Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Burns Reflection

A key concept in the book, The Dumbest Generation, is the increased amount of students using technology.  The author determines this is a direct link to the increased gap of achievement among students today, referring to them as the dumbest generation.  Bauerlein provided many statistics to support his claim and also a survey of the amount of time students spend consuming different types of media.  His concern is that students spend a substantial amount of time in front of a screen versus reading a book and that these students have little or no appreciation or knowledge of arts and world facts and events.  I think there is some truth to his concern, but when I read the text I had to remind myself that an author’s evidence is only what he or she is willing to offer the reader.  Social networking creates a powerful group element that has never seen before in history.  According to the text, IQ tests have become more complex to meet our growing intelligence.  This should tell us that how  our children are using digital technology to enhance their learning is very positive.  In my own classroom, I began to notice something that I don’t think I noticed prior to being in this course.  At the beginning of my two online math courses, I have about half of the class log in the computer and instead of beginning their math course, the go to various news sites (usually MSNBC and read a few current events).  Generally they share a story with a neighbor.  At first I was harping on them to get started with the math for the day.  But during this course, I realized that this was a good thing and I continue and encourage them to do so.  According to a critic of the book (, the author “ignores the fact that the generation before was just as disinterested in high art (and traditionalists blamed MTV), and the generation before them also seemed more interested in teen escapism than classical music or Victorian literature (and the traditionalists blamed rock and roll)”.  Despite the author’s heavy use of statistics, it doesn’t convince me that our students are getting dumber. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Schwab's Relection Post

Unlike some people in our group, I thoroughly enjoyed Mark Bauerlein's book, "The Dumbest Generation". It helped me understand many things about my students and how they look at school and their own education. I don't necessarily feel that the author was overly negative but rather more concerned with the outcome of all the research that has been done on why students are the way they are. When "three out of four ACT-tested 2006 high school graduates who take a core curriculum are not prepared to take credit-bearing entry-level college courses with a reasonable chance of succeeding in those courses." (pg 110), something has to be remiss. So I created a short survey for my own students (ninth and tenth grade science students) to determine some of their own likes and dislikes in relation to reading and technology usage. I figured this would give me several key concepts to use as a topic of this post. What I originally thought was going to be my topic--Technology usage versus Reading--was soon changed when 60% of my students responded that they enjoyed reading for pleasure over playing a video game! So I dug a little deeper and analyzed all of their answers on the survey. I soon found a startling correlation to another topic in the book: the difference in the number and types of words used by readers versus students that do not enjoy reading. On page 130, the author states "A low-reading, high viewing childhood and adolescence prevent a person from handling relatively complicated texts, not just professional discourses but civic and cultural media...". Furthermore, "Education researchers have found that children raised in print-heavy households and those raised in print-poor households can arrive at school with gaps in their word inventories of several thousand words." When I read my students' answers to the survey questions, these statements popped into my head and it was if a lightbulb came on. I was seeing the results of many years of viewing habits in my students' answers! Most of the students that responded that they do not like to read did so in sentence fragments with misspelled words, even though they were asked to answer in complete sentences. They were also asked to list reasons why they do not like to read, not to just say it's boring. And they could not follow those directions. Here are a few sample answers, complete with spelling and grammarical errors.
1. boring, dont peak my intrest,
2. I never have I don't get In to books
3. It makes me tired
4. Reading isn't exciting, nothing happens, its really boring.
5. I don't like to read because in my opuinine {opinion?} it is a wast of mytime
And my favorite...
6. i think reading is Really Really Really Really boring

Compare those weak statements to those made by the self-professed readers:
1. Reading builds my imagination, helps my fluency, and encourages role playing.
2. I love reading because its really entertaining as well as beneficial to your brain. It can sort of take you to a different place.
3. I enjoy reading because its fun. You get to have this picture in your head and imagine what's going on. You get to be in your own little world.
4. Because it gives me ideas for my stories. The books I read are full of amazing new things, books are creative, and reading sparks my imagination.
5. Reading gives me something to do when I am bored. I can learn more about different people and how it was during certain times (1970's).
And my favorite.....
6. I like reading because you can go to a place you don't see in video games and you can relate to it at times and for me I have constant flashbacks of what happened in the book so I'm like making a movie in my head.

Even to the casual observer you can see the differences in the writing styles. The readers use bigger words (imagination, entertaining, flashbacks) and write in complete sentences. Their spelling is better and their word usage is more correct. And fewer of them use "really" as an adjective. But what troubled me most was that the readers seemed to have this ability to see pictures in their mind's eye when reading and the non-readers/gamers did not have this ability. Was this why they were drawn to video games, because they couldn't come up with their own images, so they rely on the game's images to entertain them? Is this due to differences in how the brain is "wired"? Are we programmed to be readers and non-readers? Or is it due to habits that are picked up when children are very young and impressionable? The research in the book was all after the fact: those that had high-viewing childhoods knew fewer words before they even entered kindergarten and they were never able to catch up to their peers that were raised in book friendly homes.
So giving a child a book as a gift is really helping them become better students. I don't think this comes as a surprise to any of us.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Technology and Ebenezer Scrooge

By the way, "A Christmas Carol" was the first story to be broadcast by a radio.

