Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Are mobile phones affecting YOUR daughter's grades?

Texting can affect teenage girls' school grades, but has no effect on the academic performance of boys, a new study has claimed.

Researchers found that while girls do not text more than boys, they use text messages to interact with friends and nurture relationships, while boys use them more to convey basic information.

Scientists found that as girls become more compulsive in their behaviour, texts disrupts their schooling, resulting in poorer academic performance.

Dr Kelly Lister-Landman of Delaware County Community College said: 'It appears that it is the compulsive nature of texting, rather than sheer frequency, that is problematic.

'Compulsive texting is more complex than frequency of texting.

'It involves trying and failing to cut back on texting, becoming defensive when challenged about the behaviour, and feeling frustrated when one can't do it.'

Previous studies have found that teenagers send and receive an average of 167 texts per day and that texting is their preferred method of communication.

Research has also shown that 60 per cent of adolescents text daily, while just under two fifths used their mobile phones for voice calls.

This new study is the first to identify compulsive texting as significantly related to poor academic adjustment.

Scientists analysed the behaviour of 211 girls and 192 boys in grades eight and 11 from schools in a semi-rural town in the American Midwest.

Most came from households with two parents (68 per cent) and were primarily white (83 per cent), which was representative of the demographic characteristics in the school district.

Dr Lister-Landman designed a Compulsive Texting Scale to examine whether texting interfered with study participants' ability to complete tasks.

Experts monitored how preoccupied they were with texting; and whether they tried to hide their texting behaviour, among other factors.

The students also completed a questionnaire that focused on their academic performance and how well-adjusted they were in school.

Only girls showed a negative association between this type of texting and school performance, which included grades, school bonding and feeling academically competent.

Dr Lister-Landman said: 'Borrowing from what we know about internet communication, prior research has shown that boys use the internet to convey information while girls use it for social interaction and to nurture relationships.

'Girls in this developmental stage also are more likely than boys to ruminate with others, or engage in obsessive, preoccupied thinking, across contexts.

'Therefore, it may be that the nature of the texts girls send and receive is more distracting, thus interfering with their academic adjustment.'

A larger study was needed with teenagers to explore their 'motivations for texting, as well as the impact of multitasking on academic performance.'

The study was published by the American Psychological Association.


‘If Islamists can speak on campus, why can’t I?’

Iranian Communist, Maryam Namazie, on how she took on the campus censors and won

This week, a crucial blow was struck for freedom of speech on British campuses. Maryam Namazie, Iranian-born secularist campaigner and spokesperson of Ex-Muslims of Britain, took on the campus censors and won, providing a bit of hope for students across the land trying desperately to debate, discuss and broaden their minds under the cosh of students’ union bureaucracy.

Namazie was due to give a talk at an event organised by the Warwick Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society (WASH) on Monday. But, earlier this month, the student organisers received an email from Warwick SU informing them that their external-speaker application had been denied. ‘After researching both her and her organisation, a number of flags have been raised’, read the message. ‘There are a number of articles written both by the speaker and by others about the speaker that indicate that she is highly inflammatory, and could incite hatred on campus. This is in contravention of our external-speaker policy.’

Neither Namazie nor WASH took it lying down. In a series of posts and press releases they ripped apart the union’s risk-averse reasoning. Namazie, a fierce critic of Islamism, Sharia courts and the veil, is certainly controversial in these increasingly sensitive times, but, as she coyly pointed out in one fiery post, ‘the Islamists incite hatred, not us’: ‘It’s a topsy-turvy world when “progressives” who are meant to be on our side take a stand with our oppressors and try to deny us the only tool we have to resist – our freedom of expression.’

Under the weight of bad press and social-media indignation, the union issued a statement on Sunday night, announcing that it would issue Namazie a ‘full and unequivocal apology’. Ever the bureaucrats, the SU officials claimed that protocol, in this case, was not followed properly. Talking to Namazie yesterday, I asked her what she thinks this victory means for the fight for free speech on campus; I found her in a measured rather than triumphant mood.

‘It’s not just a problem with Warwick, but one that we’re seeing across the board’, she said, reminding me that this wasn’t the first time she’d come face-to-face with the campus thoughtpolice. In March she was forced to pull out of an event organised at Trinity College, Dublin after college security said it would be ‘antagonising’ to Muslims and tried to place restrictions on who could attend. ‘Sometimes the student groups who have invited me have preferred not to make it an issue. But, after a while, I made the decision that I will try to fight it through where I can’, she continues. ‘Luckily, this time the student group [at Warwick] worked closely with me on it.’

Given that so many speakers and societies end up giving in to the ridiculous restrictions placed on them, this kickback was heartening. Not least because the dodgy arguments that prop up student censorship so often go unchallenged. ‘The main crux of [Warwick SU’s] argument was that I will incite discrimination against, and intimidation of, Muslim students’, Namazie says. ‘First of all, which Muslim students are they talking about? They’ve bought into this idea that a Muslim equals an Islamist, and that there’s no difference between Islam, the religion, Islamism, a part of the religious right, and Muslims, who are people with as different a range of beliefs as anybody else.’

Dodgy thinking and double standards permeate modern campus bans. Despite the flurry of softly-softly censorship on British campuses in recent years, in which everything from newspapers to sombreros to pole-dancing societies has been banned in the name of creating a ‘safe’ and ‘inclusive’ space, SU politicos have been more than happy to libel lads, rough up student organisers they disagree with and allow the anti-Semitic disgrace that is Israel Apartheid Week to take place every year with impunity while pro-Israel speakers are deemed dangerous and discriminatory. Still, the biggest double standard of them all surrounds the issue of Islam. The National Union of Students (NUS) has taken up arms against the British government’s plans to clamp down on Islamist speakers, despite the fact that the backward views many of them espouse would be in breach of any Safe Space policy in the land.

