September 18, 2009

The Great Divide



One benefit that linking into Two Writing Teachers provides is a window into elementary education and blogs and sites that address their concerns and issues. One such is the Infinite Thinking Machine, and his latest post, about the reaction to his daughter's commentary on Obama's speech, was a fascinating look into our "attention economy." Although that term implies a monetary system, in reading further I think it also could be applied to an "attention society," or as he put it, a society where everyone just wants to be recognized. The use of YouTube and the multiple discussions about Web 2.0 in the classroom leaves me feeling slightly queasy (see The Natives are Getting Restless, a series of notes on Wesley Fryer's blog).

I teach in a classroom that has too many student desks for the room size, dirty floors, two whiteboards (one has a row of student desks in front of it), a series of pull-down charts (one titled Muslum Leaders up to 1100; that spelling is theirs) but no pull-down projection screen. I also have two overhead projectors on moveable carts that are positioned at the front corners of the room; only one works and that was on the higher cart that blocked views of the students, so I switched them out. I wheel them carefully between backpacks, student desks to project, then return them to the front. There is no Smartboard, no computer, no digital projector, nothing that would indicate that this classroom exists, not in 1972 when it was built, but rather in this century.

So what will happen when a student, who has had access to a classroom at the elementary and/or secondary level with its digital bells and whistles, comes into mine? While I try to change up activities, engage them in discussion, there is no way I can match the level of interactivity and awareness that they've experienced in their fully-funded classrooms in their prior educational venues. Do the teachers at those level wonder how they fare when they finally leave the halls of high school and move on?

I'm in the middle of grading their first essays. The error rate ranges from 1 error to 39 (the most so far) in a three-page paper. I wonder what happened in their earlier curriculum that they think turning in such an error-laden essay is appropriate, and this after they had a peer-review with a rough draft. Many cannot read at a college level (our text is not dense, but rather a "friendly," conversational-style text, fairly free of political issues). About five of those well-schooled in the "attention economy" carry most class discussions, and even allowing for natural shyness or reticence of some students, I have to assume the rest have not even cracked the book.

I feel like I'm my grandmother, teaching in a one-room schoolhouse, addressing the basics of a good education: reading, writing, disucssion and most of these students are unprepared. I know several of them are skilled video bloggers, all of them have cellphones and are proficient in texting (it shows in their emails to me) so I can't say they aren't fully in the web mesh of this day and age.

While I appreciate that the cutting edge of web technology is changing our classrooms, our children's approach to gathering information, and our teaching, when they hit a classroom without Web 2.0, can they still function?

Is it too much to ask of them?

1 comment:

  1. This is an interesting point. I have a Smartboard in my grade 3/4 classroom and all the kids know how to use it. I think of it as "preparing them for a future full of technology", but had never really thought about what would happen if they arrived a school without technology. I know that many of the new teachers are arriving at their student teaching placements able to really teach their cooperating teacher how to use the Smartboard, just as I arrived at my student teaching assignment able to teach my co-op teacher how to use the internet (she had never even signed on!)

    You teach a tough crowd. In some ways, your low-tech classroom might be a bit of a relief to them.

    Welcome back!

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