I finally got a free minute to look at my “unread” list in Diigo and found this article from a 9th grade teacher in which she describes experimenting with allowing her students to listen to their PEDs* during independent work time. I’ll admit to some qualms about it as I imagined each kid in her own little world, pacified by music, while she works. But, the writer made a good argument for how it helped some of her students focus in a way they had trouble with otherwise. She was also using it as an incentive for the students and has developed some classroom management rules around the practice:
Only one ear bud allowed, during independent work only, as a privilege that could easily be revoked if I decided a student wasn’t working diligently enough. I thought it would be a one-time incidence of rule tweaking, but it worked so effectively that it became a Friday ritual that we all looked forward to. I appreciated the tranquil environment and productivity of my students during a time that could easily be lost to early weekend syndrome; my students simply enjoyed listening to their music.
Of course, you can probably guess the end of the story. When she went to a veteran teacher for advice about her Friday experiment, she was told that it was against the rules, mostly out of concern about what they might be listening to. So, she stopped the practice and lost something in her classroom:
The death of iPod Fridays saddens me. I’ve had to return to the old management standbys: cajoling and threatening. I’ve tried other rewards (granola bar, anyone?), but none hold the same allure that just thirty minutes of the freedom to listen to the music of one’s choice did. And ironically, without this music, Fridays haven’t been as quiet since.
It was her comment about the allure of the thirty minutes of freedom that really hit home for me. This was a simple way to give kids some personal space and allow them to make some choices about how they learn best. She did not require that they listen to PEDs but allowed them to if they wished.
The comments to the piece are interesting. They range from supportive to dismissive. One commenter provides links to research related to using music. Another describes using PEDs successfully in an alternative setting. Yet another gets at my original qualms, calling PEDs “pacifiers.” Finally, another makes what I think is an essential comment: “Unfortunately the administration felt it more important to enforce the ‘no electronic device’ policy rather than encourage success in the classroom.” While I know that it’s hard to make any definitive statements about education, it seems to me that we are coming to recognize that everyone works and learn differently. So, zero tolerance policies, especially about something that might impact instruction, just don’t make any sense to me. If I reflect on my own use of media, I know that I enjoy listening to music when I am working but not always. Sometimes, especially when I am doing academic writing, I like the silence. But when I’m doing flash programming, I prefer watching videos as they seem to entertain some part of my brain that otherwise might distract me. Being able to choose is important to me and it seems an easy compromise to make with our students as well.
A little freedom and personal space, is that so bad?
*Personal Electronic Devices