Monday, September 7, 2009

iPod Curriculum

First let me say, for those who don’t know me from previous posts, I’m a digital media literacy advocate. I believe that it’s imperative for media literacy and digital skills to be taught in the English Language Arts classrooms, and elsewhere. But I also believe that students must be taught these skills in tandem with traditional literacies of reading, writing, speaking, listening, viewing, and representing. The new media expand these literacies, but first they stand on them.
Without the traditional skills and understandings of basic language arts, digital literacies become just so much pushing buttons, tinkering with software (soon to be updated and outmoded), and presenting the superficial.

I am reminded of Mike Schmoker’s essay “The Crayola Curriculum,” published nearly a decade ago in Education Week. A professional stickler for academic results, Schmoker raises the alarm for classroom activity without learning, products that lack process, and process that lacks rigor.
Technology in education often has the allure of that was once held by the diorama, the poster, and the book jacket project. Nowadays, we see PhotoStories, iMovies, and PowerPoints accepted without anything more critical than “Wow!” “Cool!” and “Neat!” Not only are digitally made projects new and glitzy, they may even beyond the can-do of the teacher, which grants them special but superficial esteem. Add to this the mandate that the teacher-learn-along-with-if-not-from-the-students, and it’s tough to develop best practices, let alone be sure that language arts our being taught and learned at a deep level.
As an advocate for media literacy and digital skills in the English Language Arts classroom, I must constantly remind myself to plan backwards using essential questions, outcomes, and objectives that use technology in service to reading and writing and other traditional literacies. Although digital literacy is part of literacy, the tools of the trade are still thinking and practice, expression and audience. Another factor in the equation is time. Figuring out how much time to teach, which skills, and what is relevant to the curricular unit at hand is key. Sometimes the Crayolas make more sense than the computers.
Students, too, are a strong motivating factor. They love the technology, especially if they can check surf a few of their favorite sites in lieu of staying on task. What teacher doesn’t want to be popular not only with administrators pushing the tech but also with students who gravitate toward the cool teacher that brings out the laptops daily. The question for us professionals is –now as ever--what and how is being taught effectively and efficiently?
Technology has become part and parcel to English Language Arts. Perhaps it’s been that way since stylus and clay, stage and theatron, Gutenberg and moveable type. Today, skills of expression, representation, and reception are multiplying at a blurred pace. Teaching our students the basics is still essential to teaching the latest device, lest our students produce creative and satisfying but mindless and vain Power Points, iMovies and video games, and become casualties of “The iPod Curriculum,” unable to read, write, and think about texts critically.

Image credit: Remix of "Sweet Sweet Phone." By Miss Karen. 10 June 2007 and "Crayola Lineup." By Laffy4k. 26 Feb. 2007. Flickr. Used by permission provided by Creative Commons License: BY.


Cat said...

I'm assuming you've read The Homework Myth by Alfie Kohn? I think this is the same thing. I'm sure it's tempting to use as much popular culture as possible to "grab the attention of our kids" but to what end? I, too, am a great advocate for staying up-to-date and pairing newer sensibilities, technologies and formats with classical education, but not at the expense of genuine learning. I have advocated for some of my son's teachers to give less homework but make it more meaningful, and I will continue to advocate for using graphic novels and iPods in the classroom, only if they are actually helping our students learn actual, usable skills and think critically. Great post.

ceyo said...

Familiar with Kohn's ideas, I believe homework can be beneficial, effective, and efficient if thoughtfully planned, but can also be a waste of time and take away from a student's motivation if it is not well prepared for. Germane to the topic of technology, I predict that what learning activites are done in school and at home are going to evolve dynamically as more is done digitally and online. You inspire another post . . .

Fred Deutsch said...

Thak you for a very thoughtful post.

Fred Deutsch
School Board Member
Watertown, SD