When I decided to give standards based grading a try in my classroom, one promise that I made to myself was that I would communicate with parents weekly. I felt like it was important for me to communicate about what I was doing in class since I was the only one in the school using standards based grading. However, weekly communication can be difficult, so it is important to find a system that will simplify the process.
The Mail Merge
In the beginning, I created a Google Spreadsheet version of the 3D Gradebook. With a few custom Google Apps Scripts and some custom formulas, I was mostly able to get the functionality out of the spreadsheet that I wanted.
Using the spreadsheet, I was able to write a custom mail merge script fairly easily that would send a message out to all of my students and their parents that had a link to their personal spreadsheet, a list of missing assignments, and a brief overview of what we were doing in class that week. The results of this weekly communication with parents were even better than I could have imagined. Parents engaged in the learning process consistently because they were a part of it, and students tended to stay more on top of things because their parents were in the loop.
Because of this success, no matter how I grade or what I do in my classroom, weekly parental communication will always be a part of my teaching practice.
Using the 3D Gradebook Email Update Feature
At the top of this post is a screenshot of the 3D Gradebook email update screen. When a teacher fills in the message box and hits send, every student on the class roster and their parents receive an email about with the message that the teacher typed, instructions about how to access the student portal, and a list of missing assignments like the sample below.
There is so much power in a simple email. Not only does it keep students and parents informed of progress, but it also shows them that as a teacher, you care about them enough to keep them informed. One of the most frequent comments that I get from students and their parents when I ask for feedback is that I genuinely care about their learning. I believe that switching over to standards based grading requires a cultural change from teachers, students, and parents toward valuing student learning over grades and percentages, so the trust that comes from consistent communication is an invaluable component of changing that culture.
Tips for Using the Email Update Feature
- Be consistent. I make sure that my class grades are updated at least once a week, and I try to make sure they are current on the same day each week. On that same day each week, I send the email to parents.
- Be detailed in your summary of what is happening in class. I always share what we are reading, what major projects we are working on, and any collective successes or struggles we are having in class. The more information you give to parents, the more they feel a part of what is happening in class.
- Be concise. When I first started sending emails home, I got a lot of feedback that my emails were too long and parents didn’t read them. A paragraph or two is plenty. Don’t take over the parents’ day by making them read your novel of an email.
- Talk about how you are adapting curriculum based on the data you have collected from standards based grading. Including a couple of sentences about how the class struggled with a certain concept, so you are going to reteach it in a different way shows parents and students that the learning process is important, and you are willing to use what is happening in class as a guide for what needs to happen in the future. Be honest and transparent.
- Show your personality. I have a tendency to be stuffy when I write. I can’t do that in emails home. If I want parents to read my emails, I need to be personable and real. That means letting a little of my personality seep into my writing. That’s not always easy, but I think it’s important for parents and students to see us as real people.
- Don’t panic if you miss a week or two. We are very busy as teachers, and sometimes we will miss an email. It’s fine. Just get back on track as soon as possible.