Heather Wolpert-Gawron

The New ELL? Teachers and Technology Part I

By on April 15, 2008

Today I found myself staring red-eared-angry at a survey from my school’s Discipline Committee asking teachers what they believed to be the Top 5 crimes committed on campus and the varying degrees that they needed to be dealt with.  On the list of choices were your typical offenders: vandalism, bullying, and that terrible crime against humanity…student electronic devices.    

You know those teachers who seem to foam at the mouth in delight when they catch a student chewing gum?  Well, they have a new cause…MP3 players and cell phones.  

OK, so I’m not advocating a kid texting his cousin during a lecture or listening to power metal during a test.  But why, in a world where funds for technology are drier than a lizard’s skin at Joshua Tree, would we as educators be banning what are, in a sense, computers in every kid’s pocket?  That’s right, computers, because, let’s face it, that flip phone is more powerful than my ole’ Mac SE.  

The reason teachers are fighting so hard?  We don’t speak their language.  We expect ELL learners to learn English, but, in fact, we teachers are TLL (Tech Language Learners) and still refuse to learn the language of this generation, the generation that Marc Prensky coined “digital natives.”  

It isn’t just that we won’t learn to use the tools that already exist.  We ban or block those that would help make our jobs more successful.  For example, my Language Arts Department head allowed three students to develop websites as a means to differentiate her assessments using the multiple-intelligences.  Can the kids show them to the class?  No.  They’re blocked.  I sit on a planning committee trying to find ways to pull our school out of Program Improvement.  I received an ASCD Brief article that began to describe ways that one school strategized and successfully emerged from Year 5 PI.  I clicked on the article to see what they had done.  Blocked.  I went to CUE and learned about using wikis in the classroom using all sorts of websites.  Blocked.  I learned about blogging, but the blogging capabilities on our site have been blocked.  

In fact, we hired a new Director of Technology who scheduled his first school site meeting on the Friday of CUE.  Um….I just don’t know what to say. 

The few teachers in my school who are using technology, are pulling teeth and time to do so.  We meet quietly like underground revolutionaries, guerrilla tech integrators, discussing ways around the district regulations just to meet the needs of our student population.  And it is about meeting needs.

Because the fact is that not every student from this generation are digital natives.  That is why we the teachers of the Title I student are professionally bound to even life’s playing field by giving students opportunities at school that home cannot provide.  Teachers complain that without shop classes or Home ec, students who are not GATE or Honors-bound are not being prepared with real life skills, but this is outdated thinking.  The fact is that students who do not speak the language of technology will not only fail to reach a higher rung on their generation’s ladder, then will not even know how to start the climb. 
It is teachers’ fear and stubborness that will keep children stunted in their learning if we don’t learn how to address this problem.  Schools claim the difficulty in using technology is in finding funds to finance it.  But it is fear.  Fear in learning a new language and fear of being out-spoken by those who have grown up in its fluency.  

I’m not saying do away with pencils or pens or drawing on paper.  I’m saying that we as a tier of teachers from multiple generations need to have united buy-in regarding technology in the classroom and its necessity.  

I love my profession, I really do, but the dated stodginess is pervasive and needs to go.  We need to brush the dust from our practices and speak in the language of our population.  No, I’m not talking about teaching in their home languages;  I’m talking about teaching in their native language, that of technology.
Schools should not view student electronic devices as a crime, but as a tool.

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