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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Is modern technology teaching our kids to be lazy?

Is modern technology teaching our kids to be lazy?

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I teach high school remediation. All of my students are juniors, and must pass the state test in March. The spelling and writing skills of many of my students are extremely below grade level. Some have rarely used a dictionary and don't know what guide words are. They have so much knowledge about the computer, and use spell check to correct mistakes. Hand them a cell phone, and they can text message all day long. Give them a calculator and they can figure out any problem, but hand them a pencil and paper and they go blank. I advocate for technology as a resource for learning, but it seems that this is the reason that so many students are unable to do things manually. I know that the basic skills should be mastered in elementary school, but my kids are juniors already and they haven't gotten there yet. Has anyone else experienced this? Any suggestions or comments are welcome.

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Brandy Frame's picture

I am a true advocate of technology...I love it! In my classroom, I allow students to type reports, use the computers to practice many skills, and have recently purchased an ELMO. The students must write and correct their papers before turning them in, understand and show how to work problems before practicing on the computer, and use important skills to manipulate the ELMO. I think the students should understand the basics and be able to solve the problems without the use of technology. Yes we do live in a changing society, but should the kids not learn how to function without technology? What are we teaching them? By saying, use the calculator, computer, etc., we are saying take the fast road to be done. I make my students show all work, and then use technology to check or understand the skill. Lazy or not, these skills should be taught because they may not always have technology at their fingertips. I only teach third grade, but my students are able to find words in a dictionary, a thesaurus, or an on-line source. I rotate the groups each week by who uses the books or the computers. I was told that the students did not even need to learn cursive anymore because everything has to be typed. Teach them their name and they will be fine. I was shocked , disgusted, and horrified that we have turned to a society that not longer needs basic skills.

Sarah Smith's picture

For anyone struggling with technology and the skill level of our students, I suggest reading Mark Bauerlein's The Dumbest Generation. (I included the citation below.) Although I don't agree with all of his premises I do think that he provides an alternative view to the one which states that technology is inherently good and must be used by students. It definitely made me stop and think about prejudices I had, such as the belief that students must be more knowledgeable about the world because of the internet. Plus the full title made me laugh in the middle of the book store.

Bauerlein, M. (2008). The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30). New York: Penguin.

Mary Scorpati's picture

Thank you all for your comments and suggestions. I absolutely advocate for technology, however my concern was said best by Brandy. Are students being taught to take the "fast road" before mastering manual instruction? Thank you, Sarah, for your suggestion. I will absolutely check Barnes & Noble for a copy this week.

Sarah Nofo's picture
Sarah Nofo
2nd Grade Teacher

I agree that students must master the basics first, and then use technology to be more productive. I myself love technology, however, when my computer is being slow or my printer isn't working properly, etc., it frustrates and scares me because I've relied on it so intently. Kids should be able to complete a task both manually and with technology because sometimes technology doesn't work the way you want it to. Plus, I think proper grammar, capitalization, penmanship, and letter formatting are important skills to learn.

Elissar Gerges's picture
Elissar Gerges
High School biology teacher from Abu Dhabi, UAE

I am a biology teacher and I value the use of technology in my classroom. However, when my students sit for external examinations, they are not penalized on spelling mistakes. They submit all their papers and lab reports typed. They are not even allowed to draw a graph with a pencil on a graph paper. They have to use graphing software.
I always argue with other teachers about the use of technology, especially language teachers. Why should the student have a neat handwriting if he is using Microsoft office for typing as well as correcting spelling mistakes? Why should students learn spelling or be penalized for spelling mistakes on a test if teachers ask for a typed homework or a typed paper?
I appreciate technology and I use it daily in my classroom (especially that I'm a biology teacher) but at the same time, education is not coping with this fast advancement. If we teach them spelling, then we should check for spelling mistakes. But if the teacher requires all papers to be typed, then we should not blame the students for having spelling mistakes or a bad handwriting.

Roxanne's picture

I just wanted to thank Sarah for the book recommendation; I will pick it up the first chance I get. I am currently taking a technology course online because I feel my students know more than I do, and I want to be able to utilize technology to the fullest capacity. I also feel that technology has hindered my students to a degree. Many of my students cannot write a complete sentence and they absolutely cannot spell.

Claudia Rabie's picture

I completely agree that technology has taken over and I love it! In my self-contained class of 12, I have several peices of equipment at my students finger tips. We have 3 computers, a promethian board, alpha smarts, and reading pens to name a few. In my opinion, it is not how much technology is being used that should concern teachers, its what they can do with it. Can they write a cohesive paper? Do they comprehend the text being read? Are their equations being solved accurately? Technology is only expanding. I heard several years ago on a talk show that if a child hadn't accessed a computer by the age of 3, they are already falling behind. I beleive that there has to be some basic knowledge, but relistically, when was the last time we wrote something by hand or calculated ion paper? When will we ever need to again? A couple months ago, my computer was not working properly. I couldn't use it but I had a paper due the very next day. Instead of hand writing it (which by the way is always my last resort), I used my cellphone to compose an email and wrote my paper in the body of the message. The next day all I had to do was open my email and print the document. I beleive any one of my students would have done this. Not because it is the fast way or the easy way, its because it is the most efficient way.

Allison Harrison's picture

I have about 2-3 students in my second grade classroom that have decent handwriting. I hate that a basic skill like handwriting has been put to the side. I do not think that it is just technology that is causing this problem though. On state tests, (other than 3rd and 5th grade, for Georgia anyway) students don't have to worry about writing. All they need to know how to is to bubble in a circle. At my school it is all about that test.

Jamie Sappenfield's picture
Jamie Sappenfield
Fourth grade math, science, and social studies teacher from Savannah, GA

I agree with Kristen in that children are going to find the fastest way to complete an assignment and what better way to do it than using technology? We do the same as adults. I can't tell you how many times I have used the thesaurus on-line to find more exciting words for my own assignments in working on my Masters. I just don't believe we should allow the students to become dependent on using computers though. I hate that we have taken spelling out of our elementary school standards (4th and 5th grade that I know of) in GA. My students REALLY struggle with their spelling and it drives me when simple sight words are misspelled. Being that our students do have to complete a writing test on paper/pencil, I believe they should be taught and held accountable for neatly written essays with minor errors only. Why not use both paper/pencil and technology? I do! :)

Linda's picture

I love technology and am enjoying learning along with my first grade students (although, being that they are "native" techies and I am an immigrant, many of their skills have already surpassed mine). One aspect I am concerned about is the loss of language/social skills I am observing with our students. Children are so wrapped up in their technological worlds with video and computer games, cell phones, chat lines and social networks, etc. that they are no longer able to effectively socialize with others face to face. I think that more than our basic academic skills are at risk!It would seem that our children have become so dependent on external stimulation that they no longer need to think for themselves. If this is lazy, then maybe this would be an appropriate term to use.

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