by Sergio Yanes
There’s no doubt that technology has increased the pace of our world. With the automation of menial tasks --- such as remembering a phone number --- we find ourselves trying to accomplish more things, master more subjects, consume more information. Social media evolves daily to find more effective ways of communication, as if 160 characters is really all we need to say everything we have to say. Our to-do lists grow longer, and soon, our lives are reduced to a series of checkboxes we are desperately racing to finish. In this light-speed world, we often have to remind ourselves that there is a world to experience. That we need to slow down and see, instead of just look. We find ourselves in a world that is only an inch deep.
Our students find themselves in a more chaotic predicament: They are natives in a world that changes vastly every 5 minutes. From a teacher’s perspective, this can be a logistical nightmare! I’ve heard fellow teachers complaining about everything from students’ shortened attention spans to their lack of motivation in completing even the simplest of tasks (Perhaps that simplicity is the problem…). But, aren’t these all criticisms that have been flying out of teachers’ mouths since the dawn of public education? It’s about time we take a look at ourselves and our practices. We need to stop blaming our students for not living in the world we grew up in.
First, we need to come to terms with the fact that the world is changing. Ever since the Industrial Revolution, the US has been speeding towards some unknown goal. So, what can we do? Students process information; it’s an adaptation to a faster world. They need to understand themselves in order to understand the world. It’s up to us, the teachers, to slow them down and help them understand what they do. I’m not talking about procedural tasks or specific information they need to know. I’m talking about taking that information or skill and putting it to use. I’m talking about destroying their inner automatons and making act and live deliberately (Thank you, Thoreau). Slow down. Take a look around. Question why the world is the way it is.
Second, we need to forget everything we know about traditional teaching. Vygotsky wasn’t kidding when he said that learning is democratic. Dewey wasn’t lying when he wrote that students need to experience life from within the schoolhouse. The classroom isn’t a reservoir of information anymore. Then again, was it ever? In this world where every byte of information is available at the swipe of a thumb, we need to teach students to screen through information. Play with it. Shake it up. In other words, the classroom needs to be the sandbox of information. Students need to manipulate and reshape—sometimes, just to see what could happen, but often to be able to make sense of their reality.
We have learned to adapt, and so should our students. We do that by mirroring and replicating the tasks they will be asked to complete when they leave the sandbox. Instead of telling students that “this skill will help them out in the ‘real world,’” we need to accept that this already is the real world. So, instead of preparing students to live in the race toward some unknown future, we need to prepare them to live now.
by Jose Paco Fiallos
I am an average 30-something living in 2014: I upgrade my smart phone at the earliest chance; all of my devices in my home are connected to the internet, even my air conditioner; I am part of many social media networks. I was raised with technology, from video games to personal computers to A/V equipment. But in my classroom I am something of an anachronism. Most of the technology that I am fluent with in my life gets checked at the door.
I have been to many presentations advancing this or that tech tool that would revolutionize the English classroom. I work with many teachers who live and die by their class social network, their smart board, their tablet computer, or their students’ use of apps on their cell phones. I, too, use these tools at various times in my own class, but never as the centerpiece.
I think I might be a little biased against technology when it comes to instruction. Maybe it comes from observing counties and school administrators using funds for new technologies that they then don’t provide training for, or that don’t have any immediate purpose in the classroom and so become little more than expensive toys gathering dust. Or maybe it’s because our textbooks are out of date and class sets of novels are constantly deteriorating. And as the debate over whether to convert to entirely digital textbooks and assigning each student their own tablet computer continues, important decisions about texts get pushed back.
Education, as a system, is a little too reactionary, I think. Or maybe impulsive is a better word. As educators we know that there are problems with some aspects of the system, from curriculum, to instruction, to assessment. And wouldn’t it be simple if there was a single piece of technology, or even a suite of tech tools that would address those problems and just make everything better?
There are tools being used effectively by teachers. I know it happens. And so I guess I am just a stodgy old English teacher who is tied to books and pen and paper; ink on the page, so to speak. And as such, I think that any tool, whether it be high or low tech, should not impede access to text in any way. Rather, technology should only serve as a means of increasing access, or even better, broadening the definition of what text is.
So maybe this will serve as a new beginning for me. It is helpful to state in concrete terms, putting digital ink to digital paper, what my own tech goals are.