Have smartphones destroyed a generation?

This article by Jean Twinge, (psychologist) caught my attention as an educator and parent as it raises some alarming concerns around social-emotional and mental health well being, particularly for young people. There is no doubt that technology has changed the way we  work, access information, shop and socialise, however, it is important that these devices, namely smartphones, don’t take over our lives.

In her article, Twinge  graphs major shifts in emotional and behaviour, where significant changes occur from the year 2012 (the year where smartphones were  owned by more than 50 percent of the population in the USA). Twinge states, “The arrival of the smartphone has radically changed every aspect of teenagers’ lives, from the nature of their social interactions to their mental health. These changes have affected young people in every corner of the nation and in every type of household. The trends appear among teens poor and rich; of every ethnic background; in cities, suburbs, and small towns. Where there are cell towers, there are teens living their lives on their smartphone.” (A 2017 survey of more than 5,000 American teens found that three out of four owned an iPhone.)

  • What is alarming, is the following evidence which identifies the profound effect these devices are having on the lives of young people:
  • Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011 (the current smartphone generation – iGen (a term coined by Twinge).
  • iGen’s are less likely to date, hangout with friends and go to parties. And everything they do is documented on social networks.
  • Increased depression and anxiety – when a post is made on social networks, there is the anxious wait to see how many likes it will get or what might be said. Twinge states that girls’ depressive symptoms increased by 50 percent between 2012 to 2015; boys’ around 21 percent. Girls are also more likely to experience cyber bullying.
  • Less time is spent on homework.
  • They are spending less time hanging out. They are spending more time at home, in their bedrooms, alone, with their devices.
  • Increased feelings of loneliness and feeling left out. The more time they spend on devices, the more common are these feelings.
  • Depression is another issue of concern. Twinge identifies that, “Teens who spend three hours a day or more on electronic devices are 35 percent more likely to have a risk factor for suicide, such as making a suicide plan.”
  • Sleep deprivation is another issue where phones are not switched off until late at night – if at all.

Twinge’s study identified teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on non screen activities are more likely to be happy. The opposite is true regarding interactions with friends. Those who spend an above-average amount of time with their friends in person and not via media, are 20 percent less likely to say they’re unhappy.

The data comes out the same each time regarding this fact: the more time spent on social media, the more unhappy/depressed a person feels. A factor which could be attributed to this is that one sees everyone’s highlights on social media – their fun time, holidays, parties, with friends and so on –  when we see this over and over again we start to become dissatisfied with our own lives. It gives us unrealistic expectations of  our lives. For the most part, people’s lives are taken up with routine activities, family time, work, study or school – not all the glamour and pizzazz that is often highlighted on social media.

What is at stake here is these patterns are likely to follow young people into adulthood. Where depression has occurred, it is more likely to happen again. The importance of balance needs to be put into place. Just as adolescents in previous generations had boundaries placed on them – what time they came home, where they were and so on, parents and teachers can instill the importance of device free time, socialising in real time and getting out, away from their bedroom and devices.

Further reading New Healthy Media Habits for Younger Kids

Teaching for the 21st Century: Oracy lessons

Teaching students how to take turns and talk, express opinions and ideas politely, challenge ideas, public speaking and other speaking activities are vital for communicating effectively  in life and the development of social skills. They are skills  which are as important as literacy and numeracy, especially in this digital age where conversation can often be lacking in favour of social networking or texting.  Peter Hyman, School 21 cofounder and executive head teacher, supports this move and says, “We need to elevate speaking to the same level as reading and writing.”  



Powtoon for learning and creativity

I have just discovered Powtoon and I am excited to share it! I was looking for an alternative to Powerpoint and stumbled across Powtoon and am hooked on how simple it is to use but most of all the creativity it displays to enhance learning. Powtoon is an excellent teacher and student tool. Read more about how it can be used in the classroom (eg introducing your subject to your class, school rules/expectations, lesson overview, new facts, book reviews… the possibilities are endless. There is a free version and paid option available.

