Many students — and their parents — have been caught off guard by the COVID-induced transition from on-site schooling to remote schooling. However, there is a technology — which many students already have access to — that can help make up for the loss of classroom teaching time. Let me describe what it is, and how it works.
Imagine that you’re a student, sitting in a classroom, listening to a teacher explain some material to you, and maybe drawing the occasional diagram, or writing the occasional equation, using a blackboard, or a smart screen.
Now, imagine that the teacher, instead of just speaking off the cuff, is reading the material from a book, and presenting the diagrams and equations from the book using some kind of projector, instead of drawing them on the fly.
Okay, now imagine that instead of having a teacher read the book to you, you’re reading it to yourself. Aloud, if that helps (as it sometimes does, especially in technical subjects). And looking at the diagrams and equations, of course.
This is what a textbook is for, and how it works. It’s like having a teacher in the palm of your hand!
I just bring this up because, since the transition to remote learning, I’ve had conversations with students who indicated that they had absolutely no idea that they could learn their course material by reading it — that their textbooks would present the same information, usually in the same order, and often explained more clearly and thoroughly.
Given textbooks at the start of a school year, or a semester, these students just put the books in their lockers until it’s time to turn them in again.
Note that a textbook also has a several advanced features, which you rarely find in a classroom teacher.
First, if you’d like to go back and check what was said previously, you can do that by turning pages, without interrupting what anyone else is doing. (You can use the same interface to get a sneak peek at what’s coming up.)
Second, if you have a textbook written by someone whose expository style isn’t a good match for you, you can find another textbook that suits you better, often for free, and just switch — without having to ask anyone for permission.
Third, they’re asynchronous — you can use them at any time of the day or night, on any day (including weekends), and for as long (or as short) an interval as you like. You’re in total control.
It’s amazing to me that so much emphasis has been placed on making sure students have access to computers, internet connections, zoom conferences, homework portals, and so on; while so little emphasis has been placed on helping students develop the ability to make effective use of the single best technology ever developed for learning: the textbook.
Of course, there’s a catch. (Isn’t there always?) To be able to use this technology effectively, a student has to be able to read with fluency and comprehension — something that fewer than half of New Hampshire students are able to do.
Ironically, if students who are not currently proficient in reading were to focus on improving that, more or less ignoring the other things they’re being told to do, this suspension of on-site schooling might turn out to be one of the best things that could have happened to them — and by extension, to the rest of us.