When I step into my classroom, I am forced to face the urge to believe my students are all smarter than I am. And in many ways, this is the unhidden truth.
In his article, “World Without Walls; Learning Well with Others”, writer WIll Richardson says, “The technologies we block in their classrooms flourish in their bedrooms. Students are growing networks without us, writing Harry Potter narratives together at FanFiction.net, or trading skateboarding videos on YouTube. At school, we disconnect them not only from the technology but also from their passion and those who share it.”
I often find myself having to justify activities like poster presentations and graphic organizers to my students who are routinely building websites and editing sponsor videos (skate or snowboard videos they send to companies for sponsorships) of themselves on thier Imacs using pirated software (which itself is a skill).
Recently, I assigned a piece of writing for students to do for homework. The purpose was to assess how well students learned how analyze a piece of visual advertising. One of my students asked me if he could do the assignment on his computer instead of turning in a written “one-pager” . I agreed, trusting that this student’s request was a genuine one.
I was expecting a word processed production, perhaps in a silly font. What I got was a mixed media masterpiece. The student had mastered Photohop by the time he was in eighth grade. He had moved on to programs like dreamweaver, Illustrator, and In-Design. If he wanted, he could publish a magazine. Maybe he is. The point is that he has a literacy that I don’t. And as our society continues to adavance, and businesses rely increasingly on the skills of computer program designers, the one in need of education is me, not my student.
Part of my personal teaching philosophy holds that a student needs to experience and become a master in the organic elements of creativity. In the case of my student, I would argue that any graphic designer needs to know how to draw with pencil and paper before he can master a computer based graphic design program. But what about my homework assignment? I have the suspicion that his case is not unique and that I am teaching antiquated skills to students who would better benefit from direct instruction in website design. The great thing about teaching is that I can use technology to teach organic skills. Students must learn how to read and write critically. I know how to teach that. It is time for teachers to stop playing catch up and use technology as a vehicle for teaching good old fashioned knowledge. With continued active participation and collaboration strategies in the classroom, students will find school to be enriching, not torturous.
I have come to accept the fact that, in many ways, my students are smarter than I am.