ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

In What Ways Can Technology Challenge Students to Achieve and Excel?

Cyndy Woods-Wilson

Post submitted by Cyndy Woods-Wilson, PhD, an educator passionate about enhancing the learning experience for at-risk learners. She has worked with at-risk students for 18 years, ranging from 7th grade to 12th grade, as well as at-risk students in college. Her research focuses on the particular needs at-risk learners have and which best practices in the classroom can help mitigate their interrupted learning patterns. Connect with Woods-Wilson on Twitter @cyndyw2.

It's tempting to argue that a healthy whole child shouldn't sit in front of a computer screen on one of those days when the sky is so blue and the air is swept clean and ... well, you get the picture. And it's tempting to argue that the same healthy whole child should always be engaged, supported, and challenged by the adult caregivers in his or her life. But consider, if you will, the idea that there’s an ever-expanding group of children who are not. Not supported, engaged, challenged, healthy, or safe. You know, the at-risk kids. How can technology help this group of at-risk kids achieve and excel?

The first and best thing technology can do is make them a "member of the club." Remember: They might not have electronic or internet resources available to them wherever they stay. And yes, it's where they stay, not where they live. Their living situations are volatile and result in abrupt withdrawals from schools. Once again they don't fit into a new school culture, but technology?

Technology becomes the comfort zone so that they can keep up with others on Facebook or YouTube or any other social media they might have encountered. And that's where being a "member of the club" makes all the difference. Online, we're all the same. You know what I want you to know about me. And my avatar gives me a chance to be something entirely different. And maybe, this gives me the chance to grow into something I want to be, rather than something the adults around me have left me to be.

Technology lets me explore how others live, play, think, see, and feel. Oh! That's what literature does, but at-risk kids often aren't readers. Yet they see and want to participate online with technology ... which involves reading and engagement and even challenges. Fortunately the challenges aren't as dangerous as what the kids might encounter outside, in their real lives, yet they learn how to handle challenges vicariously and can take that learning into their real world.

And in their real world, the lack of support can be crippling. Technology can help provide that link to a group who are supportive. The assumption is that the friendships made online are productive and not predatory. That's a challenge for those of us who teach the at-risk child how to use technology. We need to face them as a whole child, who may not have the whole picture on what it means to be safe and who is safe to be around. We need to be passionate about their lives and their desires to be supported, engaged, challenged, healthy, and safe. We cannot make the assumptions that they do know how to use technology, only that a curiosity exists. And in this world of handheld devices that grab hot spots, kids are connected as they play and visit and travel.

That being said, let's think about the catch-up value for at-risk kids. Without hours of computer time at wherever they stay, they know they're once again behind. Technology in schools gives them a chance to practice skills that they know are valuable and also gives them a chance to experience peer-appropriate levels of use. Once again, the school has a chance to normalize some of the very uneven playing field known as an at-risk child.

And how cool is it to know that giving them this catch-up while in a seemingly unhealthy area actually promotes the safety, engagement, and challenges that propel the at-risk child into the rest of the world. Not only engaged and challenged by the technology, they're also achieving a level of safety, knowing they're able to compete on another playing field.

We can't level all of the playing fields, but we can provide the technology that compels and moves the at-risk child into a safe, whole child mode where achieving and excelling are things they choose to do.

The sky is still blue on some days, and we all want to be outside, rather than trapped inside possibly straining our eyes to observe the nuances of the computer screens. But we also want our children to be safe, and sometimes that means knowing the programs they know others know and use ... achieving the ability to compete, and even excel.

Comments (3)


February 10, 2011

Cyndy you are simply eloquent: “We can’t level all of the playing fields, but we can provide the technology that compels and moves the at-risk child into a safe, whole child mode where achievement and excelling are something they choose to do.” Amen! Thank you for sharing your vision with us!

Linda Harrill

February 16, 2011

Our new non traditional high schools for young people 16 and over who are overaged and under credited which uses blended learning (technology plus project based learning) and integrated support services has proven that if you give young people the support they need, individualize instruction and let them work at their own pace they will succeed.  Technology allows them to be in charge of their own learning.  The success of these former “dropouts”  of traditional education is proving every day that giving young people more choices in how they learn while addressing their social-emotional needs creates environments that allow our young people to succeed.


February 16, 2011

In this day and age, technology helps ALL students succeed, regardless of income, gender, race, etc. A blog about this seems so unnecessary!!

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