Students Email Their Parents About Missing Work

In my last blog post titled, “Stop Taking Grading Home,” I explained how I use the Station Rotation Model to provide students with real-time feedback as they work instead of taking grading home. I had one teacher ask me what I do when a student arrives at my teacher-led station and has not done the work required. That’s a great question, so I wanted to share my very simple strategy with my readers.

If students have fallen behind on a formal essay, large scale assignment, or project, I require that they begin their session with me at the teacher-led real-time feedback station by writing their parents an email to explain why they have not completed the work they were assigned. They must CC me on the email, use the formal business letter format, and propose a specific action plan to catch up on their work.

This strategy is so simple but so effective! Students are rarely asked to take ownership of and responsibility for their work. Typically, a parent does not realize there is a problem until a zero is entered into a gradebook or report cards are mailed home. Requiring students to contact their parents and take responsibility for their work at various check-points along the process creates an incentive for students to prioritize their school work. This strategy also takes the responsibility off of the teacher, who is typically the person tasked with reaching out to the parents when there is an issue.

The most rewarding part of this strategy are the conversations that take place between parents and their children. Because I am CCed on the initial email, parents typically “reply all” and keep me in the loop as they dialogue with their child. I love the questions parents ask in their follow-up emails, like “Why weren’t you able to complete this part of the assignment when it was due? How are you using your class time? What can I do at home to support you in getting your work done?” I see so much value in encouraging students to have these conversations with their parents.

As soon as I adopted this strategy, more students completed their work on time and several parents thanked me for keeping them in the loop about their child’s progress, or lack thereof.

At the start of this school year, I posted a blog titled “Who is doing the work in your classroom?” where I said I planned to try to flip my thought process to make sure students were the ones working because the people doing the work are the ones learning. Each time I was tempted to say, “I could…” I challenged myself and my co-teacher to flip the statement and instead make it a question like “How can students…?” This shift in is what led, in part, to having students email their parents. I remember saying to my co-teacher, “We should email the parents of students who’ve fallen behind on their essays.” Her response was, “Why not make them do it?” Thank goodness for her reminders!

So, whenever you feel daunted by all you have to do as an educator, ask yourself how you can make your students do more of the work in your classroom. From that work will come real learning.

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37 Responses to Students Email Their Parents About Missing Work

  1. Vicki Healy says:

    Admirable idea/strategy. Are you keeping statistical evidence on its effectiveness? I love the fact that it puts the ownership right where it belongs. I like it.

    • Hi Vicki,

      I have not spent much time comparing data from this year to last year, but I definitely could. This is just one of many shifts I’ve made this year so I’m not sure comparing data would help me to identify the impact of this one strategy given how much has changed in my approach.

      Catlin

  2. Mario says:

    I’m still reflecting on the strategy. It is borderline punitive, “if you do not do this…then I will tell your parents.” Have you considered sitting down with student and determining why they did not do the assignment before contacting parents? If this intervention doesn’t work, I can see getting parents involved but bringing them into the situation prematurely seems to destroy any relationship and trust a student has with you.

    • Mario,

      I work closely with my students throughout the entire process of a piece of writing or a project. We have many conversations daily about what they are working on, where they are at, and what they need from me to be successful. Those conversations are fundamental to my real-time feedback approach to assessment, so these parent emails are not premature. They are designed to inform parents of their progress, or lack thereof, and encourage students to take ownership of that progress. Because I do not use a traditional gradebook (as described in prior posts) this is an important strategy to pull parents into the conversation about their child’s progress.

      Catlin

      • Barb says:

        Your strategy incorrectly assumes that all students have control over their learning environment and productivity.

        What about those students whose ineffective parents prevent them from completing or submitting work. How do you avoid making home worse for those kids? Even if the kid has good parents, that doesn’t mean those parents have the skills necessary to help students improve their writing productivity or proficiency.

        You also assume that all kids produce writing at the same pace. Have you thought about asking students to log their progress during class and monitoring their writing strategies? Building metacognition will more effectively improve all students’ writing.

        How can you make your learning environment more conducive to that child making progress?

  3. Amy Sharpe says:

    What do you do for those without email or internet?

  4. Heather Nugent says:

    I really like your blog comments. They are a great reminder for educators to keep students accountable and parents informed along the way. I once, early in my career, had a wise principal ask me” who is doing all the work, Heather? You or the students? I stopped. I love email idea. Cheers from a retired senior science teacher.

  5. Jen says:

    I have had my students call their parents and do a similar thing using a script for years. It’s highly effective. The kids hate it, the parent love it and it saves me time! I find that the kids work harder to avoid having to call home again. I love the email idea 💡 I think I will try that next year! Thank you for sharing.

  6. Steph says:

    I have done this for the past 3 years and find it works exceptionally well. Like you, I do it for major items, not every little thing, unless there’s been a string of incomplete work. It gets them to take responsibility and reflect on their learning skills and time management, and it keeps parents informed as well. I find it has also greatly reduced the amount of students who were coming to class unprepared or with incomplete work. I have not found it to negatively impact the relationship I have with students as I very clearly set the parameters at the beginning of the year and I don’t use it excessively or all the time, only for bigger items. I always try and find out what the backstory is first as well, to help brainstorm solutions and what they could do to avoid these situations in the future (ex. Time management and learning skill strategies). We also spend time at the beginning of the year learning to organize and manage our weekly schedules and figure out where the gaps are to get homework done but also to have fun and relax It may not be every students’ favorite strategy (what grade 6 student likes being held accountable?), but, like parenting, I think that we need to make good decisions for our students or help them make good decisions, whether they’re always popular or not. We’re not there to be their best friends, we’re adults there to support and guide them, and of course also have fun and learn from each other. Anyhow, just my two cents, but it sounds like it’s working for you! Thank you for sharing!

