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!


  1. So, what do you suggest teachers do when students are texting in class? Allow it? Personally, I like the idea of allowing students to have their cell phones turned on while on campus and not in class (or when they are being used for a relevant class activity), but dealing with unrelated texting during class is frustrating. I take the phone away until the end of the school day. According to policy, I'm supposed to take them to the office...

  2. There is a definite difference between using tools and being rude. When a person in authority is in front of a group disseminating information it is rude to carry on a conversation with another person whether spoken, in writing, or using telepathy. Are we surprised teens are rude? We shouldn't be, they learn it from adults.

    Are there appropriate times in class to carry on conversations? There should be, and if there isn't there are other problems the teacher should be dealing with first.

    When all is said and done, cell phones are going to be present in the classroom. Students need to be taught when its use is appropriate and when it isn't. It sounds like some teachers need to be taught the same lesson.

  3. I come from a several different angles on this subject.

    Number one, I understand that with today's technology and the use of smart phones can be a benefit in a classroom as a resource....but I am no dummy. I grew up in a time that cell phones/smart phones were everywhere in high school and college. I am pretty sure that 100% of the uses of those phones in the classroom had absolutely nothing to do with that class or any type of education for that matter. Majority of my text message were in regards to plans for after class. Cell phones serve a great purpose of entertainment for people that are bored. I see them as a distraction and I do not see having them in my classroom as a benefit.

    Number two, majority of people that use cell phones during class do so because they are bored. As a teacher, I cannot be upset with a student for having a cell phone and causing a distraction if I am providing an environment that allows this type of behavior. If I am not monitoring the room properly or not providing instruction that allows that student student to be fully engaged in the lesson....it is my fault for the distraction. We cannot expect teenagers to file into a little room, sit quietly for 50 minutes, while we provide poor engagement....of course they are going to use cell phones to pass the time, I would too.

    Lastly, I have to provide a learning environment in my classroom. That includes using excellent classroom management. If I do not, then there will be a wide variety of distractions that includes improper cell phone usage.

  4. I agree with lots of what has been said here. I think banning phones in class is futile. They are now tiny devices, and short of a full body cavity search, we will lose this battle! Also, it's not a battle I think we should be fighting.

    The technology is here, and has been for a long time now. It's time for us to teach appropriate use in the classroom. If you can see benifit for it (as I do), then harness and use it, but set the guidelines. If you set up the relationships and structures in our room, they don't don't have to be a problem.

    Students use phones in my class as cameras, video cameras and digital voice recorders. Many of our latest podcast projects were recorded using these devices. Voice recordings were able to be taken in quiet locations and then bluetoothed to the computers in the noisier lab. It has been VERY useful for me.