Texting/ahas

Students and teachers analyzing (anonymized) examples of student-teacher texts: Research Day at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, April 2011
Teachers and students analyzing texting again in June 2011.

Do a Google search for student-teacher texting and most of what you will find is fear: districts considering bans on texting or teachers quietly posting updates about their own personal experiences with trying it. Many view texting as an inappropriate mode of communication between teachers and students, for several main reasons. Even more a year ago than now, texting feels like a “youth” medium. Also, the sort of support texting could offer immediately seems particularly personal, because it really feels like a private “tube” between two people. That privacy is exactly what scares some people about misuse: teachers and students somehow seem more “alone together” while texting (even though private classroom conversations after school are equally “alone”). Texting also extends the boundaries of potential communication with students outside the school day and into teachers’ own “personal lives.”

Instead of just fearing texting, we decided to learn together what it could offer public school communities. So, we – teachers, researchers, and students -- rolled out a texting pilot explicitly with 40 students across multiple classrooms.

But in some ways, FC/NW is a special school: all teachers work in what Ted called “teacher-counselor mode” and expect personal support relationships as part of their job. Each teacher has a co-counseling group that meets twice a week, where he/she gets to know more about young people’s personal struggles; they work in a “triangle” with clinicians and students’ other counselors. But really, teachers at FC/NW are simply encouraged by their school to build teacher-student support relationships, something every teacher has to do but may not have the time or the administrative support to do.

Over time, our overall COMMUNICATION AHA would be about the benefits of texting for student-teacher relationship. But we want to tell you how we got there! Below is a discussion of the “communication ahas” we had throughout the pilot. We taped a lot of our conversations and so we talk about ourselves in the third person (Ted and Mo, Mica and Uche)

Contents

COMMUNICATION AHA: Texting works when you can’t reach young people any other way for time-sensitive information.

In February, Ted got last minute info in a staff meeting that a ski trip was available to a new student he’d recently met and had been helping with math. The “kid’s voicemail was full.” So, Ted texted the student using Google Voice, to tell him to bring needed info and a signed permission slip the next day. The student’s response? “Lots of exclamation points, ‘thank you,’” Ted said; there was now a “high level of communication” with the student. The exchange happened “in an 18 hour turnout” and “allowed us to make a strong connection right when he got to the school.”

Me: Bring in your insurance info tomorrow, the company and your policy number, with 10 bucks, yor going skiing thursday! 3:23 PM
Student: Thank you soo much ted! i will .. ill have it all tomarrow! 4:12 PM
Me: Are you going to school tomorrow? 6:59 PM
Student: Yea .. deffintly 9:36 PM


COMMUNICATION AHA: Texting helps when students don’t have home phones or literally aren’t in school.

One student said that he lacked a home phone, so texting helped: “Sometimes they call your house when there’s no school, but I don’t have a house phone. They might call my mom but she never picks up. If he (Ted) hadn’t texted me (about the snow day), I wouldn’t have woken up for school.”

In another case, a student who had been kicked out of school texted Ted to find out what his situation was and whether he faced expulsion.

And here’s an e.g. of texting with Mo that helped when a student was literally absent from school:

Me: Worried about you!! 8:15 PM
Student: im feeling much better now I will deff see u tmr (: 8:16 PM
Me: Good we miss you!! Can mom right a note for the last 2 days 8:17 PM
Student: she called [School admininstrator] today telling him I was out sick not truent 8:18 PM :Me: Good..see you tomorrow..and glad your feeling better!! 8:19 PM
Student: thanks 8:24 PM

COMMUNICATION AHA: Texting can support communication about a wide variety of school issues.

In early March, Uche and Mica got together with Mo and Ted and looked at the GoogleVoice record of all the texts. Our plan: to “pull out examples of texts that you find interesting,” to “label the “type” of communication that occurred,” and to “provide any evidence of any text’s effects on any student’s achievement/motivation/relationship with you.”

