In the first part of an exclusive new series on the site, Justin Bell looks at the use of technology to help reading evolve in the 21st Century classroom.
He examines the role that discussion can and should play in the Language Arts classroom as well as the ways that technology can be harnessed.
It is time for Reading to be Reborn…
These Are the Times That Try Students’ Minds
Thomas Paine once wrote about resolve in the face of adversity. The adversaries wore not just redcoats but were clad in the mercurial warmth of sunshine and summer. Temperament and constancy and strength were what the country needed to survive. This stay-the-course mentality has permeated the American consciousness. How many times has the answer to a problem been “wait and see,” “give it some time,” or “all you need to do is work a little harder”?
In education, although many administrators and education czars leapfrog from one pedagogical trend to another, those inspirational strategies only account for a small portion of any one class. The day-in, day-out methods and materials stay the same for the most part. Many people—students, parents, teachers, and administrators—resist change. After all, it is easier to dance with the devil you know well than to take a chance with an unknown variable.
I see a troubling time, though, in literature. Whenever an author creates a work, she channels the zeitgeist of that particular age. She skims across topical themes and brushes against contemporary ideas before delving deeper into human themes. Above all, this work is meant as a dialogue to the readers of that time before any thought of posterity enters the picture. Below is a communication model:
A shared space needs to exist between A and B for any message to arrive firmly in B’s space. As time goes on, language evolves, topical themes become rarely referenced historical footnotes, and the allusions fade to obscurity.
Some teachers relish this. They can now become an interpreter who stands to the side with a ready explanation. Doesn’t that make us all feel good and empowered, to be needed? The problem is that students have different needs. It would be akin to simultaneously translating to French for one student, Russian for the next, and sign language for the third. The simple truth is that we teachers should not feel empowered but enable students to feel empowered. We need to differentiate based on skill by anticipating this needs. We need to switch from being an active interpreter to a facilitator, one who can float from student to student without leaving any one person behind. This takes knowledge, work, and growth. It also involves technology.
Some teachers in Language Arts view technology as either a digital alternative—let’s get ebooks instead of physical books—or as something meretricious and transitory, detracting from the voice of centuries. Few literature teachers see technology for what it truly is: a way to expand that shared space in the communication model. Without that, the chasm between author and reader merely grows with time.
Technology in the form of QR codes, apps, services, can all play a role in helping increase engagement and interaction. Think about this way: if literature is a conversation, then passive reading becomes dazing in and out to the meandering monologues of literature. Why are Twitter and messaging apps popular? They give instant feedback and affirmation. These students have grown up in a world of engagement and interaction, yet many classes revert to the monologue rather than the discussion. Even if a resourceful teacher employs active reading and annotation, the classroom still lacks valid affirmation. The classroom from the 70s and 80s and 90s is not built with this new generation in mind.
Reading scores bear this in mind. Culture and students have evolved; however, many teachers retain static approaches, copying not surpassing their predecessors.
All of this looks depressing, doesn’t it? Many more statistics drive home similar points, and this article could end in a dour note with just a tinge of hope in some vague technological breakthrough that looks tantalizing when barely mentioned but breaks apart on up-close analysis.
However, this article ends with iBooks Author, which incorporates many interactive widgets. This program can be used for student differentiation, engagement, interaction, and affirmation.