New Technologies – teaching the new generation

Don’t they know it all already?

In a word, no. Just because our pupils are exposed to a massive amount of ‘tech’ it doesn’t necessarily mean they will be adept at using for a variety of outcomes or be able to critically evaluate the impact that it has on them or on society. Most people tend to use this stuff on a ‘need to know’ basis. No-one knew how to tweet or IM before the technology became available, and so young people will tend to use whatever is most popular or most useful for them in their social interactions. Not to sell them short, in fact the massive positive to be taken from this is that because they do spend a lot of time using it, the possibilities in the classroom are hugely broadened.

Techs into teaching

There is an insane amount out there. From Storify to Posterous, from Twitter to Wallwisher, the web and associated technologies are just bursting with stuff that can add a bit of va va voom to your lessons. . The question that I feel is often left unanswered, is why it’s being used.

Issues and problems

All too often we end up ‘ticking the box’ of new technologies and then getting back to what we usually do. Schools or departments may desire a modern feel to their school but truly embedding into a curriculum or a school ethos may be tricky. Some teachers find these technologies challenging, and are reluctant to feel out of their depth. Others point out that a lot of teaching techniques could be done without them. While this may be the case, I think this is slightly missing the point.

Keeping it fresh

Allowing pupils to create content, comment in different ways, or even just see things on a different type of screen, is undoubtedly what is needed in the modern classroom. The value of taking something they are incredibly familiar and comfortable with and using it as an educational tool should ensure your lessons stay fresh and exciting. However, this doesn’t mean that throwing a blog writing exercise or getting everyone to Tweet about something suddenly escalates your teaching, and it’s interesting to note that Ofsted no longer include it as a criteria for an Outstanding lesson. As ever, if it fits with the lesson, and it suits the learners, it can have a valuable impact on the outcome. As ever, let’s not be doing things for the sake of it.

Media Literacy Part 2

Limiting the field?

While I am incredibly pleased to see something so vital and fundamental to modern education being approved by the powers that be, unfortunately the main focus of this seems to be the ‘big bad media’ approach, through which we are all mindless, passive vehicles blindly accepting what the media tells us and that children should be protected from its evil intentions. This is, of course, only part of the story. On the one hand, I am reluctant to follow the line of children being passive sponges which soak up everything they hear and see with no filtering whatsoever, but it is also only the tip of the iceberg. While of course it is massively important that children are educated about how the media has the power to manipulate and alter perceptions, they also need to understand more about the very techniques that are being used to create these. It also seems to assume that the only media that influences children in any real way is adverts. What about the controversy sparked by Rihanna and what it suggests about music videos? How do the gender roles we see in blockbuster films affect our perceptions of society? How has social networking affected the way we interact with each other? There could of course be a much longer list here!

Approaches in the classroom

The possibilities here are endless, and will vary depending on what your subject/keystage/objectives are. We have tried including some sort of topical media story as a starter once a week with Year 9 pupils. Not only did they tell us that they found it interesting, it also allowed us to explore more complex ideas like the ways the press can sensationalise stories (the Japanese earthquake and aftermath at the time) and how the same story can be reported in a very different way by newspapers or news organisations with different agendas. This ended up being a wonderfully interesting digression about politics! The phone hacking scandal gave us a huge opportunity to discuss the press, regulation, the power of Twitter, and a whole host of media literacy topics. In English lessons pupils looked at the way similar messages were used across different media platforms when advertising, while another year group looked at different strands of the media and how the register and tone of communication varied, as well as their impact on society in general. I am running a whole-school group which is trialling different ideas in different subject areas so I will hopefully have some more ideas to report here soon. Some initial thoughts have been to look at how musical tastes can be influenced by the media, tracking the development of a news story across different media types and giving pupils a toolkit for deconstruction of media texts that covers all media types. There is a lot more to be discussed and studied, but for now the main issue is convincing educators that it is a vital part of modern education, no matter what subject you teach. What do you think? Should media literacy be dealt with more transparently in schools? How can we do this? I look forward to your comments.