We noted how many different school-related subjects a teacher and student could text about! So far, Mo had primarily been texting with students for wakeup calls, paperwork reminders, discussions of personal updates, updates on other students that students knew about, health check-ins, and discussions of absence. She bantered a lot with the students, too. We laughed often in the pilot about the number of exclamation points Mo tended to use in her texts!!!!!!!!

Ted had reviewed his own Google Voice record and “broke it up into categories – who talks to who about what.” “(There’s) a cluster about being on time. Another about dropout prevention, kids who haven’t been to school in a long time, what can we do to transition you out of here easier. And, checkins w/ students about miscellaneous—academics, work, home, if they’re heading toward that dropout prevention category . . . Also snow days, field trips, some kids need to bring attire for electives (gym attire, skates, something they may need for the next day). On being on time, staying a full day – if kids walk out I remind them about the day before. . . . And also, jobs. Kids that want jobs.”

Ted was texting with students about absences and lateness; afterschool activity (he coached a boxing club and led a lot of trips); and for personal checkins, which then often considered academic issues. “New electives, new teachers, new schedules – some confirmations on preparations for the next day – are we going skating, to boxing club tomorrow, to bring in the right clothes.” Students were checking in with him via text about academic issues like credits, the semester change, and their discipline records. One student had texted him to ask how he was doing after a fraught interaction, and how his weekend went. A few students had texted him for help in class. In some cases he was strongly pushing young people to attend class or keep up their motivation via text. The other texts Ted had been sending in February were “more like routine -- no school, a snowstorm, ‘you haven’t been in school where are ya’ type stuff. Some kids don’t respond to those at all, some kids do,” he said.

Neither teacher was fielding detailed questions about schoolwork via text. Instead, they were texting more about logistics, reminders, updates, absence explanations, and more -- and in the process, building relationships. As we read all these texts, Ted and Mo expressed surprise and satisfaction with “the language that the kids are using to thank (them)…It’s refreshing to know that they have that capability.” Some students expressed gratitude and other emotions through their texts that Ted and Mo hadn’t experienced with them in the classroom.

COMMUNICATION AHA: We began to see that students and teachers can build personal relationships via text.

If you judged texting by the immediate consequences of a given text, it could sometimes look unsuccessful. Ted said in February that the previous week, a doctor showed up at school for testing one of his students, but “the kid didn’t show up for school that day.” Ted texted the student at 10 (the appointment was scheduled for 9:00-11:00); “he texted me right back w/ what sounded like a confirmation that he was coming but then didn’t come. So that was almost a success story but not.”

Mo noted that students she texted to wake up still came late. But, the same students were using text to contact her with serious support needs, even during drug rehab placements. Mo was using her texting to support one young person with depression, so that the student eventually came in to school.

Mo had a major aha about texting in March: “Success for a depressed student in a sense is the engagement itself. Even having this exchange.” And as Ted said earlier in the year, “In some ways, it comes down to someone paying attention to them.” As Mo explained of one text she sent to a student in March, “I wanted to make her feel good before she went to bed.” And Mo reported in March that she had this talk with a student the previous day:

"I just wanna make sure you’re ok – when I text you I wanna know you’re ok, safe. We worry about you!” He had responded, “I know you guys do, I will definitely write you something.”

Over and over in the pilot, we talked about how texts showed not just connection but true caring. Students pointed out a bunch of examples on our April Research Day:

-Mo’s text to a student: “worried about you.” “It shows that she really cares,” Shelia explained.
-“You had a bad day yesterday”: a particularly caring teacher “check-in.”
-“you made 1 day last week.” “I like the encouragement,” said one student.
-“you’re a smart kid.” “That’s really nice because some kids might feel doubt and don’t get many compliments from people,” another student said.
-Mo pointed out that one student had asked Ted “how was your weekend.”

Shelia pointed out that overall, the texts could build relationship and simultaneously, the motivation to try. “You need to know [teachers] care in order to do stuff. Otherwise what’s the point in trying. If a person is ‘I’m here for you’ – you feel someone else cares, I should care too.”

