Secret Lecturer: Let’s beat the blues with fun projects but, please, no texting
The winter term draws to a close, the election decided, funding promised. ‘Promised?’… errrr, well, ‘mentioned’ then. Attendance might start dropping off slightly as students switch into holiday mode. Not much solid work gets done in the final days, as our college winds down for Christmas. I’ve kept some fun lesson activities back for now, though they’re still connected to our subject. There’s just one thought nagging away - and if I act on it, it could keep me sane for the first few weeks of next term…
‘U goin bak?’ Many of us will recognise the familiar short-hand opening text exchange between 16- to 18-year-old students as they will all too soon be facing the dark, cold and damp mornings of January 2020. It highlights FE lecturers’ annual new year challenge to re-inspire learners. The search is on for jump leads powerful enough to kickstart our students’ interest in studying.
Practical activities that work in January
Lecturers have to return with a passion and enthusiasm, come what may, in order to get students back on track. So the trick is not to use up all those fun ideas at the end of term, but rather keep a practical project back for January. Re-embedding academic enthusiasm and discipline is a slow process but we have to show some passion even if we are feeling the after-effects of Christmas ourselves. Remember we and our students have to negotiate several weeks of dark mornings before it gets lighter in March.
The key thing is to have planned an exciting practical assignment - nothing theoretical or they’ll just mutter “What on earth is all this about?” and we’ve lost them.
Glitz, glamour and practicality
If your subject is arts-based, send them out to film something, arrange to visit a science lab, a factory floor, an art gallery, an archaeological dig… think big and go for relevant personalities, local or national, in your field of study and introduce a bit of glitz, glamour and practicality to your course. Or take them on an away trip, skiing, walking, something they can work towards and look forward to during January’s dark days. Or go on a subject-related trip to the cinema, theatre or a TV show (normally free but book up the previous term for large groups) and ask them to write up their findings.
We have to avoid the snowball effect - if one student loses interest, others will follow suit along the lines of “If Joe’s off, I’m not coming in either!”
Has texting seen off the apostrophe?
Which brings me back to that original text ‘U goin bak?’ Mobiles seem to appear out of nowhere in lessons despite a strict college policy of insisting mobiles are placed in bags stored at the front of the class. In fact, texting becomes almost frenetic when students are only half concentrating on learning in early January. Gang mentality - the need to belong - kicks in and instant access to their peers’ thoughts is sacrosanct so grammar goes out of the window.
My students just capitalise the first word of any sentence and everything else is lower case. Last week I read that the person running the Apostrophe Society has given up! Texting is unquestionably responsible for so much badly written prose. Yes, I know the argument that English is forever changing as a language, so if someone understands what another person is communicating, without following recognised rules of grammar, it’s no problem. But apostrophes on the way out? Perish the thought.
I tell my students not to be so slapdash in their writing but they do it all the time. They’ll produce one essay for me every two to three weeks but be texting their friends once every five seconds.
Generation Z have known nothing else
My classic example of mobile phone use is when a student once came into college looking shattered. When asked what was wrong, he said someone had texted him in the middle of the night and he'd got little sleep. “How about turning it off?’ “Oh no, can’t do that, I might miss something.”
Then there was the student getting texts during a lesson. “Why have you got your phone out?” “It’s my mum, she keeps texting me to see if I’m ok and asking why I’m ignoring her calls on purpose. She knows I’m in a lesson.” Then I’m asked to get the parent off his back by confirming that, yes, her son is in a lesson. I don’t, of course.
We’re talking here of Generation Z who were born with a mobile strapped to their ear. They’ve known nothing else. Look at any typical family around a restaurant table and even the smallest child will be glued to a screen. Walk down the local high street and construction workers invariably stare at their phones - and you wonder why our national productivity levels are so low.
One more new year’s resolution: another ban on mobiles
I digress. We will restart our phone ban in lessons in January with mobiles supposed to be in bags out front and just wait to see who sneaks out a concealed phone first. One year I found my first culprit looking down at his desk. I called him out and he said he liked listening to his own music while working.
You can only do so much; it shouldn’t be the college’s job to educate students on sensible phone use. But something that started out as a gimmick is now officially recognised as an addiction. Which beggars the question just how much more innovation can a mobile phone take? What will take its place? Happy Januaries!