Sitting at a district meeting yesterday, I heard more of an all too widespread and alarming discussion. “Our students aren’t interested in learning like we were.” “The kids today are distracted by gadgets. They would rather text than talk.” “Our kids don’t have a long attention span.”
All of these rumblings have a common thread. Yes, our students for the most part, are quite different than us, their educators. They are interested in technology. They do like to communicate digitally. They do multitask.
I felt so uncomfortable hearing our district leaders finding so many shortcomings in our students—especially since what these teachers were critical of can be such assets. What people were complaining about are very important skills in the 21st century.
Don’t get me wrong. I, too, have been frustrated by a student slyly texting a friend to socialize instead of completing the class project. I, too, have wondered why I constantly have to switch gears in a single class to engage students. I, too, have wondered how someone can spend hours and hours playing a game and not ten minutes on a journal assignment.
But, after years of wondering and researching and collaborating and analyzing and experimenting, I know one thing. I have more questions. I also know that our students have a cultural wealth that demands our attention and respect. Their knowledge of building and sustaining community, creating and collaborating on multimedia projects, their hunger for information. All of this makes them candidates for being exceptional students.
Then, what’s the problem? Why is the United States lagging behind other countries in education? Why are some schools now being named “drop-out factories”? Why do some teachers perceive our students as being deficient learners rather than remarkable ones?
It’s not the fault of the teachers. It’s not the fault of the students. It’s not the parents. It’s not the media. It’s not the technology companies. It’s not the video games.
It’s the educational system in the United States. We operate in an antiquated context far removed from the realities of today’s society, its demands and its challenges. We want our students to fit into some educational paradigm that was conceived eons ago.
Well, in case you haven’t noticed, so much has happened to transform our landscape. Technology has developed. There are now so many digital advances making once impossible things everyday common occurrences. Every day, there is something new, something that ups the stakes, something that creates another challenge to our obsolete educational system. One thing, however, that is not changing, not transforming, not responding—fast enough anyway—is education.
Today’s learners are different. They learn differently from most of their teachers. All true. I get it.
When, then, do we respond to these differences? When do we take into account these inconsistencies and make systemic changes that embrace our learners and all their skills? When do we create an inclusive environment to fit their needs instead of forcing them into an educational box where they must abandon so much that is part of their culture? When will we demand an education that our students deserve, one where instead of failing, they will thrive?
Technology is not the enemy. It is not gadgets OR lessons. It is not cell phones OR learning. It is not social networks OR accountable talk.
On the contrary, we have the opportunity to use these powerful tools and many more to truly reform our classrooms. We have a chance to show our students how much we do respect and admire their skills by stepping out of our comfort zones to learn from them.
So for today, our first National Digital Learning Day, I ask what you can do to help these changes happen and happen sooner rather than later? Each day we do not advocate for our learners, each day we do not rally around this type of reform is another day where technology leaves education further behind.
Digital. Learning. Digital + Learning. Digital Learning.