Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The New AT RISK Student

Teachers are used to identifying those students that need extra help. Indicators may include grades that start falling, behavior issues, tardiness, absenteeism, and more. There are multiple characteristics that correlate to why a child might become At-Risk and include socio-economic status, parental involvement, low self-esteem, language proficiency, instabilities in the living environment, low academic skills outside of ability or intelligence, etc.

But now there’s an all new At-Risk student--and many teachers and schools are comfortable with that student NOT succeeding. That new and improved At-Risk student is represented in classrooms around the country, and some schools have entire populations that represent the faces of the new At-Risk kid. There are issues of tradition, conformity, and pure bull-headedness that have thrown up a major roadblock to the success of the new At-Risk student, but something has to give. Something has to give now.

I’m talking about the 21st Century kid. I’m talking about the students who live and play and learn and interact in a 21st Century world. Except when they are in school. In fact, school is starting to become the primary place where learning is blocked instead of engaged because of misinformed or misguided attempts at protecting students from inappropriate materials. Districts have a responsibility to protect kids, I understand that, but they should not be setting themselves up as a primary factor for real-world failure.

I recently posted a provocation on Facebook about the possibility that museums may soon be the only place to see a physical book. The adults that I interact with had a big problem with the statement and firmly held to their opinions that a) books weren’t going anywhere, b) holding a physical book is part of the love of reading, c) classics are classics for a reason, and not a construct of the adults that value them, and d) I must be mad to say such things. That said, former students of mine and young people that follow me on Twitter all thought the statement was reasonable, in fact, they thought it was plausable as many of them regularly interact with digital texts.

A recent article on NPR’s Mindshift discussed what CIPA rules were all about, and that a district won't lose it's E-Rate funding if somebody watches a Youtube video. You can read the article here. The most interesting thing I found in the article is that while students have to be blocked from inappropriate sites, teachers do not. The article alludes to the fact that teachers might be the better filter. But instead, the blocks are on for everyone.

The blanket blocking of Internet sites has to stop. We trust adults with children but not with the Internet. What a sad state of affairs.

The Common Core is demanding that the college and career ready student use digital media and resources strategically and capably. How are they going to do that in the environments we are currently imprisoned within? How are they going to do that with teachers who believe that they are doing the right thing by NOT using technology?

A teacher told me the other day that they didn’t like technology and saw no reason for using it in class. “The kids need to learn facts,” this teacher (actually) said.

I said, “Any fact can be looked up on Google, how are your kids connecting those pieces of information? How are they evaluating the truth behind the information they discover? How are they creating new things from what they are learning?”

The teacher’s response? “They can’t use Google in my classroom, we only have time for our word games during computer lab time.” Seriously.

In this day and age, “computer lab time” is about as ridiculous as having a “crayon lab.” I’ve said it before--if the technology is not ubiquitous, like air and water and pencils, then we aren’t really preparing kids for the world that they are graduating into.

We are creating a new At-Risk child. We are creating opportunities for our kids to fail. We are suppressing their learning and preparing them for a lifetime of remediation and skill deficits.

We’re getting to critical mass. This is an emergency. Digital tools are not going away. School cannot be a time machine that doesn’t represent the real world.

You’re either on the bus on under it. We can’t just sit around and wait for everybody to agree that technology isn’t evil. We gotta move and move now. We need to switch it up and flip the game: school needs to be THE PLACE for students to MAXIMIZE opportunities, not be LIMITED by them.


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