We’re officially one week into the new school year, and when I compare this—my seventh back-to-school experience as a teacher—with my first year in this job, I’m startled by how much has changed. I remember working with a male teacher who was considered cutting-edge because he kept student records on a Palm Pilot. Now I work in a school that has $5,000 Smart Boards in every classroom!
And the kids have changed too. For example …
1) They’re more well-rounded than they used to be.
During my first few years, I could count on the kindergarten kids to be pretty much a blank slate. Now, I’m finding that nearly all of them (and some of the pre-Ks, too!) are coming in with at least some French-language experience.
Maybe it’s due to the fact that we live in a competitive world, and parents want to give their kids an edge as early as possible. Maybe their attention spans are shorter than they used to be, and parents struggle to keep them entertained at home. Maybe it’s just that I teach in an area with a wealthy demographic.
But all of these kids have been to enrichment programs, and most of them enter our school at four years old with both confidence and experience in art, music, drama and language.
2) They’re more tech-savvy, too.
The first year I got an iPad, the kids all thought it was a giant phone. But the kids I have now? They’re old hands when it comes to tablets. They know what the iPad is, they know how to use it, and in many cases, they have favorite apps they’ve played with on their parents’ devices. And for the first time, I’m starting to find that this is a bit of an issue.
I had to sit some of my junior kindergarden kids down for a little rule-setting chat the other day about how the computer is our end-of-class treat for after we get our work done. And if they rush through their work so they can get to their playtime, or if they waste precious class minutes pestering me about iPad, I won’t be able to bring it anymore.
(Editor’s Note: In Ontario, where Joanna teaches, there are two grades of kindergarten: junior kindergarten and senior kindergarten, referred to as JK and SK. Junior kindergarten begins for children in the calendar year in which they turn four years old.” —info from Wikipedia)
I appreciate that technology is fun for them and can make things more interesting. And of course I plan the iPad stuff I do with them quite carefully, to maximize our learning time. But the sad reality of life—even when you’re a four-year-old—is that sometimes, there is business to be done. The playtime comes after.
3) They use technology in unexpected ways.
The first few French apps I’ve downloaded were vocabulary skill builders that my older students can use independently during our weekly music and multimedia day. (They reach an age at which singing for half an hour isn’t so much fun!)
For example, I have a JK class that is boy-heavy, and they are obsessed with trains. So I downloaded a little train app that’s been a huge hit this week. We watch the train go round and round the track, and every time they see a person standing at the station, they’re supposed to shout the word for ‘stop!’ in French. So I stop the train, let the people on, and away we go again. And meanwhile, we’ve all learned the French word for person, train, whistle and stop.
Some day, I’ll get them reading. But for now, we’re laying some important groundwork and building a foundation.
I’m sure I could sit an older student down with my Kindle Touch, and they’d be reading away within five minutes. It really is that easy for these kids to navigate the tech world, and I applaud them for it. I think our challenge as teachers is going to be to teach them to use it appropriately. Gone are the days where a school can ‘protect’ its students by blocking, say, YouTube. Now, it’s more important to keep YouTube open, and to focus on teaching students how to use it appropriately.
And yes, the iPad is a great tool for doing all manner of things for both learning and play. But it isn’t well-rounded, or useful, to use it to the exclusion of other tools.
Students learn in different ways, and it’s important to expose them to a variety of media, stimulus, tools and techniques. There is a place in my curriculum for the techie stuff, but there’s also a place for reading, writing, acting, singing, and drama with puppets and manipulatives and hands-on activities.