Welcome to another Media Moment! This month, Katie A., a high school special education teacher, shares how her experiences teaching made her open to the many different processes and tools that can help students stay organized, and the important role adults play in guiding children’s use of these tools in order to facilitate their learning. These stories are meant to help create a village square of commiserating and co-celebrating the many ways media intersect with the lives of children. Please comment and even submit your own ‘Moment’ to share with your fellow readers.
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,
Teens and Tech: The Trouble with Homework and Planning
I consider myself a pretty tech-savvy teacher. I post nightly homework to our school’s website (nothing really revolutionary there). I have a Smartboard. I use Edmodo, a page akin to Facebook where my classes can post homework, papers, or questions day or night, which can text you to remind you about assignments. I have my students listen to podcasts. I’m always looking for websites that will help my students with note-taking, outlining, and organizing. So why is it that my blood boils when a student uses their smartphone to snap a picture of notes on the board, or of a homework assignment, or of pages in the textbook they need to read that night?
In my tech-friendly school environment, few instances of tech are off limits. Students have access to school laptops and desktops during the day, and many have their own. Others have iPads or smartphones. Ultimately, it is up to teacher discretion to make sure that students are using their tech appropriately. In my classroom of 11th and 12th grade students, I have open conversations with them about the ways in which technology can help their organization skills. Of course, I still need to monitor their use during class and I have had plenty of moments where I have had to take a cell phone from a student (or put it in “Phone Vacation,” a clear shoe organizer hanging on the corkboard decked out to look like a beach paradise) for texting or unwarranted social media use. I like to share with my students some of the best ways to cultivate skills for post-secondary life, while integrating some “old school” and some new tech ways of keeping themselves organized. However, I am always open to learning from them about the ways they use tech for completing their homework and organizing their lives.
When I was in school, not too long ago, I used a day planner for my homework assignments. I am pretty sure there was a calendar in there, and I may have had the foresight to record my long term due dates. Mostly, I relied on a good memory and my circle of friends to know about tests and quizzes and projects. What can I say – I was a nerd, and I cared about my grades. Today, my students range from highly organized to organizationally challenged, and so there is no one-size-fits-all approach to helping them keep track of due dates. Many students keep an agenda book or journal, which I encourage, telling them that keeping track of their assignments this way engages neurological feedback and helps them process and remember the information. But for many of my students who have executive functioning deficits, writing is an absolute chore and their handwriting is illegible. Others who have attention difficulties may be delayed in leaving the classroom and are five minutes behind, and don’t have the time to write down the assignment. These students will take a snapshot of my board. This used to infuriate me; I would give them a cue and plenty of time to write the assignment down, but somehow it didn’t happen. But at the end of the school day, the student who took the picture is likely to flip through their pictures like another student would flip through an agenda book. For them, it works, especially if they’ve bought into the idea.
When I have students who chronically miss deadlines, I take the time to sit with them and ask about their different strategies for keeping track of work. When motivation is ruled out and organization is the culprit, I have found it beneficial to talk to my kids about what would help them individually. For example, I have one student who uses his iPad for everything. So I showed him how to use the Clock app and the Reminder app to set alarms for himself to start his homework, and to create checklists for his work. Though he was knowledgeable about many ways to use the iPad, he had never been walked through how to use these two basic features, and subsequently didn’t use them. While there are great apps out there like Evernote or Omnifocus for organizing and planning, most teens are not going to seek them out through a Google search. (I even did a quick search for “homework apps” and realized that many of my students would never do such a thing.)
As adults, we can help guide children and teens to tools and systems of organization by modeling and demonstrating the different options out there. This can be as simple as hanging a family calendar in a prominent location in the home, or using tech by inviting your children to a shared Google Calendar once they are old enough. My experience as a teacher has shown me that if you allow room for technology in your classroom, you should ask your students questions about what they’re using and how it works. You will inevitably come to a more thorough understanding of just how much or how little they know about the technology they use daily (such as those amazing little computers they’re keeping in their back pockets), and can help them better use those tools to facilitate their learning.
So now, when my students ask, “Can I take a picture of that?” or “Can I text this to myself?” I pause and push the curmudgeonly old teacher down inside of me, and ask them to explain to me how it works for them.
~ Katie A.