Knowledge should still matter in BC schools

May 15, 2014

Published in the Times Colonist (Victoria)

Big changes are underway in British Columbia’s education system. The traditional emphasis on imparting specific knowledge and skills to students will soon take a back seat to helping students “learn how to learn.” This reflects a fundamental change in educational philosophy.

Parents have good reason to be concerned about this planned transformation. B.C.’s Ministry of Education plans to make teachers “shift from being the primary source of content to focus on helping students learn how to learn.” This sends the unfortunate message to students and parents that content knowledge is less important than it has been in the past.

An overview of the department’s plans — displayed prominently on its website — claims that the old curriculum’s “focus on teaching children factual content … is exactly the opposite of what modern education should strive to do.” This will likely come as a surprise to parents who value factual content and consider it an important component of their children’s education.

In addition, the Ministry of Education has set up a false dichotomy between knowledge and understanding. While department officials claim to value critical thinking and deeper understanding, this is impossible when people are uninformed about a topic.

For example, students unfamiliar with the basic timeline of the Second World War and the countries involved are unlikely to possess a deeper understanding of how the war began and ended.

Furthermore, the government’s recent announcement that it will refashion the K-12 curriculum to emphasize job training is shortsighted and inconsistent. While it makes sense to provide vocational options to high school students, the basic literacy and numeracy skills students need to master haven’t changed. Unfortunately, the government’s plans will lead to less emphasis on traditional academic subjects.

Besides, if we want students to be ready for the work force when they graduate, they need to be knowledgeable and skilful. While this means students need to master the fundamentals of literacy and numeracy, it also means much more. They should understand key scientific concepts and possess a broad knowledge of our country’s history and system of government. Familiarity with literary classics is also important in a well-rounded education.

Learning traditional subjects isn’t about helping students win a game of Trivial Pursuit. Rather, it’s an essential component of developing them into critical thinkers and problem solvers that employers will hire. An ignorant person is rarely a critical thinker. Rather, someone with a well-rounded education is in the best position to critically analyze a problem and come up with creative solutions.

Incidentally, being knowledgeable is also one of the best ways to improve reading comprehension. For example, a student who is familiar with the rules of hockey is almost certain to have a better understanding of a newspaper article about last night’s game than someone who has never heard of hockey. Similarly, people are far more likely to understand an article about politics, or even about the latest business developments, if they have a solid knowledge-based education.

Thus, schools do students a disservice when they focus on learning strategies and downplay academic content. As students become less knowledgeable, their comprehension declines. This is why the Ministry of Education needs to encourage teachers to be content experts.

As for the notion that students should construct their own knowledge through inquiry-based learning, the evidence is clear that this approach is ineffective. In 2006, Educational Psychologist published a study by Paul Kirschner, John Sweller and Richard Clark that analyzed many years of educational research. They found that inquiry-based strategies are “less effective and less efficient than instructional approaches that place a strong emphasis on guidance of the student learning process.”

In his 2009 book Visible Learning, educational researcher John Hattie analyzed thousands of research studies about student learning. He found considerable evidence for the effectiveness of traditional teaching methodologies such as direct instruction. Naturally, Hattie recommends educators use the most effective teaching strategies.

If the B.C. government wants to improve its education system, it can start by adopting a common-sense approach that emphasizes traditional academic subjects. In the 21st century, knowledge matters more than ever.

Schools focus too much on individuals and not enough on groups

January 23, 2014

Published in The Chronicle Herald

“Every student deserves a personalized learning experience that matches his or her unique learning style.” This summarizes the obsession many schools have with individualized instruction. Heaven forbid that a teacher should prepare a lesson without considering the needs of each student.

As a result, instead of standing in front of the classroom and giving one explanation to all students, teachers often divide their classes into smaller groups and repeat the same lesson multiple times. In fact, teachers are often evaluated based on the degree to which they make use of “differentiated instruction” techniques. Unsurprisingly, this places enormous stress on teachers as they strive to meet the impossible goal of providing personalized instruction for each of the 25 or more students in their classrooms.

