Friday, March 02, 2007

are they really different?

I hear a lot about how today's students are so much different than preceding generations. For instance, I heard David Warlick speak this morning at the UCET conference. Among other things he said that kids today are more competitive, risk-taking, sociable and self-confident than the preceding generation. I've heard him, Marc Prensky and others say similar things, but I'm not completely convinced.

They often cite examples of kids who multitask as evidence of the trend, replete with pictures of a teen plugged into an iPod and a laptop, chatting and playing video games all at the same time. These kids are bored with school because teachers no longer know how to hold their attention, they say. But then I think about how bored I was through much of high school, and how I multitasked by listening to a transistor radio with one earpiece, how I daydreamed, wrote song lyrics in notebooks that my teachers never saw, how kids passed notes (a precursor of "chatting"), and I wonder – are today's kids really that different than kids were back in the day? Have the students changed or are they just using different tools?

I'm no technophobe and I understand that we need to change much of how we teach, so don't get me wrong. I find myself agreeing with a lot of what's said by Warlick, Prensky, et al. I'm just looking for some proof (not anecdotal evidence) that the students I teach now are that much different than when I started twenty-some years ago. Can anyone cite any research?

1 comment:

Developer said...


I agree with you, that perhaps our children, fundamentally, are not different. I also do not buy in to this multitasking thing. I think that they are probably better at moving quickly from task to task -- shift-tasking, and I think that this has more to do with their information experience. That's what's changed, and it's undeniable. How our children spend their time and the intensity of their information experiences do, in many ways, define them.

I agree. I too was board nearly to tears with I was growing up. But, as a result, I suspect that regardless of my less than spectacular grades, my classrooms probably shown more light on my future than todays classrooms do on our children's future. I suspect that the shift that's happened is that our children's outsidetheclassroom activities have become less boring, and, in comparison, their classroom experiences (in many cases) have become less meaningful and less relevant.

Certainly the brain research points to children who are wired differently, and John Beck's (Got Game) listing of children's qualities is based on exhaustive research. But I believe that it is their information experience that we need to be paying attention to and coming to understand -- and that we probably need to reshape our classrooms as a result.

Thanks so much for continuing the conversation.

-- dave ---