Children’s lives are increasingly dominated by technology, laments teacher
During the languid days of summer, a friend forwarded to me an article lamenting the unhurried pace of Major League Baseball games. This year, the average nine-inning game lasted a good chunk of an evening: 3 hours and 5 minutes. There are many reasons for this length, including time spent challenging plays through video review; the high number of bases on balls; pitchers who dilly-dally between throws; and the catcher’s visits to the pitching mound.
Baseball has always been a slower game; in fact, it’s one of the attributes that many fans, myself included, enjoy. If you’re a spectator, you don’t have to watch every pitch. At the ball field, or in your living room, you can get up and take a walk, chat with a friend, keep an eye on the official score, or space out. It’s all part of the experience.
Despite the charm of a ballpark and the chance to watch talented athletes hit a baseball, however, many Americans are losing their appreciation for the pastime in our increasingly rushed world.
The sport’s waning relevance reflects a shift in our larger culture that is also filtering into the classroom. This is my 20th year of teaching, and much has changed since my early days in the classroom, most notably the influence of technology in and out of school. Unlike a baseball game, the pace of our lives is not getting any slower.
It has long been argued that excessive screen time impedes attention, learning, sleep, and overall well-being. According to a 2015 national survey from Common Sense Media, 8- to 12-year-olds spend approximately 4½ hours on screen media per day, on average. About 2½ of those hours are spent watching television or other videos.
“Unlike a baseball game, the pace of our lives is not getting any slower.”
Millions of children’s lives outside of school are dominated by technology, and, while some of this technology use is educational, I increasingly worry about its greater impact.
Learning requires periods of sustained attention. It is a slow process. Whether we are asking children to read a book, compose an essay or story, critically analyze a text, work on a project, struggle through a complicated math problem, or conduct research or an experiment—all skills that we want students to be able to do in the 21st century—students need to be able to deeply focus and think. These are complex cognitive processes of synthesis, analysis, and evaluation for which there typically aren’t any shortcuts.
When we give a child a tablet or computer in school, it is usually to complete a task faster than if it were to be done through a more traditional method such as combing through books to research or to write with paper and pencil. While using technology may result in more efficient work, it does not necessarily result in better work. For example, one recent study concluded that students retain information better when they take handwritten rather than typed notes. Students who write longhand notes more deeply process what they are taught than students who take verbatim notes via a tech device, researchers found.
Even the process of taking standardized tests using technology has come under scrutiny. For example, students in 2014-15 who took PARCC exams using a computer generally scored lower than those who took the test using paper and pencil. In Illinois, 43 percent of students who took the English/language arts portion of the exam on paper scored proficient or above, versus 36 percent of students who completed the test online. In one Rhode Island district, students who took the English exam on paper scored more than 17 points higher than students taking the test online, according to the Providence Journal link.
It is hard to deny an inverse correlation between widespread technological use and proficiency (and interest) in slower-paced activities. I have noticed that children—including my own, for that matter—generally prefer the entertainment value of interacting with a screen over a task that involves concentrating for long periods of time, such as reading a book, writing longer than a page, or conducting thorough, thoughtful research.
What truly concerns me, though, is the larger impact of not wanting to take on time-consuming tasks in the real world beyond the school walls. At what point will board games that take a long time to finish, like Scrabble and Monopoly, become obsolete? I understand the value in downloading and listening to a song in less than a minute, but there’s also a place in our world for slow-paced activities, especially when it comes to classroom instruction.
I realize momentum is working against me, but I want my classroom to be a place where activities involving slow, deep thinking are valued. I hope my children’s teachers will at least occasionally do the same. Baseball does not begin again until next April, but like many fans, the wait time to the season’s first pitch is always worth it. Let us all develop such patience as we plan lessons that require slow, critical thought—and value the thinking and learning that takes time.
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