    • I definitely don’t do it for everything either, Steph.

      I just do it for the big stuff. The stuff I’d want to know about as a parent.

      Thanks for sharing how you approach using this with your kids!

      Catlin

  7. Valerie Lees says:

    What age group do you do this with? Secondary or intermediate ? Seems like a good strategy.

  8. Mary Dobkowitz says:

    Catlin,

    This is a thought provoking idea. I teach 7th grade and always look for ways to promote self-efficacy and responsibility. I would say that 50% of my students’ parents do not have emails. It’s a battle to communicate effectively. I wonder how your strategy would work via text message? I group text including parent and myself could serve the same purpose. I am so glad I came across your article today.

    Thank you,
    Mary

  9. Kirstin Vivacqua says:

    When I was in high school (early 90s), my Latin teacher had a policy that if you did not complete your homework, you had to write a note to your parents explaining why. Those notes were then saved until parent teacher night. It was the only class for which i consistently did my homework. I knew what I was supposed to do. I knew there was no good reason why I couldn’t do it. She just held me accountable differently than my other teachers.

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  12. Ann Feldmann says:

    Catlin,
    This blog post is fantastic. I love the idea of using the station rotation model for teacher led realtime feedback and putting the ownership of the learning on the students. Your solution to the homework issue is brilliant. Students learn responsibility, the connection to home is strengthened, and the teacher load is reduced.

    Thanks for all your inspiration. We will be sharing this out to our teachers.

    We are hoping to see you when you are in Nebraska this summer!

    Ann Feldmann .

    • Thank you, Ann!

      Moving assessment and feedback into the classroom has been incredible. Some teachers whether it’s too “idealistic,” but I think that has more to do with teachers feeling like they need to grade every single assignment. I’ve been much more strategic about what we spend our time assessing/discussing.

      I’m excited to be in NE this July to work with teachers on blended learning!

      Catlin

  13. Kristen says:

    Hi- I’m very intrigued by this idea, but I’m wondering how you get students to write an email when they won’t do their assigned work. Do you have to sit there with them while they write the email? I can’t see my students who refuse to do homework doing this. I love the idea if putting the responsibility on the student instead of me having to contact parents when they fall behind, but I’m wondering what this looks like in practice. Thanks!

    • Hi Kristen,

      My students cycle through my teacher-led station as they work on large scale assignments and receive regular feedback from me. Most of the kids who have to write their parents have done some of the work but not all of it. They sit in my teacher-led station and write their email and don’t get to move onto the next station until I receive the CCed version in my inbox.

      Catlin

  14. Sharae says:

    I do something similar to this in my classroom. I like that students are held accountable and parents are kept in the loop of what is happening in the classroom. As a parent, I would want to be informed. Success in schools involves parents, teachers and students to be involved 100%.

  15. Brittany Braasch says:

    I love that you are encouraging the students to take ownership for their work, while still keeping parents informed. I can see how it would be a huge help with work completion! Thanks for sharing. I can’t wait to try it with my students!

  16. Emily Salie says:

    Simple yet important idea….putting it on students opens up communication among all parties involved. I do this with certain projects (via phone call because our district has restrictions on who elementary students can email). I can see them emailing me and I forward it on to parents. Thanks for the tip!

  17. Chelsea says:

    This is a great idea. What a fantastic way to keep students accountable, but also bring the parents into the classroom. As a secondary teacher myself I find myself not involving parents as much as I would like and this would be a great way to get them more informed about your classroom as well as holding the students accountable. Love it!

  18. Phillip Loomis says:

    Catlin,

    Thank you for this clearer picture on how I can better handle missing assignments with my students! Our Principal asks for an email to be sent home letting parents know our student hadn’t completed an assignment. This idea helps my middle schoolers become more accountable for their actions and learning all while completed the required task of notifying parents about the missing assignment. Great idea!

  19. Michelle Klamm says:

    Students taking responsibility for their learning…AMEN!! Providing a path for students to have open communication with the parents about their learning is so valuable!! Thanks for the GREAT blog post!

  20. Marianne French says:

    I’m waiting for your book to arrive and will be implementing many of your ideas next year. I’m wondering how many students you have through the day? Next year I’ll have 38 in each class for 51 minutes. It’s taken me a long time to conference with kids individually this year and am worried about how I’m going to make this happen on a bigger scale next year with such big classes and short periods.

    • Hi Marianne,

      I’m piloting a program where I am actually co-teaching English, science, and technology, so I have 60 students at a time. My co-teacher and I work in block periods, which does give me a lot of time to work with them. 38 is a lot of kids and 51 minutes is not a lot of time. If I was trying to tackle that, I’d probably plan a 5 station rotation lesson that would extend over the corse of a week. Unfortunately, that means I’m only meeting with one group a day, but I could still work with students in small groups or pull them to work individually. It would make keeping all of my feedback/assessment in class more challenging. I’d have to use technology strategically and really keep all of my feedback super focused.

      Catlin

  21. Melissa Adams says:

    What do you do about parents who are not involved/supportive of their students and emailing/calling is not going to have an effect one way or the other. I have a group of kids this year who are VERY apathetic toward any kind of work. Unfortunately, the parents are the same way. I know that they are capable of doing the work, they just won’t. I have tried all year to find what motivates them and honestly nothing works! Thoughts?

    • At that point, Melissa, there isn’t much more I can do. My job is to keep the parents in the loop, but I cannot make a parent follow through. I typically focus my attention on communicating with the students in those cases where I know the parents aren’t involved.

      Catlin

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