Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Response to Patrick Welsh

The commentary below was written in response to "Txting away ur education" by Patrick Welsh, an English teacher at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va.
It is an opinion piece in USATODAY June 23, 2009.

My summary of Mr. Welsh's argument is as follows, but I suggest you read his article to form your own opinion as to what he says.

Mr. Welsh's argument (as read by me):
1. War need to be decalared on cellphones' text messaging capabilities.
2. Texting has become an obsession.
3. Rules exist to prevent use of cell phones in school, but they are not enforced consistently.
4. Parents even send text messages to students while in class.
5. Texting undermines a student's ability to focus and to learn (no source for this finding cited in the opinion piece)
6. Texting creates anxiety
7. Texting causes fragmentation of our thoughts and ideas.
8. Texting undermines the time tested writing, thinking, critiquing and rewriting process.
9. Texting (and its ilk) causes students to respond with quick answers, not an understanding of scientific principles.
10. Texting interrupts attention which is necessary for thinking
11. There needs to be a "crackdown" on texting by parents, teachers and school administrators.

My response:

Despite help from parents (turn off texting on student phones), enforcing the school rules, instituting punishments by teachers and/or the schools and other measures that will be devised, you will not stop the new communications revolution. Beheadings for having books didn't close down Gutenberg presses either. And soon (if not already), students will not just be texting, but will be taking movies and sending them instantly to YouTube with their new 3G S iPhones.

So lets look for the positives.
At least students are writing. I wrote in 1995 that we had entered a new era in which students were no longer reader/writers but listener/watchers. I urged, in print and speeches across the country, for teachers to find ways to get students to "write" with multimedia so that they contributed to the products being listened to and watched. That is beginning to happen.
Writing with video is now easy and fast. All you have to do is focus, push a button, push another button, trim (2 seconds if necessary), push another button, wait 1 minute and or and you will have taken and published a video that can and will be watched worldwide. (These are the steps to take on the new iPhone, procedures undoubtedly already being used by students just five days after the new iPhone launch).
Students are inventing. A new language which you don't like. But it is inventing! And it sets a context for discussion of creativity and of language that provides a marvelous teaching opportunity - if we are prepared to take advantage of it!
Some teachers are effectively incorporating texting into their classrooms. Watch this very interesting YouTube video entitled The Twitter Experiment- UT Dallas found at http://tinyurl.com/mefmbm to learn how texting and tweeting can become central to the learning process.

So what should we do? Call out the troops? Ban the devices? Behead students if they are caught texting?


Instead let's teach with the technology. If you honor the use of the new communication tools for some of what you do, you are much more likely to get agreement from your students not to use them when they are not useful to your teaching/learning objectives. If your try to ban them entirely, you will fail.

Teachers cannot teach the same way they taught five years ago. Yes, we have to rewrite our lesson plans. Yes, we have to learn some new things (including the language of texting). Yes, we have to learn from the students. But how exciting! We can be learners again, not just teachers!

You will not stop texting and the new communication tools. Capture them for your purposes!