Is Downs Syndrome really a severe burden?

an educator of children with special needs and as a parent of a child with Down’s Syndrome, this topic tore at my heart.

Why is a person with Down’s Syndrome considered to be so dreadful to the world? Sally Phillips in her documentary, A World without Down’s Syndrome, BBC 2016, highlighted several key points for society to consider including what kind of society are we that wants to abort these fetuses right up until birth? Why is it socially acceptable to do this?

Facts in the UK on DS  (I don’t have Australian data):

  • In the UK 9/10 women choose to terminate a fetus with DS
  • Screening was introduced in the UK 30 years ago with no public discussion – there has never been a public ethical debate on the issue.
  • A new NIPT screening test developed by Lyn Chitty at the Greater Ormond St Hospital gives testing for DS 99% accuracy (more ‘choice’?). This test formerly available to private patients only, is to be rolled out under the NHS described as “the most exciting development in pregnancy care for decades …”
  • A medical description given to parents on DS lists ALL that could possibly go wrong. How about giving the same list to EVERY prospective parent!!!
  • Mothers are given a very grey picture: DS was described by a Professor (fetal medicine expert) “For some people having a child with DS is an intolerable event ….. a burden to the family and society which will last for a long time ….”
  • Comments from a person with DS: “Who is perfect? We have lives just like everyone else.” This person because she has DS, has to justify her existence.  DS is NOT a disease.
  • Counselling services do not have up-to-date advice to give prospective mums on their diagnosis. They listen and then ask the person how do they think they can cope?
  • When a parent spoke from her heart about her journey with her DS child including her second pregnancy and the pressure she was under for testing to a room of nurses and midwives, every single person cried.


How do we change society’s fear and the people who tell prospective parents their child will be a burden? By education. For people born with DS, it is not the end of the world for them!  They love life, they love people and they appreciate any opportunity which comes their way.

This whole issue is very close to me as I received the same pressure in my second pregnancy when I was expecting twins and one was identified as DS. I was offered genetic counselling and the ‘choice’ to abort the DS twin. Again, at labour, I was reminded, “this child will be a huge burden for the rest of your life. We can deny him oxygen …. “(my twins were both prematurely born so needed to be in a premi-crib for 6 weeks).  My third pregnancy resulted in pressure for testing as ‘I already had one child with a disability.’

When we live our lives in a way that we consider some people less worthy to live because of some ‘defect’, or a fear of what might be, we are not appreciating the  existence of that person as a living being, an atma, the person residing within the body, a person with the same feelings and dreams as any of us – yes they are different, but so are we all.  Prospective parents need support and reassurance that their journey will be somewhat different but nonetheless their child will be loved and cherised as any other child.  And just as it takes a village to raise any child, it takes a society to support these individuals in their life’s journey.   If we are looking to eradicate people born with Downs Syndrome, where does it end?  What about people with other disabilities? What about a person with an acquired disability?  What about the elderly? At some point or another, we are all going to be a burden on society. What kind of society or world do we want?


Smart Goals

Goal setting is an important strategy to aim towards success – both for teachers to set goals for their class and for students to set individual positive goals which are achievable. Goals need to be specific, identifiable, reasonable, relevant and the outcome observed. In other words, they are:

S = Specific
M = Measurable
A = Attainable
R = Relevant, Rigorous, Realistic, and Results Focused
T = Timely and Trackable

= SMART Goals

They take a bit of practice to get it right.

Specify a date, what will be achieved and what the benefit will be:

By (date) …

I will (what you wish to achieve) …

so that (why this is of benefit to self or your organisation

Here is an example of a SMART goal a teacher sets for a student:

Topic: Increasing sight vocabulary


Michael will increase the number of ‘tricky words’ that he reads from flash cards to 30 by week 6 term 4 with 100% accuracy on every occasion. (Leading to being able to read these words in texts)

For such a goal to be achievable, it would be necessary to apply intervention for example:


  • Daily practice and revision of target words on flash cards.
  • Present some of the target words in a text daily. (All words covered by end of each week)
  • Play a game with the target words like bingo/memory/go fish daily.
  • Provide parents with a copy of the words to practice at home.