Not only is this obsession with individualized instruction stressful on teachers, it isn’t particularly effective at improving student achievement. In her comprehensive analysis of the research literature published in the International Guide to Student Achievement (2013), Catherine Scott noted that tailoring instruction to students’ so-called learning styles is “…a waste of precious teaching and learning time.” Other experts, such as cognitive psychologist Daniel Willingham, have come to the same conclusion.

Much of the problem stems from an excessive focus on educational psychology in teacher training and professional development. Teachers learn all about the psychological needs of individual students, but precious little about how to effectively manage a classroom with 25 or more students. What teachers really need is a little less psychology and a lot more sociology.

Teachers aren’t hired as private tutors; their job is to teach groups of students. The best way for teachers to meet their needs is to engage the entire group with effective, whole-class lessons. Of course, this is easier said than done because it is not easy to manage the behaviour of 25 students while simultaneously providing engaging lessons. Unfortunately, despite the obvious importance of this skill, prospective teachers learn precious little in university about how to effectively teach large groups of students.

As Mike Schmoker points out in Focus: Elevating the Essentials to Radically Improve Student Learning (2011), a great deal of research has been conducted on what effective lessons look like. Teachers need to clearly explain new concepts, model how to solve problems, give students multiple opportunities to practice, and make sure students have mastered a new skill before moving on to the next level. In other words, they should make regular use of traditional, large-group, teacher-centred, teaching methods.

Jeanne Chall was a professor in the Harvard Graduate School of Education and director of the Harvard Reading Laboratory for more than 30 years. In her final book, The Academic Achievement Challenge: What Really Works in the Classroom (2000), Chall examined the research evidence and compared the effectiveness of progressive student-centred education with traditional teacher-centred education. Her conclusion was clear. “Traditional, teacher-centred schools, according to research and practice, are more effective than progressive, student-centred schools for the academic achievement of most children.” Not only that, teacher-centred education was especially beneficial for “children of less educated families, inner-city children, and those with learning difficulties at all social levels.”

According to Chall, one of the advantages of teacher-centred classrooms is that they focus more “…on preventing learning difficulties than on treating them with special procedures when found.” Because teacher-centred instructors make regular use of whole-class instruction, they seek out methods and materials that are optimal for the entire group. When problems arise, these teachers can spend more time with the relatively few students experiencing difficulty while the other students work independently on their assignments.

In contrast, teachers in student-centred classrooms are expected at the outset to adapt their instruction to the individual learning styles of each student. As Chall points out, this is a highly inefficient way to teach because each student only receives a small amount of direct instruction time each day. In addition, it is difficult to give additional time to academically weak students while also providing individualized instruction to all the other students.

Thus, schools should focus less on individualized instruction and more on teachers delivering effective, whole-class lessons. This will help teachers truly meet the needs of all students in their classrooms, especially those who are having difficulties with the lessons.

Gadgets in classrooms are gimmicks

June 6, 2013

Published in the Winnipeg Free Press

According to many education gurus, incorporating technology in the classroom is the key to a solid 21st century education. As a result, school superintendents race to be the first to purchase the latest gadgets, while principals boast about the extent to which technology has been embedded in their schools.

Recently, CBC Manitoba reported that a Winnipeg school division plans to make iPads mandatory for all grades 6 to 8 students. During a public information session, parents were informed that tablets would soon become as essential in the classroom as basketballs are in a basketball game. These iPads are expected to replace textbooks, maps, and other printed classroom materials.

However, before rushing to equip schools with the latest technological gadgets, it is prudent to ask whether this will improve student learning. Considering the significant cost of purchasing, maintaining, and upgrading technological devices such as iPads, we need to ensure that it is not simply another expensive fad.

