Tradition and Technology: The Art of Teaching
Updated: Apr 9, 2020
Every time I lesson plan, a million things run through my mind. Have we been doing too much seat work? Too little group work? Maybe it’s time for a class discussion. Today we’ll write a paragraph online and then I’ll show some models. Tomorrow they’ll write a one-sentence response to a question on the board. Maybe a poster next week. They should present their answers to the handout. I’ll give them the option of working with a partner or working independently. What do I really want them to learn from this novel? What do I want them to show me? What skills have they mastered and what do they need to work on? Should I conference with them before they write or after? What will I have them revise when I hand back their essays? What kind of feedback will I give? Maybe the whole class will create a PowerPoint, maybe they should work in groups. Let’s make a Google drawing of all their ideas on quotes related to this topic. Maybe we’ll read this passage out loud, and we’ll do a close reading of this passage. How will I arrange the seats? How can I get them out of their seats? Should I assign an essay, or will this better as a podcast? Should I have them write a short story or create a short film? Should I give them the option or just make them all do the same thing? Is there a short clip I can show to help them understand the history of this?
As you can see, it drives me crazy. It drives teachers across the country absolutely bonkers. Just when you think you have it right, you change your mind ten minutes into the period. These ideas, like moths on a light, swirl around me until I regain my composure and come to a final decision. Sometimes I ask my students what they want to do because I can’t decide.
When it comes to language, the possibilities seem endless. There’s always a new technique or creative way to keep students engaged and on task. Like Spider-Man, teachers have a sense of when an activity works and when it doesn’t. The shuffling, the giggling, the phone under the desk or under a book. Teachers know when to circulate around the room to keep everyone on task or when they’re interrupting a really good conversation.
Many times, the internal conflict with lesson planning when it comes to language comes from technology. When is it a burden and when does it allow magic to happen? Our students live with technology. Do we want our classrooms to be spaces free from distraction, where students can immerse themselves in literature? Do we want to create an atmosphere where we prioritize deep thinking about literature and life? Do we want a space where we can discuss philosophy, history, and society and have meaningful conversations? Should we prioritize the teaching of writing above all other things? Or should we embrace technology, and not treat it like a distraction or an escape? Should we learn how to use these constantly changing tools that sometimes seem to make things harder and take longer? Should we focus on the traditional teaching of literature, and not concern ourselves with each tech fad that comes and goes every few years? The answer to any complex question always involves a few correct answers. Like the nature and nurture debate, it’s both.
Think about the language that surrounds today’s students. It’s in novels, poems, short stories, memoirs, and essays. But it’s also in conversations. It comes from coaches and religious leaders. It’s on television. It’s in songs. It’s on signs. It’s on apps and memes and posts and comments and commercials. It comes with images and videos and music and diagrams. It’s in comic books and it’s inside our heads. Writing is important. Providing evidence to back up your argument, especially in today’s world, is important. But it’s also important to allow students to create media, not just consume it.
If we let them go out into the world believing that there is a disconnect between literature and all of the language that surrounds them, they’ll be lost in all the clicks and scrolling and flashy images. We need to embrace the power of media, and not just in specialized elective courses. Students should be creating podcasts, and all different kinds of podcasts. Podcasts where they interview their parents and siblings and friends and teachers and friend’s parents and coworkers. Podcasts where they write first and then record. Podcasts where they spontaneously argue about Breaking Bad for 30 minutes with four other classmates (yes, that happened, and it was amazing). They should create film adaptations of the novels they read and video essays instead of, or in addition to, regular essays. They will live and work in a world of video, where making a convincing argument or telling a great story requires some extra pizzazz. The foundation needs to be there, and I will never stop reading really, really long powerful passages from the greatest novels of all time out loud, but I will also allow my students the freedom to express themselves using whatever tools become available to them.
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