There have also been a least seven full-length movies made from the story (many more which have been take-offs of the theme.)

There have been countless TV shows, computer games, music and videos inspired by "A Christmas Carol."

And still, my 8th grade class of Native American kids in SD enjoyed reading the novella in its original form.

If kids don't read these days, it's our fault in not guiding them and in not giving them the time to do so.

By the way, I was able to access the original Dickens' composition directly off the web because it's now in public domain. I downloaded it to my word document, did a little editing, highlighted the vocabulary words, entered the vocab words on, and finished with a Google Docs test.

I'm still mystified as to why this author is so negative about technology!

Assignment for Students: Create a Voki for one of the characters of "A Christmas Carol"

This is my Voki which I used in class this week. See comments below.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Chapter 6 ~ No More Culture Warriors

This section of the book began by retelling the story of Rip Van Winkle. This was a tale of a Dutch American villager who stays in the woods for a 20-year nap. Before, people found an old newspaper and debated public issues months after it happened, but after he woke from the nap he discovered they participate directly in the same type of events. At first, I really did not piece the correlation of the Rip Van Winkle scenario to the conclusion of the book.

Toward the end of the section, the author states that as of 2008, the intellectual future of civic understanding and liberal education looks dim. The social pressures and leisure preferences of young Americans help in setting the direction of the American mind. According to the author, the direction is downward. He provided the following joke told during the seventies about college students after the late sixties.

“What do you think of student ignorance and apathy?” the interviewer asks the sophomore.
“I dunno and I don’ care”—

The author made a bold statement about the Dumbest Generation caring very little for things such as history books and civic principles, foreign affairs, etc. and that they know less. The comparison of Rip Van Winkle made at the beginning of the chapter was made toward this generation. That is, that they are the latter day Rip Van Winkle, sleeping through the movements of culture and events of history who would rather be with their peers instead of great books and momentous happenings. According to the author, intellectual life can’t compete with social life for the Millennials.

He went onto state that if parents and teachers don’t realize the issues (fewer books and more videos checked out of libraries, more kids go to a mall than a museum, etc) then they are blind. In his opinion, unless things change the Dumbest Generation will be remembered “as the fortunate ones who were unworthy of the privileges they inherited. They may even be recalled as the generation that lost that great American heritage, forever.”

I agree with the Section 3 summary in that the author is very pessimistic. I can almost envision the author as being a very old fashioned teacher, stuck in his own ways. Too stubborn to realize that things change, they aren’t always going to be like the old ways, and that change can be positive; it doesn’t have to be viewed as negative. I’ve witnessed impact technology has played on our students and teachers and the result is mostly positive. Change is what you make of it, in my opinion.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Chapter 5 Summary: The Betrayal of the Mentors

This section of the book is all about how the teachers of today's students have led to their being the dumbest generation. It says that teachers are always telling students what a great job they are doing, etc, and making them overconfident Narcissists. This leads to the students thinking that they are doing great, and need to study less and work less hard.

The mentors (teachers) of these students are all doing a "student-centered approach" because that has been found to be a best practice in education. They are no longer acting as experts, but instead, are letting students discover the information. According to the author, taking these teachers from "sage on the stage to guide on the side" makes students disinterested in learning. "If mentors are so keen to recant their expertise, why should students strain to acquire it themselves?" "Knowledge and tradition are emptied of authority."

It talks a lot about how students no longer value tradition, literature, or their teachers. Students used to read and model their studies after great geniuses, but now just look to their peers for guidance.

A new demographic group, "Twixters" was formed, based on these beliefs/effects. Twixters are 22-30 year olds who have a college degree, are from middle class families, and live in cities. They live with their parents or roommates, are not married, and work dead-end jobs, because they aren't really ready to live "adult" lives. They are still stuck in college mode.

This section of the book also talked about students testing scores being lower the last several years. It said that these students, according to a survey, mostly plan to attend college, but most of them do not have the math/reading skills to succeed in these goals. Apparently, according to the author, teachers telling them to follow their dreams and be all that they can be, has caused them to all want to graduate college but not given them the skills to accomplish this task.

In my opinion, the author is very pessimistic. Who thinks that kids in general shouldn't follow their dreams because they are not smart enough? And I also think that he is afraid of this generation because it is different than the old way. But he is forgetting that different can be good. Of course students today don't look to Wuthering Heights for help with their love life, but instead ask their friends. Isn't that how it should be?