Friday, February 21, 2014

Dictionary Dilemma

It was a senior English class. The assignment was a group thing. They were to write a rhetorical précis based on some reading they had done.

At the bottom of the page was a list of twelve vocabulary words. (At the moment I can't recall what they were, but they were good words.) They were supposed to do their "usual" vocabulary assignment (something about boxes with definitions and pictures and sentences and such).

About half way through the period, a boy approached. He wondered if I'd let them look up the words on their phones as opposed to getting out the dictionaries.

Sigh. On the one hand, this doesn't bother me. They're using their phones for academic purposes (not Instagramming their activities in class or texting their friends about the weekend party). This is the wave of the future. There are so many things the students can do with their phones that support their learning.

But when he asked, I immediately flashed to the last time this subject had come up.

So, do I stick with the old guard and insist on dictionaries? Or do I realize that these 12th graders know the dictionary skills and let them get to the important part of the assignment--learning some new words?

(I let them use their phones. That's how they'll do the work in college, anyway.)

What do you think? Should I have insisted on dictionaries?


  1. I would've let them use their phones, too, and for the same reasons.

    (But boy, I'm happy I never had to deal with the phone thing while I was teaching.)

    My mom works in an elementary school and one day dictionaries came up (I don't remember why). The kids had no idea what one was. Cue lesson!

  2. Nah, go for the phones. It's no use for them to use a dictionary if they're just going to use a phone when they're in the real world.

  3. I think it might be a wrong assumption to think they know how to use a dictionary. For that reason I think I wouldn't have allowed phones. Often using phones you don't go to a "real dictionary" you're taken to wiki and so perhaps they didn't learn all they could about said words. I think I would have a basket at the door where all the phones had to go, let them collect them at the end of class. I really hate seeing people pull out their phones in stores, in the middle of dinner, instead of talking to people etc. I think it's a shame teachers have to deal with this at all. They should not be permitted in classrooms.

    Traveling Suitcase

    1. Cell phones are the wave of the future. Parents want their teens to have one so that they can get ahold of them at any time. The question is, how do we deal with this new reality?

  4. If you're secure the students know how to use a print dictionary, then letting them use their phones is fine. To make sure they're all moving in the right direction, maybe provide one or two reliable dictionary sites for them to choose from. You don't want them using Urban Dictionary, or the Dictionary of slang, for example.


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