Mobiles in Schools

In secondary schools today, few issues are likely to generate more heat and angst than those that relate to mobile phones. The ‘right approach’ is as fought over in schools as it is in many homes.

At one extreme are those who simply say mobile phones have no place in schools and pupils should be banned from bringing them to school. This can get reactions and kick back from both students and parents. It also, all too often, brings an encouragement to subterfuge and dishonesty as students work to find ways to get around the strict rules.

The premise for such arguments is students can’t be trusted and have inadequate self-control. Also, it says that the mobile phone has nothing (or little of benefit) to offer to the learning process in school and the downside is distraction and disengagement from the learning process.

At the other end of the spectrum are those who believe children should have full freedom to carry phones in school. Such approaches usually emphasise on expectations of appropriate mobile phone etiquette, common-sense and responsibility, rather than strict rules around phones.

The starting point for those at this end of the spectrum is high expectations of students, their ability to acquire the skills to master their own phone use responsibly and to do what’s right in their own best interests for effective use of their learning time in school. Also, there’s a strong belief that whether we like or not these children are going to live and grow in an environment where the mobile phone is so ubiquitous, so embedded that the process of learning to control the phone needs to start as early as possible.

There are, of course, many shades of perspective in between these two extremes. However, if there’s one thing that is common in my experience, it’s that when you talk with people they struggle to determine whether their approach is right. Are they making the best decision? We’re all fumbling in the dark on this one a bit.

The video above shows one perspective – a scheme that has moved from theatres and concert venues to schools. In many ways this solution comes from the ‘they can’t be trusted’ mindset. Allowed to carry their own phones through the day children won’t engage effectively with their peers, they will undermine their own ability to build effective interpersonal skills. When we think about it, the reason performers found this solution appealing was because they were offended by audiences’ divided attention, and also that they wanted to prevent recordings being circulated freely to others. It could be argued that educators are in the business of sharing knowledge, and therefore should not be taking steps that limit the spread (if they really believed students might circulate recordings of their lectures!) or that educators should want to create learning experiences that hold students’ attention, are engaging and don’t fear distraction by phones.

I’m very interested to know what others think on this. Is the mobile phone, and particularly social networking so pervasive and addicting that personal discipline cannot be the way forward for children? Are these actually bigger issues for adults who are digital immigrants than for the digital natives for whom choices about how to keep the phone in perspective in their lives is a part of growing up?

It could be argued that, in the face of learning experiences that are boring and uninspiring, early generations of children didn’t need mobile phones to be distracted. From solitary pursuits like gazing out of the window or doodling, to participatory processes of cheeky note passing, hangman or battleships my own school days saw plenty of ways to be distracted long before the arrival of mobile phones.

So, are you a hard-liner, a soft touch advocate or something in between? Please share your thoughts.


Reading Pays Off For Life

The benefits of being a reader and developing a reading habit for children are very well documented. I’m interested to see this news from a study carried out at Yale University – being a reader is associated with living a longer life;

Times of India report – People Who Read Books May Live Longer

I’m guessing that the link is to do with the fact that those who practice sufficient self discipline to incorporate reading in to their busy lives also have that bit more self discipline when it comes to other aspects that impact on longevity (such as sleep, diet etc.) I also suspect that these are people who, on average, live more purposeful lives, whether driven by goals or less tangible ideas flowing out of the fact that they are continually exposing themselves to new ideas of others though their reading.

Whatever the reasons for the association ……. I’m off to enjoy a good book now.

Making Education Human

I don’t believe it’s wrong to say that still way too much of what goes on in schools is dehumanising, disrespectful and too redolent of the factory processing models of the past. I see so much written, and educators spending so much of their time working to tackle what are essentially the symptoms. Bullying is a classic example. Anti-bullying programmes are all well and good, but how much of the efforts are really directed at asking the cold, hard questions about what it might be about our schools as institutions that creates bullies and victims?

We have to be willing to challenge all orthodoxies, to question why we do what we do the way we do. If there aren’t good answers or justifications, especially keeping in mind that we need different outcomes in the 21st Century, then we have to ready to tear up the play book and seriously innovate with intent, with sensitivity and with passion.

I first came across the work of Steve Hargadon around 5 years ago because of his involvement with Web 2.0, School 2.0 and other aspects relating to ICT in Education. He has conducted a very large number of interviews with key figures in education, available as podcasts, as part of pushing forward a reform agenda to support educators who want to achieve real and lasting change.

Here’s a recent article about Steve’s work:

KQED News – Mindshift – Steve Hargadon

His ideas about school creating followers really struck a chord with me, as many parents and teachers have heard me talk on this very issue in recent months. This one issue alone offers many aspects for a teacher to explore what they do, how they interact, what is the nature of classroom discipline – and whether it’s creating followers or leaders. There’s no question, leaders must be self-disciplined, but the argument is that for this young people need a very different set of practice and experiences than the usual teacher-driven discipline of school. All this does is breed surly obedience in too many children.

To get genuine self discipline in schools, we have to enable children to be far more involved and have a focus on student voice.

There’s much work ahead.

Children Learning Leadership

Here’s an interesting blog article that struck a chord with me. Somehow, we make the mistake in pretty much every culture around the world with an approach which suggests that “you’ll figure out leadership when you get there”. Perhaps that’s why there’s such a vacuum of quality leadership in the world.

Bacharach Blog Article on Leadership Training

Before any person – child or adult – gets ideas about being a ‘leader’ they have to learn the sometimes challenging lessons of self-leadership, such things as ability to delay self-gratification, the will to do what has to be done to see something through to completion (even when it gets hard, boring etc.), overcoming procrastination, being proactive, setting a goal for oneself and then pursuing it.

These are all things that we have to get better at ‘teaching’ in school (i.e. providing learning opportunities) and, as the article said, the sports field is not the only place for these life lessons.

If there’s one part of the article that I’m not sure I agree with, it’s the bit at the ends suggesting that the way to do this is to create some form of ‘leadership academy’ within each school. Instead, I believe such learning has to be blended in to all the learning, right from elementary school. It also has to be blended in to school practices, discipline, classroom management, how teachers share their expectations of children – in short throughout the entire school culture.

If we can do this, we can truly aspire towards a position where each child has the opportunity to become and achieve to their potential.

Ron Clark’s Essential 55

Here’s an interesting approach from an award winning American teacher. He has set out 55 rules for teachers to use to hold eir students accountable, develop solid habits in them and prepare them effectively for life.

Amazon – Ron Clark’s Essential 55

One of his key arguments is that teachers spend many more hours per day with children than their parents, so they have a far greater ability (and responsibility) to assist those children to devlop the habits of solid character. That said, these rules could also be very useful for parents as well.

Here are the rules themselves:


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