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This study aimed to explore how middle school teachers might use two-way, multilingual
text messages to support parental involvement. Specifically, using a tool called Talking Points,
the goal was to encourage academic conversations between parent and child by sending 2-3 text
messages per week that would inform the parent about what their child was learning at school.
We hoped that this would facilitate parent-child conversations about the importance of education
and encourage students to make connections between school, the world around them, and their
future goals. Prior research suggests that this form of parental involvement, termed academic
socialization, is an effective way for parents to support academic achievement during early
adolescence (Hill & Tyson, 2009).
Three main themes emerged from this study that have significant implications for
1. Text messages help teachers and parents communicate
Interventions that establish or enhance partnerships between parents and teachers are
effective at increasing parental involvement and improving student achievement (Henderson &
Mapp, 2002; Jeynes, 2012; Oxley, 2013). Increasing communication between school and home
is an important step in establishing partnerships between parents and teachers. Text messages are
a quick way for teachers to communicate with parents about their child’s school day. Ninetyone percent of parents who received the text messages and responded to a feedback survey
indicated that the text messages helped them have a significantly better understanding of what
their child was doing at school. The students who participated in the study also agreed that the
text messages were a useful way for teachers to communicate with their parents about school.
The text messages sent to parents also encouraged parents to communicate with teachers.
Each text message provided the parent with a question they could use to engage in a


conversation with their child and requested a text reply from the parent. Research suggests that
two-way communication via text message is more successful at fostering parental involvement
than one-way messages (Pakter & Chen, 2012). On average, 33 percent of parents responded to
each message we sent. Although parents did not always respond, when asked what type of
messages they preferred, messages that requested responses were favored over one-way
messages. This finding suggests that parents appreciate the option to provide teachers with
feedback via text message.
One key feature of this text messaging intervention was the tool’s ability to translate
messages from English into other languages, and vice versa. Parents who elected to receive the
messages in Spanish appreciated this feature, stating that the translation encouraged their
involvement. Given the linguistic diversity in many urban environments and increasing
linguistic diversity across the country, teachers and schools seeking to communicate with diverse
populations should seek translation tools to support outreach efforts.
2. Text messages help parents communicate with their adolescent child
The transition between elementary school and middle school can be challenging for both
students and parents due, in part, to adolescent development and a more complex school
environment (Oxley, 2013). During early adolescence, relationships between parents and their
child tend to change as adolescents undergo significant physical, cognitive, and social
development (Hill & Tyson, 2009). Middle school also typically marks an increase in the
number of classes, teachers, and peers with whom their child interacts. Given these factors, as
students enter middle school, parental involvement tends to decrease (Hill & Tyson, 2009;
Hoover-Dempsey, Walker, & Sandler, 2005; Jeynes, 2007).



In this study, parents appreciated that the text messages helped facilitate conversations
with their child. Eighty-two percent of parents thought that the text messages made it easier to
have conversations with their child about school, and 62 percent reported that they talked with
their child more after receiving the text messages. When asked about the text messages that they
did not respond to, 68 percent of the parents stated that they still used the information to have a
conversation with their child, but did not reply to the text. These are important findings given
that the concept of academic socialization hinges on a parent’s ability to engage in conversations
with their child about school and their academic interests.
3. Teachers should integrate parent text messages into their routine
Communicating with parents can be both challenging and time consuming for teachers.
In middle school, teachers often have over 150 students in their classes in a given year or
semester. Many teachers choose to create systematic ways to communicate with parents, such as
sending weekly emails or notes home, posting information to websites or blogs, or using
electronic gradebooks. However, using these methods, it can often be unclear if parents are
receiving messages and/or acting on the information. In addition, many of these methods rely on
the parent having frequent Internet access, which may exclude parents from certain backgrounds
(Zickuhr, 2013). Pakter and Chen (2012) found the systematic use of text messages increased
the amount of parent contact, while greatly reducing the amount of time a teacher spent
contacting parents.
In this study, the teacher participants felt that the text messages were a positive way to
communicate with their students’ families. Teachers were impressed by the positive feedback
from parents and appreciated the frequency of the communication. That said, in this case, the
teachers themselves were not sending the messages, and they were concerned that when the



responsibility fell on their shoulders it might become burdensome. They suggested that creating
a systematic approach to sending the messages would help make such an intervention feasible.
One suggestion might be for teachers to make sending text messages part of their daily or
weekly routine. Another idea is to elicit student support by making it a “class job” to generate
information and questions to send home each day. In addition, the teacher participants expressed
concern that these text messages were not reaching the parents of all of their students (only the
ones who had voluntarily signed-up for the program). Thus, they emphasized that for this
intervention to be both useful and effective in the future, they would like to see a larger
percentage of their parent population register to receive the texts.
Considering the multiple layers of communication that text messages can facilitate, the
format, content, frequency, and timing of the messages are important factors for users to
Message format. Text messages that provided parents with multiple choice response
options were replied to more frequently (37.7%), compared with open-ended response messages
(28.4%). In addition, 64 percent of parents stated that multiple choice messages were a preferred
method of communication, while 54.5 percent selected open-ended messages as a preference.
Messages that provide a multiple choice response option simplify the reply for parents, and thus
this type of message deserves consideration. However, open-ended questions may also have
value as they leave more room for parents to personalize their communication with their child.
Message content. The content of the text message is an important consideration when
one seeks to support parental involvement that reflects academic socialization. I suggest that the
message does one or more of the following:



1) helps the parent link schoolwork to current events
2) provides the parent with a larger context for a specific assignment their child is working on
3) encourages the parent and/or child to make connections between schoolwork and their goals
or plans for the future
4) helps the parent understand the child’s mindset or feelings regarding an assignment or event
5) provides the parent with information about how they might best support their child’s growth
and development in a given context
Message frequency and timing. This study indicates that sending approximately 3
messages per week is appropriate. Fifty percent of the parent participants identified that they
prefer to receive three messages per week, while 23 percent indicated that two times per week
was preferable and 18 percent favored four or more messages a week. However, since 2-3
messages per week was the frequency tested in this study, further study on sending messages
with more or less frequency may reveal different results. Message response rates in this study
were relatively consistent on weekdays between 4-7pm. This study did not send messages
Saturday-Sunday, thus we cannot draw conclusions about message use on the weekends. In
conclusion, our findings indicate that sending messages three times during the week, between 47pm, may be an effective way to communicate with families.

Study Limitations



While this study suggests that the use of text messages to support parental involvement
during middle school is promising, there are several important limitations that need to be
This study aimed to engage parents from diverse backgrounds, however the findings are
limited due to the relatively low enrollment by parents of color. In addition, this study was
unable to assess the role that parental economic background may play in the effectiveness of
using text messages to engage parents. Both of these factors (race and SES) are extremely
important for schools to consider as they approach parental involvement strategies, particularly
given the achievement gap that exists between students from different racial and socio-economic
groups. Coupled with the fact that schools tend to cater to the competencies of white and
middle-class families, schools need to select strategies that specifically increase the parental
involvement of parents of color and low-SES.
Additionally, the results of this study reflect the experiences of a group of motivated
researchers, teachers, and parents. All elected to participate in this inquiry with the
understanding that they would be helping to test something new. Thus, it is possible that
participants interacted with the text messages differently than members of the general population
might. In addition, this study was conducted within the context of a well-established charter
school that focuses on interdisciplinary, project-based learning. Thus, it is unclear how these
results might translate to other settings.
Suggestions for Further Inquiry
Through my research and observations during this study, several important questions
have been raised for me that warrant further inquiry.



1. Are text messages an effective way to communicate and interact with diverse parent
Demographic trends in the United States show that Latinos are now the largest ethnic
minority group and that non-white students in K-12 classrooms now outnumber white students
(National Center for Education Statistics, n.d.). Thus, it is very important to consider
racial/ethnic demographics within the context of parental involvement. Previous research
suggests that levels of parental involvement may differ across ethnic groups, with parents of
color being less likely to be involved in “traditional” ways (Auerbach, 2007; Borg & Mayo,
2001; Hanafin & Lynch, 2002; Lareau, 2003). In addition, the prevailing culture of school tends
to favor the social competencies of upper- and middle-class populations (Delpit, 1995; Lareau,
1987). In general, schools need to do more to involve parents of color and low-income
When parent response rates are considered in this study, white parents replied more
frequently than parents of color. However, as previously stated, the rate at which parents replied
to messages was not necessarily a clear indication of how they engaged with the messages. In
addition, this study had limited enrollment of parents of color, and did not take into consideration
parental SES. Further research should be conducted to determine if text messages between
teachers and parents are an effective way to engage parents from minority and low-income

2. What role does gender play in parental involvement?
The majority (88%) of parents that enrolled as participants in this study were female.
Thus, due to limited male participation, it is difficult to draw conclusions about the use of text



messages as a way to communicate with male parents. Further research regarding the
involvement of male parents may inform future interventions seeking to engage males.
The parents of female students responded 35 percent of the time, while the parents of
male students responded 26 percent of the time. This finding leads to interesting questions about
the nature of adolescent-parent relationships, and how these might differ based on parent and
student gender. It also suggests that schools may need to consider differences in male and female
student experiences when they develop parental involvement initiatives.

3. Do two-way text messages between teachers and parents support parental involvement
that reflects academic socialization?
One theory driving this study was that providing parents with information they could use
to start a conversation with their child about school would facilitate parental involvement that
reflects academic socialization. However, this study did not directly measure the content of the
conversations parents had with their child as a result of the text messaging intervention. An
important area of further investigation might be to observe how parents use the information they
receive in the text messages and measure whether or not text messages can contribute to a
parent’s ability to engage with their child in a way that indicates academic socialization.

4. Do text messages between teachers and parents support improved student academic
achievement during adolescence?
It was beyond the scope of this study to investigate the effect that two-way text messages
between parents and teachers may have on student achievement. In theory, providing parents of
adolescents with information that helps them engage in authentic conversations about school
with their child supports parental involvement that has been linked with improved academic


achievement (Hill & Tyson, 2009). Given the positive response from parents in this study,
further research about whether engaging parents using text messages can impact academic
achievement is warranted.