Peter Reiman and Anindito Aditomo of the University of Sydney recently conducted an analysis of the research literature about the impact of technology on student achievement. Their findings were published in the International Guide to Student Achievement (2013). They conclude that most studies show only a moderate academic benefit from technology and that “the effect of computer technology seems to be particularly small in studies that use either large samples or randomized control groups.”

In other words, rigorous research studies reveal that the wholesale introduction of computer technology in classrooms has, at best, only a limited impact on student achievement. One needs to ask whether this modest benefit justifies making technology the focus of school reform.

Larry Cuban, a professor of education at Stanford University, certainly doesn’t think so. In an article published in the April 17, 2013 edition of Education Week, Cuban notes that technology purveyors have promised for decades that schools need the latest gadget to engage their students. To make his point, Cuban quotes from an early typewriter ad that promises to “raise her marks,” a filmstrip ad that says it can help “pupils comprehend faster,” and an Apple ad that tells teachers that an Apple IIe “makes it easy to become attached to your students.” While the technology may change, the overblown promises remain the same.

If schools truly wish to improve academic achievement, they should focus on the three essentials of learning – a content-rich curriculum, sound lessons, and purposeful reading and writing in every discipline. In his 2011 book Focus: Elevating the Essentials to Radically Improve Student Learning, Mike Schmoker demonstrates that schools focusing on these three things substantially outperform schools that do not. According to Schmoker, technology is unnecessary when it comes to improving student achievement and too much emphasis on technology can get in the way of these learning essentials.

For example, Schmoker notes that reading properly written textbooks is the type of reading students need to do more often. “Textbooks, along with other carefully selected nonfiction documents, afford students the kind of content-rich, semantically rich prose that . . . students need to acquire and critically process essential knowledge,” writes Schmoker. While students may read some non-fiction on their iPads, it is unlikely they will read the same amount of dense, complex prose they would normally encounter in a course textbook.

Some technology advocates suggest that iPads are better than regular textbooks because they can provide more up-to-date information to students. However, this argument overlooks the fact that most sound textbook content is not outdated. The history of Canadian Confederation remains the same now as it was 10 years ago, as do most of the basic scientific concepts students need to understand. When updates are needed, there is nothing stopping teachers from providing supplemental information to their students.

Anyone who thinks students will be left behind if schools do not incorporate the latest technological gadgets needs to take a deep breath. The reality is that students have no difficulty learning how to use technology whether or not schools show them how to do it. In fact, using the latest technology is something that comes naturally to most young students. What does not come naturally is the kind of intense, systematic reading and writing that only happens if it is explicitly taught.

Before school administrators rush to adopt the latest technological gadget, they need to ask themselves whether it is the wisest course of action. Technology may be flashy and exciting, but it should not be the driver of education reform.

There is no such thing as individual learning styles

February 7, 2013

Published in the Winnipeg Free Press

One of the most widely accepted truisms in public education is that all students have individual learning styles. As a result, teachers are expected to tailor their lessons to meet the needs of the visual, auditory, and tactile-kinesthetic learners in their classes.

For example, suppose a Grade 3 teacher wants to teach her students about the solar system. According to learning styles theory, visual students should be shown lots of pictures of the planets while auditory learners benefit more from a detailed verbal description. Meanwhile, tactile-kinesthetic learners should construct models of each planet. In doing so, each student learns about the solar system through his or her individual learning style.

The theory sounds so simple and elegant. Many books and articles have been written showing teachers how to adapt their lessons to meet the learning styles of each student. However, there is just one little problem. Learning styles are a myth.

In his recent book, When Can You Trust the Experts?, cognitive psychologist Daniel Willingham explains how to test learning styles theory. Take a group of people and identify each person’s so-called learning style. Let half of them experience a story through their preferred learning style.  For example, the story could be conveyed by pictures to visual learners and recited verbally to auditory learners. Then make the other half experience the same story through a different learning style. If the theory is correct, people who experience the story through their preferred learning style should remember the story better than those who do not.

