Twice today I’ve seen stories in the media, passed around by educators, that gave me pause. In both cases, the articles, headlines, and/or authors and sharers of the article passed along the notion that “Technology X enables skill Y.” I was a wee bit disappointed, not just because of the enthusiasm I saw in the sharing1, but because both of the articles got the technology that makes a difference wrong.
Let me show you:
Example 1 – “Texting poetry inspires students to learn”
From the article:
Chester Middle School Principal Ernie Jackson, for instance, challenged reading and social studies teacher Mel Wesenberg to find ways to use text messaging to teach poetry.
The results were surprising: Kids who used their cell phones to boil down the main points of the stanzas got 80 percent of the questions about a poem correct on a state test.
Kids taught the same poem in the traditional way – reading, reciting and discussing – got only 40 percent of the questions right.
“That’s a big jump,” Jackson said during a recent demonstration of the experiment with a sixth-grade class.
Well, yeah. When you write about something, or summarize it, then you do learn it. Writing forces the concepts into your brain in a way that discussion doesn’t. And summarizing something is a fine way to deepen your understanding of it. I suspect the student referenced in the article who didn’t have a cell phone would’ve had as much success with passing notes about the poems to her friends as they did sending texts back and forth.
Example 2 – “Teaching literacy using a Kindle”2
From the article:
She gave examples of an elementary child’s note about a character in the book she was reading: “If I were him, I’d say no way!” Such comments indicate a child is unknowingly focusing in on the author’s character development, something college students struggle with in their literature classes. Another child summarized the plot – a simple electronic form of the dreaded book report – which reinforces their understanding of the book.
I need to read Larson’s original work, which is behind an IRA paywall, but again, seems to me that the focus of the improvement wasn’t the Kindle – it was annotating and summarizing the text. Writing about what you’re reading, as well as connecting your notes to the text itself, helps readers become better readers.
The Kindle isn’t the important bit.3
Turns out, in both of these cases, the technology that helps the students to read and to understand better was a very old and familiar technology:
It’s exciting to bring new gadgets and gizmos into the classroom, to see what they can help us to do. But we can all too easily get caught up in the shiny object and forget that the basic toolset of teaching and learning, of reading, writing and thinking, is still the basic toolset. Reading and writing, meaningful reading and writing, are important5.
Try to write and fiddle with words regularly, be it on a Kindle, a nook, an iPad, a cell phone, or any other device you might happen to have. Teachers should be active readers, writers and thinkers, no matter their subject area. We should be reading and writing with students regularly, whatever the medium. All that practice will help you read better, and then you, too, will be less likely to fall victim to a technology du jour switcharoo scam.
- Look! Aha! It’s true! Texting makes for smarter kids! Kindles change everything! [↩]
- Not, I’d admit, the most useful headline. “Teaching literacy?” You mean “reading?” [↩]
- That said, Will wrote an interesting post over the weekend on why you might use a Kindle as your annotation tool, but I’m thinking that his strategy isn’t practical for 2nd graders. [↩]
- But we already knew that , didn’t we? [↩]
- Ira’s post complicates this, but in a good way. [↩]
- Yes, I know that “fatter” isn’t “really” a word. But it seemed like the right word. Please, no red pens here. [↩]