I’ve been teaching since before 1997, and here’s what I think: students need to own it.
The experience, the product, the connections--the more they belong to the students, the greater and more meaningful the impact. How do we create that ownership for students? One avenue is giving them tools as readers and writers to make their own paths in the written world. Another avenue is designing projects. Choosing a topic and building a project inherently fosters ownership in a student; publishing that project for friends and family to experience gives a further accountability that a mere performance for a teacher can’t. Such work results in students who are equipped to grab ahold of life in the 21st century. In order to prepare young people to engage meaningfully and successfully with their present and future lives, we need to arm them with the skills to not just be consumers of media, but also to be savvy curators and talented creators.
Gaming. Texting. Surfing. These 21st century gerunds have new meanings that I could barely conceptualize when I was a high school student. Instead of being alarmed by these emerging verbs and nouns that hold so much meaning for young people, I say, let’s utilize them. You love immersive, first-person games? Great. Here’s an excellent TED talk. Use that as a starting point for your research on that kind of virtual environment’s impact on the brain. Your project can quote gamers and researchers in the same sentence. You can’t wait to get onto your phone for texting and tweeting? Excellent. Here are some search terms to get you started on investigating the unique and evolving syntax of such conversations. You can create a project comparing that to research of the syntax of 19th century correspondence. We won’t just embrace 21st century modes; we’ll understand their place in history, their impact on our brains and society, and we’ll be better able to make informed decisions.
Every school I’ve ever attended or taught at has expressed the goal of fostering lifelong learning as a core attitude of its students. With the exponential increase in the availability of knowledge and technology today, being a lifelong learner isn’t an airy goal; it’s a vital skill and mindset for employment and citizenship. Skillful and savvy reading and writing skills along with the tools and mindset of a creator prepare students to learn, create, and build meaning in this rapidly-evolving society.
"When we read human stories, we become alive in bodies not our own. Literature is in many ways like faith: it is a leap of imagination. Both reading and writing require an imaginative leap and it is that imaginative leap that enables us to become alive in bodies not our own. It seems to me that we live in a world where it has become increasingly important to try and live in bodies not our own, to embrace empathy, to constantly be reminded that we share, with everybody in every part of the world, a common and equal humanity."
“The most necessary task of civilization is to teach people how to think. It should be the primary purpose of our public schools. The mind of a child is naturally active, it develops through exercise. Give a child plenty of exercise, for body and brain. The trouble with our way of educating is that it does not give elasticity to the mind. It casts the brain into a mold. It insists that the child must accept. It does not encourage original thought or reasoning, and it lays more stress on memory than observation.”
― Thomas A. Edison