Their World, Their Classroom: Innovating to Reach Digital Natives

Author: Leslie Barrett, Education Specialist: Technology & Library Media Services

In Issue 15 of Insight, Cynthia Holcomb reflected on an article from the Washington Post in which a teacher spent two lethargic and inactive days experiencing school from a student’s perspective. Both articles present a simple but powerful idea that could have a significant impact on the effectiveness of our classroom practices: consider the student’s perspective. Marc Prensky did just that for his book Teaching Digital Natives. Prensky (2010) suggests we can impact the level of student engagement and attention span by delivering “what students need in the ways they need it” (p. 2). To help us out, he interviewed students from various backgrounds around the globe with the goal of finding out what today’s students want from their classroom learning environments. Surprisingly, or maybe not, he found students want the same things regardless of their socioeconomic status or global location.

Consider the list below of the nine things Prenksy (2010) found that today’s digital natives want from their learning environments. Our challenge as educators is to listen to what our students are asking from us and think about new ways we might approach our classroom practices in response.

 

They do not want to be lectured to.

Can we reframe student learning objectives in the form of rich questions and allow students to use their digital devices or other resources to discover the answers (with varying levels of support depending on age and ability levels)? Can we pre-curate appropriate resources that will help students independently explore the content with a higher likelihood that they will encounter reliable answers to our guiding questions?

 

They want to be respected, to be trusted, and to have their opinions valued and count.

Granted, respect and trust have to be earned, but are we giving them enough opportunities to earn it? How often do we allow students to weigh in and offer their opinions on classroom discussion and decisions? Tech tools like Tricider, Today’s Meet, Padlet, Edmodo, and Google Classroom allow each student to have a voice, and, along the way, pave the road for formative assessment as well as teaching digital citizenship and quality commenting.

 

They want to follow their own interests and passions.

How can we uncover students’ interests and incorporate those interests into instructional activities? This practice not only helps teachers build strong relationships with students, but also helps make learning relevant to them. Could we explore the power of social media to learn more about our students? Can we help them see the natural connections between the topics that interest them and standards we are teaching?

 

They want to create using the tools of their time.

Technology is a significant part of students’ personal lives and it is showing up more frequently in our classrooms as well. This can be intimidating to teachers who are not yet confident in their own technology skills. The good news is you don’t have to be the technology expert! Could you occasionally allow students to showcase their own tech knowledge by giving them some freedom of choice in how they demonstrate mastery of academic objectives? You provide the academic guidelines, they provide the tool; they feel respected and valued, you learn something new. Everyone wins!

 

They want to work with their peers on group work and projects (and prevent slackers from getting a free ride).

Let’s face it: students like to learn with each other and from each other. How can we create more opportunities for group work but still monitor students for understanding and provide academic support? How do we set guidelines for group work to help all students do their fair share? Consider asking students what THEY think is the best method of achieving this goal and how they suggest “slacking” should be handled. This is another way to give students a voice and show that you respect their ideas and input.

 

They want to make decisions and share control.

When we allow students to make decisions and share control we are demonstrating that we respect them, trust them, and value their opinions. This sets the stage for students to take control of their own learning. Can we find more opportunities in our instructional day to give students choices in how they learn new material and demonstrate mastery of knowledge and skills?

 

They want to connect with their peers and share their opinions, in class and around the world.

Allowing students to share their work with a public audience is a powerful motivator for driving quality. How can we harness the power of technology to make a wider audience possible? Could we facilitate the digital distribution of student work through a classroom blog, website, or Twitter account in order to model appropriate digital citizenship? Could we set up a Skype session or Google Hangout with an author or an expert in a particular field and have students pose questions or showcase final projects?

 

They want to cooperate and compete with each other.

Some students like to learn cooperatively. Some students prefer competition. Some like both. Some like neither. How can we get to know our students’ preferences and make sure we are creating a balanced variety of learning activities? Or, even better, can we create more opportunities for students to choose activities that support the same learning goal but utilize different methods?

 

They want an education this is not just relevant, but real.

“When are we ever going to use this?” It’s a question students have been asking for generations, and, frankly, it’s a valid one. In an age where students are developing pancreatic cancer screeners, publishing novels, and creating apps to help fellow students, are we creating enough opportunities for students to see how their classroom learning connects to their real world? Are we staying current ourselves with the knowledge and skills students need to be successful in today’s world? Where do we even start with that?

 

We start by asking our students and genuinely considering their perspectives.

 

References

Holcomb, C. (2015). Instruction from the student point of view. Insight: A newsletter for curriculum, instruction and assessment. Retrieved from http://www5.esc13.net/thescoop/insight/2015/02/instruction-from-the-student-point-of-view/

Prensky, M. (2010). Teaching digital natives: Partnering for real learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Strauss, V. (2014). Teacher spends two days as a student and is shocked at what she learns. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/10/24/teacher-spends-two-days-as-a-student-and-is-shocked-at-what-she-learned/


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