“Experiments like this have been conducted,” writes Willingham, “and there is no support for the learning styles idea. Not for visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learners, nor for linear or holistic learners, nor for any of the other learners described by learning styles theories.” In other words, learning styles theory is no more valid than an urban myth.

Willingham is not the only expert to point it out. John Hattie, Director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, reviewed thousands of studies about student achievement in the course of his research. In his 2012 book, Visible Learning for Teachers, Hattie bluntly states there is “zero supporting evidence” for learning styles.

Catherine Scott, an Australian education researcher who has closely examined the evidence for learning styles theory, also came to the same conclusion. Her article, “The Search for the Key for Individualised Instruction,” appeared in the International Guide to Student Achievement (2013) and concluded that any activities based on learning styles theory “represent a waste of precious teaching and learning time.”

Despite the lack of evidence for individual learning styles, it remains widely promoted by provincial education departments, faculties of education, and public school boards. For example, Rethinking Classroom Assessment with Purpose in Mind, a document published by Manitoba Education in 2006, stresses the importance of identifying the individual learning styles of each student. A more recent Manitoba Education document, Strengthening Partnerships, recommends that teacher candidates be placed in a classroom environment where “teaching practices incorporate an understanding of different learning styles…”

The damage caused by this failed theory is significant. Instead of providing well-designed whole class lessons, teachers often waste vast amounts of time trying to adapt to the so-called learning styles of each student. Then at their professional development in-services, these same teachers are pushed to go even further in this direction. As a result, teachers end up working harder, getting worse results, and burning themselves out in the process.

Rejecting the theory does not mean teachers should teach every topic exactly the same way. It makes sense for teachers to use a variety of strategies when introducing students to new concepts. Going back to our example of Grade 3 students learning about the solar system, a good teacher will do far more than simply give a single lecture. Rather, she will show her students pictures of the planets, provide accurate verbal descriptions, and give students an opportunity to work with models of the planets.

Good teachers have always used a variety of strategies to engage as many students as possible. Sometimes looking at a picture is the best way to get a concept across while at other times it makes sense to let students construct a model. There is no need to pigeon-hole students into different learning styles, particularly since there is no evidence such styles exist.

Individual learning styles is a myth that should finally be put to rest.

Progressive ideology a failure

January 24, 2013

Published by The Chronicle Herald (Halfax)

One of the most common sayings prospective teachers hear in university is that a classroom teacher should be “a guide on the side rather than a sage on the stage.” This pithy quote sums up the progressive approach to education that dominates our public schools.

The progressive approach de-emphasizes subject matter knowledge and encourages students to construct their own understanding of the world around them. Teachers who make their students master basic math and reading skills through drill and practice are dismissed as old-fashioned, while teachers who involve students in open-ended inquiry projects are hailed as innovators.

While progressive educators claim their approach is supported by educational research, the reality is quite different. In fact, research evidence makes it clear that students benefit greatly from teachers who use traditional teaching techniques.

John Hattie is director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne and one of the world’s leading experts on student achievement. His recent book, Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning, is based on a synthesis of more than 60,000 research studies.

Hattie does not shy away from critiquing the cherished dogmas of progressive ideology. Most notably, Hattie rejects the notion that teachers should act primarily as non-intrusive facilitators, arguing instead that teachers must assume an active role directing learning.

One thing all teachers should do is require students to develop their skills through practice. While progressive educators deride practice and repetition as “drill and kill,” Hattie argues that deliberate practice is an essential part of learning. He cites a number of research studies that demonstrate the importance of many hours of practice in order to develop expertise. Hattie even goes so far as to say that, in some cases, learning “is simply doing some things many times over.”

Progressives strongly support open-ended activities in the classroom in which students direct their own learning. However, Hattie cautions against too many open-ended activities (such as discovery learning, searching the Internet, and PowerPoint presentations) because students are easily distracted from what is important. Once again, teachers need to do far more than act as mere guides on the side.

