Digital Narratives

Elementary Students Working At Computers In Classroom Using Keyboard Concentrating
Elementary Students Working At Computers In Classroom Using Keyboard Concentrating

At 22 I taught conversational English in a South Korean public school.

50 kids to a classroom. No computers. Coal heaters with metal venting distributed heat during the winter.

Everything else about the school resembled a typical U.S. classroom, which hasn't changed much in 100 years.

Yes computers are ubiquitous. Yes there are tools for differentiating instruction and personalizing learning, but those tools and methods currently serve the same narrative that has dominated schooling since its inception.

You go to school to memorize the information from the guardians of the information who went to school to memorize how to take the information and place it into heads. We know you have memorized the information when we scan the sheets that measure your ability to recall the information. Then you get a good job.

It was the narrative 25 years ago when I was in high school, the narrative 15 years ago when I taught high school, and the narrative at the university where I earned tenure before leaving to try something different. If you are a parent, it is the narrative in your child's classroom today.

I want to change narratives.

I want to change the narrative that adults have all of the important facts figured out, have mapped the "terrain of facts," and that the job of the teacher is to steer students through that terrain.

I want to change the narrative that technology has ushered in an age where all children can be efficiently guided through the terrain.

There are countless apps and software platforms offering THE SOLUTION to classrooms full of diverse children.

The child consumes the facts, perhaps through a video if an algorithm has "determined" that is the best way the child memorizes. Or maybe the app presents the child with digital tricks for memorizing bits of information.

There's nothing to celebrate about using technology to take a room full of diverse children and clone them at different speeds.

Full confession: I love technology, and I believe technology used correctly can change narratives beginning with the narrative of "educated."

Past and current narrative: Able to memorize and recall information deemed important.

Better narrative: Able to identify, access, and utilize information from various knowledge systems in order to create change.

Life is a series of challenges. It is not a mapped, orderly sequence of facts. If it were, it wouldn't be fun.

Technology in the classroom used to reinforce a dated narrative isn't anything to get excited about, quite the opposite actually. As my own kindergartener maneuvers his way through public school, and the teacher apologizes for how often they have to test (32 days), I worry about technology teaching kids to hate learning.

It does not have to be this way.

Using technology in the classroom to help children create value in the world, technology that helps them tell their stories using information and ideas they engage with as they mature, is a different narrative altogether. It is one where diverse children are treated as unique beings evolving into engaged community members.

That story is being told in a few classrooms where teachers have empowered their students to get online and to find interesting problems that require the use of science, technology, math, history, engineering, compassion, resilience, perspicacity and meta-cognition to solve.

It's important to note here that a Scantron cannot evaluate the higher order thinking skills needed to cure Cancer or save the bees.

But a teacher empowered to use technology to help children become inquisitive problem solvers can determine how children are progressing without the dated technologies of textbooks or standardized tests.

The curated-web is the curriculum, and digital portfolios, both for teachers and students, are the tools for understanding how children are making sense of the worlds they are going to have to fix.

This change is taking place despite the moneyed interests behind the old system. There's no need to buy a chemistry book. It's online. And because we can evaluate a student's growth without having to stop and take a test, which a digital portfolio allows us to do, there's no need to pay a company for its dated technology.

The pressing issue now is who will win the battle of the narrative, those clinging to the past, who view children as passive vessels waiting to be filled with better content, or those of us who believe powerful teachers can be trusted to help children evolve into inquisitive world changers.

Tradition, unfortunately, is tough opposition.