Teens and their screens, what are they like? My 16-year-old, who is studying for her Nationals at the moment – is inseparable from her smartphone. She’s bombarded by a constant stream of stimulation from Netflix, Snapchat, Facebook and the like. Messages ping in at all hours, and she insists that she’s unable to study without music, TV, or some electronic background chatter to help her to concentrate.
I’m one of the last true generations of techno-colonials, who got to know the beautiful, elegant first-generation Apple computers in the early 1990s. As such, I simply cannot study or write without complete silence. My schoolwork was done in a quiet upstairs room, my university library was absolutely silent, and I crammed for my finals holed up for six weeks in a remote farmhouse in Birsay, Orkney. So it takes a bit of a leap to come to terms with the idea that young people can work in an online environment with background noise and multiple applications open.
As a principal teacher of English, I am often asked by youngsters if they can listen to music during quiet classwork. And I know that many schools are faced with the dilemma of whether to make wifi accessible for everyone throughout the building. I must admit that I’m inclined to give ground to the young people. If they can prove to me that they get results after choosing to access technology while doing their work, then I’ll be happy.
And I’ve found that working with youngsters and embracing their ideas for the application of technology can really pay dividends. I was impressed when one lad told me he was going to record his key quotes for National 5 English on his phone, so that he could revise and memorise them in a quiet moment on the boat to school. Likewise, online revision and homework has proved really popular and effective. Young people will willingly browse YouTube for supplementary material on writers, poetry or other literacy-related material.
It was with these things in mind that I set out, with the launch of the National 5 English course, to write a new style of study guide. My resulting book – E-Grades: National Five English – ditches paper altogether, but is accessible via smartphones, tablets and computers of any kind. It includes video tutorials, as well as audio and text versions of a range of new material.
The idea is to cater for the digital learning style, and abandon the traditional study guide/past paper format. I hope that this type of approach will prove accessible, relevant and stimulating for Scotland’s young techno-natives.
Simon W Hall is an author and a principal teacher of English who has worked as an examiner and a development officer. E-Grades: National Five English is available from Amazon