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Friday, November 18, 2011

Is technology ruining our students’ ability to think?

After spending lunch with some colleagues and lamenting over our parents’ increasing frustration with dementia, I cannot think of anything to be more thankful for than the ability to think clearly.  I am following all of the recommendations for hanging onto my mind (doing Sudoku, reading two books at a time, etc.) as my children have pointed out numerous times that I am losing it.  This got me to thinking about thinking (habit of mind #5)-is it a use it or lose it proposition?  Will “there’s an app for that” take the place of problem solving for our students?  How can we use all these wonderful tools and resources to increase our student’s capabilities rather than just teach content and measure their innate abilities?  Let’s take a look at the first three habits of mind that Arthur Costa described in “Describing 16 Habits of Mind”:  persistence, managing impulsivity, and listening to others with understanding and empathy and “respond with wonderment and awe” (habit # 12) at how integrating technology in the classroom can help us build these habits into their lives. 
Persistence, “sticking to a task until it is completed,” is a habit that many students could use practice with.  Is it that they just “give up” because they do not have the ambition to proceed further?  Or is it that they just do not know how to proceed further?  Have simple tools, like Google or Siri made it too easy to get an answer?  Opening our students’ eyes to a variety of resources, problem solving and research skills beyond a simple Google search is a great way to help them develop persistence. 
The second habit, managing impulsivity, or “jumping to conclusions” is often demonstrated by students who shout out answers or think before they act.  Just providing wait time before students can raise their hands or insisting that students read comments over carefully before hitting send can go a long way in helping them manage simple impulsivity.  Students need to be asked to “stop and think” and “clarify” what they mean (the first two steps of the SCAN critical thinking strategy), when they enter into a discussion, either online or in the classroom.
Listening skills have been at the top of teachers’ wish lists for a long time.  They are needed even more desperately now as we bombard each other with messages at lightning speed.  In many cases, listening carefully is now increasingly transformed into reading carefully.  Either way, our students need to practice this communication skill.  Using web 2.0 tools gives us a great opportunity to reinforce, monitor, and moderate discussions and consciously work these “habits” into our students’ daily lives. 
Web 2.0 technology gives us the chance to re-open the discussion on classroom discussions.  Students learned the basic rules of classroom discussion in kindergarten. Moving the classroom discussion to the internet allows us to moderate and reinforce those rules and practice in a new venue. Why not work in some good “habits of mind?”

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