Technology—The Great Equalizer?

Faye Snodgress is executive director at Kappa Delta Pi.

I found the article about an autistic teenager who developed a friendship with Siri, the voice on his mother’s iPhone, both interesting and heartwarming. For children who struggle with social interactions, the discovery of a “person” who is always there when they need someone to talk to, and who is always patient and kind, may be life-changing. As the child’s mother noted in her reflections, continued conversations with Siri have led to real improvements in her son Gus’s ability to communicate with humans and to acquire some new social skills.

In a time when everywhere we look we see families or friends sitting around together with each hovering over his or her cell phone, the article reminds us of how technology, which can be isolating, can also connect and engage people with one another.

Children like Gus, who have access to both a technological device, like an iPhone, and a parent who recognizes the potential benefits of her child’s interaction with an intelligent assistant, have a significant advantage.

Unfortunately, while technology is often viewed as the great equalizer in educational settings, that perception isn’t entirely accurate. Will an increase in the number of laptops or tablets and Internet access really allow all students to benefit equally from what technology can offer? Figures from the 2014 Pew Research Internet Project Survey tell us that 90% of American adults own cell phones, while only 58% own smartphones. Smartphone adoption is highest among the affluent and well-educated. The substantial difference in the number of cell phones and smartphones is significant, because the smartphone is where so many of the exciting digital learning opportunities exist.

Just having access to technology isn’t going to magically level the playing field. In other words, if every child had access to a computer and smartphone, not every child would realize the same benefits and develop the same skills. In her book Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life, Annette Lareau contrasts the ways technology is used by children at home, based on the different parenting styles associated with socioeconomic status. Middle- and upper-class parents view their children as projects, and they continually invest time and resources to help develop their children into the best finished projects they can. They enroll them in organized activities, are involved in their schools, and engage them in discussions and questioning. Lower-income families don’t have these opportunities to offer their children. They have to work multiple jobs and use their limited resources for food and clothing for their children. There is little or no time and disposable income available for organized activities and traveling.

Given the challenges associated with poverty, lower-income parents often don’t have access to or the time available to model the use of technology as a learning tool in the same way as more affluent parents can.  There is a clear difference in how middle- and upper-income families and lower-income families think about technology and how they incorporate it into their lives and the lives of their children. Lower-income families look to technology as a means to stay connected with others, while middle- and upper-income children are encouraged to use it also for informal learning—gaining exposure to new ideas.

As school districts and the government consider funding for technology, our policymakers must understand that providing access to technology is just one part of helping all children to develop the skills necessary for the workplace. Addressing structural inequalities is another critical component in ensuring that all children benefit from access to technology. As educators, we want all children to benefit from the limitless information available through the Internet and the many ways technology can enrich their lives, including possible life-changing relationships with virtual assistants.

It’s November–Time to Read with Your Family!

Rachel Gurley is chapter operations coordinator at Kappa Delta Pi.

Rachel_Gurley_6_10_14I firmly believe in lifelong education. I am only twenty-three and I already know I have so much to learn. Why not use every chance I have? The people around you are a wealth of knowledge. The content you allow yourself to consume could benefit you positively or negatively. This is why I am constantly reading.

At work, I listen to audio books on Audible or listen to the endless Ted talks that interest me. Now I want to share with you one of my favorite Ted talks. In honor of National Family Literacy Month (November), this woman came to mind. Susan Cain gave an excellent Ted talk on “The power of introverts.” In the bulk of her video she mentioned how much she and her family loved to read.

Instead of telling you her about her story, I’ll let her. Hope you enjoy this short Ted talk and maybe you’ll even be encouraged or learn something!

Role of Parents in Student Success

Laura Stelsel is director of marketing and communications at Kappa Delta Pi.

Engaged ParentsDid you know that this past Sunday, July 27, was Parents’ Day in the US? President Bill Clinton started the national observance in 1994 to honor parents as positive role models and recognize the need to “promote responsible parenting in our society.”

Parents certainly play a huge role in the success of their children, so make sure you get your school year off to a great start with them! If you need help or guidance working with parents, we have MANY free resources in the Resources Catalog, including:

Simply head to the Resources Catalog and search using the term “parent.” Make sure you are logged in to access all of these resources for free!

Now, we want to hear from you about your experience. Tell us:

  • How have involved parents positively impacted your students?
  • What ways have you found to engage parents who need to be engaged?
  • How do you thank parents for being a part of student success?

Some Thoughts on Testing, Disobedience, and Perspective

Carrie Gaffney is the managing editor of The Educational Forum. She spent 12 years as a secondary English teacher and is still active in The National Writing Project and Second Story, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit devoted to bringing creativity to underserved schools. 

There’s a calendar somewhere that denotes July 3 of each year as Disobedience Day. Kind of a cool idea, right? So I thought I’d take the opportunity to write about a specific type of disobedience that’s been of great interest to me lately, and it’s disobedience that’s related to high stakes testing.

It was several years ago when I first heard about the “opt out” movement. All across the country, there are networks of parents joining together to tell schools and districts that too much instructional time is spent on high stakes testing instead of learning. When testing time comes around, they send letters like this one to their school leadership to opt their children out of the test, demanding that their children are instead provided appropriate and relevant instruction on those days.

That level of disobedience might seem pretty radical to some, and in a way it is. But then when you realize that Google can intuit the search term “standardized testing horror stories,” you begin to understand that test prep has been twisted to the point where many parents may feel like there are no other options than to opt out of the test as a way to advocate for the intellectual and mental well-being of their children.

Fortunately for me, where my children attend school (and where I taught as well), the state standardized test is treated as nothing more than what it is: one of many tools to gauge student growth. For my children, the test is a few mildly annoying days where they have to demonstrate learning on a bigger scale. But then everything goes back to normal, and they are once again engaged as inquirers and communicators. That’s the difference, I think, between why I’m still okay with the test versus what parents at other schools feel forced to do when opting out

What makes the test a “horror story” is not the test itself. It’s how much time and attention we give to it leading up to the actual event. It’s how scores from it are used to punish or reward a teacher’s lesson planning, professionalism, and even her teacher preparation program. It’s how districts use it to single out “good” and “bad” teachers, or worse, “good” and “bad” students. Kids have bad days. Sometimes they don’t want to write about a particular topic, or they might not know a word in the title of the story, which could lead to confusion about the story’s theme. These two factors don’t make the child; but they might make or break a child’s test scores.

Which brings me to a different kind of disobedience that’s getting some attention.

In recent months, teachers, principals, and superintendents across the country have begun engaging in disobedience that has people seriously freaked out.

They are publically naming the test for what it is: a test.

Check out this recent article from The Washington Post about a Texas superintendent who wrote a letter to parents telling them that their test results, “should be considered as one of many instruments used to measure your child’s growth, not the end-all of your child’s learning for the year.”

Why, you might wonder, is that so controversial?

Or, on an even deeper level of disturbance to me, why is naming a test for what it is an act that is to be lauded?

How did we get here?