While Hattie acknowledges the importance of helping students develop critical thinking skills and gain greater self-awareness, he differs starkly from progressives in his emphasis on content. “All of this depends on subject matter knowledge, because enquiry and critical evaluation is not divorced from knowing something,” concludes Hattie.

As for the progressive mantra that all students have their own individual learning styles (visual, auditory, tactile-kinesthetic, etc.), Hattie bluntly states there is “zero-evidence” for this theory. Hattie concludes that identifying learning styles is a “modern fad” and a “fruitless pursuit.” Other well-known experts, such as cognitive psychologist Daniel Willingham, back up his assessment.

Unfortunately, education officials in Nova Scotia seem blissfully unaware of these findings. As a case in point, the government’s Kids & Learning First document calls on teachers to identify the individual learning styles of each student. Similarly, the Halifax regional school board’s formal assessment policy requires teachers to design “multiple assessment and evaluation strategies that meet the learning styles of students …” Clearly, the individual learning styles fad remains firmly entrenched in this province.

As a result of this unproven theory, many teachers burn themselves out trying to adapt their lessons to every student’s so-called learning style. Instead of wasting their time designing multiple lessons for each topic, teachers should put more effort into instructing the whole class at the same time. Students would learn more and teachers would have more time to focus on things that really matter.

Similarly, the provincial government could significantly improve math instruction if it adopted a curriculum that required students to learn the basic math facts and master the standard algorithms for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. However, the government’s plan to adopt the math curriculum used by provinces in Western Canada is woefully inadequate since that curriculum is heavily influenced by progressive ideology. With this curriculum, Nova Scotia can expect more of the same poor results.

If the government is serious about improving education, it needs to reject the failed progressive ideology that maintains its stranglehold on public schools. Real change means empowering each teacher to be far more than a mere guide on the side.

Traditional teaching methods supported by research

Originally published by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, June 1, 2011. Original Link

If there’s one thing drilled into the heads of prospective teachers, it is that traditional teaching approaches are hopelessly outdated. Our future educators are told that it is wrong to think of classrooms as places where students acquire knowledge from teachers.

Instead, prospective teachers are immersed in a philosophy known as constructivism. In essence, constructivism encourages students to construct their own understanding of the world around them, and reduces teachers to mere learning facilitators.

While this philosophy finds its roots in the writings of 17th century French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, there are many modern proponents as well. Paulo Freire, a well-known educational theorist, criticized the “banking” theory of schooling in his classic book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Freire and his disciples saw education as an inherently political act of liberation rather than as the transmission of essential knowledge and skills to students.

This stands in stark contrast to the traditional view that schools exist for the purpose of ensuring students acquire the necessary knowledge and skills to function effectively in society. Unfortunately, the constructivist approach disavows this belief and minimizes the importance of academic content.

It was this philosophy that inspired the replacement of phonics with the whole language approach for reading instruction. Phonics reflects the traditional approach of teaching children letters and sounds while whole language encourages children to construct their own meaning from what they read. Although most current reading programs incorporate aspects of phonics, significant components of whole language remain prevalent in elementary classrooms.

Constructivism has made its presence felt in other subject areas as well. Math teachers are often encouraged to do less direct instruction of specific number concepts and more real life application of math principles. Some textbooks and curriculum materials even recommend that teachers turn their math classes into social justice indoctrination sessions.

One example of this is Math That Matters by David Stocker. This teacher resource written by a Toronto educator contains 50 suggested math lessons for teachers. The lessons address controversial topics from a decidedly left-wing perspective. Students learn to promote the union movement, challenge the dominance of evil corporations, and blame industrialized countries for the world’s hunger problems.

It should come as little surprise that this propagandistic piece was published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a self-styled “progressive” think tank. Math That Matters forms part of the CCPA’s education project which was designed as a response to concerns about the influence of corporations over public education. The political inclination in this type of resource should be obvious.

Advocates of constructivism assert that research proves their methods are superior to more traditional approaches. However, a new book written by New Zealand education professor John Hattie challenges this claim.

