The power of kid-powered tablets

By Anne Collier

This article about tablets in school has something to teach us about tablets at home too. Tablets – iPads, Kindle Fires, Meeps, Nabis, iTouches (see this) – and even the apps on them aren’t the main event. They can be seen as the means to an end: creativity, communication, learning, fun (author and game designer Ralph Koster says that “fun is just another word for learning”). What a child brings to a device, not what’s on it, is what’s important. [I know, if you read my last post, you may be thinking, “she’s on a kick about beyond consumable media,” and – if so – you’re right; we’ve got to move past the mentality of the mass media era in which some of us parents, educators, and policymakers grew up if we want to understand today’s media and our children’s love and use of them.]

“Teachers I talked to seemed uninterested, almost dismissive, of animations and gamelike apps,” writes journalist and author Lisa Guernsey in Slate. “Instead, the tablets were intended to be used as video cameras, audio recorders, and multimedia notebooks of individual students’ creations.” She’s referring to an international school she visited in Switzerland where she found that “the teachers cared most about how the devices could capture moments that told stories about their students’ experiences in school. Instead of focusing on what was coming out of the iPad, they were focused on what was going into it.” And oh the learning that happens when that’s the focus.

Lisa writes, for example, about teacher Sam Ross describing his 2nd-graders, some of whom have trouble speaking up in class but showing “deep learning” when asked to interview each other about what they’ve learned. “Most eye-opening, he said, is watching children have their own ‘aha’ moments” when they watch their video recordings of themselves and explain to him what they were thinking at the time.” This is deep learning of several sorts, including self-awareness and being able to compose and articulate one’s thoughts at a very young age.

“It wasn’t the 600 iPads [the school distributed] that were so impressive – it was the mindset of a teaching staff devoted to giving students time for creation and reflection,” Lisa wrote, and here’s a really good question: “Are American public schools ready to recognize that it’s the adults and students around the iPads, not just the iPads themselves, that require some real attention?” That’s the author of a book entitled Screen Time asking if we don’t need to be thinking about how, more than how much, our children use devices – and, I’m noting, focusing more on the humanity involved than the technology. These are devices for learning social literacy every bit as much as content from very early ages.

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