Again, texts built up consequences over time: in the texts below, the youth was still not in school, but a relationship was being built to get him in the next time. Note the three quick appreciative texts back after a compliment, which many students pointed out on Research Day:

Me: Hey is your mom coming in 8:20 AM
Student: Yah bro waiting for her that's y I ain't in school my G G=grandma lmao ur old 8:21 AM :Me: Not funny....lol 8:23 AM
Student: Ii hate the fact u don't apritiate my jokes 8:24 AM
Student: -_- 8:24 AM
Me: But I appreciate you:-) 8:26 AM
Student: Ahhh good made my morning 8:31 AM
Student: =) 8:32 AM
Student: Lol jk jk idc 8:32 AM
Me: Awwwww 8:33 AM

Similarly, in the texts below it was of course not the actual medical help Ted offered via text that could be supportive to the student, but the caring itself:

Hey I dont think im going to come to school tomorw im wicked sick 7:19 PM
Have a glass of o.j. and drink water often. Get some rest, and you'll feel great in the morning, ready for school 7:44 PM
Ive been doing that all day and it hasnt helped one bit 7:58 PM
Lets have a good full 1/2 day tomorrow 9:31 PM
Idont know if im goin to school tomorrow 9:46 PM
You haven't been putting consecutive full days together, push yourself to improve, you can do it! 9:49 PM

COMMUNICATION AHA: Fundamental academic support, personal support, and light banter can occur in the same conversation.

Just as in face to face conversation, there’s no either/or.

Here’s an exchange that went from a basic schedule update, to a communication about stickers (Somerville “Villen” gear), to fundamental questions about school deadlines:

Me: No school tomorrow 7:09 PM
Student: -_- aww .... Hey do you have any villen stickers by any chance :) jw 7:11 PM
Me: Haha, no 7:12 PM
Student: Aww :( .... I wish there was school tommorrow .... Hey do you think the school will extend the add drop day .... Like give us another week for add drop o 7:16 PM
Student: r no...??? Jw 7:16 PM
Me: Not sure 7:16 PM
Student: Okaii well I hope you have a nice day or two off :) 7:17 PM
Me: Thanks you too 7:19 PM
Student: Ill try -_- ..... :) 7:20 PM

Communications that started about serious school status questions could then turn into banter that was both joking and academically important. The exchanges below happened over several days:

Student: Ted do u kn how long I am suspened for 9:41 PM
Me: [Principal] wanted to have a meeting this week, I will call you tomorrow, sorry so late 10:48 PM
Student: No I kn that I just need to kn wen is the meeting 10:49 PM
Student: Thow 10:54 PM
Me: [Student,] do you still have the math book I gave you for homework? If you do let me know and [teacher] too 2:38 PM
Student: Ya I do 2:59 PM
Me: Use it! 3:27 PM
Student: Ok. I will 3:31 PM

Another text exchange between Ted and a student mixed banter and serious stuff:

X: I just left my house right now so I'm going to b late 7:47 AM
Me: And I need to know this? 7:48 AM
Me: Hurry up! 7:49 AM
X: Because I don't want you to worry 7:49 AM
Me: You miss school regularly silly goose 7:51 AM
X: I came in all this week and collected points 7:54 AM
Me: Get here, we can celebrate 7:55 AM
X: Hahaha okk I'm on cross street now 7:58 AM
X: Noo! almost closest ive been! 7:27 AM
Me: Good try though, we both have some studying to do over vacation 7:28 AM
X: thanks and i know my eyes will be glued to that rmv book 7:29 AM

COMMUNICATION AHA: Texting can build a relationship for school even if you are not talking about school.

Several students texted Ted about sports events: he said even one student (above with "silly goose") who had been asked to leave school a few months earlier “texted me after the Lakers beat the Celtics last week, at 10:30 pm”:

Student: Lol wat just happend to ur celtics 10:48 PM
Me: Ha 10:57 PM

When a HGSE student asked one of Ted’s students (who had not been responding to Ted’s texts) about whether texting with teachers was useful, the student suggested that he “finds (them) useful, but I just don’t want to text back.” But, he added, he’d like to hear from Ted over the weekend once in a while, even if just to see “how his weekend was going.” The student also wanted to know more about Ted outside of school: for example, “is he working anywhere else, or is he just a teacher?” Talking about this non school-related stuff, the student claimed, would “make their relationship grow even stronger.”

