Servant to a Jedi master

9th May 2014 at 01:00

We can hardly believe our eyes. One moment the television is filled with the face of the prime minister, who is happily telling us how well government spending plans are working; the next there's a toddler swiping at the screen.

This happens shortly after my wife and I drop in on some friends. We didn't give them prior notice and are amazed to discover their normally pristine living room has been left in disarray. The cause is not burglars but their two-year-old grandson. They are looking after him while his parents do something else. I imagine they are trying to leave the country.

While my wife takes it upon herself to put the kettle on and nose around their new kitchen, the exhausted grandparents clamber out of the den - a duvet cover draped over two strategically placed chairs. As they clear educationally sound play equipment and a half-eaten cookie from the settee, the infant prodigy gets better acquainted with my leg.

"Sorry the place looks like a bomb's hit it - it's because Sebastian is too bright for his own good. Aren't you, little chap?" Grandma says as she detaches him from my trousers. "He needs constant stimulation. It's a pity Mummy didn't leave her iPad for you to play with, isn't it? You wouldn't believe what he can do on it."

Actually, I would. This week I am helping a student, Jedi, with his spelling. He has been given one of our school's tablet computers to improve his learning. While I help him come to terms with the miracle of phonics he helps me come to terms with the miracle of touchscreen technology.

Although one of us has a postgraduate teaching qualification and 30 odd years of experience, it is not easy to identify who is the master and who is the pupil. Jedi may have a reading age three years below his chronological one, but he has skills I can only marvel at. One of these is the ability to switch the machine on.

His technical superiority was obvious from the start and he jumped at the chance to take responsibility for his learning. Soon, in contradiction to reports that suggested he had difficulties with fine motor control, Jedi's fingers were effortlessly choreographing shoals of apps, which swam in unison. Programs blossomed into life and faded away like fireworks.

"This is it, Mr Eddison," Jedi said, pointing to the screen. Next to a picture of a bird the word "duck" appeared letter by letter. Then the letters jumbled themselves up and Jedi had to put them back together again. Now was my chance to help him, only I wasn't quick enough. What Jedi lacks in phonics skills he makes up for in finger speed. Before I could get him to respond to my question "What sound does duck start with?", he had exhausted all 24 letter combinations and moved on to "frog".

My wife arrives with a tea tray and, to prevent Sebastian scalding himself, Grandpa hunts down the remote control, switching the TV on. "Let's get rid of that boring old prime minister, shall we?" he laughs.

But Sebastian is ahead of the game, sliding his hand across the telly. Or he would be if it had a touchscreen.

Steve Eddison teaches at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield

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