Down with Phones

Phones…the bane of teachers everywhere. Just today, in 2 hours of lessons, at some point or another, almost all of my students were using their phones instead of focusing on the material. Over the years, I’ve tried so many different methods to address this. Forbidding them in the classroom proved to be pointless. Punishing them damaged rapport. Ignoring them Students_Who_Use_Cell_Phones_THUMB_with_watermark__69469.1414424368.168.168allowed them to reproduce with Viagra-munching rabbits. Being more interesting is effective in bursts, but no matter how fun and engaging you make the class, there are going to be points when you have to do writing prompts or reading or whatever, and unless you are just a magic dynamo, you can’t be ‘on’ for a full 5 contact hours on Thursday. Lately, I been trying to integrate cell phones into my lessons in various ways: dictionaries, research, Padlet, learning management systems, and the like. It helps a little. Not enough, not by a long shot. So what should we do?

Cell phones should be banned in school. Science says so. According to a recent study, banning cell phones in school is the equivalent of adding up to a week of extra schooling.

This view [that schools should allow cell phones] is misguided, according to Beland and Murphy, who found that the ban produced improvements in test scores among students, with the lowest-achieving students gaining twice as much as average students. The ban had a greater positive impact on students with special education needs and those eligible for free school meals, while having no discernible effect on high achievers.

Banning cells is possible in primary schools. It’s much harder to implement full-on bans in college programs.

What do you do about cell phones in your class? I’d love to hear your suggestions.

Better Vocabulary through Technology

One of the most classic, time-honored traditions in foreign language learning is the venerable flash card. They were absolutely vital to my passing high school French and college Russian; the walls of my cozy apartment in Seoul were bedecked in thousands of little index cards (you couldn’t find the standard American-sized ones there…) with a staggering array of words in written in Hangeul in the run-up to taking the standardized Korean language exam a few years back. They have done their duty many times over in my life.

Yet, when I moved to Istanbul three years ago, I wanted to find a less paper-oriented way of studying Turkish. I had tried a couple of flash card apps on my iPhone, and they were fine, I guess. And then I heard about Memrise. Memrise combines a flash-cardlike mechanic with gamification. Which is why I was intrigued by it to begin with. And lo! It was good!

There are a couple of different ways to use it. You can either set up your own word list, as I did when I was studying Turkish at Dilmer language school (you can see the word list I made here). Or you can search

abe-mem-memrise-language-german-learningfor lists that other people have already made; the one that I am currently just about to finish is a very spiffy one consisting of the corpus of the 1000 most common Turkish words, sorted into convenient levels and sections. One of the cool things you’ll encounter as you study are “Mems”. These are mostly text-image mashups that people have made to help them remember a word and its meaning.

MEMRISEOnce you’ve got the list you want to work on, you’ll begin taking short ‘lessons’ where a few words (you can set the number in your preferences) are introduced to you, and then you are quizzed on them in a variety of ways. You can even have audio quizzes if that’s what floats your boat, though most words that I’ve seen don’t have an audio file recorded. You’ll have to get the questions right enough times to continue. The system also remembers when you learned the word, when you last were quizzed on it, and how often you’ve missed it. Then, every few hours or days, it will re-quiz you on it to make sure you still remember it. If you miss it, then it will go into a more frequent rotation for a little while. Eventually, the system decides that you know a word well, and you won’t see it in your reviews for a long while (unless you choose to do a general review instead of its algorithmically-divined practice).

And because Memrise is steeped in gamification, there are points and badges and other little dopamine jolts here and there. Also, it has both a brain and a garden motif going, which don’t quite mesh thematically, but whatever.


Memrise. Use it!

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