October 11, 2020: “Kids learn differently now”… But do they really?

 “…We now know that “Sesame Street” encourages children to love school only if school is like “Sesame Street.” Which is to say, we now know that “Sesame Street” undermines what the traditional idea of schooling represents.”

Neil Postman in Amusing Ourselves to Death: A Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

This week’s blog post is focused on unpacking the above quote by Neil Postman. Taking a very surface level approach, I think this quote is saying that educational shows (like Sesame Street) create an idealistic version of what education and the school experience is like. Essentially, I think Postman is saying that we are creating a generation of learners that require constant stimulation and entertainment in order for learning to be worth their while. If you read further into the quote, he notes that parents enjoyed television and educational shows because it was perceived as a way to relieve parents of their responsibility to read with and educate their children. In addition, he explains that Sesame Street teaches kids to like school only if it is entertaining. I can see where Postman is coming from to some degree, but I would not say I agree with his perspective completely.

Why I agree…

My mom remembers getting their first colour television. She said that my grandma had entered their family in a draw to win a free colour television set and, lo and behold, they won! She said that it was this new phenomena in their home. This was the first time people had an audio-visual representation of what the things they thought about in their imaginations looked like from books and stories. According to an article I had stumbled upon, in 1991, Tom Engelhardt redefined the meaning of screen time. Engelhardt’s definition had a negative connotation. In his article published in Mother Jones Magazine, he notes his major concern with screen time: Advertisement, entertainment, and playtime were merging together, transforming kids into consumers. In addition, when he refers to screen time, he is referring to three different things:

  1. The total time kids spend engaging with a screen.
  2. The ways in which corporations are now targeting children.
  3. The way video games move much quicker than “in real life,” making screen time an inaccurate representation of how quickly normal life moves.

I can see how those can be concerning, especially number one and two. I can understand how kids having an abundance of screen time is problematic and it does bother me that large corporations take advantage of children because they are more impressionable and vulnerable. Furthermore, I can see how inventions like the television could stifle creativity. You now have an audio-visual representation for every character you read about in a story and it leaves little for the reader to imagine. This is comparable to the Harry Potter Series. I used to read the books prior to the movie releases and I had my own version of what Hogwarts and the characters looked and sounded like. After I began watching the movies, I lost interest in keeping up with the books because it was difficult building on my imagination when the “real thing” existed. I definitely am not saying making books into movies is a bad thing, especially the Harry Potter movies… They’re my favourite! However, Hogwarts is the most magical place you could ever imagine and some that imagery I had created was lost with the release of the movies.

Source found here

However, I do believe that education can have an entertaining component. It is important to note, like with anything in this world, it’s all about balance. If you can make something more interactive for anyone, adult or child, learning becomes more accessible and engaging.

Why I disagree…

Megan’s comment in the chat during our class made me chuckle. I can’t remember exactly what she said, but it was along the lines of, “How dare we make education entertaining!? THE HORROR!” Of course, you could argue that shows like Sesame Street limit social interaction and stifle creativity. I would counter that argument by saying shows like Sesame Street can strike curiosity in a child and open up the opportunity for parents to have a conversation with their child about what they are watching. A perfect example of this was the death of Mr. Hooper. The clip we watched broke my little heart, but I felt the scene did a great job of framing this for children in a way that was authentic and not “sugar coated.” My teacher brain is also thinking of the great conversations this would open up about empathy. The point I’m trying to make here is that entertainment in education needs follow up to be meaningful.

Source found here

Making learning engaging is key. In order to learn about something, you need care about it, even just a little bit. Beyond that, if a student doesn’t care about the topic, they can learn if they like who is teaching them. We’ve all probably watched this video of Rita Pierson, but it’s definitely worth a couple more views! She makes the point that, “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.” Try to think of a lesson or concept you learned from a teacher you didn’t like. I don’t think it boils down to kids needing to be entertained to learn, but kids (or anyone really) needing connection to learn. They need to find some aspect of the learning process enjoyable.

How does this relate to BYOD and the integration of smartphones/other tools in classrooms?

Every year in the fall, we have this discussion at some point during “back to school” season. When and where can the kids have their devices out? When and where is it appropriate? How do we know if kids are supposed to have their devices with them? The list of questions and concerns goes on. Our school has a general rule: depending on the situation, kids can have their phones in class if they are being used for something (e.g.: research, class activity, etc.), but other than that, phones need to stay in their backpacks. If students need to have their phones out around the school (not in their classroom), they need a pass. I think this is a pretty decent system, but there are always grey areas that are impossible to account for. I used to think that phones or devices should stay at home and not come to school. Period. However, my views on this are changing because I’m seeing a lot more benefits of having a BYOD policy for students, rather than nixing the idea entirely.