Behaving Yourself

The recently published ‘behaviour checklist’ (or ‘naughty list’ in The Sun) will no doubt prompt another debate about poor discipline in our country’s classrooms. Many things seem to prompt this discussion, such as riots in the summer, school exclusion figures or any other number of general societal ills we can blame on those ‘badly behaved’ youngsters. This is invariably twinned with some sort of wistful reminiscing about how we were all so angelic in our day.

For teachers, behaviour management is often the most basic yet the most tricky of areas. Strategies for one year group may fall flat on their face, while even techniques that work in one class won’t work for another. Which is why a fixed ‘checklist’ won’t lead to anything radical happening in terms of behaviour. Children are just little adults, with all the nuances and idiosyncrasies that will mean that they just won’t respond well to certain approaches to managing them. Not to say that every teacher should not be reminded of the basic need to reward positive and sanction negative behaviour, it is often cited as the thing that gets ‘forgotten’ in the middle of a busy lesson, especially, and most unfortunately, the rewards for the positive. But is a simple checklist suddenly going to solve all of this?

Schools are targeted for the simple reason that you can monitor them, unlike parents or peers or society. Places of education are rightfully monitored and tested to ensure consistency. That doesn’t mean that a discussion about ‘falling standards’ of behaviour shouldn’t also involve the wider community. I am also incredibly guilty of the ‘in my day’ speech that accompanies complaints about the youth of today, the absolute perplexity that comes with unpicking the generation that follows our own. Why, for example, does there seem to be such a sense of entitlement in many young people of today? Much of the rioting seemed to me to involve people taking things they thought they should have anyway. Do we look at the influence of the media, the  ‘Cribs’ and ‘Only Way is Essex’ trash TV  that teaches us that happiness is only possible through a wealth of material possessions? Do we turn to technology itself, the very fact that we spend hours staring at screens rather than talking to each other which makes us ‘inhuman?’ http://tgr.ph/pdNUyK We could also look at home life. Certainly recent research (http://bit.ly/q4jCMg) would suggest that our children are losing out on actual parenting to material goods as parents everywhere struggle to provide for their children rather than focusing on their well-being. So maybe the kids aren’t all right, but who is to blame? Or more importantly, who can help them? With financial doom and gloom permanently on the news agenda we need self-sufficient and adaptable young people who are effective at managing their own behaviour. Is there a checklist for that?

If you have experience with young people in any capacity and have any ideas on these issues please get in touch or comment below, thanks!

Media Literacy Part 1

Qualifying

The term ‘media literacy’ (often also termed ‘digital literacy’) has been bandied around in educational circles for a while now, and has been the subject of several documents (http://bit.ly/gKEWmz) and case studies (http://bit.ly/qUdCz0), of which this is clearly only a sample that I have come across. It is a hugely broad and encompassing term which is possibly one of the most problematic issues, as it takes just as long to define exactly what it is we’re talking about as it does to figure out whether or not it’s something we should be prioritising. To summarise what I think are the most important elements of the general theory, it’s about educating people (I say people as I think it’s just as valid for teachers as it is for pupils) about the influence of the media. This includes the massive assumptions we have about ourselves and our pupils (see http://bit.ly/Cdgmv for discussion on ‘digital natives,’ although I would argue that the link between someone growing up with technology around them and therefore being able to use it successfully is too much of a leap) and also the but also stresses the importance of decoding and deconstructing the messages that bombard us every day via the mass media. Should pupils have an understanding of the motives of media companies and how this skews their messages? Should pupils be able to understand how something is constructed in order to not only decode the messages it promotes but in order to successfully be able to reproduce it?

