What's the difference between digital platforms?
With the first day of school approaching, the last thing you want to worry about with all the other back to school items in your brain is which digital media platform to use in your classroom. Here’s an overview of four digital media platforms you can use for student portfolios or parent communication.
I’ve used digital platforms long enough that I can speak to their efficiency in my classroom. I feel pretty confident that I can show the differences between Seesaw, ClassDojo, Remind, and Class Tag. That way you can pick which one you feel best fits your needs. Just a little disclaimer: I teach first grade, so I’m mostly speaking about lower elementary grades. Upper elementary grades have different platforms that have the cute factor toned down a bit.
My personal favorite, and I don’t think I’ll be switching any time soon. There are free or premium services, but the free version has more than enough. The students can choose little animals as their avatar or they can upload their own pictures. I let them choose an animal, and it’s okay if all the girls want to be a unicorn!
- Student Portfolios: Students can draw, type, take audio recordings and video recordings. Teachers can upload images and students complete an assignment on the page. This is my most-used feature on seesaw because you can tailor the activities to your current curriculum, and record your own directions if they need them repeated. You can create your own activities, or there are free activities within the site. TPT has seesaw resources. Click HERE for phonics activities where the students place an emoji on the correct word.
- Parent Communication: Seesaw has a section to write to parents privately. I use this more than email because it was easier to have ONE method of communication. Think direct messages with Facebook, and that’s what you’ve got.
- Parent-Student Communication: Parents can see the work that their students complete in class through an app on their phone. There are settings to make sure you approve what others can see, and parents can ONLY see what their own child posts. They can comment on their child’s work, which the kids love.
- Class blog: Seesaw has a class blog, which I haven’t used yet. I’m planning on using it this year, so stay tuned. It’s a separate page, so I believe parents would have to physically go to the blog to see it, rather than seeing it in the Seesaw app itself. This is the reason that I haven’t used it yet. I’m not sure if that extra step is worth it.
- Ease of use: As a teacher, Seesaw is super easy to use. Basically if you use Facebook, you can use Seesaw. There is a QR code to log the student devices onto your account. Once they’re logged on, they’re on all year. Parents have told me time and time again that they love the app because they can see their kiddos work right away, and it’s easy for them to use. Seesaw gives you step-by-step instructions to show your students how to navigate through the app. Once they use it a few times, they usually find a function I didn’t know about and show me! It is very organized, you can move student work into folders.
- Parent Percentage: I usually get a high parent percentage to download the app and log into my account. Last year I had 95% parent participation. But I really push it. At back to school night, I have the QR code ready to go. Many parents download it that evening. If they don’t, I flood them with handouts and reminders. What I DON’T do is give the students rewards if their parents join. Some parents just won’t, and I’m not going to single out those students.
- Pro: You can upload any template you wish for students to respond digitally. The sky is the limit with this. It also saves a ton of paper.
- Con: There isn’t a classroom management feature. (see ClassDojo). The blog is a bit more labor intensive to use.
This app started as a behavior tracker for classroom management, but has recently added a student portfolio portion as well. There is a social-emotional portion and a lot of really cool videos on growth-mindset, empathy, and student mindfulness. There are little monster avatars, which are super adorable, and there are posters and materials that match the monster theme for display in your room.
- Student Portfolios: Basically the same as Seesaw. The only difference I have found is that you cannot upload your own activity. This is the main reason I prefer Seesaw. ClassDojo has the students starting from a blank page only. You can add written directions to their portfolio, but not a template and no audio directions. If you’re not ready to upload templates, then this shouldn’t be a problem for you.
- Parent Communication/Class Blog: There is a direct message feature, and there is also a “Class Story”. Think Facebook or Instagram. If I wanted to send pictures of our apple orchard field trip to all the parents, I can put them in my class story with ease, and parents will see them within the app.
- Parent-Student Communication: This gives ClassDojo an advantage over Seesaw. Besides seeing their children’s work, parents can see their children’s behavior statistics.
- Classroom Management Feature: This is pretty neat points system. You can customize your points for both positive points and negative points. However, I would caution using this as your only behavior tool. Imagine you are a struggling student who gets points taken away, and the student next to you has 100 points and gets to help in the library. Is that going to help you be confident in class? I used my points primarily for things like homework, or returning baggie books.
- Ease of use: Just like Seesaw, this is simple to use. Parents have all of it within one app, and students can move through their portfolio easily.
- Parent Percentage: It’s the same with Seesaw- if you work at connecting with parents and genuinely show them that you want them to be a part of your classroom, they’ll join.
- Pros: The social-emotional portion is great, and the portfolio, blog, and parent communication is all in one app.
- Cons: You cannot upload your own template or record your own voice on student activities.
The primary function of remind is parent communication. Students can join as well, and it can serve as a group text for information and updates. I don’t use it for my first grade class, but I’ve used it when I coached Girls on the Run. My own kids have it with their high school teachers and coaches. No more excuses about “I didn’t know”.
- Ease of Use: Once it’s set up, it’s easy, and the app is simple to navigate. You can either get notifications through the app, through text, or through email.
- Parent Percentage: I had 100% parent participation when I used this as a coach. Once you enter in the parent’s phone numbers, you can flood them with reminders to join.
- Pros: Instant communication. One year, there were bad storm fronts moving in the morning of the Girls on the Run race. I was able to instantly give all the parents updates. I don’t know how I could have managed without Remind that morning.
- Cons: It’s communication only. No student portfolio, so if you choose this you’ll need another app for student work.
This is a new program that I haven’t used yet, so I can only give you an overview of what I see on the surface, but it looks pretty cool!
Class Tag is similar to Remind in that it’s a communication platform directly to parents. The difference between Remind and Class Tag is that there are more ways to communicate with parents. For example, on Class Tag you can send a file to parents to sign up for something (field trip, parent teacher conferences etc) and they can sign up ON the app. You don’t have to mess with notes back and forth from home. Class Tag also has a blog for classroom pictures and updates. It looks interesting enough to try, I may give it a shot this year just to see what it’s all about. I especially like the idea of using it for parent teacher conferences. If you use Class Tag, and can clarify how it works, put it in a post below and I can update this!
Pro: Looks like everything you would need to communicate with parents.
Con: No student portfolios.
Biggest tip I can give: Whatever platform you use, make sure it works for your needs and your families. Pick the ONE thing that you’re going to use it for the most, and find the program that does it best. For example my ONE thing is student templates for their portfolios. Seesaw does it best. So the rest of the features work just fine for me.
Happy platform testing, friends!