Reading for Life: Tweens, Teens and Technology

by Rhonda H. Lauer on December 16, 2010

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As part of the exciting series Reading for Life, Foundations’ President and CEO Rhonda H. Lauer shares her expertise and insights about grade level reading. Join Ms. Lauer as she offers key viewpoints and commentary based on her extensive experience working in Philadelphia–and across the country–to give our children and young people the educational opportunities they deserve. 

Today’s young people ages 8 to 18 years use entertainment media (computers, television, video games, etc.) an average of 53+ hours per week; that’s 7 hours and 38 minutes every day. Instead of bemoaning such statistics, let’s embrace this reality. Modern technology and digital media afford educators a unique opportunity to engage tweens and teens in more active, participatory learning. With technology, we can help young people follow their passions and interests, prepare for college and careers, and learn in real time along with like-minded peers living across the country or even across the globe.

In the 2010 National Education Technology Plan, the U.S. Department of Education calls for just that: applying the advanced technologies we use daily in our personal and professional lives to our entire education system. The plan advocates allowing students to take control of their own learning and to use real-world tools to tackle meaningful, real-life problems.

Sounds like a great plan, but can we really do this? Yes, we can. First, we need to infuse technology across the curriculum. In language arts classes, allow students to choose their own books to read, then help them form online chat groups with peers who share their reading interests. In social studies and science classes, encourage them to read hyperlinked texts and write collaborative, interactive reports with other students on topics of mutual interest.

The challenges? There are many. For some youth, technology’s magnetism is too much for them to control by themselves. In a recent eye-opening New York Times piece, Matt Richtel highlights a bright young student who is more focused on computers and filmmaking than he is on homework, to the detriment of his grades; another student no longer exercises because of a time-consuming video game habit. Clearly, parents must monitor and limit screen time.

The cost of equipping every student with the latest technology is also a significant challenge for states and school districts strapped by budget cuts. Teacher training and curriculum development are two more big expenses. But let’s think about the upside for a minute. Within a few years, our schools could become dynamic learning communities, connecting student to student, home to school, teacher to teacher, in school to afterschool. Learning could bridge every boundary of time and place.

Technology in the classroom is no cure-all for our educational system, but we can no longer deny its pervasiveness. It’s in the hands and pockets of our nation’s tweens and teens, and they are happy to have it there. As educators, it’s time we capitalize on technology’s attraction for today’s children and youth. Because if we don’t start helping them use it for in-school learning instead of just afterschool entertainment, we will lose them – and we can’t afford to lose any more.

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