Barriers

People’s main objection to taking something like media literacy seriously is heavily tied in with their lack of respect for the area in general. Often what is perceived as ‘easy’ or ‘obvious’ are the things we encounter every day. Therefore modern popular fiction is less likely to be treated as ‘literature’ and websites or films are less likely to be seen as worthy of study. The issue is not really about whether or not the media is worthy of study, at least not for this discussion, but rather that the widespread influence and all-pervasive nature of the media and digital technology means that we are doing our pupils a disservice not to help them in decoding and creating what will be an enormous part of their working and adult life. Interestingly enough, despite what appears to be a ‘back to basics’ approach to education in general, the government have just endorsed a ‘media literacy pack’ produced by Media Smart (http://bit.ly/p88Whu) in order to help teachers tackle issues of skewed messages in the media in advertising and related to body image in general which could have an adverse affect on young and influential minds. So where is the secondary equivalent? How can a topic so broad begin to be embraced in schools in any real way? Do teachers need to be convinced of its importance before it can be prioritised in curriculums? I’ll be trying answer some of these questions in the second post. Please submit your comments, I’d be really interested to know your thoughts or what you’ve encountered.


‘Embedding’ across the curriculum – real possibility or box-checking exercise?

Cross-curricular concepts

As a teacher in a secondary school, we are constantly bombarded with new initiatives, ideas and concepts that are to be ’embedded’ into the school as a whole. These can vary from government-led legislation (cynically often a knee-jerk reaction to whatever the popular press happens to be shouting about or the exact opposite of whatever the last government did, despite how effective it may or may not have been) to governor/headteacher priorities. Ideally, your school should give you the opportunity to trial and put into practice initiatives that are teacher-led and allow us as professionals to develop and expand on interests and skills personally. How often is this actually the case? I would be interested to hear your thoughts.

‘Embedding’

Once the particular idea has been identified as worthy of further development (a tricky process in itself!) the process of ’embedding’ it into school practice begins. Here is, I feel, the trickiest area. Especially in secondary schools, where there is often a tendency to make assumptions about other subjects (“oh they cover that in Maths”) or at worst take a ‘pass-the-buck’ attitudes(they teach them how to spell in English so I don’t have to bother), it is often difficult to see how something can be truly entrenched over the entire school. Very often it leads to things which are merely bolted on, such as an extra lesson here and there, or a learning to learn week, or a poster around school. This can sometimes feel like a box checking exercise, where we have successfully used ‘X’ in our teaching and can now move on safe in the knowledge that is is embedded into our practice. Or is it?

Tackling the Issues

The conundrum lies between being able to prove something is actually happening in lessons, and a sense of trust in your teaching staff. Very often these things should simply be the process of good teaching (what teacher should not be developing a pupil’s ability to communicate as well as particular subject-related knowledge or skills?). But senior management and Heads of Department have the onus placed on them that they need to in some way prove and measure the fact that these things are taking place in classrooms on a regular basis. It seems naive to assume that we will return to a system where the inherent values and skills of a teacher are taken for granted, and perhaps this could lead to stagnation on both sides of the classroom wall. In the culture of assessment-driven education and a constant need to verify and measure teaching and learning aims and outcomes, is it truly possible for innovative, creative and highly important practices to be truly embedded across the entire school?

Possible Solutions

Invariably this must rest with the school’s approach to CPD. If a teacher truly believes they can test out theories, ideas and concepts with the full backing of the senior team, only then can you be assured that pupils will continue to be exposed to the full range of experiences they are entitled to as learners. While of course schools and departments need to maintain assessment standards, teachers must be able to feel that there is some space in the curriculum (yes, even at KS4!) to allow them to trial new teaching methods and base their teaching on a range of priorities. Only then will we be able to truly educate. Despite the pressures rained down on teachers, they must never be allowed to feel that all they are doing is preparing the next generation for a series of exams. We need to educate the whole child to deal with and thrive in the ever-changing environment they will find themselves in once they leave the classroom space. Some of these ideas will stick, and become whole-school policy, while others may fall by the wayside. But at least they will have been attempted. A combination of trust in your teaching staff and commitment to innovation should lead to a pupil cohort that is constantly kept on its toes. I am hugely interested in how other schools approach these areas and how much people feel their school ’embeds’ new ideas across the curriculum. Please share!