I am reading The Revealers by Doug Wilhelm to all the sixth graders. Two of the characters end up in detention and are passing notes. This was the perfect opening for a conversation I have been thinking about, so I took it.
"How many of you have ever passed notes in class?"
Nearly all the hands shot up. They know me well enough to not think it is a trick question or that I am trying to get them in trouble. I put my hand up as well.
"How many of you have ever sent a text during class?"
Less hands, but still a strong representation. I remind them that it was not an option available to me when I was in school.
"Now, what is going to happen when you all have an iPad in class?"
The reaction varied from huge grins to silent contemplation.
I continued the discussion letting them know that there are some teachers who are leery because they are concerned that students might mess around or be distracted, if they have an iPad in class.
"What would you say to those teachers?"
Students' responses basically fell into two camps:
- They should trust us and give us a chance. If we mess up, there should be consequences.
- There are so many advantages to having an iPad that outweigh the one disadvantage (possible distraction).
"Can anyone make you pay attention in class?"
They were divided.
After several minuets of discussion I gazed intently at a student and asked if I am paying attention to what they were saying. "How can you tell?"
"Have any of you had a sibling, aunt or uncle, or grandparent who tells stories that go on and on and you only look like you are listening?"
Nearly every hand goes up as smiles spread across their faces.
"So, what could you be doing instead?"
"Daydreaming!" someone shouts out.
"Exactly," I responded. "No one can make you pay attention."
I wrapped-up the discussion by telling them that a teacher's job is not to make you pay attention, since we can't. There are two things we can do.
One, we can eliminate distractions. If we see that the iPad is distracting you we can simply say, "black your screen". With one press of a button your screen goes blank, but you don't lose anything you have open or are working on. The distraction is gone. Same goes for the rubber band you might be playing with or when you are sitting next to someone you can't keep from talking to, they need to be taken care of. A good teacher will help eliminate your distractions.
Two, we can try to keep class engaging. When do you pass notes? When you are bored. If what is happening in class is something you want to be a part of you won't be tempted to mess around on your iPad. You will want to be engrossed in what is happening in class.
Finally, how can iPads be used wisely during class, even if it is not for a specific task the teacher is asking you to do?
At least in my class, you don't have to wait for me to 'allow' you to utilize your iPad. If you need to access a resource that you have on your iPad, go for it! This is how things are in the 'real world'.
"When you wonder about something what do you do?"
My first block all said that they Google it. My subsequent blocks primarily ask their parents if they wonder about something, often pestering (students' perspective) their parents until they get answers.
(As a result, the following was sent from our class account, with mixed emotions from the students.)
So, it is good practice to look things up. If something is mentioned in class and you either don't know what it is, want to know more about it, or are making a connection to something else - search away! If I wonder what you are doing on your iPad and you are legitimately looking up something related to class, simply tilt your screen toward me so I can see and be sure to share our your findings at an appropriate time.
Perhaps I should introduce the 'distraction' of a back channel…