It has been commonly accepted among most people, at least those of us that are old enough, that our children probably know more about modern technology than we do. If anyone doubts that, I’d suggest they take a look at what our kids have access to that we could never have imagined when we were their ages; computers, mp3 players, PlayStations, X-Boxes, cellular telephones, flat screen televisions; the list is endless. It’s good to see that somebody finally realized this fact “officially” and decided to take advantage of it.
While searching the various educational websites for this assignment, I stumbled across an article entitled Students as Teachers about a local school district (Lakewood, NJ) that took advantage of their students’ computer expertise when administrators in the district were given laptop computers and all needed training to some degree in their use. The article, written by Cordelia Twomey and Joanne Schleicher, appeared in the June 2004 issue of Classroom Leadership, a newsletter linked thematically to Educational Leadership and available on the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development’s (ASCD) website.
The development of the program was relatively simple. First, the skills that the administrators needed to learn were identified through the completion of a questionnaire. Then, using the same questionnaire, the students listed the skills the students they were most proficient in. The students’ skills were then matched with the administrators’ needs. Those students who participated in the program were chosen based upon their level of expertise and their teachers’ recommendations.
With the assistance of their designated administrators, the students prepared lessons that would enable the administrators to perform their jobs more “effectively and efficiently.” At the same time they were helping administrators meet the Technology Standards for School Administrators (TSSA), the students were also learning how to formulate an effective course of instruction. In effect, the students were developing a curriculum designed to teach technology to the school administrators. This provided the students with the opportunity to learn what the various functions of the administrators were as well as introducing them to teaching a group of individuals with diverse backgrounds and levels of experience.
The program was five weeks in duration and of those administrators that participated, 83 percent stated they learned five or more new skills during that time. Five out of six stated that during the program, they wanted to learn more than they had originally indicated so the students had to adapt to the needs of their learners and eventually learned to ask the administrators what they wanted to learn the following week.
In addition to the knowledge gained by both the administrators and the students, the program helped to increase the self-esteem of those students who participated. Three students in particular that were “shy and nervous at the first meeting… by the fifth, were confident and laughing with the administrators.” The authors state that all students, “especially technology-savvy, at-risk students,” can benefit from this type of program. As the program demonstrated, some students, even “at-risk” students, possess knowledge that is useful and that they are seldom given credit for. When given the opportunity to pass that knowledge along to other individuals, students can not only demonstrate their expertise, they also learn to deal with others on a level different from that they are accustomed to.
Another bit of information that we have read about and seems as if it should be only common sense is that students must be actively involved in their own education. Alfie Kohn, author of Punished by Rewards and other works on classroom motivation states that giving students a voice in what happens to them at school is a great motivator. “An enormous body of research indicates that academic performance is enhanced when students have more say in what, how, when, with whom, and even why they are learning.” (1998) Dorothy Rich, author of MegaSkills, and president of the Home and School Institute states that she, along with many experts, agree that “giving students a larger stake in classroom decisions nurtures greater achievement while truly preparing them to participate in a democratic society.” (1998)
Lakewood’s program not only provides a method different from what one would normally expect in a high school setting, it also solicits “buy-in” from those students participating as they are the ones responsible for the planning and implementation of their own learning experience. Giving students the opportunity to exhibit their proficiency in something other than the typical standards-based material, the authors describe the program as one in which “these students learned the truth of the old Latin proverb: By learning, you will teach; by teaching, you will learn.”
Programs such Lakewood’s are also important in that they influence all aspects of education, which currently seems to be preoccupied with standards and meeting assessment levels. Some educators still believe however, that education should, in addition to the basics, teach certain broadly shared societal ideals (Ferrero, 2005) and point students in the right direction, which is not something usually associated with technology. However, in this case, technology (the students’ knowledge of computers) is the means by which students not only become self-confident, but also gain knowledge in the process. As Twomey and Schleicher state, students “become empowered and learn how to deal with adults on a different level and how to assess their work and the work of others.”