Often I think about how teaching and learning would be so much better if children were paying more attention. We spend so much time and energy trying to make learning ‘fun’, ‘relevant’ and ‘engaging’, but it’s never enough; nothing can compete with those iPad games and YouTube videos, the crack cocaine of children’s entertainment. We even jazz up our lesson powerpoints and source interactive visual aids, fuelling children’s addiction to the screen and encouraging children to never actually look (or listen) to the teacher or just any human being really. Children also cannot concentrate or commit to hard work (because they just don’t read a book any more or do chores) and increasingly the critical mass will not be used to any kind of discipline in the home. This particular wave of very young children are addicted to screen time in the same way that male teenagers traditionally are and I believe secondary schools have yet to fully experience this wave of children who have been mainly goggling at their iPads since about the age of 4. I reckon the first few are trickling into secondary year 7 about now, but the peak of normal distribution will arrive in a couple of years’ time*. This blog post argues that in order for children to learn and to develop good social skills, we need to break their collective addiction to screens and we need to force them to look and listen to adult humans because it sure as hell ain’t happening in the home.
For the sake of clarity, I would like to reiterate the problem with children being entertained by looking at screens and playing iPad games. Reading and looking at books requires children to decode print and create an image inside their own heads (creative thinking), whereas looking at a hypnotic iPad clearly doesn’t. Of course, at this point many middle class primary teachers are already thinking about commenting about how their Tarquin and Pandora absolutely love reading Enid Blyton, but I’m talking about the ordinary masses here, ok? Playing iPad games usually involves minimal effort both in terms of coordination or general problem solving. Compared to the traditional entertainment (doing painting, playing with play-dough, role-play with siblings/friends, just making up games using whatever is lying around, like a stick and a leaf for example) of very young children, development of coordination, communication and creativity is vastly undermined. Like I said, secondary schools have yet to fully experience the increasingly weird situation whereby children just don’t seem to look at adults any more or find anything remotely interesting, even if it is accompanied by a whizzy powerpoint. It also doesn’t help that primary teachers are on average very young and only have a few years of experience, and even if they are parents themselves their children will tend to be very young, therefore there is no frame of reference, no comparison, no understanding of trends, so they just accept the status quo and, even worse, add to it by feeding young children’s addictions to iPads by bringing them into the classroom. I am not only a very rare parent teacher, but also an even rarer (is that a word?) parent of teenagers and I also was a parent long before I became a teacher; trust me when I say that early childhood is changing incredibly quickly.
It seems ironic that I have both written about how to be a (mostly successful) strict teacher and about how I am struggling to control my current class who are the loudest and collectively the most ‘ADHD’ in terms of group psychology that I have ever experienced. I have changed down year groups for the sake of career ‘progression’ and I wonder whether I have jumped onto the year group who represent of that normal distribution I was referring to earlier? Let me throw down that gauntlet now: why not just have them at individual desks facing the front, as they seem to do in the U.S and in other places around the world? Also, while we’re at it, why not just get rid of the IWB instead of having this mandate that we use technology in our classrooms constantly. Is an adult human being, a large surface to write on and a decent textbook not enough anymore? If you think so, then perhaps you assume that children’s brains are not the same as previous generations, that they are no longer capable of thinking for themselves?
At this point I’d like to tell you that my own vision (it’ll probably stay just a vision though) of a ‘Slow School’ just crystallized in my mind. It’s a really peaceful, calm place where young children study hard in the morning, all concentrating on the teacher and putting their own thoughts to paper. In the afternoons, they would do interesting hobby lessons, with the very little ones being able to do a bit of free play and roaming about outdoors. There would be no tech, no screaming colours, words and pictures with stary eyeballs jumping out of all the walls at the children and there would be no distracting group work or group seating in the morning. Because the children would be working and thinking so hard in the mornings, listening to the crystal clear voice of the teacher, looking at the textbook or the no-tech whiteboard, their learning would be accelerated and they would have more time for playtime and lunch. Can you imagine how their vocabulary would be so much better than children who are constantly immersed in the whole ‘talk to your partner/group; what do you feel the answer is?’ Unhinged from the dominance of the giant computer screen that currently occupies the space where the teacher used to be in all primary classrooms, the children would be given the opportunity to just listen to a magical story brought alive by an ordinary human being.
Many primary teachers would recoil in horror at this vision, citing that it would not help children learn how to be social, mainly because most primary teachers are extroverts and primary leaders extroverts too (we hire based on public performance, not intellect) and these people hate The Quiet. However, when children spend all day at group tables, chatting about anything but the work (admit it, this is what they do: they’re little children, not employees at Google head office), sometimes messing about, endlessly distracted by each other and by the noise of their increasingly loud and shouty voices, are they really learning social skills? I don’t think so. No, we’re basically training the children to be rude, talking over each other, with the extrovert children believing that they have a free pass to show off and inflict their noise and jokey antics on everyone else. Is there not enough time outside of school or during playtime for children to do this? If you’re one of these teachers who thinks the modern workplace is one long shouty conversation (oops, my bad, I meant ‘collaboration’) and that we need to emulate that in the classroom, you seriously need to take a sabbatical and go visit a few workplaces yourself because they are not like that at all. Modern working life is not an episode of Friends and even open plan offices require people to work on their own thing, alone, occasionally getting together for a meeting or making a phone call to clients etc**
I just can’t help but think that the simple act of turning the desks so that primary school children face the front rather than each other, and removing the constant screen time that conspires to stop them from developing the skills of concentration, would be immensely beneficial. It might even help to reduce turnover because teachers wouldn’t have to work so hard, almost fighting, to gain the children’s attention with loud voices (painful throats), clapping, a little bell, cajoling, putting a whizzy song or video on the IWB, use of various ‘sticks’ and ‘carrots’. That exhaustion that accompanies constant, literally every second of every minute of every day, behaviour management and requires an additional set of eyes and ears in the TA, would melt away. How much would the achievement of young males, because they operate best in a hierarchy, working hard for the approval of one leader rather than their friends (who would prefer them to mess about), in particular absolutely skyrocket? Further, how much would this change cost? NOTHING.
Who’s with me?
*First iPad, which revolutionised tablet use for the masses due to the novelty of ‘apps’ and easy-to-use interface (that competitors tried to emulate), released in 2010 and by the time the iPad 2 was released over 15 million had been sold: let’s assume it took a year or two before it became the norm to buy an iPad/tablet for very young children aged 4 in 2011 + 7 years of primary school = 2018 is the year that secondary Headteachers, who thankfully will be older and more experienced/worldly wise than the primary equivalents, will notice.
**And, by the way, adults are rewarded for their productivity not their effort. Perhaps we should think about that before we hand the termly assembly prize to a child for making an effort to do the bare minimum and not mess about in class.