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(Out of the) Case Study: XIS Principal Trades Phones for Strings
By Tamara Studniski 06-Dec-18
XIS Grade 8 student Alex Weeke often grabs the guitar from the wall for a few minutes of practice during the morning break (photo: XIS). ________________________________________________________________________ The buzz about whether or not schools should ban phones continues to grow louder, especially since France passed a law in July prohibiting the use of phones in schools for students up to the age of 15. In fact, many schools have some sort of policy surrounding phone use, but establishing a policy is of course the easy part. So, first came the easy part. At Xiamen International School (XIS), Secondary Principal Peter Burnside led a discussion with teachers that resulted in an agreement: limiting phone use to academic purposes was worth a try. The idea was presented on a trial basis, to be reviewed in several months’ time. Parents supported the idea, and the policy was implemented with little resistance. Next came the bigger challenge: enforcing the policy. While some punitive confiscation of phones was necessary, the focus was on helping students find other positive outlets. Of course, many students just started talking more with one another, but still, their hands were free. Burnside, an avid guitar player, had an idea: why not give them instruments? Two guitar wall hangers were installed in a common area that features sofas and comfortable chairs. It’s a place where students used to lounge about and scan through their text messages. Burnside then hung two of his personal instruments: a ukulele from a local factory and a sturdy Little Martin. Then, he waited. Doubt lingered. One teacher commented on the high quality of the instruments, implying that students would inevitably damage them. But students were intrigued by the new addition to their space and respectfully inquired if they could play the instruments. The next day a sign encouraging them to play was hung, and the rest is history. Between classes, the instruments are almost always being used by students. The music teacher said she has heard a student play while others sing along. One student commented that “students need something to do with our hands, and guitars are better than phones.” While there have not been too many kumbaya, campfire moments, the experiment seems to be delivering positive results. The students play, gather around, and chat (the old-fashioned way). One XIS science teacher commented that it is wonderful to see the kids at break time actually using the instruments. Another student explained that he likes taking this chance to practice and is glad no one will complain, since playing is actually encouraged. At present, only anecdotes support the success of this non-scientific experiment. When Burnside dropped by the lounge on a Saturday, he noticed the instruments were missing. After momentary confusion, he investigated and found a small group of students had taken the instruments upstairs while on a break from working on a tech project, so they could play and relax. No phones were out. Another day, two girls stuck after school waiting for a bus with nothing to do sat on the sofas, each playing an instrument and signing; in this case, however, they also had their phones out. I realized the success of the guitar program, however, when they showed me they were using their phones to look up lyrics and chords for songs they wanted to play. Having an instrument to play led them quite naturally to responsible phone use. Another day, I saw a student use his phone to tune the guitar. Now that phones are discouraged in the hallways, most will say the environment is better. The number of phones being confiscated has gone down, and many days no phones are seen. The plan is to pursue this experiment by placing instruments throughout the building. When I talked with Burnside about the apparent success of the initiative so far, he said, “Guitars are more likely to be played when they are out in the open. I rest my case.” Tamara Studniski is currently the EE Coordinator and MYP/ DP English Language and Literature teacher at Xiamen International School.
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12/15/2018 - Deanne
Great educational engagement and authentic learning strategy, Peter