Teachers face a challenge in promoting traditional literacy when their students are far more adept at texting or instant messaging. How can students, particularly those in middle and high school, become interested in traditional literacy, and why should they?
The latter is one of the most frequent questions teachers hear: “Why should I? What good is it going to do me?” In his essay, “Literacy and Intrinsic Motivation,” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, writes: “It seems increasingly clear that chief impediments to literacy are not cognitive in nature. It’s not that students cannot learn; it is that they do not wish to.”
According to the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress, less than a third of U.S. children in or below fourth grade can read at grade level or above. When the numbers are broken down by ethnicity, the results are even more dismal. Only twelve percent of African-American students and fifteen percent of Latino students read at or above grade level. By high school, more than half of students are reading one to two years below grade level. One in five high school students read more than two years below grade level. Is lack of motivation to blame for this, as Csikszentmihalyi suggests?
Children in early elementary school are intrinsically motivated, they learn for the sake of learning. Dr. Allen Mendler, author of Discipline with Dignity, says, “No kid is born unmotivated. Every toddler is motivated. Just watch one. It’s hard to keep a toddler out of things, keep him away from learning. Learning is intrinsic to people.” With middle and high school students, teaching traditional literacy effectively means helping them find their motivation. Here is where technology ties in and can help promote motivation, which is one of the most important keys to learning – and often the most difficult to develop or maintain.
Students of all ages learn best when they are challenged, interested, and feel like their assignments are authentic and that they have a real purpose. For students, technology has a purpose. Even doing traditional literacy exercises with the aid of a computer or with an online component creates added authenticity for them, thus increasing motivation. This is especially important to middle and high school students. Quality Quinn, education consultant and senior advisor to K-12 software maker Compass Learning, says:
When you examine the fundamental strengths of information technology, specifically, software and its ability to store, respond, differentiate, aggregate and disaggregate in vivid, multi-modal ways, it is clear that motivation and technology are a `natural pairing.’ If you don’t believe the research, ask a student. As one student put it, `The computer doesn’t think I’m stupid!’
From reading software programs to WebQuests and other internet activities, there is a host of ways to use online resources to promote traditional literacy. Because children typically have a great deal of experience and proficiency with technology, it gives them something to connect with. They have a strong chance for success, which is another key factor in learning and motivation. Technology helps answer the perennial question, “Why should I?”