But They’re So Much Better at Technology!

Today’s youth live in a media environment that is not only very different from what previous generations experienced, but is also changing at a rapid pace. Sherry Turkle, in her article Always-on/Always-on-you: The Tethered Self (2008), describes our connection to technology as a state of constant readiness to send or receive communication through our devices at any point in time. Adults model these multi-screen, multitasking behaviors as we shift from one device to the next working through our daily tasks.

Many adults testify to watching children figure out new technologies at speeds that they could only imagine attempting, I generally see this swiftness to learn new tools as children’s natural precociousness when it comes to technology. However, this does not provide evidence that children are fully aware of their actions during their interactions with digital tools. For instance, adults who have had more exposure to using technology, generally understand where to press to play a video, pause it, or even scroll to rewind or move forward. In contrast, a young child who has not yet learned of these features may cause some of these same effects through experimentation, however, may not explicitly realize what action caused the result. In their article on Causal learning mechanisms in very young children (2001), Gopnik, Sobel, Schulz, and Glymour note that when young children are presented with patterns of evidence within a learning situation, they are likely to draw causal conclusions, however, much of this process is most likely unconscious. In other words, although children are learning and making causal links when they find patterns within a new digital tool, they are not able to explain or identify the assumptions they are making to draw that causal inference.

It makes sense that adults have more metacognitive abilities when processing and learning with technologies. In fact, when adults are watching a scene from a movie, they are using 17 distinct regions of the cerebral cortex (Anderson, Fite, Petrovich, & Hirsch, 2006). So, when we consider that many parts of the brain have not yet fully matured in young children, it becomes quite clear that guidance is necessary just like in many other areas of their dynamic young lives. What I am getting at is that children still need to be taught in order to move beyond just being precocious, to becoming truly savvy!

So How Do I Get Started?

No matter which area of the school you are teaching in, there are a few general things I’d encourage you to think about when it comes to your students and technology:

  1. Figure out and understand HOW your students are using technology both at school and in the their lives outside of school.
  2. Consider the areas within that category where your students may need guidance in terms of skills and strategies.
  3. Try to find opportunities for GUIDED PRACTICE in your setting so that they can learn in a safe environment.

So let’s break these three points down!

How are Students Using Technology?

I work between the grades of Pre-K to 2nd Grade, so the ideas and examples that follow will pertain to this age group. However, the thinking process above can be used for any age group. What I found out about my students were the following:

  • Outside of school, my students were accessing television and video content for viewing entertainment. Although we encourage co-viewing with an adult when watching any type of video or television content, the truth is, it isn’t always happening.
  • In school, they were being asked to use a range of apps to create content and document learning with their teachers both in their homeroom classes as well as specialist classes.

How Should I Guide My Students?

When I think about what my students may need guidance in, I focus on the fact that children bring much less background knowledge to new technologies than adults. So, what scaffolds can I provide to help them THINK while they are using or consuming content on technology?

Looking at the first point concerning media consumption, I am very aware that many of my students are probably watching all sorts of media content without an adult to discuss the content with. One area of concern among not just educators but also parents is that children often assume what they see on the screen is true.

As for my second point, many of my students are asked to use a variety of new apps to create digital content but have very little knowledge of how to figure new tools out or how to troubleshoot.

Finding Opportunities for Guided Practice

When it comes to the media that children are consuming, one thing that I’d like to arm my students with is the ability to QUESTION and think critically about content. Many teachers already teach students thinking strategies such as the Visible Thinking Routines from Project Zero. Why not use these with a lens on questioning “fake” and “real” content when it comes to photographs or videos found on popular sites like YouTube? Students should also be provided with opportunities to alter content for a public audience. Through simple tools like photo editing, collage making, or even green screen projects, you can emphasize how easily digital media is altered before publishing. Imagine the type of deliberation and conversation we could get going if students had to comment on and analyze each other’s edited or altered work!

Finally, we all know that working with young children on technology can be a nightmare, especially when they all have no idea what to do next!!! If we give students strategies to become strong and able readers regardless of the book, we should also be giving students strategies for becoming thinkers and problem-solvers when approaching new digital tools. Beyond a “How To” chart for each new app, could you create thinking strategies that would guide your students through the problem solving process when they need to figure out a new function or troubleshoot when they navigate to the wrong place?

I encourage you to think about these things as part of helping your students to grow as digital citizens. Let’s not just assume that our students will learn how to do it on their own, that they’re already “good at it”, or that it can wait till later. We are responsible for guiding our students through all learning areas, including their digital lives. Being precocious is not enough, let’s prepare our students to be SAVVY!


Gopnik, A., Sobel, D. M., Schulz, L. E., & Glymour, C. (2001). Causal learning mechanisms in very young children: two-, three-, and four-year-olds infer causal relations from patterns of variation and covariation. Developmental psychology, 37(5), 620.

Anderson, D. R., Fite, K. V., Petrovich, N., & Hirsch, J. (2006). Cortical activation while watching video montage: An fMRI study. Media Psychology, 8(1), 7-24.

Turkle, S. (2008). Always-on/always-on-you: The tethered self. Handbook of mobile communication studies, 121-137.

Featured Image:Illuminate flickr photo by demandaj shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license [/caption]