Wednesday, December 17, 2008

LMS -- Keeping Parents Up to Date!

As we near the holiday season in the US, many schools including colleges will have an extended vacation. Because this time of the year gets pretty hectic and stressful, it is easy for educational activities and the details associated to get lost in the shuffle. Also, as a teacher, this is often one of the times of the year when we want to reach out the families of our students. So, how can an LMS help?

It is a good idea to review our list of topics and see where we are in my original plan. Remember, all the items in red have been discussed.

  • Homework Assignments
  • Recording Live Sessions for review
  • Community Building
  • Direct Parent Communications
  • Progress Reporting
  • Course Content Delivery
  • Group Projects
  • Gradebook use and distribution
  • Enhancing Teacher Preparation Skills (and Instructional Design)
  • Delivering Media
  • Assessments
  • Reaching Non-Participants (from your class)
  • Assisting with Absenteeism
  • Substitute Teacher Prep (thanks Dr. Karl Kapp)

Starting with the last thought, reaching out to the families. First, I am surrounded by educators. My wife, ALL of her 3 sisters, her son, most of our friends and even a few neighbors. The one thing I have found in common with most of us is that we like to communicate. At this time of year, that desire, the NEED, is heightened. I hope all teachers have that passion. But, back on topic.

If your school uses an LMS, all parents should have accounts. If not, working with your technology leader, make this happen! If the LMS allows, link the parent account with the student account. For example, Blackboard uses the "Observer" role to do so. It is not perfect, but it does allow some vision into the students. But, more importantly, the parent themselves should have an access account.

So, now what. First, send a holiday (make it generic) message to all parent accounts. Send it only to the parent accounts, not the students. Talk about the last few weeks of class, what the students have accomplished and what is yet to come. Keep it simple, don't overwhelm them by documenting the entire curriculum. Be specific enough to be interesting, but general enough to do this in one paragraph. In the same message, give them a quick overview / tour of what they have access to. For example, point them to the general space (if your LMS has one), point them to the discussion board (again, if that is a feature). In preparation for them to visit those spaces though, have something ready for them to view. For example, in the Common area, post some student projects for viewing. In the discussion board, make sure you have a new thread that will be timely. For example, post a thread "Holiday Education Activities" where ideas can be shared. But, keep in mind the very first comment I made - this is a busy time of the year. Don't be disappointed if you don't get a ton of responses. The important thing is to get the messages out there. Many parents, just like Bloggers, will lurk. That is OK!

At about this time (Dec. 17th or so) is also a great time to let parents know about educational gift options for students. I remember WAY, WAY back in elementary school, one of teachers would send home a list of gift ideas, including books, games, educational project kits, craft ideas, etc. Today, an LMS can handle that task and then some. For example, creating the list in the LMS so that others can make comments OR, better yet, add a POLL to your LMS about gift ideas. This would allow other parents to submit their ideas and for all to read feedback from each other. A specific example are video games. Today, a friend and colleague posted on his blog a list of educational video games for various ages and systems. What a great idea. You can see his list at Karl Kapp's Blog.

Lastly, I know it is another topic, but I can't talk about communicating with parents without address the real reason to do so -- to talk about their student and the student's progress. This is a really important topic because we have to think about how we want to communicate progress at this time of the year. I think at this time of the year, we can really help students and parents understand what the students need to work on. But, do it in a way that is supportive and assisting. For example, a stock and trade progress report at this time of year showing a student failing -- not very helpful. I would add, this is not very helpful at any point in the year. That is a different topic. I think this holiday season is a great time to be targeted and specific. So, for example, a progress report to struggling students could be a simple note saying "Angie's class participation in Geometry is much improved over the beginning of the year. I spoke to her about her enjoyment of the class and subject and she says it is getting better for her. She said the tutoring is helping. She and I discussed testing strategies since she seems to freeze on exams. Over the next few weeks, I have supplied her with a link to a test preparation website that works on test taking skills. The link is in the homeroom. I will talk to her after the holidays and work on the skills with her."

Now, this example sounds a bit TOO perfect - I know it is. But, it is a good example of how I could use the LMS (sending the message and posting the link) and good communication practices to reach out to the parents at this time of year.

So, in summary, an LMS can offer resources, link parents to other parents, get feedback from parents, provide for targeted communications and offer relevant, timely communication methods for your classroom and school.

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