The Importance of Meeting Kids Where They're At
Though children are different now, so is the world around them. It can be tempting to ignore this and continue with the same teaching methods that have been used for many years. In some cases, this works, but in others, it's a setup for failure.
What we as teachers need to realize is, children are a product of their time. As are we. Everyone is shaped by their environment and the unique time in history in which they were born. That's why it's so important we take a little time to slow down and think about the children of today and what they need from us as educators.
Children need us to meet them where they're at. We need to learn to look at the world using their eyes, for just a little while. Just long enough for us to take it all in and realize what it is children need from us. By giving them what they need, schools can excel and so can the children. Not only that, the children will be more content. That's important because in the end, much more than test scores matter.
Our Increasingly Digital World
It's no secret that our world becomes more digital and tech-driven by the day. It seems some grand new piece of technology comes out every week, and new advances in science and medicine are slowly transforming our world into a place so radically different from the past, it almost looks like something out of a science fiction novel. We know all this. Some of us embrace it fully, proudly toting our newest smartphone, loaded with cool apps that enhance our daily lives. Another segment of us actively push back against it, worried that our technology-obsessed society will be the end of humanity as a whole.
Both camps have valid arguments. The important thing to remember as a teacher, however, is we serve the kids, whatever our moral dilemmas might be. They're growing up in this world, and they're going to need to adapt to it. It's our job to foster this growth and development in our students, whether we're on board with it or not.
Because here's the thing: kids are affected by these technological changes at a very young age. Now, children can get an education purely online. They can look up the answer to any question by typing a few words. Many of them carry a complex calculator in their pocket - one that can also make phone calls.
How are we as teachers supposed to guide these students and help them thrive in this new world?
Ways We Can Facilitate Learning
Technology isn't going to go away, so we might as well utilize it to the best of our abilities. Educators need to get up to speed with the technology of the day they live in, particularly early childhood educators. In a classroom full of teens, you can rely on them and for the most part assume they know way more than you do. In a classroom full of five-year-olds, not so much. It's your job to guide them and teach them how to use these items appropriately. Not so easy to do, unless you know how to do so yourself.
So, the number one thing we can do to help our students thrive in a digital world is to do so ourselves. We can be great models for them. We can show them that technology is a great supplement to learning but not a substitute. We can show them how we use traditional methods and technology together, how we can seamlessly intermingle the two to get the best educational experience possible. Be being a positive role model, we can encourage students to love learning in a variety of ways both modern and traditional.
Other than that, here are some things, in particular, we can do to properly teach children in a digital world.
Teach Internet Safety Young
If your young students are going to have access to the web, the very first, most important thing that needs to be taught is how to use it safely. Even with child-safe browsers, dangers still lurk on the internet that small children are very susceptible to. Take a few hours at the beginning of a school year and make sure that all children know how to stay safe. Let them know your guidelines and what to do if they stumble across something on accident. Then, before each class period in which the internet will be used, have a quick go-over of the rules as a refresher.
Model How Technology Should Be Used
Again, being a model for your students is so important. Talk them through the process of using these technological devices. Show them, up close and personal, how to mingle technology and traditional methods. Show them how you first look something up on Google, then get more interested. Take them to the library after and teach them how to find all sorts of books from fictional stories of a historical figure to encyclopedia pages about them. Model and they will follow.
Keep Learning Active
Research shows that students learn best when learning is active, rather than passive. This is why traditional learning methods worked for such a long period of time. The student had to work directly with the text, copying from it, highlighting, or some other active learning pursuit.
The danger with technology is creating a passive learner. It's easy to assume a student is taking everything in and absorbing information, during a movie for example, but research shows that this often isn't the case. Because they don't have to interact with the material, they often zone out and think of other things.
Instead, have them play educational computer games instead of simply watching something. These games keep their minds active and force them to think and interact with the material being presented.
Help Children Learn to Communicate
One fear both teachers and parents alike have for our children is a lack of communication skills. We fear that they will spend all their time locked in an online world, never learning how to hold a conversation or have empathy for those around them. For the most part, this isn't something to worry about. After all, it's hard to get children to ever stop talking!
However, there are some things we can do to encourage the formation of great conversational skills. On the digital front, we can have them learn a new language via something like DuoLingo, so they can hear and speak with children from backgrounds different from their own. We can have them chat with children from other schools, and play interactive games.
In the classroom, we can encourage group conversations. Whether this is a book club after a beloved read-aloud that they just can't stop talking about, or a circle time where children share their hopes and dreams, encourage interaction between students. It's important to encourage students who are quieter to speak as well, in a gentle coaxing way. It's easy for them to get lost in a fold of extroverts.
Teaching children in a digital world doesn't have to be complicated. Relax, model proper habits for them, and enjoy teaching, just as you always have.