Many students made similar statements in private interviews and group discussions. Obens, another of Ted’s students, summed up the sentiment in our April Research Day: “When you’re texting you feel like you’re closer to the teacher.” Ted agreed with Obens: “(Texting) definitely strengthens our face to face, day to day relationships.”

“Have good conversations,” Yose advised other teachers considering texting with students as we ended our April Research Day. “Like don’t just talk about school. Also talk about how your day’s going, stuff like that. Don’t just keep it about school.”

COMMUNICATION AHA: Texting didn’t supplant face to face conversation. Often, the text was really just a portal to a more informed face to face conversation.

For example, Ted texted a student this:

Me: I heard you had a bad afternoon at school. Check in first thing tomorrow 7:03 PM

COMMUNICATION AHA: As relationships grow, they are documented in texts!

In our March conversation, we realized that it actually could be very useful to a teacher to have an entire “relationship” with a young person documented via texting.

For example, Ted’s first group text that winter prompted this response from a student who at first did not text at all with Ted:

Me: A reminder that tonight is Parent-Teacher night at NW/FC. Please notify your loved one at home that teachers are at school to meet them from 6:30-7:45pm.
9:05 AM Student: O please lol 9:10 AM

Through looking at Ted’s texts in March, Ted and Mo realized that the student had built a texting and face to face relationship trusting enough that she could reveal serious personal struggles to Ted. In March, this student had texted Ted about a physical argument with someone; via text, Ted “said we could talk later [in person], and we did.” “She never told me that,” said Mo, adding that it showed real growth in the student-teacher relationship “That she could share something so big, with you, that she trusts you so much that she could tell you that.”

Teachers could share texts to catalyze student support in moments of crisis: In several other cases, Mo had shown texts with a depressed or self-destructive student to the principal, to say “look, I’m really worried.”

As Ted put it, documenting a relationship helped in less crucial cases as well:

“When I’m texting a kid I creep back up to the history to see what concerns have come up in the past – that’s helpful for me, just so I can keep it all together, keep track. To remind myself – that I would like to help them more, talk to them more frequently.” Shelia agreed on our April Research Day that texts kept a relationship around with you, for later viewing. “With a phone call, it’s out of your head,” Shelia explained. “With a text message it’s still there when you turn on your phone – it still reminds you. You have to delete it if you don’t want it – it’s there to remind you.”

Since texts were always “there to remind you,” reviewing a relationship could be distressing too, of course: later in the pilot, Ted would also point out that it became a burden to look back at exchanges that were emotionally complicated. Sometimes, he said, you just wanted to start clean with a student the next day!

COMMUNICATION AHA: Normalizing texting as something students and teachers can do makes it easier to strike up a relationship with a young person.

Mo and Ted agreed that the OneVille Project’s texting pilot made student-teacher texting seem normal and acceptable and so, allowed for student-teacher relationships to form faster. In the past, for example, Ted probably would not have asked a new student for his texting number so quickly. As Mo put it, “in the past I would wait until I developed a relationship w/ the kid and then get his texting number. I would have waited to overhear a conversation about texting, then say, ‘oh, you text? You don’t have my number!’ and then, start texting.”

Still, Ted finished our Research Day arguing that texting partners then had to “try” a little bit: “It’s up to both people to enhance the texting relationship. If the student is just responding “ok” or “yes” or “no,” that doesn’t allow the texting relationship to develop and to go towards communications that aren’t just ‘be on time.’”

COMMUNICATION AHA: The style of texts can put students and teachers “on the same level.”

Shelia and Mo had that aha on Research Day when looking again at Ted’s text “you need to be in school way more my friend.” Others noted on Research Day that students felt particularly comfortable with the medium of texting:

“Some people might feel more comfortable saying it via texting more than face to face --- because in person you might feel shy, awkward and not know what to say back,” a student said. “I’d rather text my parents than call them,” a student added.

