message to a student who took on a leadership role in his group project. He disclosed that he felt “stupid” because he received an A- on an assignment. I contacted him with this note a day later to let make him aware of his value.
- “I watched your first debate post, and I want to reach out to you to commend you on your group leadership. Right out of the gate, you created a Google Folder and came up with innovative ways to keep your group communicating with each other. Your team chose a challenging topic, and it is unfolding in a great debate.
I have so enjoyed getting to know you this spring. Thank you for your kindness, insight, effort, and leadership.”
Message Three: I sent this message to a student who expressed worry that her friend was not participating in the class and might receive a bad grade:
- “You are very kind. I will reach out to K. today if it looks like he is not engaging with the team. I also want to see him succeed on this project and to hear what he has to contribute.
Let me know if you need anything else.”
Message Four: I sent this message after a student took the initiative to notify me that she needed to submit her assignment late.
- “You have done a great job updating me on your progress and demonstrating that you are taking responsibility for your work. Mistakes happen all of the time in life. What people will remember is how you handle them. I will make sure Ms. Meuwissen knows how well you communicated your situation to me.
Have an excellent time at work.”
Message One: I sent this message to a student who asked if I had tips for summarizing a long story, which was a requirement of his allusion card assignment.
- “Thank you for reaching out to us with your question. When a complex text grabs my interest, I often find it difficult to summarize as well. I listed a few tips that I learned in college, and that I still find helpful, below.
1. Read the text and then set it aside. Ask yourself, what is the main idea of the story? How do you know it?
2. Create a list of the essential plot points that communicate the story’s main idea. Sometimes, it helps to note if a plot detail contributes to the story’s exposition, rising action, climax, or falling action. After you finish, review the plot points you identified and consider what points you can eliminate while still communicating the story’s main idea.
3. After you write a draft of your summary, identify unnecessary words in your writing. Often, you can cut adverbs that end in -ly (quickly, steadily, etc.) and some adjectives. Using strong, active verbs will help you eliminate words as well.”
Message Two: I sent this message after a student asked if he chose a good research topic.
- “I like the specificity of your topic. I think your choice to focus on the personal financial impacts of college degrees, such as earning potential and the standard cost of living, will ease your research process. If your group feels comfortable with the topic, add it to the document linked to the learning plan. Let me know if you have any questions.”
Message Three: I sent this message after a student asked if I considered a resource she wanted to use to be credible.
- “I checked out the site you listed. I worry that the site says its data comes from a large number of reputable organizations but does not directly cite those organizations in its content. If you click on the “sources” button on the left side of the screen, you will see unreliable sources like Wikipedia and the Oddessy listed alongside more reliable sources like the UN. This website might be a place to start to find sources, but I do not recommend citing the website.”
Message Four: I sent this message after a student asked me a question about a grammar exercise.
- “Thank you for sharing your question with me! Your strategy of examining the sentences around the underlined text to help you determine its tense is the appropriate approach. As you noted, the sentence preceding the underlined text uses present-tense verbs. This sentence describes a general fact about snowflake formation. No matter when a snowflake begins to form, its creation follows the process that the sentence describes. Writers use the present tense to express factual concepts and habitual actions.
In a single paragraph, writers shift verb tenses to signal a change in the time frame of the action. The answer to number six is ‘H’ because the sentence narrates specific actions that occurred during a length of time in the past (“the flake’s descent”). The author gives us clues about the time frame with the phrase, “During the flake’s descent…”. Because the author uses the definite article “the,” we know the author will describe what happened during a specific snowflake’s formation. Additionally, as the author speaks about “the flake,” we know the fully-formed snowflake existed or exists. Therefore, a description of how the flake formed is a description of past events.
I hope I answered your question. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you want to review number six together. I am happy to set up a video call.”
Message One: I sent this message after a student’s grandparent passed away.
- “I am sorry to learn about your grandmother’s unexpected passing, and I send you and your family my deepest sympathies. Please take this time to be present with your family and to focus on reflecting and healing. We will work together to ensure you have opportunities to complete your schoolwork when you are ready.
I want to remind you that I am always here to support you. Do not hesitate to reach out to me if you have any needs or suggestions about how I can help you through this process. I am always open to talk.
You and your family will stay in my thoughts.”
Message Two: I sent this message after a student turned in an assignment late and explained that she was having a “bad week.”
- “Thank you for keeping us informed of your situation and for submitting your IRP last night. I enjoyed reading your analysis describing how Allende writes parallel clauses to repeat and the words “he” and “her,” which creates a connection between the characters.
I wish you better weeks ahead; you deserve nothing less! Please, do not hesitate to reach out if you need anything from me.”
Message One: This is one example of the messages I sent to students who did not turn in their peer editing work or their Independent Reading Project.
- “I want to check in to see how you are doing. I noticed that you did not submit feedback for your editing partner’s Atlantic analysis, and I am concerned and want to make sure that you do not fall behind. Ms. Meuwissen and I know that the transition to distance learning comes with challenges. Please let us know how we can support you this quarter. We want you to participate and succeed.”
Message Two: I sent this message after I worked with a student to encourage her group members to participate in debate activities.
- “I want to check in to see how the group work is coming along. I spoke with one of your group members, and it sounds like you are making progress with the First Speaker and Second Speaker roles. Let me know where you are at in terms of research and pulling the roles together, and I can work to make adjustments to the requirements as needed. If you want to discuss over the phone or a video meeting, I am happy to set that up as well.”
Message One: This is an example of a message I sent to students after Turnitin.com identified they plagiarized a portion of their work.
- “Please see the attached document that highlights two sections of your analysis where Turnitin.com identified similarities between your writing and the source article. Remember to place any phrases that you pull directly from the source article in quotation marks. I find the Perdue Owl website (linked below) helpful when I need to review the guidelines for paraphrasing.
Adjust the highlighted sections of your work and resubmit it. When you complete the process, let me know, and I will recheck it. Do not hesitate to reach out to me if you have any questions.”
Message Two: I sent this message to two students after one of their group members stopped participating in the debate assignment.
- “I want to commend you both on your willingness to reach out to me and to keep me updated about your work for the debate assignment. I advise your team to focus on completing the First and Second Speaker roles and the crossfires. Given the current state of your team, you do not need to post a Final Focus speaking role. Likewise, I am lowering your required source count to eight sources for your side of the debate (although you are welcome to find more).
If you have any questions for me about the adjustments, please do not hesitate to reach out to me. I am excited to see your work!”
Message Three: I sent this message to a group of students who I identified may not contribute to the debate project group work. I offered these students an alternative assignment.
- Next week, Ms. Meuwissen and I will create groups for the upcoming class debates. The members of each debate group will collaborate to select a topic and determine who will debate on the pro team and con team. Teams will work together to research their topics, prepare and present their arguments, and respond to the opposing team. Can you please let me know if you want to participate in the debates, knowing if you do, you must communicate with your partners and stay on top of your work for them? If you do not want to participate in the debates, Ms. Meuwissen and I will ask you to complete an alternate assignment.
Please let me know if you have any questions.”