Friday, December 23, 2011

What type of use?

A Denver Post article, “Proliferation of smart devices begs the question, how young is too young,” by Andy Vuong, quoted parents and pediatricians about the age at which children should be allowed to use iPads and iPhones. Vuong posed an important question: “Will exposure to the gadget harm or help their development?”

The article specifically mentions only a few uses for the devices, like drawing apps, YouTube access, and interactive digital books, and cites research about the benefits of educational videos. Parents and pediatricians seem to agree on the benefit of limiting screen time for young children.

At the start of this holiday break, in a house full of digital devices, I get to watch my two daughters pick tinker. I think there is an important difference between traditional screen time, that looks like television viewing, and creative time.

More and more these days, I spend my screen time reading, scanning Twitter to read about technology in education. With two young daughters, Twitter is a perfect read for the five-minute allotments of uninterrupted time I routinely get. Often, two-year-old Madison will sneak up on me during moments of blissful down time and surprise me by snapping my picture with our digital camera. “Say cheese, Daddy.” Invariably, she captures random photos- my knee, her foot, the ceiling- and only photographs my face when I’m yawning or picking my nose. Other times, she takes pretend pictures with a toy camera or a small box, and she has to imagine the photos. Regardless of the device she chooses, her experience with the digital camera has taught her that she is taking pictures.

This type of experience with a digital tool provides a uniquely different experience than a flashcard app might. I doubt parents or pediatricians would express concerns about photography at a young age.

If children use iPads as mini televisions and the Internet as cable, all the concerns about screen time apply. However, when children experience the creative possibilities of digital tools, we have to recognize that time with a device could just as easily equate to time in an art studio.

When I could not attend a recent iPad training with representatives from Apple, I asked a technology coach in my school district what I missed. “The biggest thing I took away was that effective use is creative use. Students have to be creating,” he told me.

Just yesterday, Hailey, my six-year-old, asked me if she could watch a video on the computer. In my estimation we had watched enough TV, though, so I asked, “Do you want to make a video instead?” About 10 minutes later, we watched a video of her riding circles around the house on her pushbike, singing a made-up song as she rode. Laughing aloud at the video, she asked if we could make another one, this time she wanted to film a talent show. After I agreed, she spent the next few minutes setting up couch cushions as a stage with Madison working as her roadie. A million giggles and a few conspiratorial whispers later, the talent show was cancelled when the girls turned the stage into a fort.

Still, Hailey’s idea to film a talent show remains as something we can do when freezing Colorado temperatures keep us cooped up in the house over this holiday. Making videos with Hailey and allowing Madison to take pictures is exactly the type of creative use to consider when posed with the question:
“...will the device harm or help their development?” It is also the type of use for digital devices that those of us who grew up in front of a television set can overlook.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Running for cover- Some disclaimers about a professional development idea...

On the P2PU open course I'm taking (stalking? neglecting?), Writing and Common Core: Deeper Learning for All, we're studying the Common Core Standards and writing instruction. In one of the discussion threads, an instructional leader shared the challenge many in her position might face. She wants to establish a professional development routine of teachers writing together, and also wants teachers to share what's working and not working in instruction. Her challenge sounds familiar to me because it echoes some questions that hang like a fog in my work as a coach- How do I engage teachers in the type of writing practices that might support their thinking and reflection about writing practice? How do I contextualize the time we might spend in professional development writing in the important practice of reflecting on our effectiveness and sharing student work? Since I struggle to answer the question daily in my work, it is always nice to crank out a tidy suggestion that sounds like I can answer it, especially on Saturday when I've got a little coffee in me. I want to offer the disclaimer- As tidy and practiced as this answer may sound, the author fumbles and screws up the application of this thinking daily. Still, I read my response on the screen and reflected that the practice I advocate is my belief and an idea worth sharing.

Here it is, revised to include the disclaimers:

I see that you're concerned about two things: the teachers' possible reluctance to write and the difficulty of creating a culture of shared reflection.Since you've got the dual challenges, I might think about focusing on creating a positive culture for writing in professional development and really creating a safe environment first. I might preface things by saying that I know so many positive instructional practices are happening and the goal in the writing is to capture and celebrate small successes and "short-term wins.” By asking staff to focus on only successful decisions and results, I would listen for places where teachers recognized something that wasn't working and improved it and celebrate those.* Every teacher has had the experience of teaching an unsuccessful lesson period 1 and quickly making it more successful for period 3. Writing together about these "small wins" might generate the safe culture for teachers to reflect and share.**

*As tidy and practiced as this answer may sound, the author fumbles and screws up the application of this thinking daily.

**Caution: These ideas are much more difficult in practice than they appear in this blog post. In fact, the author frequently backs down from trying ideas like these all the time. When working with adults, the author often flees from hard work, running for the cover of relationship building, and sharing a laugh with teachers.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Most Important Writer in America

I read the Common Core Standards' list of informational texts that illustrate the complexity, quality and range of student reading for grades 6-8. (Page 58... I’ll wait.)

“John Adams, Frederick Douglass, Winston Churchill, Ann Petry and John Steinbeck. Where is Keith Barry? How could you make a list of informational texts for 6-8th graders and leave off the work of the most important writer in America?”

Maybe you’re familiar with the other names- Douglass and Churchill- but you’re drawing a blank on Keith Barry. Well, don’t feel bad because I’m not that familiar with his work, either. Still, even though I don’t read his work, I believe Keith Barry is the most important writer in America for 6-8th graders. He blogs for Wired Magazine on the topic “Autopia.” Among other automotive things, he writes about the pursuit of the accident-proof automobile. He interviews engineers and rides along while they test drive cars equipped with auto-pilot. In this new age in education, as we usher in common national standards and we think about reading instruction that might inspire students to think in innovative ways about science, social studies, and math, we ought to consider new text types about innovative research happening now.

We can keep Harriet Tubman on the list. Like I said, I don’t really read Barry’s writing. I’m an English teacher, a bibliophile. If you don’t watch me closely, I’ll recommend Vonnegut to a freshman basketball player. I’m so out of touch, I will recommend Isaac Asimov’s I Robot to help students understand the perils of technology instead of handing them Discover Magazine. I think Ted Conover is a really contemporary author of informational new journalism.

Here's Conover's blog.

Did you go to his blog? Did you see his picture? He’s an old guy. And I think he’s a contemporary author.


Because I’m an old guy. I’m not as old as Isaac Asimov, but I’m old. And white. By definition I’m in constant peril of being out of touch. If you asked me to create a list of informational texts to illustrate quality and complexity, I would probably make a list similar to the Common Core's, leaving out anything that relates to now, which is why I need to keep reading things like Keith Barry’s blog. I need to declare that Keith Barry is the most important writer in America. Maybe he’s so important just because I can follow him on Twitter. While I'm at it, I could follow the people Keith Barry follows on Twitter. In that way, I could try to stay in touch.