We noted many times over the year that texting could also handle many “styles” of communication. Ted noted in March that, “Mo is more of a conversationalist with the way she is texting – mine are more announcement style, school 8 a.m. tomorrow, don’t forget boxing tomorrow, stuff they don’t have to respond to. I do that to protect myself a little bit – I don’t want to burden them or feel like I’m waiting for a response from them.” Mo added, “more an FYI type of thing.” Ted agreed: “if they have a follow up they text me back.” (Still, Ted later received and sent many joking texts as well, and like Mo, he followed up personally with many a student over the course of the pilot.)

Ironically, even while other teachers wary of texting’s writing style had suggested that the “poor grammar” of texting should make it off-limits to teachers, Ted noted in March that texting could immediately allow more “words” to be exchanged between student and teacher, rather than less: “One word answers [in person] with teenagers are more typical,” but via texting, “This is not one word answers. . .it’s better than “huh.” As Uche put it, “it takes more effort to text than to talk.” Ted added: “even more than they know they are giving – it might seem mindless, just chatting, and next thing you’re their friend!”

By late spring, when Mica asked Ted what his response would be “to a teacher who might say ‘banter’ or misspellings that happen via text are a problem for education,” Ted had this to say, though not all teachers would agree:

“Lighten up. Anyone who does text is probably aware that the spellings and capitalization and punctuation are going to be all over the place. So we might need to say, against fear of this tech, ‘get used to this -- this is not going anywhere, this is what people are doing.’ It’s almost unhealthy to fear this at this point; this is where we are going. If you want the perfect sentences, do that in an English class, but that’s not what we’re trying to do.”

COMMUNICATION AHA: The many emotions possible via text can give students and teachers a range of ways to share their feelings.

Pointing out uses of humor in the texts, Yose made another point about how texting could add to student-teacher relationships: people could communicate even if a student was in a bad mood. A face to face conversation might end with the student “shouting” out of anger, unable to help it; with texting, you could “be mad” and still “send a funny text.” With texting, you could show the recipient the “emotions” you wanted them to see, and not necessarily what you felt.

Another student elaborated from across the room: with texting, you could overcome the “intimidation” of possible “rejection” by the other person, by sending lighthearted texts across the private channel that did not have to be responded to immediately. Emotion was “easier to handle” via texts, another student said.

COMMUNICATION AHA: Politeness and respect while texting! Concerns about students being “inappropriate” with the channel may be overblown.

On our April Research Day at Harvard, students were immediately perceptive about another “pattern in the data”: students and teachers were noticeably polite to each other, texting “thanks and you’re welcome” after texts about permission slips, reminders, and personal check-ins on grades or life. “The kids haven’t been crossing boundaries in any way – no one has been inappropriate,” Mo said that day.

VIDEO OF MO HERE FROM RESEARCH DAY?

Obens explained that for texting to be successful, students had to “keep it private, clean, respectful, stuff like that.” When pushed to define respect, he suggested that students should “give the teacher the same respect you’d give them in school. Don’t think that outside you should act different.”

Ted had commented in our March review of texts on the “language the students are using in thanking us – they’re receptive to positive talk that they don’t do verbally with you.” In person, he added, students didn’t necessarily “stop and appreciate you in moments” the way they were doing with texting. Students were “taking the time to write back, thanking you for letting them know about something – it strengthens the relationship with us and the school.”

