Ask the kids

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As part of my graduate internship for St. Joseph’s University, I will periodically be blogging and reflecting on my progress.  One of my goals is to attempt to streamline the number of apps that are recommended and supported for the educators in our district.  It occurred to me that the stakeholders who might know which apps are best in the classroom are those that are using them the most – our students.  What follows is my reflection on creating a survey for students to be given out this fall.

 

My youngest son recently started using “big boy” utensils at the dinner table.  Witnessing his blossoming independence is an incredible experience and one that, if you are a parent, I’m sure you remember fondly (for the most part).  Maybe you can identify with the following scenario as well.  You want to help this tiny little cherub eat more efficiently and they throw, sometimes quite literally, a temper tantrum.  I have watched my son try countless times to use his spoon and fork, drop the food to the dog and stare at me to get him more.  It can be really funny and frustrating at the same time.  

The thing is, he has a sense of control.  Sure I cook him dinner and I bring him to the table, but when it comes time for the important stuff, he gets to be the boss.  Imagine how you eat a sandwich, with the bread essentially parallel to your teeth.  He likes to eat it so the sandwich is perpendicular. Oh and apples – he starts from the very bottom… and eats the entire thing! Crazy right? But it works for him and he does not want to be told otherwise.  Learning is happening almost every minute of his life right now.  While guided by his mother and me, he is making countless choices of his own.  Since becoming a parent, I have had a great reminder of what growing up looks like and the power of giving children a choice.

We, as educators, say that we have our students best interests at heart.  I have no doubt that this is true in most cases.  However, given the ability to differentiate instruction afforded by advances in educational technology, we have an obligation to meet students where they are and consider their opinions.  Think about the apps and tools that you have used in your classroom.  Have you ever asked for the students opinion of them? Have you ever asked what kinds or even how much technology they like to use when learning? It is a fact of life that everybody has to learn to compromise at some point.  I am not suggesting that every student be catered to 100% of the time.  Rather, give them a voice in their own learning.  Specifically, before we dive into any kind of edtech initiative, see how students respond to it.  Do your students learn better from watching videos? If so, then that may be worth your time.  Do your students ever check their email? Don’t force using it in a world that is moving towards more messaging apps like Slack and Remind.  Do your students tire of using their device all day in school? Ask them! You might be surprised by the answer.

We can’t continue to speak for our kids and hold to the belief that we have earned the right to control everything.  When choosing your tech tools, start with the student in mind.  It is easy to get caught up in the coolest, flashiest and newest tools.  While it is important to stay current and relevant, a constant chase for the newest thing in edtech can prove exhausting at best and costly to student learning at its worst.  Start your school year with a survey to your kids.  Get to know them as best you can and give them a voice in the decisions of your class.  Just as I provide the apple to my son but let him eat it in whatever way he sees fit, you still maintain control of your classroom.  And at the end of the year, ask your kids if giving them a choice made a difference.  I’m betting they’ll say yes.  

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