Sign up for our newsletter
October 10, 2019
Technology is here. Technology is everywhere. Technology is staying. The catchall term covers a variety of smart devices—from phones to watches to televisions, types of artificial intelligence and scores of video games. Technologies are threaded through both my mothering and my teaching, and I’m not looking to unravel those threads and go back to the yesterdays of stitching everything by hand. In fact, I believe attempts to eliminate technologies from kids’ lives, specifically, are counterproductive and detrimental.
Picture this: your workplace. Whether it’s in or out of the home, chances are your vision included technology. In 2019, most job postings mention proficiency in numerous technologies as prerequisites for job applicants. Recently, attempting to diminish students’ dependency on smart phones and tablets, France banned them in elementary and middle schools. As a veteran educator, I understand the frustrations. However, I take the stance that “banning” is a disservice to students. Rather, I believe scaffolding students’ learning experience with technologies, in age appropriate ways, is a more logical approach. If it is part of a school’s mission and vision to prepare students for a successful life outside of its walls, students must know how to responsibly navigate technology in a technology-laden world.
The National Council of Teachers of English, in its position statement “Beliefs for Integrating Technology into the English Language Arts Classroom” notes: “Digital technologies offer new opportunities to read, write, listen, view, record, compose, and interact with both the texts themselves and with other people.” In the most effective classrooms, technology isn’t used because it’s novel. The best professional educators understand that any technology, new or old, is used to complement teaching that is thoughtfully planned with educators’ subject matter expertise, awareness of learners’ diverse needs, and clear learning objectives.
Paula Jones, an experienced middle school teacher, uses technology in numerous ways in her English language arts classroom. Her students utilize the Microsoft Surface for both online reading and drafting—skills they’ll need in most any workplace. While willing to try new technologies, she’s not afraid to abandon them if they compromise students’ learning. Jones explained, “I tried a virtual reading game. But, by the third level, students lost interest.” She chose a more traditional approach because it best supported students’ deep subject matter learning. In Jones’ classroom, technology complements the classics. In her experience, devices distract students in different ways. “Boys are more distracted by games and girls by what devices can do, like pens enabling drawing on a device’s screen,” she says. Jones encourages students to close all windows/programs they don’t need to complete a particular task.
Victoria Thaxton, an educator with 20-plus years of classroom experience, is also a mother of five:ages 31,27 and 15-year-old triplets.. She’s earned her badge teaching about and managing technology use both inside the classroom and at home. While her now 31-year-old son never played much, the 27-year-old was big into gaming because he wanted to pursue game design. Wisdom-of-parenting-practice brought about changes in how she and her husband approached computer use and videogames with the triplets: “The triplets didn’t start playing online games until they were nine. I felt it wasn’t good for them.” Now freshmen in high school, the triplets aren’t hooked to devices because they were brought up with a balanced approach to technology use: “Video games have a time and place. Drinking soda is bad. Overeating is bad. Everything in moderation.”
For the Thaxton triplets, gaming time must be earned by going above and beyond household chores—doing things like cleaning the driveway. While not always the easiest route, Thaxton’s approach is practical and effective.. “We never shoved a phone in their faces just to have them be quiet. It’s important to engage kids in conversation instead of just allowing them to play with devices.” The family’s balanced approach means that there is no gaming time Monday through Thursday unless all schoolwork is complete. Even then, there is a one-hour limit. But for this busy family (one of the girls just won the Little League World Series with her Tampa Bay Little League team), weekends don’t leave much open time for gaming either:. Says Thaxton: “The busier kids are, the likelihood for overplaying decreases.”
The girls are most interested in videogames involving movement: “If there’s action, like dancing or tennis, they’ll play.” Thaxton and her husband get a kick out of watching, too, as all gaming and online activities happen in an open area of the house: “It’s another check and balance—allowing us to monitor the kids’ online activities. Inappropriate talk? It’s stopped. Playing virtually with people they don’t know? We’re actively monitoring.” The Thaxton triplets, at school and home, have developed healthy techie habits—maintaining As and Bs is a prereq for gaming and online time. “Life doesn’t have a reset button. We can’t just skip some levels. Kids need constant reminds that real life is not virtual reality. Balance is key.”
We don’t need to fear technology. Through good, old-fashioned conversation and leading by example, we can help kids mindfully use various technologies. In this way, they leave the nest with the capacity to soar in a “smart” world.