A friend, who is a former educator, emailed a link to a letter published in the San Jose Mercury News from a teacher expressing an opinion about using digital devices in classrooms. This letter to the editor read like a typical frustrated 20th century teacher trying to cope with a digital generation of high school students. I couldn’t help but think…this English teacher represents a majority of the public education teacher’s “mindset”, teaching America’s future generation of 21st century citizens. My digital “ah ha” moment… how can this apparently good teacher be helped to appreciate the value of mobile technology to teach young people critical-thinking life skills? To answer this question… let’s begin by reviewing his letter.
To protect the uninformed, let’s call this teacher Marc – his real first name. Marc has taught high school English in the bay area for twenty plus years… proudly teaching thousands of young people. Marc was responding to a Mercury News article about the use of iPads and computers at the school. He begins by stating…many on campus, from librarians to teachers to administrators, argue for the increased availability of Internet connected, mobile devices in classrooms. He goes on to state… these “gizmos and gadgets” do not help kids to be prepared in classrooms. They do the opposite. Marc gave examples he sees in his classroom.
• The distraught student who, just before his class, has read a Facebook message, on a mobile phone, from her boyfriend’s former girlfriend accusing her of being “a slut.”
• The frazzled student who, instead of spending quiet moments alone with a book in the library, has been mesmerized by a computer game that he has downloaded.
• The preoccupied student who, during prep, has received and returned text messages from an over-anxious parent who is demanding to know how that morning’s chemistry test went.
He concluded… the access to digital devices on campus – available to an age-group that is not known for its impulse control – lends itself to continual waves of emotion, anxiety, and preoccupation that can’t help but wash over into the classroom time. This makes it harder for students to concentrate on their lessons, and harder for teachers to pierce these waves, visible in their teenage distracted eyes. These electronically enabled distractions put kids further out of range of their most concerned teachers efforts to reach them!
After reading this letter… I was depressed about the future of our country. Marc has taught hundreds of students over the past decade! Ok, you ask how can digital devices be used to teach critical thinking life skills – particularly in these “real life” situations? And, in an English class?
There were several 21st century instructional moments where Marc could have helped these young people learn personal development life skills. He’s an English teacher! His first example… was a student reacting to an emotionally tough Facebook message on her smartphone. A 21st century teacher would have taken this teachable moment to ask the young person to write about her emotions. How she felt… what are the actionable options she has and could take against her boyfriend former girlfriend? What would be consequences of each action she takes? Write a digital message of no more that 300 words – using her smartphone – it has the power of a PC. If she needed help, the teacher would direct her to digital resources available on her phone via the Internet that can assist her with ideas, grammar and definitions. When she has composed the writing, she would share and explain it to the teacher and/or the entire class.
Think about the 21st century literacy lessons learned by using her digital device as a learning resource – rather than only a communications and entertainment tool. Using digital media to express her emotions and selecting appropriate content.
Think about the global workplace skills she learned of critical thinking, emotional control and communicating ideas via digital devices vs. outdated traditional paper.
In the process of this learning experience, this young student is using a technology they value as “cool”.
Each of the other student examples March mentioned has a digital learning solution as well. It takes an open mind and simple creativity – which is required to teaching young people today.
Do you think knowing what you now know… would Marc utilize digital technology as a teaching and learning resource?
“A digital thought for the day.”
By Lee Stewart