Striking the right balance

There is nothing better than curling up with a good book. As a child I used to devour books, racing through my favourites and reading in bed far later than was perhaps good for me. Today I still love reading, but on holiday I am more likely to load up my Kindle with a stack of e-books than weigh down my suitcase with the latest doorstop blockbusters.

This very much echoes what is going on in the classroom. Books are increasingly being edged out by more modern alternatives. At Headington, for example, we are exploring using interactive texts to study Shakespeare, which can be annotated, easily searched and referenced. These also include links to watch a scene from a film or theatre version – really bringing the classics to life. Like all schools, we have well-equipped classrooms with interactive whiteboards, lots of computer rooms and dozens of online resources. Our teachers are finding increasingly exciting ways to harness new technology, using tablets to provide new challenges for girls and also discovering apps which make their own jobs easier and more effective.

Of course we still do lots of work using a trusty pen and paper, and the School is filled with books. I do not see that changing, but equally I do not see the logic in ignoring tools which can so greatly enhance learning.

This also applies to the controversial topic of devices that the children themselves own. Growing numbers of schoolchildren have smartphones and tablets from an increasingly young age. There have been news stories about addiction to tablets in pre-schoolers and teenagers who spend frighteningly long periods of the day on the internet, or texting into the small hours. We are also ever aware of the threat of cyber-bullying. It is important that girls are not wedded to their phones in free time – and this is part of their social education. These fears have led some schools to take quite draconian approaches to smartphones and other equipment, with some banning them altogether. Our view is rather different.

In some lessons, girls are encouraged to have their smartphones out on the desks and can use them for research during the class. It allows them to access a wealth of information they could not get in a thick textbook. We can also use them to teach girls to judge the reliability of sources – what to trust and what not to trust. These are extremely valuable life skills. Of course, we are aware not all girls will have access to such equipment. Girls will not be disadvantaged by not having the latest gadget.

They are very powerful communication devices and clearly can be abused. Girls could be texting each other across the room. But think back to your school days. Do you remember notes being passed around slyly out of teacher’s eyesight? And do you remember the one class in which you would not dream of passing notes? It is the same thing – it is all about control. A good teacher is aware of everything going on in the classroom and engaged students will not mess around, regardless of the tools they have at their disposal.

I find the way learning continues to evolve – using both modern technology and old-fashioned techniques – truly exciting. I only hope I can keep up with the young people as they master technology one step ahead of us.

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