500 Texts Later: Messages Students Value

Last week I sent my 500th message through Remind, and I wasn’t sure I wanted the honor of the gold-and-blue “super user” badge with the number “500” in large type.  500 seems excessive.  Did I really send my students 500 messages?

I heard through folk statistics that teenagers send and receive 100 texts per day. They are processing messages 24/7, likely in fits and spurts, so where do I and my text alerts fit in?

When a hundred students reach into their pockets at precisely the same time, I know there is great power in sending a text alert.  Though they might ignore official school email, a buzzing smartphone could be Mom, a boyfriend, a teammate, Coach, or … me, their English teacher.   Timing the text to appear at just the right moment — between classes? after school? after practice? before dinner? Sunday evening? — is more guesswork than science. (One time I sent a weekend homework reminder at 7:05pm on a Friday, just after kickoff when I knew many were in the stands at the football game. I know, right?)

What matters, I’ve learned, in texting sophomores and juniors and the staff of the literary and arts magazine I advise, is the value of the message.  Students value when I…

  • Reschedule the exam on the dystopia unit for the week
  • Postpone the “This is Just to Say” poem emulation exercise
  • Remind them of a periodic task like doing Membean or NoRedInk assignments
  • Preview the essay prompts through a link in a Remind text
  • Alert a small group of three or more students that indeed they do present tomorrow on the Transcendentalists
  • Direct the publication staff to an unlocked gate during weekend layout sessions
  • Urge students to trust themselves when they take the AP exam
  • Share a link to a Google Doc in a Remind text that contains exemplary student essays on Huckleberry Finn
  • Post a spreadsheet with redeem codes for a new app we’re trying like Device 6 or The Grading Game
  • Update students on the state of the Period 2 vs. Period 6 average class battle
  • Praise students for a great week or project

Also, if your message goes the full 140 characters, you might lose a good number of viewers, especially for the last 30 characters.  I’ve learned that with my “Mr. Damaso” handle at the start of the text, I can get 110 additional characters to appear on the lock screen of an iPhone.  If I bury important information in the last 30 characters, students may never see those words or links because, after a cursory look at it on the lock screen, they may not return to the message again. Now I’m one to follow an ellipsis, which Remind inserts for the postponed 30 characters, but I know students may not be.  In short, put the valuable part of the message first!

Signing up for text alerts as a student allows me to see exactly what my students see.  And now that I’ve embedded the Remind widget in my Blackboard courses, students can review any of the 500 messages I’ve sent!

When I’m feeling cheeky, I like to add hashtags to text alerts and then casually refer to them during class time to see who got to the end of the message.  This is a different kind of value — schtick. (Maybe one day these hashtags will actually be live links!)

  • #All5s (before AP exam)
  • #PopTheGoogleBubble (for refining Internet research)
  • #WordsAidDigestion (on Thanksgiving Day)

Screen Shot 2014-05-14 at 12.02.00 PM

With the recent advent of attachments, I have found myself attaching animated .gifs to inspire students in the waning days of the semester or at least to titillate them as the grind of final exams sets in.

In the competitive space of my students’ phone screens, I’m always seeking ways to make my text alerts actionable, memorable, and fun.


John Damaso teaches sophomore and junior English in an iPad one-to-one environment at Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix, Arizona.  He also advises the Brophy Literary & Arts Magazine and The Wrangler, a student satire newspaper.