While most of us are somewhat keeping up with tech changes on a personal level, I sense a level of skepticism by some about the value of using more tech in our instructional delivery at the school level. This is brought home in the dichotomy of hearing a principal pooh-poohing the idea that his school needs to move ahead with integrating technology, and moments later he gets a message on his Blackberry! It is true- we tend to get the value of tech for our personal use, but why don’t we allow students the same level of use as they try to do their work? The fact is we find it difficult to break out of our “teaching box” and teach differently than we were taught. We want to make sure that we are not leaving out essential skills and that is a good thing. However, given how much things are changing, I believe we are remiss if we don’t make time for both the conversation about what is truly essential (and what we can leave behind – we are not teaching penmanship as much anymore are we?) and how we will deliver instruction in relevant and engaging ways. We are moving from a culture of teacher delivery to a culture of guided exploration/collaboration and we must engage students in the learning process.
Are we getting better at engaging students? Yes and no. A recent study released in March 2009 from the Speak Up National Research Project indicated that “students are generally asked to ‘power down’ at school and abandon the electronic resources they rely on for learning outside of class.” (Education Week, 4/1/09) Furthermore they don’t believe they are being adequately prepared for the tech demands of the marketplace. We can pooh-pooh the importance of engagement, but must acknowledge that how learners learn continues to tip in the direction of visual-spatial intelligence, and to not deliver instruction in those ways is simply sticking our heads in the sand. Richard Selznick, author of The Shut-Down Learner: Helping Your Academically Disadvantaged Child, believes that 4 out of 10 elementary school students may give up on learning before graduation time and become “school casualties.” In his counseling work he has noticed that almost all of his clients are strong in “hands-on” and weak in language skills. The problem of course is that most classroom instruction is highly verbal and subsequently “deadening” to them. Their disinterest, distraction, and failure to follow through on work is sometimes viewed as laziness and low motivation. These students are sometimes diagnosed with ADHD or dyslexia and prescribed medications. We can and should do better for kids who are square pegs and don’t fit our standard round holes, rather than knocking off all their God-given edges. We all know stories of people who barely survived school and once freed from formal education went on to make significant and meaningful contributions to life.
Recent research around the concept of “flow” in teenagers again points to the need for engagement and motivation. (“Flow” is the state in which we are so engrossed in doing something that we forget everything else. For more info, see the research of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi done in the 1990’s and reported in his books.) When do teenagers experience “flow” and when don’t they? Not surprisingly, classroom time rated among the worst experiences in terms of “flow”, while extracurricular activities were among the highest. For suggestions on how to change this phenomenon, click here: http://blog.newsweek.com/blogs/nurtureshock/archive/2009/10/07/flow-the-teenager-edition.aspx
So what does this have to do with nurturing faith? I suggest that a deadening education is an education that tends to discourage faith. When we don’t acknowledge that students are uniquely created and learn in different ways, then we disrespect them as persons and cause them to feel somehow “less than.” Without opportunities to learn using their individual strengths, we are disregarding how they have been created. Given that many of our students are visual-spatial, by not allowing them to tap into these strengths as learners, we are providing a deadening education. If as a learner I feel no sense of acceptance or place, it will impact my faith in a just and loving God. If I can’t feel a sense of being valued from my teacher for how God has made me, it will affect my desire to embrace the teacher’s worldview. If I am discouraged in my learning, how can I possibly desire to learn more? I pray that we are not fulfilling Neil Postman’s analysis that many children begin formal education as question marks and leave as periods, with the feeling, “if this is learning, I want nothing more to do with it.” How can this be honoring to a God who has provided us with a fantastic creation that is full of learning possibilities? God has made us to be learners, and when we shut that down in students, we bear an awful responsibility for the impact on their learning and faith development.
Technology is a gift that we have been given to nurture faith and make learning more accessible, engaging, and collaborative. What is holding us back? Some of you may not have the technology you need, but others of you have more technology than you are even using. As one administrator commented, “It’s like we have a Learjet that we only drive to church and back.” I encourage you to have this dialogue around technology, engagement, instructional delivery, and faith – for the sake of the kids – and determine how to best move forward. Perhaps this brief survey below can help get the discussion started. (For the information on the graphic to be readable the rest of the rating scale needed to be cut off – it continues with neutral, disagree, and strongly disagree.)