“Close your Chromebooks all the way please, I need your attention up front,” I tell my class of thirty seven band students who had been studying for a music vocabulary test on a computer web site called “Quizlet.”
“We need to go over a few words together, so I need your eyes front.”
I look around the room to see a whole five or six Chromebooks closed and a few pairs of student eyes are now on me. I hit the dinger on the bell at my podium and repeat my directions in a calm, yet firm tone of voice.
A few more Chromebooks close and I now have maybe half the class who have followed directions.
“Still waiting for a few more students,” I announce.
And now I have almost everyone except five or six 6th graders who cannot tear themselves away from their computer screens.
“You’re addicted!” I tell them half-jokingly. Some of the students laugh and nod their heads.
Let me tell you that this is not an unfamiliar scene to teachers these days. Walk around campus and you see students on their laptops playing games or doing homework during lunch and break (our school district gives every middle school student a small laptop to borrow during the school year).
Here’s the problem: Are they talking to each other, reading books, playing basketball or socializing like normal pre-teen human beings? Of course not! They’re on their computers. They would be on their phones, except the school policy doesn’t allow that.
Are school children being forced to use too much technology these days? Are school districts helping society turn kids into technology addicted, distracted human beings who live with symptoms similar to what you see in children who have actual ADHD?
I am bothered by the amount of screen time that middle school students are exposed to during the course of the school day. Between the phone and the laptop, it looks like they hardly ever hold a pen and paper in their hands anymore, or think for themselves. A lot of students don’t know how to alphabetize music in our music filing cabinets. Why? Because they don’t practice looking up words in a dictionary. Ladies and gentleman, this is a huge problem!
A few years ago, I started noticing more and more students turning in handwritten “Concert Reflections” with such bad writing on them, I couldn’t read a single word. The quality of handwriting and printing has definitely gone down since I started my teaching career fifteen years ago. In fact, I can count on my fingers the number of students in my classroom (out of thirty or more) who actually use cursive handwriting when writing their papers. Even many of our ELA teachers agree: A lot of students don’t have physical writing skills anymore because school districts are more focused on closing achievement gaps; implementing language development methods and math programs that use heavy educational technology then they are pushing basic skills that require a lot of repetition and the human brain, like physical writing. There’s not as much actual writing practice going on in schools like there used to be before the technological boom of laptops and cellphones hit the world. There are a lot of studies that show writing with a pen or pencil on paper is actually a more effective way of learning than typing- check out this NPR article: Attention Students: Put Your Laptops Away
Another thing I’ve noticed is that students get bored easily in class… unless some type of technology is incorporated into the lesson. For example, I notice if I use the white board to explain a musical concept in class, quite a few of my students tune out (even if I make the concept fun and interesting, I see some inattentiveness). The second I put the same concept on the giant Apple TV screen we have in the front of the room, I easily have everyone’s attention. It’s like students need all the bells and whistles to grab their attention these days. This is exhausting for teachers to keep up with!
Teachers can’t always rely on technology either. I can’t tell you how many times I have sat in a presentation when the TV projection system stops working, or the old fashion projector was not working. Does the presenter provide a hard copy of their presentation? Some do, but a lot of presenters just rely on their technology to work. Then everyone wastes time trying to troubleshoot problems related to the technology. Ugh!
I know technology is important in the modern day world, and students have to know how to use it in many different applications. I’m not by any means “anti-technology.” This is our world now and I acknowledge the good things technology has given us. But wouldn’t it be a good idea to monitor and limit how much technology students are exposed to in schools a bit more? We seem to be wasting a lot of class time trouble shooting technological problems, when we could be teaching something substantive. Students are becoming more addicted and needy for technological stimulation. If children aren’t encouraged to practice problem solving on their own, write by hand, look up information in a book, or simply entertain themselves with non-technological things, they won’t be able to function without a computerized device. Living without technology even for a short time will become challenging for them and even the ability to just sit quietly and think to themselves will be too awkward for them.
I want to urge school districts to take a closer look at this and make some adjustments to the technology that is being pushed towards students and teachers. This could be in the form of surveying teachers about the amount of time they require their students to be on their computers, requiring teachers to incorporate handwritten assignments into their lesson plans, or encouraging teachers to use the white boards and other visuals that are not related to technology. Schools should focus on making sure students also have quiet time with no technology. Our children’s world cannot simply run off of noisy artificial intelligence 24/7 right?
Stay tuned for my next segment on the subject of education: Where’s the A in STEM?