In the video above, a dad asks his son to draw something on a new iPad, the ubiquitous Apple tablet. The 2-year-old clearly has some facility with the device as he casually switches between apps and between tools within the drawing app. Interestingly, (though not surprisingly for anyone with a 2-year-old,) the boy also wants to use his favorite apps including playing some pre-reading games and watching videos. He very naturally fast-forwards through the video to his favorite part. He also knows to change the orientation of the device to properly orient the app to a wider landscape format.
Although I like gadgets, I’m not a true early adopter. I do carry a PDA — an iPod touch — which my 2- and 4-year-olds enjoy playing with. It’s amazing how quickly they understand gestural interfaces, pinching, pulling and tapping their way from app to app.
While I don’t think that I need to rush right out and get my kids iPads so they don’t get left behind, (the whole point is that they’re easy to use anyway,) I do wonder about some of the interesting opportunities for learning on these devices: drawing, reading, and linking information. Of course, they also do a lot of these things on paper which places far fewer limits on their creativity — instead of choosing from 16 colors in a paint program, they can choose from 128 crayon colors or create their own by mixing their paints.
In the end, this new technology is flashy and fun, but I’m not convinced that iPads and other tablets are essential tools that will give our kids and our students a clear learning advantage. I sure would like one, though.
In the 1970s, The Electric Company was a kids television show made by the Children’s Television Workshop, the same folks that made Sesame Street, but designed for a slightly older, getting-ready-to-read audience. Fast-forward to 2009. The Electric Company is being made again by what is now called Sesame Workshop.
Each half-hour show contains a main story featuring The Electric Company kids and their antagonist Prankster peers. Vignettes interspersed between parts of the story focus on letters and sounds that relate to the vocabulary highlighted in each episode. Most are catchy songs or games and contests played between the characters. I’ve embedded several videos featuring silent e in this blog post.
The best thing about this show is that it does not baby it’s audience. Scott Cameron, the Director of Education and Research for Sesame Workshop, has experience teaching ESL with music and games. The focus of The Electric Company is on motivating children to read and this really can’t be done by talking down to an increasingly media-savvy audience.
In our house, Silent E is a Ninja (below) is a favorite that has achieved earworm status. Try to watch it once or twice and tell me it’s not stuck in your head the rest of the day. You’ve been warned.
The Electric Company has even brought back its classic silhouetted heads reading words together. These are really effective demonstrations of learning to read by sounding out words.
Videos are available on the Electric Company YouTube Channel and on the Electric Company website (which includes a section for parents and educators).
Will these videos work with adult students? It depends on the student. These videos are fun and poppy and targeted to a younger audience. But as a way to expose language learners to lots of fun, catchy, repeatable reinforcement, these really can’t be beat. Do you know of other good videos? Post a link in the Comments section.
I was talking to one of the teachers in our program recently about her use of children’s literature in her classroom. Every time I read Dr. Suess to my kids, I can’t help thinking how much fun these books are to read and how much ESL students could benefit from them. But, many of our students are adults who would understandably feel demeaned by being asked to read kids’ books.
The solution? Literary analysis. Get students to analyze children’s books as a genre of literature. In this way, students are exposed to texts that are simple and fun but are also required to do some higher order thinking. Not only does this save face (“I’m not reading kids books, I’m analyzing children’s literature!”), but it also requires a deeper level of thinking and encourages more complex language use.
Unfortunately, the technological supplements to these books are usually lame flash games with very little learning value, particularly for adult learners. However, the rare exceptions (useful online grammar and vocabulary games, for example) could be beneficial supplements.
Is this a gimmick to get adults to read kids books? Perhaps. But without a little encouragement, adult students might never be exposed to some very good (and very accessible) writing. To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, if they’ve never read them, they should. These books are fun and fun is good.
Want one? If you wait, you can have two.
I recently tweeted about the Marshmallow Experiment after reading about it in the Toronto Star. Yesterday, I listened to the Radio Lab podcast that discusses the same experiment.
The gist of it is that children are given the choice of taking one marshmallow or waiting a few minutes and taking two. At around 4 years of age, many people develop the ability to delay their gratification. Not all, but many.
More interestingly, when researchers followed up with the children who had been tested years later, those that were able to delay their gratification were more successful on a number of measures ranging from SAT scores and GPAs to whether they were overweight. Fortunately, these skills can be developed, so even if a four-year-old swipes the marshmallow at the first opportunity, she is not predetermined to be an obese dropout.
As a teacher, I’m thinking about how this skill translates to my classes. I suspect that I can identify a few students in my class who are instant-swipers and some who are probably still waiting to take the second marshmallow in case they will be rewarded with a third marshmallow. Some students cram for tests, while others forgo fun in favor of studying and reviewing.
I find it encouraging to learn that these skills can be honed, but I wonder if this is true for the adult students that I work with. How can we help this message reach them? How can we help them to apply this information to their academic and, eventually, professional careers?
Maybe I need to bring a bag of marshmallows to class.