SMART Goals can also be written to assist students in following procedures and managing behaviour. For example,

Peter will comply by following verbal instructions given one to one by the teacher during form class.


  • Whole class is given visual prompt for following instructions.
  • Positive, explicit instructions are given to Peter and what is to be done
  • Allow time for Peter to process the information
  • Check understanding by repeating instruction

More information on writing SMARTer goals can be found here.

Using movies to inspire writing

I have posted before about one of my favourite literacy sites The Literacy Shed which has lots of ideas for using movies to inspire writing.  I recently came across Video Writing Prompts at the Teacher Hub which has an excellent collection of videos which can be used as lesson warm-ups or to promote writing in many ways such as essay writing, reflecting, critical thinking, comparing and questioning – there are many ways to use the videos! Ideas for different writing tasks are given for different year levels.  Videos are undoubtedly a valuable tool to add to engage and motivate young writers.

Literacy Resources for early readers/struggling readers

Fabulous resources are worth sharing!  To help readers with the skills needed to be successful readers Literactive is a fantastic resource for building the basics necessary for good reading skills. Although registration is required, resources are free.  K-grade 1 resources.

Starfall: ABC’s, learning to read, It’s fun to read, I’m reading. A reasonable amount of resources free. Access to full bank of resources is US$70 for teachers or classroom access $150 a year. PreK-Grade 2.

First Steps: Australian Based Literacy Program, made up of four interwoven strands of literacy: Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Viewing, which symbolise the interrelatedness of literacy learning. All strands are threaded with practical, accessible, classroom-tested teaching procedures and activities. Creative Commons versions are available to download as long as resources are acknowledged, now altered and not used commercially.

Inferencing skills

Inferencing skills are an important foundational skill and a prerequisite for higher-order thinking (Marzano 2010).    The understanding that  information is not stated literally but is implied improves skills in drawing conclusions. However,  many students struggle with this concept and using Question-Answer-Relationship (QAR) will assist their understanding.

Using a text, four types of questions can be asked:

1. Answer is right there: Answers are in the text using the same words as in the question

2. Think and search: Answers are in different parts of the text and put together to identify meaning .

3. Author and You: Information is provided in the text and the reader draws on their own experience to provide a response.

4. On Your Own: Prior knowledge is used to answer a question.

How to use QAR is described in more detail here.

Some excellent inferential worksheets are available here.



Apps for Developing Literacy Skills

Although there appear to be a plethora of apps for literacy, I had difficulty finding suitable age appropriate ones for low level literacy learners in high school.  Most of the apps I came across were aimed towards much younger learners.   I was hoping that as more apps came on the market, someone, somewhere would develop something which would excite me.

Well it has happened!  On one one of my favourite literacy  blogs, Mr P’s ICT, (thanks Mr P, I’ve used lots of your ideas), I came across mention of Alan Peat’s literacy resources.  On further investigation of references to Alan Peat’s resources, I discovered Alan Peat pocket app of exciting sentences (great teacher resource) as well as an app for interactive student use  Exciting Sentences Pupil Edition.  These apps are well worth the few dollars they cost.

To find out all about Alan Peat’s Exciting Sentences, google it and you’ll get a pdf of what they are about.

Other great apps from Alan Peat include:

The Alan Peat Pocket Punctuation App, a great teacher resources which has very clear teaching strategies and resources including tasks can be viewed on an interactive whiteboard for student participation.  Again, cost is only a few dollars. Amazing value for the content it provides.

Alan also has a series of story machine apps for story planning, including, The Science Fiction Story Machine,  Writing Gruesome Ghost Stories and The Fairytales Story Machine.  You can read more about them here.

Digital learning is so much fun!