Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Dealing with the Digital Divide

More and more technology integration in schools can absolutely have positive impacts on learning. There is so much potential there to help struggling students and get real-time data to guide instruction. But lately I've had this nagging feeling that the children (and teachers!) who can't afford the technology are getting left in the dust.

Many of my students do not have computers or internet access at home. However, EVEN IF their family has a computer that DOES NOT MEAN they get to use it much.  
 
Take my household for example. We are a middle class family - my husband and I with two children - 5 and 3. We have a desktop computer with internet and each adult has an iPhone. My husband works as a book reviewer from home during the evenings. So between 4:30 and 8:30 our computer is being used.  There is no time during the week for my Kindergartner to log-on and practice with the literacy website her school recommends. And every year it seems like more and more teachers require students to complete assignments online. Eventually, we'll just have to fit a laptop into the budget - but for many families that is going to be unattainable. 

A couple weeks ago, I heard a fantastic interview on the Diane Rehm Show with Susan Crawford addressing this issue. (Susan Crawford is a professor and member of Mayor Bloomberg's Advisory Council on Technology and Innovation. She is also the author of Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age)  As an educator and parent, this is what stood out to me:
  • Americans are paying a lot more for some of the lowest internet speeds in the industrialized world
  • Since the Internet is an "essential public need", it should be treated like a utility (gas, electric, water, etc...) with access guaranteed for all Americans at a fair price.
Already I can see the cloud in some of my students' eyes when other more fortunate children start talking about the Apps they've downloaded or the time they spend on their computers or iPads. 

Even in my house, we've had to make adjustments since computer time is so limited. As much as I really loved PlanbookEdu.com - I finally decided that it's more realistic for me to go back to paper and pencil plans.  I just couldn't find enough time to get on the computer to keep it updated and could not "get at it" in real time to make it flexible enough for me right now.

I wonder how many school districts are going to afford to keep up with technology when budgets are already stretched thin.

So what do you think? Should internet access be guaranteed for everyone?

Friday, January 18, 2013

January Currently....

Time to link up with Farley for the monthly Currently!

Listening
I can't believe it took me so long to discover Downton Abbey! I've devoured the first two seasons on Netflix and can't wait until Season 3 comes out on January 29th.  Just love, love, love Maggie Smith as Violet..  And can't we all relate to this sometimes??

Loving
Starting a new book (Flying Solo) and getting back into true Literature Circle with my class - great discussions!

Thinking
That last marking period's narrative report card comments took me over 10 hours to write, so I'd better get cracking!  Makes me long for my middle school days of just an average and message from a comment bank. Thank goodness for this book!
Wanting and Needing
I hope The Fates have decided that January will be the SICK month at my house and all the rest of the year will be experienced in full health.  January 1st kicked off with The Flu and knocked my whole family down for 5 days. (My daughters were almost running feral for awhile there.) My 5 year old missed school on Friday due to pink eye.... Also yesterday I begrudgingly called in sick due to a horrific sore throat and chills.  My kingdom for a milkshake!

One Little Word
Although now I'm thinking it should be "health', I've decided to go with CONNECT.  That one word hits on so many worthwhile goals for me:
  • Connect to my family
  • Connect more meaningfully with others (not just FB likes, but actually SEE people in person!)
  • Connect Common Core Standards more deeply to my lessons and activities
Making connections can be so powerful. It reminds me of this quote from Howard's End:
"Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die."
- E.M. Forster, Howards End, Ch. 22

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Thinking Like a Thief...

Last week I asked my students to pretend they were robbing a house
(All in the name of improving reading comprehension of course!) Actually, it was part of a fantastic lesson from Chris Tovani's I Read It, But I Don't Get: Comprehension Strategies for Adolescent Readers.
  1. I gave my students a one-page reading selection called "The House" about two boys skipping school and going to one of the boy's houses. (The passage can be found on page 25 in the book.)
  2. I asked them to read it and underline with a pencil "the important details".   (How many times have they heard that?)
  3. Then......I asked them to read it again, but this time, use a highlighter to mark the parts that would be important if they were considering buying the house.
  4. Finally....they read it a third time and used a second color to highlight key information if they were going to rob the house.  
I'm sure you're not surprised to hear that my class cheered when I announced that!  I have never seen such thorough reading and attentive highlighting!  However, after we had some great laughs, we also had an eye-opening conversation about making sure the reason for our reading is clear. Students can see with color-coded examples how much difference having that clear purpose makes.
I also like this lesson because it tackles the "highlight everything" problem.  I used to avoid giving students highlighters (even though they love using them) because it seemed like they would just highlight EVERYTHING. And sure...I have a few who still fall back into that habit, but reminding them of this exercise helps nudge most of them toward more thoughtful interactions with the text and more precise note-taking.

Check out Tovani's book - it has tons of other quick lessons and activities - especially for those students who can be tough to connect to reading.