I had some great conversations today in Queensland, Australia about some of the ways we need to change our mindsets about teaching and learning. A big one that I kept reiterating was how we hold our students to a different standard than we often hold ourselves. When I brought up that some kids are simply bored with what they are doing in class, it was brought up that some of them should just have to stick with it and that this was teaching them “manners”. Instead of arguing I asked this question to participants; “how many have you checked your email during the time I was presenting?” About half the hands had raised. I don’t think that it was because they were terribly bored with what they had heard, but at times they need to check out and take a break. I do this with email. I do this with YouTube. But I used to do this with drawing. I also remember constantly being told to “stop daydreaming and pay attention”, when there is actually a belief that this is not a good thing to do to people.
As adults we believe that some things are urgent. Principals sometimes think that they have to be connected to their schools at all times in case of an emergency, but in reality, if you are a great principal, the school will be in a position to survive a day or two without you. Yes adults have developed a higher level of maturity than our kids, but the argument of “urgency” is often overused. “Urgency” is often personal and a matter of what YOU deem important. Things happening at work could be considered urgent by an adult, but as a kid, I remember getting a note from a girl I had a huge crush on in high school. That seemed pretty urgent to me and you would have been pretty hard pressed to have convinced me otherwise.
The reality is that there is no clear cut answer on anything. I am not saying, “if adults can do it, so can kids”, but I do think we need to think about what we ask of kids and what we model to them. Have you ever been in a session where you felt the person acted as if they were better than you? Acting as if you are superior to someone else and that affords you certain privileges that others shouldn’t have bodes just as poorly with kids as it does adults. I think that these conversations are crucial to have for promoting a more “balanced” look at how we use and promote the use of technology in our schools.
One of the conversations that I found fascinating was surrounding the idea of mobile devices as “distractions” from learning. The one comment (paraphrased) I heard today was that it is disheartening when we are trying to go really deep into something and the device takes away from some really powerful learning that can be happening with the student. I had to think about it and I wondered aloud that sometimes when we ask a student to put away their device, it is something we do because we believe it will promote learning, but sometimes it is the exact opposite. Sometimes a student might be so deep into something that they are interested in learning about on their device. We have sometimes stopped them from learning about something they are passionate about, and replaced with something we might be passionate about, or even worse, some content we “just have to get through”.
Again, this is not a black and white scenario, but it contains a lot of grey. There are times when we do have to get through something, but there are sometimes that we have actually stopped the important process of learning about something that really matters. Scott McLeod recently shared a post titled, “Reader interest trumps passage readability?”, which he quotes Alfie Kohn stating,
“how interested the students were in the passage was thirty times more important than how ‘readable’ the passage was.”
A student who is interested in what they are learning, is honestly going to become a better learner than someone who doesn’t care about the content that we are trying to get through. This stuff matters.
Sometimes what we see as a “start” to learning, is actually an abrupt “stop”. I am not here to give you solutions on this because every teacher that builds great relationships with students will be able to understand when we need to refocus their students, and sometimes let them continue on with something else. But when we have a vast ocean of information at our fingertips, some people are going to want to explore
Are there kids who use their devices to play Angry Birds in class? Yup. That is actually my “get away” when my brain is full as an adult. I need to zone out and slingshot some birds into pigs.
But there are also kids that are exploring things that are really important to them, that they’re passionate about, and sometimes we let “school” get in the way of learning.
This can lead to the growth of a “hatred for school”, while distinguishing a “love of learning”. That’s kind of the opposite of what we are trying to do, isn’t it?