Using AV technologies (such as smart phones and other devices) is beneficial for students, as it offers different ways to engage, learn, and retain information. In our presentation this week Caleigh, Tarina, Tammy, and Lisa highlighted the evolution of AV technologies through the decades. Each decade offered a new way to help increase student engagement. In the infographic they shared, you can see the shift from a simple desk and chair, to silent films, to the first television, to the handheld calculator, to cassette tapes, to the first MacIntosh computer, to touch screen devices like iPads. Each technology offered a different mode of learning. However, it is important to remember: although some of these tools may increase engagement, not every new device will meet the needs of every student. It is important to consider what type of AV technology is suitable for a specific student or group of students. It was noted in one of the links provided that, “… appropriate media, or a combination of medium needs to suit particular user and content.” With that being said, I think having a BYOD policy in schools and allowing kids to use their devices can actually be more helpful than not. I teach grade 4/5, so kids aren’t bringing their devices to school yet, however, I have noticed that some of the older kids do use their phones because they may have specific apps on their phone that help them take notes or use it to conduct research for projects when all of the laptops are booked out. I think the concern of allowing kids to bring their devices to school comes from the fear of students not being well-versed in digital citizenship. To me, the solution to this is to start the year teaching your students about digital citizenship and developing a contract for students to follow.

Using personalized devices such as apps, interactive educational shows, and tools offers students to really take charge of their own learning. We had the opportunity to explore some AV tools in our breakout groups. Our tool was Adobe Spark, which essentially is a way to create educational posters or videos. I’ve heard a lot about the tool and have seen presentations using it, but have not experienced it myself. Trevor and Dalton noted that their school division provides this tool for students and staff to use. They noted a variety of ways for students to demonstrate their learning and that it is very user-friendly. Another bonus is that the images on Adobe Spark are legally sourced as well. To be completely honest, I’m not very adventurous when it comes to using different tools in the classroom because I simply don’t know what is available within our division and had never thought to look into it, until now. Usually I have my students use their Google Classroom account to type and submit assignments. However, bearing engagement in mind, a tool like Adobe Spark would be much more visual and engaging! Plus, I have some reluctant writers, so this is a way for students to showcase their research without the hassle of formal writing. Using a tool like this would also encourage my students to share their work more freely.

Also, LOVE YOUTUBE. Of course, there are some aspects of YouTube one must wary of. For some of these details check out, Terms of Service, Didn’t Read. However, by proceeding with caution, the possibilities YouTube presents in the classroom are boundless. Not only can you find AV resources to share with your students, but you can create your own videos and channels. I truly believe that there is something to be said for traditional schooling in the sense that kids need social interaction, conflict and resolution, group work, and experiences in tackling adversity in order to develop skills that will eventually be crucial to their success as an adult. YouTube isn’t necessarily capable of teaching kids those things or giving them the experience of being in a school setting, but it offers another way for students to reinforce their learning. I have used my own YouTube channel to post tutorials in math and writing for my students during online learning, but I also learned that it can be used for blended learning. Students are able to preview activities and lessons online before we do it in class. This can decrease anxiety in students because they have a chance re-watch and understand the concept by learning it at their own pace. I have not implemented this model myself, but this video I came across has piqued my interest. With Covid, I would imagine a model like the one shown below, will become more common.

Getting back to my original thought: Do kids learn differently today?

No, I don’t think “kids today” learn differently. What child wouldn’t want a more interactive way to learn and share their knowledge? I think the way we learn in schools is different than in the past simply because more technological advancements have been made over the years that we can now take advantage of as educators and students. Something that has remained consistent through the years is that everyone learns differently and every child (regardless of when they were a student) needs to be engaged to learn. AV technologies offers a plethora of ways to do this, which in turn, presents more opportunities for our students to experience success. Our presenters highlighted the value using different tools to stimulate different parts of the brain. By doing this, students have the flexibility to showcase their learning in a creative format that works with their learning style.

Thanks for taking a read!

Until next time,

-Leigh

4 thoughts on “October 11, 2020: “Kids learn differently now”… But do they really?

  1. Yes again LEIGH! It is concerning that students are being marketed to and that screen images do move so fast that they often do not depict reality. I think as we progress with AV reality will become more and more boring, which is crazy!

    I also agree to books as movies. I hear you that once you see the movie and go back to the series it is hard to pick back up your imagination because you are now influenced by the producers vision. On an aside, my Hogwarts was not so dark. Ha way brighter and warmer.

    Finally this quote with a heatlhy balance of the next quote… couldn’t agree more!

    “I truly believe that there is something to be said for traditional schooling in the sense that kids need social interaction, conflict and resolution, group work, and experiences in tackling adversity in order to develop skills that will eventually be crucial to their success as an adult….AV technologies offers a plethora of ways to do this, [get students engaged ] which in turn, presents more opportunities for our students to experience success. “

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post Leigh! From Postman’s thoughts on shows like Sesame Street to the integration of BYOD in classrooms to our AV presentation. I agree with many of your thoughts. Balance is key. Technology can make learning more accessible and engaging, but sitting a child in front of a tv does not replace being read to by a parent. As you said these shows may open the door for some great conversations between parent and child. Thanks for making me think.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Tarina,

      Thanks for your comment! Agreed! As engaging as AV technology can be, there is nothing quite like being read to by a teacher or parent. I teach grade 4/5 and I think many people are under the assumption that this age is too old to be read to, but it definitely is not. That human connection piece is so important!

      Liked by 1 person

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