Teaching school texts by txt

12 October 2009
The Guardian
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Teachers should relax about pupils’ mobile phones – they can boost standards and liven up the lesson if used imaginatively


It appears lots of teachers like me are up in arms about pupils using mobile phones in the classroom. Teaching unions are terrified that if schools don’t ban them absolutely, chaos will ensue: the internet will become awash with pictures of teachers’ cleavages and embarrassing slip-ups, pupils will never listen to anything being taught because they’re too busy texting and bullying and abuse will increase exponentially.

To a certain extent this may be true, but it doesn’t get away from the fact that mobile phones are here to stay and are increasingly becoming a vital part of our modern world. As teachers we have a duty to show children that these pieces of technology are not taboo items – that they are not as harmful as cigarettes and heroin – and that they can have a very real role in the classroom.

Indeed some of the best lessons I have taken have been when I’ve asked pupils to text questions about the set texts we’ve been studying to each other. After that, they’ve texted replies to each other. I even managed to make Thomas Hardy interesting by doing this: the pupils interrogated the text and provided suitable answers for each other, summarising the key points of the novel in text speak. The lesson was fun and very memorable; far better than asking them to write a summary.

A recent survey conducted by Nottingham University has shown that mobile phones can really help boost standards in the classroom if they are used wisely and imaginatively. Pupils can Bluetooth their work to each other, set deadlines on the digital diaries, research issues on the web, take videos of teachers explaining key points. Most significantly for me, the new breed of smartphones, which have big screens and memories, can hold “e-books” and pupils can carry vital English textbooks that are out of copyright such as the aforementioned Hardy. Some pupils have even put their exercise books on their phones, uploading them to the internet to save them. Surely, the problem of forgetting text and exercise books will become a thing of the past if these smart phones become a staple of the modern school?

I feel that they could really help boost standards if they are used properly in the classroom, but they are banned in most schools. Obviously, firm boundaries need to be set when they are used: they should be about learning, not mucking around or bullying. Above all, the phones should be visible to the teacher so that they can see what’s going on. At the moment, in lots of classrooms, mobile phones are used secretly – because they’re banned – and this can cause more problems than it solves. Too much teacher time is taken up with confiscating them or arguing about whether they’ve been used or not. I’ve noticed pupils are now lightning quick about making their mobile phone disappear into their sleeves and pockets: some even take pride in making them vanish into thin air and you wonder whether you’ve seen them.

It’s time for the teaching profession to enter the 21st century and embrace mobile phones as tools for learning, not agents of destruction.

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