Last month, I wrote about the “new digital divide” between classrooms and households. I ended that blog with the question, “What is stopping us from closing the gap?” As I pondered this question, I came to realize that we, as educators, may be holding ourselves back. It’s easy to stick with what is familiar to us, instead of embracing something new, like emerging educational technologies. Digital technologies were not as ubiquitous when we were in school, as they are now. By broad stroke, the majority of today’s teachers are digital immigrants in a world where our students are the natives (Prensky, 2001). In this new digital age we must all work harder to meet the demands of our digital learners, but that doesn't mean that we have to completely revamp our current lesson plans.
When I served as the head of the social studies department at my former school, a new teacher came to me with a problem that he was experiencing in his U.S. history classroom. In an attempt to complete administrative tasks at the beginning of the class period, he gave students a “bell ringer” assignment. The “bell ringer” is typically something all teachers are encouraged to have on the board as students walk in to keep them focused while the teacher takes attendance. This particular teacher discovered that the students were answering his “bell ringer” questions surprisingly fast. So, he gave them more questions. To his surprise, the students were answering the additional questions even faster. The teacher finally asked the class how they were getting the answers so quickly. The students were honest in telling the teacher that they were simply Googling the answers with the smartphones that they had tucked away in their pockets. I asked the teacher if he could think of some ways to improve the “bell ringer”, so that students are not just answering basic knowledge questions. What advice would you give this teacher in this particular instance?
Here is my suggestion. What if the teacher projected a history Wonder of the Day® for students to read at the beginning of the class? For example, here is one titled, “What is a Civil Right?”. Have the students answer one of the “Try it Out” questions, and be ready to share their answers with the class. If the educator is feeling adventurous, they may create a class blog and have students post their answers online.
Here is a sample of the “Try it Out” questions from the Wonder of the Day® mentioned above. Notice how these are open-ended, higher-order thinking questions.
● Which civil rights are most important to you personally? Why?
● What would your life be like if you lived in a country that did not grant you the civil rights that you are currently used to?
● What would it be like if you didn’t have freedom of speech? How would you feel if you were not free to say what was on your mind?
● Would you like to live in a country where the news was written by the government and edited to remove things the government didn’t want you to know?
Incorporating digital technology within a “bell ringer” is a first step in the right direction to closing the gap in the “new digital divide." It is a first step, but not the last step. Change does not occur overnight. In fact, change can occur in small steps. After celebrating Digital Learning Day February 6, think about how we can take more steps toward using digital technology in our classrooms. Let’s embrace the possibilities of educational technology by trying something new for ourselves and for our digital learners. The small steps toward digital change in the classroom is what will revolutionize education, and unlock the wonders of learning.
Laura Benfield, M.Ed.
National Center for Family Literacy
Follow Me on Twitter @lmbenfield