All Articles Education Voice of the Educator Student check-in app gives teachers better insights

Student check-in app gives teachers better insights

Hermione Granger got a time-turner — and teacher Sandy Graziano has a check-in app that helps build connections with students.

5 min read

EducationVoice of the Educator

Happy male teacher talking to schoolgirl while assisting her on a class at elementary school. for article on student check-ins

(Skynesher/Getty Images)

Tick, tock, tick, tock. 

I’ve taught school, either elementary or middle school, for 17 years. What I’ve learned over those years is that the most precious resource in the classroom is time: The time I give to each individual student; the time it takes to see them as the unique people they are; and the time to listen and to be heard. 

AI chatbots and tightly tailored curriculum may be efficient ways to manage the minutes of instruction time students receive in class Monday through Friday. But are students ready to learn? What else has happened in their lives during the 17 hours since they’ve last sat in my class? And how will I know? 

These days, I teach middle-school math and see about a hundred students a day. Every morning, my first 25 students spend 10 minutes with me, their homeroom teacher. If I tried to speak to each one, I could give each one a mere 30 seconds. We’d all be exhausted. 

Edtech to the rescue

Thankfully, a year ago, our district began using a check-in tool called Class Catalyst to get students to share their energy level and mood — and to write a comment in a chat, just like they do on their phones. That chat, which mimics students’ preferred communication style — texting — has opened floodgates. One student told me her cousin had died. Another lost a dog. Still another fell during football practice and hurt his leg. 

Once the students start writing to you, they don’t stop.

Provided, of course, you write back. I can’t write back to everyone during homeroom — but I do write back to every student during the course of the day. Sometimes it’s simple: “I’m happy to see you!” Or I compliment them on something positive: “I like the way you showed kindness to a friend.” Everyone likes to be heard. Sometimes, students who have poor behavior in class seek any type of attention they can get, even negative attention. This app provides a chance for them to experience positive interactions with teachers. 

This year, we asked students to do a quick check-in — sharing a couple of emoji-like symbols to let us know their energy level and mood — but didn’t require them to write notes. But I can’t help but notice that once they hear back from me, they keep writing.

The things you’ll learn about

One particularly shy student wrote to me about doing her nails with friends. “Ah,” I responded. “My nails are a mess. Can you give me some tips?” 

She couldn’t wait to teach me. She was excited to share her skills and advise me on products and techniques. (My nails look much better!) And we’ve built a bond that gives us a way to continue the conversation beyond polish and gels. 

The system flags keywords — trigger words — for me to ensure I don’t accidentally miss something important during the rush of the day. A student on the football team’s message rose to the top when he wrote about having to “fight” for the ball. I cheered him on — and dismissed the alert. But another teaching colleague of mine got a message from a student who was engaged in self-harm. The teacher alerted a counselor, and the student got help, including a much-needed hospital visit. Without that electronic chat, the student’s issues might have slipped through the cracks. 

So much happens in those hours between when students leave class and when they show up again the next morning. Students of all ages have their phones on them day and night. Gossip spreads instantly. Back in the day when I was a student, we might pass notes. Now a photo or a slice of malicious gossip reaches literally hundreds of students in a minute. Students can be cruel to one another. And when they’re home in the evenings, they feel freer to lash out. 

We ask students to check in each morning because we want to know if something happened the night before class: A student who is anxious or hurting can’t focus on algebra or English class, no matter how personalized an AI chatbot may be. 

Just recently, one of my students wrote during check-in that she was worried that “something” was going to happen. I asked her what was worrying her. She didn’t want to share the details. But even that small flag helped me be more attentive to her. I checked in before the end of the day, and she seemed calmer. And I’m keeping an ear open for her.

Using an app’s additional functions

We’re still exploring how this app can support us. During last year’s summer session, we took advantage of activities embedded in the program to help students reset their mindset. Those included breathing exercises, stretching, team-building activities and simple sketching exercises. They were great, but my 10-minute homeroom barely gives us enough time to do a simple check-in. 

Yet, I am convinced, as a teacher, that such check-ins give me a precious window into the feelings of my students. They may hesitate to voice those feelings in person or in the midst of a busy classroom. But via text, they share freely, naturally. Best of all, they relish the opportunity to share. And so do I. These exchanges bring a little joy into my teaching day. 

Tick, tock, tick, tock. 

Spending time communicating with my students helps me be the best teacher I can be.


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