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Extending Voice and Choice from School to Home

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Bring your own device. BYOD. It is a dreaded four-letter word, particularly for reluctant parents who worry that smart phones, tablets and computers will be tethered to their children during school for unfettered access. The fear of distracted learning, lost or stolen devices, social media (leading to bullying or creation of inappropriate content), social status or stigma and access to unmonitored sites has parents questioning school leaders and requesting for greater guidance to support them at home.

In a personalized, competency-based learning culture, teachers empower students to take ownership in their learning by:

  • Offering students an opportunity to set their own goals and monitor their progress
  • Providing students with several options or have them identify ways to demonstrate their knowledge and skills
  • Creating opportunities for them to make decisions, solve problems and contribute to their learning environment and culture

How can teachers impart the same effective strategies used in the classroom to parents? How can parents support good school practices by reinforcing them at home? Extending voice and choice at home to co-design the ‘rules’ for their devices can be an empowering moment for kids and a moment of discovery and pride for a parent who might see this as a demonstration of their kids’ emotional and mental growth beyond their physical height and weight.

Taking a cue from our KnowledgeWorks’ teacher and learning experts, I adapted some of those facilitated conversations in the classroom to my own home when we finally decided at fourth grade, it was time to introduce a device at home that our child could bring to school.

With some markers and paper, we sat at the kitchen table ahead of unveiling the newly shipped Kindle and asked the following questions:

  • What do you love to do?
  • What tools do you use at school to help you learn?
  • What do you need help with?

After a series of questions that Mason reflected on and wrote his responses down and, because there’s always an opportunity to incorporate writing and reflection, we talked about his responses. We learned that nowhere in those initial responses did he mention a smart phone, a computer, a tablet or a gaming device!

We then asked, what can you use technology for?

And then we asked him to draw a pie chart. How would you divide up the time you spend in the things you love to do?

These exercises helped us to engage Mason in dialogue around his school’s BYOD program and how he might use a device at school to help him learn, and how he might use a device at home. By engaging him in his own reflections of what he loves to do, how he likes to learn, what he needs help with and how he might use technology, we were able to:

  • Have him design his own set of beliefs and rules around having a device
  • Learn that our own pre-disposed notions that technology = games was false
  • Walk away incredibly proud of our kid who could articulate his needs, identify how he likes to learn and the ways in which he can learn

Here is Mason’s belief statement:

I believe that spending time with family and friends and playing with my toys, reading books, riding my bike and playing outside are fun and important. Technology is used to support learning. I think playing and learning from others is the best way.

Often, the terms student voice and choice, often referred to as student agency, can be mischaracterized as lacking rules or structure. But nurturing a more competent, self-directed learner in the classroom, at home and beyond creates a student who takes ownership in their actions, choices and ways in which they expand their own learning.

In a personalized environment, what is the role of technology?