Parent Partnership

Personalized Texts Are Cheap, Useful Nudges

Studies show using quick text messages can improve parent engagement, attendance and achievement.

October 18, 2019
Priscilla Du Preez / Unsplash

A simple text message can be a useful intervention for parents of students from pre-K through high school. The quick reminders have been shown to increase attendance, improve homework, and encourage at-home reading, writes Erin Richards in “Reading at home and school attendance shot up with a cheap, easy solution: Texting” in USA Today

But it’s not just any text; Personalized messages show more promise than standardized texts for engagement and interaction. One study in New Orleans compared personalized texts to robotexts encouraging parents to enroll their child in HeadStart. “Parents who received personalized texts – rather than robo-alerts – tapped back to complain that the website materials for Head Start were confusing,” Richards writes, by way of example. Organizers used the feedback to modify the enrollment process. 
Columbia University professor Peter Bergman began studying the effects of texting on parent involvement and student behavior nearly a decade ago. In one study, weekly alerts sent to parents about a student’s missed assignments and absences “reduced course failures by 28 percent and increased class attendance by 12 percent.” Bergman person started a nonprofit, EdNudge, to help schools communicate with parents by text. 

Texts can also be used to send prompts for learning. A site funded by the Bezos Foundation, Vroom, sends weekly texts to caregivers of children under 5 with tips for brain building exercises—backed by research-—they can use to interact with their child. The suggestions include simple, quick options like showing your toddler the meaning of “off” and “on” while playing music. “The goal is to help parents turn everyday activities such as feeding and dressing their children into moments that develop focus, self-control and the ability to understand other people’s perspectives – skills research has linked to thriving in school and beyond,” Richards writes. 

Parents appreciate the ease of a text reminder; while they may have the intention of implementing some of the exercises, the phone reminders encourage parents to integrate the activities into their daily lives. 

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