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Addressing Concerns About Student Screen Time

By Kim Marshall, TIE columnist

The article: “Teacher Tips: How to Reduce Screen Time When School is Online” by Catherine Gewertz in Education Week, October 21, 2020 (Vol. 40, #10, p. 13)

In this Education Week article, Catherine Gewertz quotes a New York tenth grader on the amount of time she’s spending on her laptop for her school’s remote instruction: “I hate it. It gets me so tired. I never really leave the screen all day except for lunch break. I wish we had more assignments that were off the screen.” Gewertz consulted teachers and experts around the U.S. and compiled these suggestions:

            • Not all screen time is equal. A lively class discussion of Song of Solomon is much more valuable than solo computer games, the key factors being intellectual engagement and connection with peers and teachers.

            • Some technology is suboptimal. Teachers may feel pressured to overuse screen time because colleagues are trying new things. Teachers need to be critical consumers of technology and above all be regularly “within reach” of students – perhaps by phone.

            • Start with purpose. “Think first about your learning goal,” says a New Jersey kindergarten teacher. “What experiences do you want to provide? And then consider your options. The screen is only one option.”

            • Use choice board grids. These lay out a menu of learning options – for example, doing math with pieces of pasta, making a comic strip based on a newspaper article, exercising for five minutes – providing structure and giving students agency for parts of their day.

            • Have chunks of non-screen time during live sessions. A teacher might introduce a new topic, give students time to work on it away from their screens (with the teacher still online to provide support), and then regroup for questions and reflections.

            • Have students listen to audiobooks, podcasts, and recorded read-alouds. Students can color or relax as they hear high-quality resources like “The Imagine Neighborhood,” “Tinkercast,” “Brains Out!” “Forever Ago,” “The Past and the Curious,” and a recording of Joy Hakim’s The History of US.

            • Go low-tech hands-on. Students can spend time reading print books and other texts, writing in physical notebooks, and using manipulatives that are available in their homes (or can be delivered by the school).

            • Have students write the old-fashioned way. During class presentations, demonstrations, and activities, students can take pen or pencil notes and then share them via photos. This breaks up screen time and takes advantage of the cognitive advantages of handwriting versus keyboarding.

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