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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Misunderstandings About Reading and Media: A Closer Look

Bonnie Bracey Sutton

Teacher Agent of Change, Power of US Foundation

I try to ignore those who don't believe children should use technology in schools by remembering what it is like to listen to one voice all day, no matter how interesting the person.

I like what Henry Jenkins, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Comparative Media Studies Program, says about what turns kids on and how he sees the various technology gaps -- not just the digital divide or the knowledge divide, but the huge differences in the lives of those who do have access to technology and those who don't.

Jenkins lists the gaps as follows:

  • The participation gap: unequal access to the opportunities, experiences, skills, and knowledge that will prepare youth for full participation in the world of tomorrow.
  • The transparency problem: the challenges young people face in learning to see clearly the ways media shape perceptions of the world.
  • The ethics challenge: The breakdown of traditional forms of professional training and socialization that might prepare young people for their increasingly public roles as media makers and community participants.

As we learn to make our own media, think of the children who are told, "You don't need the media! Learn to read." That is so interesting a comment.

I used to teach reading. Once, to punish me, before I left teaching, an administrator assigned me to teach computer classes with thirteen desktop computers in a fishbowl of a classroom.

Not many teachers brought their students during the assigned time for their class; there was always something "more important" to do -- testing or field trips or any number of other reasons. More than that, some teachers did not believe in the technology -- until I was able to teach special education students to do wonderful things, like read.

I had the best time sharing and showing these students interactive reading books, regular books, and a special type of reading material being pioneered in New Zealand by book publisher Wendy Pye, little stories that are on the mark and that involve the kids in the reading journey.

The message got around at my school about my successes, and then more of my time was spent with the regular classes. The special education students still thrived, though; their teacher and I received a grant so he could have computers in his room. Unlike many of the other teachers at that time, he was not afraid to use them.

What a joy it is to lead children on a reading journey, whether with or without the new technology -- but with it, they can write themselves into the story. But it's too bad so many people still don't get it. Children are surrounded by technology and media -- all kinds of interesting ways to learn. That we often limit them to selecting a book, and don't invite them to choose from an array of media products, when they are in school is sad. I think of a book as a beginning of learning, a way to access new ways of thinking and learning. Technology integration, however, makes for many paths through learning.

And with technology, there are ways to teach that are more powerful, because the students are involved in a knowledge network.

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virginia malone's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
Some teachers always seem to be behind, kind of fear that youth will not learn the same thing or in the same as the teacher. Students today can't prepare bark to calculate their problems. They depend on their slates, which are more expensive. What will they do when the slate is dropped and it breaks? They will be unable to write. 1703 Teacher's conference Students today depend on paper too much. They don't know how to write on a slate without getting chalk dust all over themselves. They can't clean a slate properly. What will they do when the run out of paper? 1815 Principle's publication Students today depend too much upon ink. They don't know how to use a pen knife to sharpen a pencil. Pen and ink will never replace the pencil. 1907 NEA Journal Students today depend upon store-bought ink. They don't know how to make their own. When they run out of ink they will be unable to write words or ciphers until their next trip to the settlement. This is a sad commentary on modern education. 1928 Rural American Teacher Students today depend on these expensive fountain pens. They can no longer write with a straight pen and nib. We parents must not allow them to wallow in such luxury to the detriment of learning how to cope in the real business world, which is not so extravagant. 1941 PTA Gazette Ballpoint pens will be the ruin of education in our country. Students use these devices and then throw them away. The American values of thrift and frugality are being discarded. Businesses and banks will never allow such expensive luxuries. 1950 Federal Teachers From Plato's Phaedrus Socrates explaining to Phaedrus In the Egyptian city of Naucratis was a famous god, named Theuth. He invented arithmetic, calculation, geometry, astonomy, draughts, dice, and letters. Theuth showed Thamus, the king of Egypt, all of his inventions. Thamus thought they were all wonderful and useful except letters. Thamus told Theuth that the discovery of letters would create forgetfulness. Learners would not use their memories. They would trust the written characters and not remember it for themselves. "the specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth: they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing: they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without reality. Socrates rebuke to Phaedrus "...when once written down they are tumbled about anywhere among those who may or may not understand them..." From the Dialogues of Plato translation by Jowett And now computers will ruin our students - I guess what goes around comes around. Luckily there are a few brave teachers who step into uncharted waters. Check out Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants (PDF) by Marc Prensky. VA
Bryan Wilkins's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
Bonnie got it right. We have teachers who currently refuse to use even e-mail to communicate with parents, and would love to have their blackboards and chalk back. Regards, Bryan Wilkins
Chris Heidelberg's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
Bonnie: This article is quite insightful. I wish I had it two weeks ago when discussing my dissertation with my committee and one of my committee members, who just happens to a technology administrator, echoed similar sentiments about my research which advocates the use of edutainment and convergence from the point of view of media professionals. When I left the class, a few of my colleagues spoke to me and explained that he does not truly understand what you are saying because he is married to his position. I agreed with them but resolved within myself to provide proof, and indeed I found it in studies and articles such as yours. Our jobs are to educate students by any legal and ethical means necessary. Any worthwhile goal often takes place when one speaks truth to power in a consistent, yet careful, manner and provides the evidence. Thanks for this wonderful piece.
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I like the way she put it, "writing themselves into the story." very empowering and exciting.

Marilyn Martinez's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think that technology is great. I am a third grade teacher and my school has a great emphasis on technology. Here is my problem: I have one working computer in my class, and a brand new one that they do not think they can plug in. I am supposed to put my students on Kid Biz and Study Island. I can only do one student at a time, and I have 21 students. There is no computer lab in my school. I cannot do the impossible. Does anyone have any suggestions?

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