Visible Learning was born out of Hattie’s fifteen-year synthesis of thousands of research studies about what makes the biggest difference to student achievement. He found that constructivist approaches did not produce the promised results.

“The role of the constructivist teacher is claimed to be more of facilitation to provide opportunities for individual students to acquire knowledge and construct meaning through their own activities… These kinds of statements are almost directly opposite to the successful recipe for teaching and learning…” states Hattie.

In contrast, traditional methods made a significant positive impact on student learning. As an example of this, Hattie found that phonics outperformed whole language by a huge margin. Hattie concluded that phonics was “powerful in the process of learning to read” while the effects of whole language on reading instruction were “negligible.”

One of the largest studies cited by Hattie was Project Follow Through, a long-term study involving more 72,000 students over 10 years. This study contrasted direct instruction (a traditional methodology) with constructivist approaches such as whole language and open education. Even though researchers found direct instruction was the only approach to have significant positive effects for student learning, the study simply led to more money being spent on failed constructivist approaches.

Hattie is right when he describes education as an immature profession that often places ideology ahead of evidence. Even though the actual research evidence supports traditional teaching methods, constructivist ideology remains dominant in teacher training institutions.

It’s time we place evidence ahead of ideology and adopt teaching methods that actually enhance student learning.

 

Real brain-based learning

Originally published by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, December 15, 2010. Original Link

Many education gurus are renowned for promoting theories that have limited empirical support.

One of the best examples is the work of “brain-based” education guru Eric Jensen. His promotional website proudly trumpets his specialty as the “integration of cutting-edge neuroscience with practical, user-friendly brain-based learning classroom strategies.” That’s a rather bold statement for someone with only a B.A. in English and no public school teaching experience.

Like many other education gurus, Jensen downplays the importance of factual knowledge and academic content, and makes it clear that he is not a fan of requiring students to do a lot of rote memorization. Fortunately, there are some people with real cognitive expertise who are challenging the misguided approach of armchair neuroscientists like Jensen.

Daniel Willingham, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, has written an informative book for educators called Why Don’t Students Like School. Willingham, who has a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from Harvard University, is an expert in how the human mind works. In his book, Willingham uses several widely accepted principles of cognitive psychology to make his case for more traditional methods of instruction.

For example, Willingham notes that there is good reason for requiring students to practice their multiplication tables and memorize the spelling of commonly used words. This is because lack of space in working memory is the key bottleneck in human cognition. In other words, students who do not know their math facts by heart find it very difficult to perform more advanced problems since they end up wasting valuable mental capacity on something which should be automatic.

Although education gurus often deride repetitive practice as “drill and kill”, the fact is that it provides the foundation for deeper learning. We do our brains a significant favour when we commit basic skills to memory since it frees up our working memory for other things. It may not be very exciting to practice doing the same thing over and over, but it pays off over the long-term.

Willingham also dissects the claim by education gurus that schools need to spend less time teaching students about science and history and more time helping students think like scientists and historians. These gurus argue that reading about scientific discoveries in the textbook or hearing a lecture about major historical events are far removed from the work that scientists and historians actually do. As a result, they propose that schools should decrease the amount of emphasis placed on the acquisition of factual knowledge.

However, Willingham points out that this advice is hopelessly misguided. Scientists and historians became experts in their field through many years of study and practice. Students need to have a broad-based understanding of the academic basics before they can even begin to think like experts. It is impossible to think deeply about something you know little about. After all, it would be foolish to expect a detailed historical analysis of the root causes of World War I from a student who didn’t know, by memory, the names of the major countries involved in that conflict.

In addition, since students with the broadest knowledge-base are the ones best able to make sense of the world around them, schools should focus on giving them solid academic content from as early an age as possible. Education gurus do our students a grave disservice when they minimize the importance of content.

Willingham also effectively debunks the multiple intelligences theory of educational psychologist Howard Gardner. According to Gardner, traditional IQ tests are not an accurate measure of intelligence since they do not measure other so-called intelligences such as musical ability and interpersonal skills.

