Teaching happens when there is two way communication between teacher(s) and class/students. The 21st century has been hijacked by digital devices. Our students are netizens held captive by these digital tools. Their range of knowledge in using these digital tools is mind boggling. In order to march along with our students, we need to match them stride for stride.
Teachers need to be constantly and regularly in touch with students. The digital world has opened the doors to instant communication widely. WhatsApp is one such free application that I put to good use with some innovative activities to get my students’ attention and interest. I keep in touch with my students / parents through the class Whatsapp group. Most of the students own smart phones but the other few are connected to the class group with their parent’s smart phone. WhatsApp is an excellent medium to communicate with students out of class. It is now easier to share texts, images, videos, audios.
These are some ways I use WhatsApp:
1. Updating students who missed a class.
2. Send assignments / questions based on texts.
3. Send writing skill tasks. Before sending them I discuss every detail like layout, relevant vocabulary, use of CODER and such other things in the classroom. Through WhatsApp I send questions along with the tips already discussed in class. My students are happy for this hand-holding.
4. While completing these tasks, if they encounter any hurdles / confusions, they contact me in the group. As I clarify these doubts, other students with similar problems too benefit.
5. I use the WhatsApp group to remind about deadlines for (a) submitting assignments (b) preparing for competitions (c) competition details and date. These reminders are necessary especially during weekends and holidays.
6. WhatsApp is a great means to share images and videos. For example in one of the classes I teach the English text has the poem ‘The Laburnum Top’ by Ted Hughes. I share beautiful images of laburnum and goldfinch with the class as part of pre-reading activity. This sets the tone of the class as I begin with the discussion of the use of yellow colour by the poet depicting autumn.
7. Background information about authors is very important for students to know. Author’s perception about the topic can be understood if one gets to know about the author. I have created ‘Know Your Author’ activity for my classes. Before beginning any text, my students share information about the author in the WhatsApp group. I compile these and while doing the text in the classroom, the class tries to understand the connection between the information about the author and his writings. The class is made to think whether the author would have written the same piece in a different way had his background been different. This sets the tone for critical thinking.
8. I send across common errors committed in English. This helps my students to practice correct English usage.
9. Further, I also use WhatsApp to send interesting information / questions on topics beyond the texts. For example, picking up sentences from the text, I make my students correct the mistakes deliberately made by me. I gamify these by giving deadlines and awards. Students lap these up and many a times robust discussions are held in ensuing classes about these.
As students are already hooked to digital communication platforms it is very important to set ground rules like the following to be followed strictly:
1. No good morning / good night messages
2. No personal messages
3. No forwarded irrelevant information / message
4. No sharing of activities of one group with other groups (creates confusion among students of other classes).
A word of caution: WhatsApp can be distracting to students. The temptation to chat with friends may override its use for ‘educational purposes’. Students need to be aware of this and parents and teachers have to help students make effective use of smart phones for innovative learning methods.