This blogger is on record as being an enthusiast for digital tools; I think they empower our students to be better investigators, better collaborators, better problem-solvers, and better communicators.  But being an enthusiast does not mean I am an extremist– there are limits, and there is a balance to seek.

The current issue of Ed. Leadership strives for this balance too, in a fine short article by Marilee Sprenger: Focusing the Digital Brain.  She shares her worries:

By adolescence, today’s young people have become experts at skimming and scanning. The average person spends two seconds on each Web site when searching for information (Small & Vorgan, 2008). Two seconds! Is this style of information gathering affecting our students’ attention spans? Absolutely.

More importantly, she shares her very useful recommendations to “guide your students toward a healthy balance between always being connected and connecting with real people.”  (emphasis added)

Provide Reflection Time: “One high school teacher whose school switched to a block schedule considered how to use so much time productively. He assigned journal writing as a way for students to think about their thinking. This forced students to slow down and yielded several other benefits.”  I am so very pleased that St. Gregory has a block schedule of 70 minute periods, and while I absolutely believe that 20-50 minutes should be used with digital tools, absolutely we should also use time for reflection and (non-digital) journaling.

Disarm Them: “Take away the toys occasionally and encourage students to practice listening to one person at a time…. Pair students and give each partner three minutes to speak to his or her partner about an assigned topic. Each student must actively listen to the other, make eye contact, and not interrupt. After each partner has both spoken and listened, have students discuss together what each of them said and how the experience felt. Attentive listening usually promotes empathy and connectedness.”  Excellent, vital.

Let Them Teach: One of the many, large attractions for me of bringing digital tools into the classrooms is that for many of our students, this is a time where they can be the experts, they can show their classmates or teachers what they know and the skills they have.  And that is not just OK, it is great.

“Our students’ digital expertise is an important part of their world. We should respect it. Encouraging students to teach one another about digital skills can help them see how they can use their instant access to information to help them evaluate and synthesize concepts and create something new. Henry was the Twitter king in his middle school. Sasha’s blog was followed by every girl in class. Wikis were Edgar’s claim to fame. These three students had a passion and talent for using digital media and jumped at the chance to demonstrate these tools’ potential for 21st century learning.”

Use Interactive White Boards: Important to Sprenger’s discussion here is her emphasis that we have our students, (not only our teachers) use the smartboards frequently.

Build Emotional Literacy:  Sprenger is worried about what kids lose as they interact more and more via screens, and suggests taking initiative to help kids practice empathy. “Students role-played emotions and asked classmates to guess what feeling they were enacting. At times, I guided students on how to handle situations in relationships, through role-playing or discussions.”  She suggests Colloborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning for resources.

Teach Mindfulness: St. Gregory has a mindfulness week for this very purpose, and I looking forward to learning more about it myself.

Encourage Storytelling: Dan Pink, of course, in A Whole New Mind, makes such a wonderful case for this– stories are compelling ways our brains make meaning and communicate significance. :Digitally connected young people are experts at finding information, but in this century, they will need to package that information into broader concepts and share it in a way that engages their listeners’ interest and emotions. Storytelling enhances people’s emotional connectedness and understanding of concepts. It’s also what the brain likes best.”