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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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