Tuesday, September 25, 2012

There's a Test Today?

September 25, 2012

When I was in high school, I could remember all kinds of seemingly insignificant details:  all of my old addresses and phone numbers, the birth dates and times of birth of each of my siblings. I could remember when I had tests coming up, or when I had club meetings, or the geometric equations I'd need for the upcoming tests.  I knew complex drill for the band's field show.  I remembered conjugations of irregular Spanish verbs, and the complex causes and effects of major conflicts in history, and memorized five minute persuasive speeches and long 19th century narrative poems.  Simultaneously, I remembered my boyfriend's favorite color and favorite food, and his mother's favorite T.V. show.  All these and hundreds of other details were swimming around my brain taking turns, appropriately, at the forefront and at my disposal whenever I needed them.

This is not any particularly amazing feat; everyone I knew was capable of holding these bits of flotsam and jetsam in their brains--the minutiae of every day life.

Now, however, there's an App for that.

Which is great and all--we don't have to remember things anymore because our computers and our emails and our websites and our smartphones will do it all for us. Can't remember a birthday?  That's okay; Facebook will let you know when your loved ones and friends are celebrating their special day.  Can't remember the best route from here to San Francisco?  No problem; your GPS will map that out for you.  Don't remember Aunt Martha's phone number?  Just type the first two letters of her name into your smartphone contact list and the number magically appears.  These are all fantastic things, don't get me wrong.  I love the conveniences that technology affords. The problem is, though, that not only do we not have to remember anything anymore, we've let that collective memory muscle atrophy, and many of us are not capable of the basic skill of remembering anything beyond a two minute span of time--the amount of time it takes to program a reminder into the iPhone.

Never is this more evident to me than in my classes, where education has fully embraced the technological tools that are intended to benefit our kids and facilitate learning for all, but has in fact managed to coddle and enable passivity in many of our kids.  We all write our agendas and standards addressed on the boards in our classrooms to reach our visual learners.  We tell our kids and then remind them again and again of assignments and due dates and upcoming tests, so that our auditory kids hear it over and over again.  The kids use their camera phones to take pictures of essay assignments written on the board for later reference.  The parents have up-to-the-minute access to online grades, and anyone can go on our websites to click on the calendars to see exactly what's due when, along with pdf documents the kids can download again if they lose the initial handout given out in class.  There are online flashcards and study tools and self-quizzes and discussion boards--study tools galore to help kids learn and engage and extend their understanding of ideas and concepts.

Everything is there with the click of a mouse or a touch on the iPad, except the most basic idea--that one has to remember to use it, and when to use it. Because kids don't have to remember anymore, many of them simply don't.  If it's not right there in front of them, it's out of sight, out of mind.  Unless they've set an alarm to remind them to go online and look at the calendar or study for the upcoming test, it's almost as if it doesn't exist.  That is until they walk into class on Monday morning, look at the board, and despite my every effort to remind and prepare them the week before, I hear the first of many, "There's a test today???" that day.


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