Passive Engagement

The internet has been a vast reservoir of information and entertainment for me. I remember being 10 and not even realizing the overflow of fortune I held in my own home, when my dad purchased our first Dell desktop. I played the Sims, Solitaire, instant messaged my friends, and jammed to the songs they put up on AOL music. I downloaded songs off Limewire, and made them into CDs using Nero, also taking pride in compiling ordered song lists and cover art for each of the jeweled CD covers.

The internet was a refreshing form of entertainment. As I got older I used it much for research projects and turning my sloppy, 4-page narratives into neatly-printed works of art. This is how I used the internet.

Needless to say I’m not 10 anymore and just like I have evolved and changed over the years, so has the internet and how we as users, interact with it. The internet has brought forth some amazing, unprecedented connections and revelations. However as we’ve seen throughout history-every good thing can be detrimental and as an educator-I’m witnessing the negative effects the internet is having on my students.

My job of hooking-or engaging-my students has become more and more difficult. I don’t blame the internet, but I do blame the way we allow children to interact with the internet. Students have become accustomed to passive engagement. This is when students do not have to really put effort forth in engaging with whatever they are attempting to give their attention to. Instead, the object of focus executes most of the work of engagement.

So what do I see this doing to my students?

 Well it is no new news that many students are not over-the-moon crazy about reading,  but the fact that they are stimulated in so many ways and not to mention, all the time by the internet, has not been helpful. Students expect this intense level of engagement in their learning, whereas before they had to stretch for it. Print or even digital stories become quick bores to many students because their used to sitting back and letting the computer box up and define the boundaries of their imaginations. Not only does this cause a dip in their imaginations, but it also brings a wedge between the traditional reading process and the student.

Reading is a complex process that requires more than recalling and blending a set of sounds and definitions. Reading is not passive at all, therefore passive engagement cannot and will not be a successful start to strengthening a student’s reading process.  In fact, the reading process requires a high level of interaction and engagement from the student. Reading is like a movie without picture or sound, and as a reader it is the student’s job to piece together all the clues within the text to give them that missing picture and sound which in turn they’ve created and completed the movie. Reading requires a skill set of visualization, inferencing, and synthesizing information-none of which students have to practice when being engaged and interacting with the internet.

Since I cannot be over my students’ shoulders telling them how they should and shouldn’t interact with the web, I am seeking out solutions to this issue that I can implement in my classroom:

  1. BE EXPLICIT. Take the time to express to students the exact behaviors they should have when they are preparing to read. Even if you are dealing with older students, don’t assume they do not need a refresher on how to preview a text. When you sense engagement dipping down, utilize explicit instruction. Also explicitly explain to them the reading process and how it requires a high demand of their interaction and use of their minds.
  2. BE AWARE. Raise awareness among your students. Make them aware of the difference between using computers/internet to learn and then using it for entertainment. Make them aware of limitations and boundaries they should make. There is no getting completely away from the internet therefore make them aware of the differing mindsets they should have in each setting.
  3. MONITOR/LIMIT THE USE OF INSTRUCTIONAL SOFTWARE. I almost didn’t put this up because instructional software is so pushed in public schools, however if we put kids on these devices and allow them to half-heartily get through the stories and questions just so they can play the “rewarding” game at the end, then we are just reinforcing this epidemic of passive engagement. Monitor the use of instructional software. Many of them have a monitoring piece that informs you when a student has rushed through questions over a certain span of time.
  4. LESS TANGIBLE REWARDS, MORE ACCOUNTABILITY.  Help your students develop a hunger for success by easing up on the candy and homework passes. This will be tough for me because I love giving to my students. They have become accustomed to instant gratification-if there is nothing in it for them at that moment, they aren’t having it. The internet reinforces this behavior and that is fine, we cannot control that, but we can control how much we release these sort of rewards to them. Instead find ways to help them develop pride in being a skillful reader.

They say history repeats itself. Do you see any patterns or parallelism?



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