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Literacy Apps For All

(Image credit: Jacqueline Duong)

Who: Jacqueline Duong, 1st–2nd Grade Teacher

Where: Hoover Elementary School, Oakland (CA) Unified School District

What: Engaging Parents in Student Learning

Research shows overwhelmingly that students make greater gains when what they’re learning in the classroom is reinforced at home. The challenge is finding an efficient and effective way to communicate with families, says Jackie Duong, who has taught students in grades K–2 for eight years. She’s been part of a pilot program for the nonprofit Family Engagement Lab’s FASTalk and is in her second year using the app with her students’ families. “It allows me to communicate easily with parents,” she says. “I can share announcements about report cards and other information, but I can also send home accessible tips that help raise parents’ level of awareness of literacy at home.” 

FASTalk is easy to use and Duong loves that it comes loaded with parent information, linked through the district’s Aeries SIS portal. “With other apps, I’d have to chase after parents to sign up,” she says. And FASTalk delivers messages via text, so a parent doesn’t even need a smartphone to access them.

FASTalk offers pre-set literacy tips teachers can send to parents twice a week. “They align directly with the lessons and subjects their children are learning and can easily be edited and personalized,” Duong says. “Parents aren’t always sure what kinds of things they can do to help their students at home and they really appreciate getting these messages.” 

She emphasizes that the tips are accessible and designed for busy parents to integrate for a few minutes into their daily routines. “An example might be drawing a picture, or talking about gratitude,” she says. “They give parents prompts and talking points to encourage intentional interaction and help make connections.” The students enjoy it, too. “Sometimes a student will say, ‘Oh, you texted my parents and they asked me about …’” Early indications are that the lowest performing Kindergarten students using FASTalk are achieving improved literacy outcomes.

No Language Barrier

Duong also appreciates that nothing is lost in translation with non-English speaking families. Half of her students are from homes where Spanish is the first language, and she has a few Arabic-speaking families as well. FASTalk automatically translates messages in more than 100 languages. Duong, the child of immigrant parents herself, understands firsthand how important it is to break down communication barriers between parents and their child’s school. 

“Before, I’d rely on Google translate and never knew if the message was received or if the translation was correct,” Duong says. “With FASTalk, there’s two-way communication, instead of just one-way from me.” The app supports the extension of learning and enables all parents to learn about what their child is doing and learning at school.

Pro Tip: Greater Engagement with Parents

“It’s always been a challenge to engage parents and get them involved in their students’ education,” Duong says. “We haven’t had a high parent-teacher conference participation rate and parental involvement at school has been low. But FASTalk is a great tool for opening lines of communication with parents and helping them to check in with their kids.”

Tech Used in the Classroom

iPads

Fastalk

ELMO document camera and projector

Lexia Literacy

ST Math

Epic!