Especially in the early years, smartphones were seen as a problem more than as a resource for teachers. Too many distractions in the classroom for students, they said. Yet mobile phones have also become an integral part of teaching and something similar has happened for Whatsapp, the most famous instant messaging app: many specialized schools have started to use it to communicate between teachers and teens, in the classroom and outside. And there actually are many ways Whatsapp can prove to be a valuable training tool.
Starting with younger children, for example, the first immediate impact is in the teaching of writing and punctuation. Anna Mariani, a primary school teacher in Pisa, told YourEduAction about her experience, which began by asking mothers to lend their mobile phone to their son for 5 minutes a day in the afternoon. From there sending very small messages, questions the child had to answer. A few words were enough to get a result: at first the children wrote words attached to each other, without any punctuation, perhaps mistaking spelling. The mobile phone already contains a spell check in itself, but the teacher's advice, in real time and above all targeted, has integrated the teaching process.
A Whatsapp group can help inclusion, facilitating interactions and sense of belonging
Anna Mariani also cites an example of her work, an exchange between her and a pupil.
Luigi: Hi teacher I bought a book a pencil and a bag.
Teacher: (Hi teacher, I bought a book, a pencil and a duffel bag.) Hello Luigi, how are you? I'm glad you bought so many nice things.
Luigi: "Hi teacher, I bought a book, a pencil and a duffel bag. I love you so much.
Clearly, the strength lies in combining episodes (and therefore phrases) of the child's daily life with an educational aspect, in this case grammatical.
Carla Romoli, a middle school teacher from Bologna also decided to use Whatsapp to give back to children the ability to focus on lesser used words, to understand them and to make them their own. Every evening the teacher sends a message to her students, choosing a word: “Hi guys, tonight's word is: abyss. It means deep chasm; it comes from the Greek: bottomless place. Good night.” And so on, hoping that such a simple gesture will make the boys appreciate the variety language.
Maria Teresa Luongo's initiative at a middle school in the province of Benevento, endorsed by the entire institute, is also worth mentioning: an annual project to involve a class in a Whatsapp group to use in and out of the classroom. Why? The same school explains: “They will be able to post links, homework, photos of notes for absent students, ask for materials or preparatory activities for the next day, inform of any changes or news, etc. Moreover, being in a group, although virtual, will help inclusion: the digital screen will facilitate social interaction and restore a sense of belonging to the class group”.
The app also helps to reduce costs and waste by reducing photocopies
It is therefore important to note that on the one hand Whatsapp is important for those who are not in the classroom – and can therefore recover tasks, materials, even the audio of a lesson – but also for those in the classroom who are there and have missed something.
Whatsapp's potentially endless archive and the ability to create group Broadcasts allows you to store exercises, tips, guidelines throughout the school year that can be recovered in times of need. In England, for example, a lecturer told of storing an audio with a summary of the topics covered at the end of each lesson, the tasks assigned at home and the goal of the next lesson.
There are also very practical and instant uses that can be helpful during the lesson. Let's think about how many photocopies it took to deliver the same text for the kids to read. No more waste of paper, no more costs of ink or sheets of paper, just one click and with Whatsapp the file is shared with everyone. Also, let's think of charts on the board that needs to be deleted to make room for others. Again, just send the individual files on mobile phones and they be saved without the risk of getting lost or without someone being able to copy them incorrectly or incompletely. Let’s not forget the chance of sending audio and video, even large ones: clips of documentaries, interviews, journalistic services that can accompany the explanation of the teacher.
In short, good reasons to no longer consider Whatsapp as just a distraction.