In Research Day, several students pointed out the following texting exchange as interesting and important in its level of student-teacher respect. Starting from a text from student to teacher, the exchange turned into communications about “putting a grade up” in the class:

Student: Hope your alright man.sorry that happened too u 9:43 PM
Me: I'm cool, thanks tho, have a good weekend 9:47 PM
Student: Alright man have a good n 11:22 PM
Me: Everything ok? 9:30 AM
Student: Ted? 10:39 AM
Me: Yup 11:02 AM
Student: Everythings alright I guess im gonna b in tm .. Is there anything I can do to put my grade up for your class
11:05 AM Me: Be on time tomorrow, we'll talk then. 11:06 AM Student: Alright 11:09 AM

Students weren’t angelic with texting, of course: some tried to bend the rules against texting during school. In February, Ted reported that “kids are testing limits w/ texting me while they are standing next to me in school, to get a reaction, not get a reaction – b/c they know they can’t use their phone in school. but they’re not abusing it or anything, they are just testing it.“

In March, Mo noted that one student whose “mouth is a gutter” had “corrected himself” after using the “n word” in a text because “he knows I would say something.” In March, Ted also noted that “A good boundary has unintentionally or intentionally been set by the kids or us – a few texts over the weekend at night but they didn’t start coming in at one in the morning.” Ted and Mo both agreed that kids had done basically nothing inappropriate with the texts -- as our original ground rules had requested.

COMMUNICATION AHA: Over and over, students noted that texts demonstrated caring because they demonstrated effort by both students and teachers to respond to the other.

Texting somebody back “shows you appreciate the person and you’re thankful they helped you out,” Shelia said. Mo added: “They appreciate (Ted, our Full Circle teacher) taking time out of his own private life to send these texts.” Obens said that texts from Ted had gotten him to school on time.

When we analyzed this next example in Research Day, the students first noted the easy but respectful banter between student and teacher (“ahhh jesus ted. Fine 8”). Then, the student who had sent the texts pointed out that the fact that he “put in the effort” and the time to text back and forth about attendance rules showed he felt motivated to be there on time. He pointed out his responses, like “fine” and “I’ll make it [to school] by 8:10,” as evidence. “I sleep a lot – but I made it before 8:10. It did help. I was used to coming in around 8:30,” he said:

Me: School 8:00am manana 7:10 PM
Student: ok boss 9:33 PM
Me: 8am! 6:19 PM
Student: Ok lol 6:22 PM
Student: 8:10? 6:22 PM
Me: Try for 7:55, and get settled with something to read mi amigo 6:24 PM
Student: That's too early ted. I'm make it before 8:10 6:25 PM
Me: Nooooooo, 8! 6:26 PM
Student: Ahhh jesus ted. Fine 8 6:43 PM
Me: Arrive late, leave early, booo 3:26 PM
Student: I made it on time 3:34 PM
Me: School starts at 8, no later 3:36 PM
Me: You can do it! 3:37 PM
Student: But to be late its 8:10 4:00 PM

Wielding her highlighter in again pointing out Ted’s text to another student (“you need to be in school way more my friend”), Shelia explained that “I feel like it’s genuine concern.” “It shows connection,” Obens added. “It also shows courage.” He pointed out that Ted was “taking time to text people about stuff – taking time to get a person to school on time. That shows courage on the part of the teacher. Also on the student, by replying back.” Shelia agreed, adding, “It takes the courage to make that bond – from the teacher -- and also for the student to participate in the bond.”

The texting student above (“Ahhh jesus ted") added, “Who would want to text a teacher – there’s a lot you could be doing at that time. A lot of people won’t do it – that they do it means they really care about what they are doing.”

Ted highlighted this same point: student texts to teachers “show a level of investment. Even if (the text is) not school related, the student is checking in, making that contact, when they don’t have to. It’s really important to understand – the value of doing things not only when you have to do things.”

COMMUNICATION AHA: Texting’s time commitment shows caring and builds relationship. But it also -- takes time!

On Research Day, we left sure that texting had “helped” in these teachers’ classrooms but unsure how it might work in “a school of like 600,” as someone put it. Full Circle/Next Wave are particularly “personal” schools, some pointed out: “in other schools it’s less personal, you get five minutes with that teacher,” Shelia said.

We left with a question: does that sort of lack of “personal” time for face to face attention in other schools make something like texting more likely to get traction or not? More likely to help, or less?

