Friday, June 18, 2010

Willingham on Technoogy

Last year at this time in the CASTLE summer book club I was criticizing Daniel Willingham for not considering technology in his book, Why Don’t Students Like School?. Scott McLeod thought I was too harsh on Dr. Willingham, and Willingham excused himself by saying, "Well, the book is about the human mind, it's not about the uses of technology in teaching. You may feel that technology is essential to the future of teaching. . .if so, that may prove a lively point of debate in the book group."

Well, this June, Dr. Willingham has, at least, taken a beginning look at how technology fits in with teaching. His piece in the current issue of the American Educator falls way short of being thorough and well thought out, though, despite the twenty-two end notes which are mostly from the last ten years.

As long as we're at the end of his article, let's note that I think the editors must have chopped off his ending, because there isn't one- the article just stops at the end of a list of four things that answer the question- What Does All This Mean for Teaching? The four items are:

1. Encourage your students to avoid multitasking when doing an important task.

2. If a new piece of technology is placed in your classroom with the expectation that you will use it, take advantage of online teacher communities.

3. Think about what the technology can and can't do.

4. There's nothing wrong with engagement.

I don't know many teachers or parents who would argue with the premise of the first point while it's almost a given that there are lots of teen-agers who could offer a very spirited contrary opinion -my daughter being one of them. The second point begs a further discussion about what teachers need to do to insist on being given proper support in the classroom which includes adequate professional development to be competent with the tools of our trade, and the tools are changing and will continue to change.

In his discussion of the third point, Willingham compares a chalkboard to an overhead projector. That's about as useful as comparing a horse drawn carriage to walking as a means of traveling from Minneapolis to Chicago. Horse drawn carriages and walking are both still very lovely things to experience, but neither are practical for traveling from Minneapolis to Chicago. I still really like a chalkboard for some things but I would never buy a new one, and all overhead projectors need to be tossed as soon as possible for lots of reasons - a document camera does everything an overhead does and so much more. I wonder if Willingham has ever used one in a classroom? I guess we shouldn't expect that much investigation from a cognitive scientist- No, wait a minute; Yes, we should, especially one that's writing in a magazine called the American Educator that's published by the AFT.

Willingham reveals his superficial understanding of Twitter by pointing out that while it provides asynchronous communication between two people, the users are limited to 140 characters. I can't really take seriously anyone who claims to be writing about technology and teaching who's that limited in their understanding Twitter. It's in his fourth and abruptly final paragraph that Willingham reveals his lack of engagement with the technology. He suggests that Twitter might be useful for providing a moment of fun or energy and implies that's all it's good for. Willingham asks us to "be clear-eyed" while he's only seeing a small corner of the picture.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Auditory Learning

This was posted in the Online facilitation course I'm currently taking. We were having a discussion about whether or not auditory learning was important.

This is very definitely an aside, but it is still about the issue of auditory or not:

Ira Socol just posted his thoughts on why Ulysses is so important in our literary tradition. For those of you who might not be fans, (you don't need to have read the whole damn thing in order to be a fan, either)next Wednesday, June 16, just after we finish this course is Bloomsday. Bloomsday is a holiday to celebrate Ulysses. All of Ulysses takes place in one day, kinda like a 24, on June 16, 1904. Ulysses was originally released as a serial.

Before I digress into Ulysses and Joyce too much, the point that Ira makes is that it is not really possible to 'read' Ulysses without saying the words outloud, reading with your lips moving, something that we try to drum out of kids.

Try to get through as much of the text from Ulysses as you can and then skip down to Ira's comments at the end. Ira has an opinion about the auditory part of reading.

By the way, and this, too, is an aside, if you look at the background of my profile picture, you can see, if you super magnify it, the Martello tower of Sandycove which is the opening scene of Ulysses and which is across Dublin Bay from where I am in the picture. I had made my pilgrimage out to Sandycove the evening before, and purposely wanted to put it in the background of this picture. If you want another stream of consciousness/auditory type of experience with an Irish flavor, you can go to my facebook videos and play a clip of the great band I heard at Pearce St Station on my way out to Sandycove.

I will also digress to my Chaucer course in grad school: I was outraged, and at 25 yrs old my outrage was barely tempered, that the prof didn't plan on reading any of Chaucer's works out loud in the class. She, the prof, was offended that I was outraged and more than a little dismissive; I think I managed to finally get a 'B' out of the course, but just barely. I distinctly remember 35 years ago being looked at like was silly or something, but I'm still outraged; I mean, how can you rationally expect to really be learning about the Canterbury Tales if you don't actually read at least out loud. I thought then that the whole thing should be read out loud, and then we could start talking about the connections to Italian poets from the 13th Cent., maybe. I think auditory learning is very important. I'm so glad that we can now link to an actual reading of the words. And I'm glad that I'm an elementary teacher and I get to read out loud everyday to my students. Roald Dahl's, The Witches is my favorite.