It’s fair to say that I am a big fan of digital learning, but parent and teacher concerns around screen time (and an excess there-of) are real and reasonable. There’s ample evidence that too much screen time can have negative impacts on young people. But, we also know that technology can have a huge benefit in and out of the classroom – especially in this time of repeated lockdowns. So how do you balance the good and the bad in your classroom?
Use Screen Time Meaningfully and with Intention
The ‘educational’ movie
We have all been there. As teachers we are over-worked, over-tired, over-burdened, and when you’re under the pump it can be easy to hit play on a movie (trust me, I haven’t watch Drill-bit Taylor ten times for the great acting and compelling story-line), and I bet you can find a legit reason for doing so that even your principal would believe. But as teachers, we have a responsibility to prioritise our students well-being, value their time, and respect their parents trust in us.
- As we discussed here, clip longer pieces to include only the relevant section.
- If you must show the whole movie (I’m talking truly important movies, like The Diary of Anne Frank) then use worksheets to focus students in. Having pre, during, and post-viewing worksheets help to keep students focussed and switched on.
- Choose your movie with discretion. I’ve never had a parent of high-school students say their child can’t watch a movie, even an M-rated one. That doesn’t mean you should show it. On a my final-year teaching rounds my supervising teacher showed a class of Year 9 students Dead Man Walking. He had sent a letter home getting parents to sign off on it – but I wonder how many of them knew about the explicit rape scene in it. As someone who has been raped I found it more than confronting. There’s no guaranteeing that I was the only one sitting there that felt that way. Just because you can show a movie, doesn’t mean you should.
- Be really clear in your own mind why you’re showing this movie.
I want to be very clear that I am not judging any teacher who puts a movie on for their own mental health. The education system is far from perfect, and teachers are the ones who take the beating. I also don’t want to give the impression that I am the Mother Tereasa of teaching and have never shown a movie in class unless it was absolutely necessary, because I have. A lot. Especially in that first year of teaching. But if we want to use technology meaningfully in our classroom, then we need be intentional in our use of it.
The ‘research project’
My philosophy of education is definitely constructivist in nature. I’m a big believer in teachers as facilitators, who help guide students in their exploration of topics, and help them mediate the discoveries they make. Research tasks, for me, play a big role in this, and with all the amazing information the internet offers up (just look here), you’d be crazy not to take advantage of it. But, of course, that means more time in front of a screen, so how can we mix things up?
- Integrate research and hands-on tasks. You can see in the example below that as well as having students research aspects of Australia’s role in WW1, students also have to complete hands-on activities. While they’re using a device for part of the task, they’re also having meaningful off-screen time too.
- Use collaborative strategies such as Jigsaws, where students complete different parts of the same topic. I love this approach for history, where you’re looking at different social structures. I do recommend assessing the whole piece of work, and the individuals work – because every group has a slacker.
- Schedule some time with your school’s teacher-librarian. Teacher-librarians are the unsung heroes of schools (along with the (almost always) ladies in the office. They can point your students in the right direction for offline sources (aka books), newspaper clippings, and visual aides. They can also talk to your students about efficient research methods. Most schools I’ve worked in, teacher-librarians will also put together themed boxes of books for you – your best friend when the internet is down.
- Use small groups and in class experiments to really mix things up. This can be scary, I know. If you’re a novice teacher, or an experience teacher who hasn’t done this before, then get a colleague to step in to help (be sure to make it clear that you’re happy to return the favour). Split the class into small groups and have them rotate through activities. You can have them all doing experiments, or you could use a mix of experiments and more traditional research tasks.
How do you spend your down-time? Those minutes waiting for the train or bus, that quiet time while you drink a coffee at recess? Scrolling Facebook, or Instagram? Searching for recipes on Pinterest? Playing Candy Crush? Yeah, me too. And so are our students – particularly our high school kids.
It’s easy in the classroom to get into the habit of using digital content – be it games, PicCollage, or social media (if your school allows access) as rewards or time fillers. Saying to your quick finisher, ‘ok, you can play a game’ is pretty harmless but take it from someone who knows, it’s a slippery slope.
The other day B1 (who’s 11) told me about a meme he’d found online while at school. After chuckling about the meme I asked him why he’d been looking for memes in the first place. He said he’d been doing it during mindfulness.
At my children’s school they have playtime at lunch, and then they go inside to eat. After they’ve eaten they’re teacher allows them free time until the bell goes to begin class. Why does she call this ‘mindfulness’? Um…
I was a bit put out by this. Not because I don’t like memes. Not because I don’t like technology (obviously). But because this was an unnecessary use of screen-time. For a start one of the key reasons the school has separate play/eating times is because they feel kids were getting too distracted to eat properly (don’t get me started on this), but I know that my son will rush eating so that he gets time to jump on the tablet. In addition, there are plenty of other things he could do – draw, read, talk to friends, play a board/card game, actually do something mindful.
My point is, students are getting more that enough opportunities to use their devices to play games and use social media. Particularly high schoolers who have access to their own phones. There is no reason this needs to happen in your class.
- Set a hard and fast rule – in your classroom all devices are learning device only. Do not give on this. If you do it once, you will absolutely do it again, and again, and again.
- If you know there will be periods of down-time (like the situation with my son at lunch) have alternatives ready. Books, cards, colouring-in sheets, word-searches.
- Don’t be fooled by the ‘it’s my tablet/laptop’ argument. First of all, it’s not it’s their parents. Second of all, it may be their device but it’s your classroom. A student arguing they should be free to use their device whenever, wherever and for whatever they want during school time, is like an employee arguing that they should be able to troll for porn on the clock. NOPE!
If you’re made it this far, well done. This post is certainly longer than my standard fare, but I feel strongly about this. Used meaningfully and with intention technology can be a wonderful thing. It saves you time to engage with your students, and frees you up to have both a fulfilling work and home life. But, we need to remember that we control how technology is used in our classrooms and in our life, and the choices we make in regards to that effect not only the wellbeing of our students, but ourselves.