ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Both Sides of the Classroom

Post submitted by Whole Child Blogger Carole Hayward

Adora Svitak

Adora Svitak, ASCD's youngest member at 14 years old, became involved in classroom teaching when her first book was published when she was 7. As a current high school student, Svitak has a truly unique perspective on both sides of the classroom.

At a general session at ASCD's Fall Conference in October 2011, Svitak began by talking about her class schedule, which involves four online classes and two traditional classes taught at a brick-and-mortar school. She showed her tablet device that contains everything she needs for her online classes and her traditional binder, which is bulging with papers from her face-to-face classes.

Svitak uses this contrast to press her point to the audience. "A lot of available technology is not being used," she said. "Schools need to balance our paper-filled binders with the lives that we live outside the school. You'll never be able to teach digital literacy by not allowing it in your classroom. That would be like teaching students how to cross a busy street by drawing it on a whiteboard and then saying 'We're not going to take you to the street and teach you how to cross it.'"

Responding to an October 26 Time magazine Ideas piece, "Digital Literacy Will Never Replace the Traditional Kind," Svitak maintains that technology has always allowed her to learn what she wants, when she wants, and faster than she would be able to without it.

"I read books, I watch TV, I use the Internet, and I engage in social networking," she explained. "I'm not limited to learning about whatever by being with the teacher. I can learn wherever and whenever I like. One medium will not take the place of another. Going from medium to medium is giving me the skills to become a lifelong learner.

"In my learning, I've been able to go from the Nobel Prize website to learning how to mummify someone (I was really into gross as a 7-year-old!) to playing a humanitarian video game called Food Force. Yet most teachers won’t even allow students to use Wikipedia."

Since becoming an ASCD member and becoming interested in trends in education, Svitak finds the following particularly appealing as a student and thinks that they are promising for creating more engaging learning environments:

  • Let students use the existing technology.
  • Allow them to learn across mediums.
  • Ask your students to teach you when they can.
  • Explore the potential in flipped classrooms, where the lecture happens at home and the problem-solving happens in the classroom.
  • Create blended learning environments, choosing the online and face-to-face elements that work best for the situation.
  • Encourage students to use technology for content creation.

Switching gears, Svitak asked the audience members to stand up if they had ever received help with technology from someone younger than them. "Technology in the classroom builds the teacher-student relationship in new ways," she said. "Sharing these experiences gives you something more to build on."

Svitak also emphasized how transforming your relationship with students could be just asking your students what they expect and how their educational experience could be improved; the collective student voice should be a factor in improving education. "If you take one thing away from our time together today, it's to remember that teaching and learning is a two-way street," she said.

Watch the archive of Svitak's presentation below. At the beginning of this video, ASCD's Ann Cunningham-Morris discusses teacher innovation with Whole Child Podcast guest Patricia Reynolds.

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