Tuesday, November 25, 2008

iPod Literacy

My fifth grade students take the advanced technological age they live in for granted, that's for certain. And why shouldn't they? These kids have grown up in the age of iPod, wireless high speed internet, and on demand TV that you can pause. Any of these things would have made my head explode when I was ten-years-old, but it's all just common stuff now.

I've made some funny observations in my short, four year career as an educator that falls along these lines. Recently a primary teacher came down looking for me to find a tape player to use in a first grade classroom to play some tapes and do some recordings. She came to me because I'm one of the requisite "keepers of tech" in my school, and I was a good person to ask.

I told her that I hadn't seen a tape player or a tape in about seven years, we laughed, and off she went. The funny thing is, I wasn't really kidding. Tape player? Do they still make those?

The point here is that teachers sometimes are trapped in the past. I still have seen many, MANY, the vast majority, of teachers out there not be able to proficiently use a computer. Blogging in the classroom, online communities of learners, webquests? Forget about all of these things if the teacher can't even login and do the basics. I've had kids enter my classroom with a wealth of technological knowledge, none of it learned at school. Luckily my school has a computer lab with a full time technology teacher, but that's beside the point here, not all schools have this.

In terms of literacy, the fact that 90% of all kids carry and iPod, a cell phone, or both in one (yeah, they do that now, crazy huh?) should have forced a reaction by now in the classroom setting, but it hasn't budged teachers from the traditional techniques of reaching kids. Textbooks and short films were old news when I was a fifth grader, back in 1992, and that's literally a billion years ago in terms of technology, and kids today are in a different existence.

How can we embrace these things in order to further literacy practice? I recently told my class to bring in the lyrics and a copy of their favorite song (no profanity/racial/sexual lyrics was my only rule). First of all, I didn't tell them how to get me their song, and what I got was interesting. I had songs on jump drives, a few e-mailed to me, a couple burned on CD's, and a few iPods come in the class. So, I took that opportunity to install iTunes on the machines in my classroom.

This project we did involved students breaking down the lyrics of their song, trying to find the underlying layers of meaning in the song. They also looked at the melody itself and researched the source of that. What took place in the class was nothing short of amazing. It was a classroom full of students learning about jazz, the poetry of Robert Frost, and the philosophy of the Creole through the lyrics and melody of Kanye West, Beyonce, Taylor Swift, The Jonas Brothers, and Rihanna.

The end result of this was a classroom full of students who were shown a way to look at the basic world around them in a new way.

This is simply a small example of how to incorporate what I call 'iPod Literacy' into the classroom. Imagine the depth of knowledge one can gain from podcasts (I'm hooked actually, I can learn Spanish, the word of the day, and catch all the stuff on ESPN I missed through daily podcasts).

Imagine what could become of education if teachers would put down the textbooks, worksheets, and token activities and take a look at the world of today's tech savvy student.