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Not At the Touch of a Button


Are cell phones, video games, and other technology gadgets to blame for students’ poor critical thinking skills? Educators in Texas think so, because fewer than half of North Texas students pass the short-response section of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS), The Dallas Morning News reports.

Most of the TAKS consist of multiple choice questions, asking students only to fill in a bubble—a task they seem to ace. But students from low-performing districts to high-achieving ones stumble on the short-response section.

Some educators and testing experts say the low scores reveal a lack of critical thinking and communication skills. They also point to students’ shorter attention spans, on which they blame cell phones, video games, and less recreational reading. And teachers are frustrated because they feel pressured to teach skills most emphasized on the tests but an even bigger undertaking is how to engage uninterested students. “They can read but they can’t think critically about what they’ve read and apply it to the world around them,” says Sue Warriner, a 7th grade English teacher. The biggest challenge is “making it relevant,” she adds.


This fourty-year old mom and teacher says bologna! Children are more adept at problem solving, thinking critically and let me add, multi-tasking, than ever. How we stimulate this ability is up to us. To those who blame technology, this cartoon sums it up.

This is ridiculous. Students can't complete short answers because they aren't taught how to write or think critically, not because of cell phones or video games. Having taught in Texas, I can tell you that many school districts have no idea how to do anything beyond teaching directly to the TAKS test. The only scapegoat on their list that is true is "less reading for fun," which is something that schools can encourage through a number of programs.

Recent research on video games, which are more complex than adults who don't play them understand, shows that they teach critical thinking, problem solving, and strategic thinking:


Even cell phones can be used in education as well:


These kinds of tired, failed arguments need to be put aside so that educators can spend more time figure out how to embrace and integrate these technologies into their classroom. Then they'll be able to solve some of their problem of "being relevant" to the students!

As a teacher of 40+ years, I believe there is a need for the combination of technology and directed dialogue. I don't believe students do enough real discussion of a topic, nor do they know how to in too many instances.
As educators we must learn to motivate and engage students to keep going deeper and deeper, not merely print what they found on the Internet site. It is much more work, but the end product is worth it.

Perhaps this answer is to engage them using the technologies that they are so well-versed in. Imagine using cell phones for journalism units (video cameras and word processors in our pockets!). Cell phones offer classrooms without internet connections to do research on the web. The possibilities are endless.

Think outside the box to engage today's students. I dare say that the problem is that they have embraced technology as much as it is that so many of the rest of us have not. Do a google search for "cell phones in the classroom." You'll see what I mean!

I agree with Lindsay! We must engage students with technologies they are well-versed in (or need to be for 21st century, flat world).

I am a teacher and a mother and sadly what I find is that many of our educators do not know how to use collaborative technologies of today and so do not know how powerful they can be in helping students to create creative, critical, higher-level content that is real and relevant.

Proficiency at these technologies will not hinder their performance on short answer test questions...it will improve it!

When will we stop teaching to the test and begin to facilitate the natural love of learning innate in our children? Isn't it better that they learn how to think and express themselves well?

Our lives and those of our children will forever be interwoven with technology. It is now the challenge of parents and educators to redefine how we approach teaching critical intellectual/life skills. The outside world has irreversibly intruded into our lives and classrooms, thus it has become incumbent upon us to rise to the task of re-thinking curricula in that light. Our students will be the better for it.

I think students need quiet time to concentrate, reflect and meditate on their thoughts. How do you hear yourself thinking with all that information "noise" everywhere?

Taking time to write stuff down with an old-fashioned pen and paper does a world of good. Just like thinking before speaking and avoiding embarrassments or mistakes, children need to settle down to put their thoughts down.

It also cuts down on stress. Children need that more than every. Being "wired" every waking minute can drive anyone batty- just like being a telephone operator 24/7 or having your thoughts interfered with most of the time- why must our children have to deal with grown up problems so early in life. High school is ok- prepping for college to be so wired, but not the lower grades.

Could it be that the problem is that changing to classrooms that incorporate new technology in ways that support learning and deep thinking requires us as adults to learn and to think deeply about what it is that we want to teach, and how best to use the new array of tools to do so? Naaaaah.

As the editor of a writers' newsletter, I too see the spinoff of texting and IM. Queries to me often are wrought with shortcut lingo, which gives me the impression that the writer is whisking off a piece that hasn't been proofed, edited or thought through. Technology is grand. I adore it. However, kids are used to quick answer, shallow thinking effort. Technology exacerbates the problem, but isn't the cause. I agree, however, that recreational reading is needed sorely to groom deep thinking.

We need technology in every classroom for every student and staff member, and this need is increasing daily. And teachers, just like the rest of the people in the world, need to be given time, support, and education in how to use it. It is not simply a matter of blaming teachers for not using technology. Escorting a classroom of students to a computer lab 1x per week to do a Powerpoint is not where we need to be, but it is, more often than not, where we are.

I agree with many of the posters here. The article, from the Dallas Morning News doesn't clearly correlate or prove that the technology caused less critical thinking--if that's even the issue. So often assertions are made without proof or evidence. Using technology in classrooms can increase opportunities for dialogue. How ironic--we are all using this message board, similar to IM Chat, but asynchronous, to communicate, evaluate, analyze, and synthesize information. Those all sound like the top levels of Bloom's taxonomy to me!
--Dr. Peggy Semingson; literacy prof. in North Texas (UTA)

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • Peggy Semingson: I agree with many of the posters here. The article, read more
  • Kim, Teacher: We need technology in every classroom for every student and read more
  • Hope Clark: As the editor of a writers' newsletter, I too see read more
  • Margo/Mom: Could it be that the problem is that changing to read more
  • Lina Fukuda: I think students need quiet time to concentrate, reflect and read more




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