As Ted put it in March, “if we had serious students who wanted help academically this could get out of control – multiple texts, multiple students, if students do their homework every night and want a question answered every night – so maybe structuring that with a [texting] office hours idea – [a group chat] a couple days a week.” While computers would be most useful for serious group homework help, “texting is better b/c they don’t need a computer” and many didn’t have them to use. Students also indicated that they always appreciated the (timeconsuming) strategy of being “nagged” with reminders, via texting or not: “I don’t like getting nagged but it’s what gets me to do stuff,” said a student.

But Ted pointed out that as with any channel, you could just choose how much support you did and didn’t offer as a texting teacher. As Ted put it re. wakeup texts, “I’m going to try not to go as far as the Next Wave (junior high) will go – I’m trying to put more responsibility on the high school student – I’m shying away from the pre-school conversation.”

In June, as paperwork and end-of-school activities took over, texting began to feel a bit “extra” to the teachers. Mo had stopped doing daily wakeup texts with a few students for now: “The last couple months I haven’t texted as much as I did in the first half of the year,” she said. “There’s so much crap you have to do – paperwork for SPED (Special Education); time gets consumed with life,” said Ted, whose wife had just had a baby. “Especially with the baby, I haven’t thought about texting kids that much – but I have texted them more on personal stuff b/c I haven’t been in classroom so much. Students had been texting him asking “how’s your daughter . .They texted me when the Bruins won.”

While one-to-one relationship-building definitely took time, check-ins via text could of course also save time, by reaching absent students and by building relationships one could count on later. Some check-ins otherwise simply couldn’t happen in person during packed days. Looking at one of Mo’s texts on Research Day, Yose noted, “She’s making sure the kid doesn’t get in trouble – she asks him to call his mom and stuff. She couldn’t do this face to face b/c he wasn’t in school.” Similarly, Mo pointed out a quick student text requesting useful information: “hey do you think they’re gonna extend the add drop period?” In class, Oben explained, “I don’t feel like bothering (Ted) w/ those types of questions.“

In March, Mo had mentioned that to save time, she really needed a tweaked Google Voice that could help her text her entire class at once (GV typically only allows a text to a group of 5 people). Having “started out texting every Thursday for homework,” she had “got away from it b/c was a pain to do 5 and then 5 – to do all at once will make it a whole lot easier.” Ted agreed in June that a texting “blast” to all of his students would save him time; we’ll pilot that this fall.

But time was still a core concern in one-to-one texting -- even as for now, the relationship-building made it worth it.

We had some final “ahas” about the use of texting in public schools:

COMMUNICATION AHA: Of course, if your support network uses your phone to reach you, you need a phone.

Several times in the pilot, students lost phones, had their phones shut off b/c of not paying bills, or simply ran out of plan minutes. In March, Mo reported a range of student experiences: “Someone who lost their phone, someone who left it in a cousin’s car, someone who got it taken away – some got shut off – [xx] owes $500 on his phone, so he doesn’t have his phone any more. . .and they’re always changing numbers.”

In these cases, it was clear that economics matter in using texting for student support and that texting was hardly a foolproof method of reaching students. But this is the case regardless of whether people are using phones. And relying on phones may now be more equitable in some ways than relying on people to have the flexibility to meet you for face to face meetings whenever you’re free, or, expecting them to have computers, internet access, and home phone lines.

A student who had 78 texting minutes a month, period, put it this way to Mica:

“I think I have email on my phone but I have to pay for it. I could check email on my mom’s phone, she has a blackberry. If I’m near a computer. . I’ll check my facebook and then my email. [how often do you check your email?] not often. . I could try to check and let you know. . . I don’t have minutes and so I can’t text. Like when you get a cell phone it runs off of minutes, you have to pay for the cell phone, internet, and texts. When I have no minutes I have no text messages, no phone calls, nothing. [that’s the situation, til when?] till the 8th or 9th of April. [so If I text you you don’t even get it?] nope. . . . I don’t have a lot so it’s easy to run out – 78 minutes.”

This student later got a Droid that allowed her to do texting, internet, even “edit papers.”