While it is true that students have many different talents and skills, most cognitive psychologists reject the way in which Gardner redefines the very nature of intelligence. In fact, there is little empirical data supporting the broad sweeping claims that Gardner makes.

It is ironic that the theory of multiple intelligences is widely rejected by psychological experts while enthusiastically embraced within the school system. One can only hope that educators pay more attention to where the evidence really points.

Everyone who wants to know what real brain-based learning looks like should take the time to read Willingham’s book. It certainly exposes the flaws in the progressive ideology promoted by many education gurus.

 

Too much media is the message

Originally published by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, February 4, 2010. Original Link

Blackberries, ipods, texting, high-definition TV, Kindle book readers, and mp3 players. All of these were virtually unheard of just a few short years ago and now they are commonplace. It shows just how quickly technology changes and the extent to which it dominates our lives.

The Kaiser Family Foundation recently released a study entitled Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 10- Year-Olds. In their survey of more than 2000 young people from across the United States, they found that the daily amount of time spent by 8- to 18- year-olds with various forms of media increased by more than 20 percent over the past five years. In fact, young people now spend more time using various forms of media than doing anything else, with the possible exception of sleeping.

Compared to five years ago, the amount of time watching television went up 16 percent, computer use increased by 44 percent, and time spent playing video games went up a whopping 49 percent. Meanwhile, time spent reading any form of print (i.e. books, newspapers, magazines) declined by almost 12 percent.

The study divided young people into three major categories: heavy users, moderate users, and light users. Heavy users were those who consumed more than 16 hours of media content in an average day, moderate users between 3 and 16 hours, while light users consumed fewer than 3 hours of media content.

After controlling for variables such as age, race, and income-level, researchers found that light media users have the highest levels of personal contentment in virtually every category measured while heavy media users consistently had the lowest levels of personal contentment. Heavy media users are most likely to experience boredom, express dissatisfaction with school, indicate unhappiness with life, and get into trouble.

Something that should make all educators take note is the fact that heavy media users were also more than twice as likely to receive poor grades in school as light media users. This provides a solid reason to question the argument that schools need to place a higher emphasis on bringing technology into the classroom.

While it can be argued that schools have a role to play in educating students about the proper use of media, an excessive focus on computer use at the early grade levels hardly seems like the proper way to send this message. Schools should first and foremost focus on providing students with a solid grounding in the academic basics. Only once this is done should computers be introduced into the classroom, and even then in moderation.

A report produced by the Alliance for Childhood entitled Fool’s Gold: A Critical Look at Computers in Childhood backs up this recommendation by noting there is no evidence that increased computer usage among younger students has a positive effect on academic achievement. The report also identifies the health hazards associated with sedentary habits and criticizes schools for promoting this lifestyle by over-emphasizing the use of computers in the classroom.

Stanford University education professor Larry Cuban, former president of the American Educational Research Association, had this to say about technology in the classroom. “…there is no clear, commanding body of evidence that students’ sustained use of multimedia machines, the Internet, word processing, spreadsheets, and other popular applications has any impact on academic achievement.”

However, what research does show is that students benefit greatly from face-to-face time with positive adult role models. So instead of plopping a child in front of the television or allowing him to mindlessly surf the internet, parents would be well-advised to carefully guard against excessive use of technology.

Significantly, the Kaiser Family Foundation report found that parents who take measures to restrict the level of media usage of their children had a significant impact on the choices their children made. Proactive steps as simple as turning the television off during dinner, not putting televisions in bedrooms, and placing restrictions on computer access and video game time substantially reduced the amount of media use by their children.

While technology is here to stay, parents and teachers need to do whatever they can to promote a balanced use of technology. It does not make sense to allow young people to spend most of their waking hours engaging in television watching, texting, and internet surfing. Let’s all do our part to send the message that there is more to life than the latest piece of technology.