In my previous post, I discussed news items in general and delineated the different forms news can take and their various purposes. Now I want to examine the newsletter before ending with a wrap-up of communication methods.
The newsletter has one obvious benefit: it keeps students and parents informed about the class’s content, upcoming events, and teachers’ expectations. Newsletters should be sent out routinely, either weekly or semiweekly, so that stakeholders come to expect them. Ideally students and parents are connecting to the LMS and working daily on their assignments; that might not always be the case, and the newsletter reminds students about the course the same way a Monday morning at the bus stop can shake students out of their weekend daze. Seeing the newsletter should elicit the response, “Oh, right, that.”
Newsletters should contain targeted information about the coming week and a few upcoming dates in brief. These are also a great chance to highlight individual student successes (provided you have students’ permission to share) and to encourage the class. A newsletter might also invite student and parent feedback through a link to a Google form or a class poll. While newsletters should keep the same format, teachers should have one or two sections that change to keep the newsletter fresh. For example, you might have a section that specifically praises the efforts or achievements of a student through a “Student of the Week” or a feature, or a section that shows exemplar discussion board posts, such as: “Top Five Answers.” Another idea is to rotate the inclusion of motivational quotes, fun facts, cool websites/games, and useful apps. Below is one example.
There are three highly effective methods that all online instructors should follow no matter the subject area or grade level of their online class:
Alternate semiweekly newsletters with grade reports. Both newsletters and grade reports keep stakeholders informed; newsletters give a forward glance at the class, and grade reports give students a chance to reflect on past assignments. Students and parents will be less likely to ignore newsletters if they are sent out every other week. Unless the class is so accelerated that two weeks of information will crowd the newsletter, a semi-weekly newsletter will contain enough current information to keep students on track. Many LMS platforms have a News section that should be updated weekly, so there is no need to flood inboxes more often than necessary. Also, if the instructor alternates newsletters with grade reports, students and parents will have a chance to reconnect with the class every week.
- Send personalized digital “Good News” postcards in emails, and contact parents and students when success flags. Personalized messages from the teacher keep students from feeling lost or disconnected from the teacher and the rest of the class. Of course teachers should reach out with targeted concerns about a student’s progress when necessary, but equally just as importantly, teachers should take the time to recognize students’ efforts and parents’ involvement.
- Ask for feedback from parents and students through polls and Google Forms. Polls provide students with a voice, and students who are struggling with a topic or skill might be more likely to admit so in an anonymous poll than asking the teacher directly. If many students feel the same way, the teacher will know to act. Cinderblock teachers often use a “Ticket out the Door” to assess how well the students grasped the content or how they felt during class. Online, a poll could work the same way. Also, before a big assessment, it might be useful to send a Google Form questionnaire that asks specific questions about the assignment and the students’ confidence in completing it. Some questions for students might be, “Do you feel you have all the tools to complete the assignment?”, “Which part of the assignment is the easiest?”, or “Is any part of the assignment unclear? If so, which?” Parents, too, can be included and might appreciate the opportunity to provide feedback. Some sample questions a teacher might ask monthly are “How is your student enjoying the class?”, “Estimate how many hours a day the student works on the class.”, and “What questions or concerns do you have at this time?” Both polls and surveys should be brief to maximize responses and will help keep the stakeholders involved and heard.