I put this to Namazie – who, as a feminist, human-rights campaigner and strident leftist, would, you’d think, have more in common with Warwick SU than, say, the gaggle of genuine hate-spewers they have happily hosted in recent Islamic Society events. ‘The things [SUs] want for themselves, whether it’s gay rights or women’s rights or equality, it seems that it doesn’t apply to the rest of us’, she says. ‘Part of that has to do with multiculturalism. Not, of course, the fantastic lived experience where we have people from everywhere living together, but as a social policy which separates groups into homogenised communities. Hand in hand with that comes this idea that it’s their culture, it’s their religion; they are different from us. And to demand equality is therefore somehow discriminatory and racist. It’s a scandalous thing to say.’

‘Islamist groups are organised, through Islamic Societies, on university campuses’, Namazie continues. ‘They are funded and they do use threatening and intimidating behaviour to stop much-needed debate.’ And herein lies the crucial issue. While Islamist speakers have largely been spared the full brunt of campus illiberalism, the tightening up of debate around them and the constant insistence on tip-toeing around the issue of Islam have allowed certain enclaves of Islamism to flourish. When free debate is stifled, not only are some backward ideas driven underground, but others are insulated from criticism, as dissidents, like Namazie, are silenced.

Having fled Iran with her family after the revolution, and worked on human-rights causes in Islamist-run countries across the Arab world, Namazie is, perhaps understandably, cagey about continuing to allow Islamists to run loose on campus. Incitement to hatred, she hints at one point, is somewhere where the law could play a role. I’m not convinced: as Namazie herself has found out, accusations of ‘incitement to hatred’ are often used to silence those who simply have very unpopular views. But before we part ways she makes clear that what we really need is more debate, not less: ‘Freedom of expression means nothing if it’s just for people you agree with. Even people with the vilest views, who deny the Holocaust or defend the Caliphate, they have a right to speak, as do we. The problem is that they’ve always had the right to speak and we never have.’


Schools minister: Focus on phonics is working

Thousands of children are now on track to become excellent readers as a result of the Government’s focus on phonics, vindicating reforms to transform the way young people learn to read, writes Nick Gibb

In October 2007, the Daily Telegraph reviewed a Channel 4 documentary called ‘Last Chance Kids’. In the programme, an inspirational teacher named Ruth Miskin turned one young boy’s life around using a teaching method called ‘synthetic phonics’. ‘Within two-weeks’ the Telegraph reviewer wrote, ‘previously illiterate Christian was reading to a mother weeping with joy at the transformation.’ As Christian said at the end of the documentary, ‘It has changed my life’.

At the time I was Shadow Minster for Schools, and this powerful personal story confirmed what the overwhelming weight of evidence was already telling us: the teaching of initial literacy in schools had to change. When we came to office in 2010, we set about establishing a phonics screening check for all pupils at the end of Year 1.

This morning, results from the fourth year of the phonics screening check were announced and showed a fourth year of consecutive improvement. In 2012, 58 per cent of six-year-olds met the national standard for decoding simple words. This year, that figure has risen to 77 per cent, the equivalent of 120,000 more 6-year-old children on track to read effectively.

This simple test asks pupils to read 40 words, identifying for teachers which pupils can decode words, and which are in need of further support. We introduced this test because too many pupils at the start of primary school were not being taught the fundamental letter sounds which are the basis of reading, known as ‘phonics’.

The consequences of this were scandalous. The 2012 PISA international league tables showed that 17% of our 15-year-olds had not reached a minimum level of proficiency in reading, despite ten years of schooling.

Imagine what it would be like to be one of the roughly one in five school leavers excluded from the written word, unable to read anything from mortgage agreements and instruction manuals, to daily newspapers and the latest William Boyd novel.

Phonics is not just one method amongst many. It is the single most effective means of teaching young children to master the basics of reading. Reviews of the academic research from around the world point in this direction. To quote one recent example, the 2005 Australian National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy concluded:

“The evidence is clear… that direct systematic instruction in phonics during the early years of schooling is an essential foundation for teaching children to read… Moreover, where there is unsystematic or no phonics instruction, children’s literacy progress is significantly impeded.”

Systematic phonics requires whole class teaching, much chanting in unison, and pupils committing the different letter sounds of the English language to memory. Such teaching methods sit uncomfortably with some educationists who remain wedded to romantic, child-centred notions of learning to read.

This states that children should teach themselves to read by first recognising whole words, and working backwards to divine individual letter sounds.

Known as ‘whole word’, this method encourages children to run before they can walk, resulting in frustration and disengagement. In 2014, a number of educationists sent a letter to TES urging the government to ‘abolish’ the phonics screening check. The following week, a response was sent to TES countersigned by 24 signatories, 11 of whom were teachers, giving their firm support for the test.

Teachers like phonics because it works. We could not have raised standards of reading so effectively were it not for the advice and expertise of classroom teachers, in particular those who formed the Reading Reform Foundation during the late 1980s. This is a valiant organisation which has fought a long, hard battle to save phonics from being side-lined and bring it back into mainstream practice.

Literacy does not stop with decoding. Reading with speed and fluency, and developing a love of literature, are the crucial next step for giving pupils a lifelong passion for reading. That is why the Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, alongside the comedian and children’s author David Walliams, have launched a national campaign to get children reading. We are funding primary schools to set up book clubs for key stage 2 pupils, and have asked all schools to arrange public library membership for every eight-year-old pupil.

The 2012 PISA research revealed a national scandal that we dedicated ourselves to tackling. Today’s announcement of four years of improved pupil performance in the phonics screening check shows that we are one step closer to giving every child the best start in life, and achieving real social justice in Britain.


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