And students also made their own solutions within economic limits. Another student showed us his ingenious phone arrangement: to save on texting and internet charges, he carried an unactivated iphone (purchased from a friend for xx) that he used at school to access the internet over the school’s wifi network. He used smartphone apps for different social networks and also did his texting over the internet, so he was able to approximate having a full-fledged smartphone while saving money. The student also carried a prepaid phone for calls and texts.

COMMUNICATION AHA: In our brief test of texting between HGSE students and the FC/NW students, we began to see that texting can support ongoing career mentoring, too.

A texting relationship also blossomed between some youth and the HGSE grad students who headed to the school multiple times for personal conversations (and, as one student put it, to crack a few jokes). In February, we had decided that the HGSE students needed a clearer “role” with the young people even just to check in with them via text on “how is texting going” or “how are you doing.” The FC/NW students also noted that a relationship was needed first before students could feel comfortable texting with new adults. Our decision: HGSE students would return with new roles as college/career readiness mentors on call as well as co-researchers.

One HGSE student then had this exchange with a student at FC/NW:

HGSE: Im happy to help you out. What way do you think I could help you best to be successful?
S: You tell me
HGSE: Well I think your teachers and counselor and fam and friends are a good support team. I could help w advice about graduation and college here and there
S: About geting me in 2 a gud collage for consoler for kids
S: I wonder how u get in 2 harvard
S: I need u 2 tell me where can I go and be a gud consoler wit a gud deagree

Another one of us had this extended conversation with one student, two months after we began: 9:17 p.m.

HGSE: Hey there – a mentor signed up with district but she wants to mentor in journalism carers. Not your thing, correct? Still seeking science and math person from them. And, any questions for me on college/academic stuff? I’m always here to be asked
Student: (immediately!): Do you have any info on culinary arts.
HGSE: I know someone starting a restaurant as a chef. And someone else who made it as a chef in NYC
S: Do you have anything on culinary colleges?
HGSE: I think the chef in NYC went to one. Want me to ask?
S: Yes thanks
HGSE: What’s your email address or how would I put him in touch with you? I have to go through his dad, etc.
S: (shares email address)
M: Ps is it chef role you are interested in or something else?
S: chef. But I’m also interested in everything actually.
HGSE: everything in the world or everything about culinary school?
S: Culinary school. Lol
HGSE: How about the science of food btw? There’s a course at Harvard about that; maybe google it
S: I’ll google it.
HGSE: ((having googled it myself too)): How about this to get started too – Harvard lectures online from chefs on science and food! http://scientopia.org/blogs/everydaybiology/2011/03/03/harvard-lectures-the-science-of-cooking-and-molecular-gastronomy
S: (10:31): Awesome thanks. I’ll ttyl. Good night
HGSE: ((I have to google “ttyl” and learn it means “talk to you later” (!!!)))

As it turned out, she had no way to look up these links without going to school to use the computers, because her phone had no access to the internet and she had no internet-linked computer at home. Still, a conversation began about her career interests that expanded in the months to come -- and she later got a smartphone.

COMMUNICATION AHA: Finally, face to face mentoring meetings can be really hard to schedule, making texting even more sensible.

Having planned originally to test texting “teams” in 2010-11, we promised early on to bring new tutors and mentors on to students’ “teams” if they wanted them. But to match tutors and mentors to students, the district coordinator needed clearance from the principal and then, descriptions of students’ precise interests, which took time -- and it then was very hard to schedule the face to face afterschool meetings between the tutors and the students. One tutor, who also worked as a teacher, was only available after 5:00 and on weekends. And the student we were seeking this tutor for pointed out that her own work schedule at Kmart changed suddenly “every week”: she never knew how many hours she’d get and when, and she also sometimes had to work on the weekends. In the end, it took several weeks of coordinating texts, emails, and phone calls to try to get this tutor to meet 3 girls face to face in the school. After we finally set up a meeting between the tutor and the girls after school at a nearby Dunkin Donuts, just one student took the tutor up on the opportunity – after Mica sent multiple text messages urging the student to reschedule a conflict and advised the tutor via text through gridlock traffic. No better evidence that face-to-face mentoring just isn't possible all the time!