Patience is the missing 21st-century skill

The 21st century skill students lack is patience, writes cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham.

We oldsters grew up with “fewer sources of distraction and entertainment,” he writes. The TV had four channels. ”Digital natives” can avoid even mild boredom, most of the time. They never learn that patience brings rewards.

Jennifer Roberts, a Harvard art and architecture professor, tells students to select a painting in a Boston museum, study it for three hours and write a paper on it.
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The duration is “meant to seem excessive,” Roberts says. She wants students to think they’ve seen all there is to see, keep looking and see more.

As part of a book she was writing on 18th century American painter John Singleton Copley, she studied at length the painting A Boy With a Flying Squirrel.

Despite her experience, it took time before “she noticed that the shape of the white ruff on the squirrel matches the shape of the boy’s ear, and is echoed again in the fold of the curtain over his left shoulder.”

Students “need to feel the pleasure of discovering that something you thought you had figured out actually has layers that you had not appreciated,” Willingham writes.

Boring is bad, responds Tim Holt. He accuses Willingham of shouting, Get off my lawn, you damn kids.

Tech-distracted students study — for 2 minutes

Asked to “study something important,” students stayed on task for two minutes before they “began responding to arriving texts or checking their Facebook feed,” reports a study, published in the May issue of Computers in Human Behavior by Larry Rosen, a psychology professor at California State University-Dominguez Hills. The middle, high school and college students spent only 65 percent of the 15-minute observation period doing their schoolwork.

“We were amazed at how frequently they multitasked, even though they knew someone was watching,” Rosen says. “It really seems that they could not go for 15 minutes without engaging their devices,” adding, “It was kind of scary, actually.”

Media multitasking while learning means less learning, writes Annie Murphy Paul on the Hechinger Report.

. . .  evidence from psychology, cognitive science, and neuroscience suggests that when students multitask while doing schoolwork, their learning is far spottier and shallower than if the work had their full attention. They understand and remember less, and they have greater difficulty transferring their learning to new contexts. So detrimental is this practice that some researchers are proposing that a new prerequisite for academic and even professional success—the new marshmallow test of self-discipline—is the ability to resist a blinking inbox or a buzzing phone.

In “Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds,” a 2010 survey, almost a third of those surveyed said that when they were doing homework, “most of the time” they were also watching TV, texting, listening to music, or using some other medium.

College students are used to texting, emailing and surfing the web in class. Eighty percent of college students admit to texting in class.

Young people think they can do two challenging tasks at once, but they’re “deluded,” says David Meyer, a University of Michigan psychology professor. “Listening to a lecture while texting, or doing homework and being on Facebook—each of these tasks is very demanding, and each of them uses the same area of the brain, the prefrontal cortex.”

He adds,“There’s nothing magical about the brains of so-called ‘digital natives’ that keeps them from suffering the inefficiencies of multitasking. They may like to do it, they may even be addicted to it, but there’s no getting around the fact that it’s far better to focus on one task from start to finish.”

Digital immigrants, unite!

Students are supposed to be “digital natives,” while teachers over the age of 35 are “digital immigrants.” That implies teachers’ expertise is obsolete. That’s just not so, writes Bill Ferriter, a sixth-grade English teacher, on The Tempered Radical.

Sure, today’s kids CAN play video games and surf YouTube videos and send text messages and check their Facebook profiles without any help.

And YES, they have Pinterest pages long before their parents figure out that Pinterest isn’t some clever marketing campaign for newfangled online savings accounts.

They ARE successfully liking and poking and friending their way through life without our help.

But is that REALLY something to celebrate?

Aren’t those entertainment-fueled behaviors nothing more than concrete evidence of a troubling disconnect between what kids CAN do and ARE doing with technology?

Ferriter’s digital friend, Brad Ovenell-Carter, asked high school students in Vancouver what they’d do with two hours in a tech-loaded room and no assignments to tackle.

While some of Brad’s kids planned to spend their time making videos for the greater good or creating digital art, most figured that Instagramming it, editing themselves into Justin Beiber’s videos or printing 3D images of Harry Styles to take home would be more fun.

He asked if they agreed there’s “a gap between what you CAN and ARE doing.”

One student responded: ”Maybe there is a gap, but perhaps only because we don’t exactly know what is all possible.”

Another said: “I would try and change the world… but I’m not sure how yet.”

Teachers can build start “a bridge between what THEY know about technology and what YOU know about efficient and effective learning,” Ferriter concludes.

The Millennial Teenager

Today’s teens are “digital natives.”

The Millennial Teenager

New tools, old thinking

North Carolina school districts are using $3.5 million in Race to the Top funds to “put Apple iPads in the hands of students and teachers at two low-performing schools,” reports the Raleigh News & Observer. Durham Public Schools Superintendent Eric Becoats said, “Our kids are telling us, ‘This is how we learn. This is what we want.’”

New technology rarely provides a new way to learn, writes Rick Hess, who’s unimpressed with “digital natives.” In schools with one-to-one computing, personal computers, and iPads, students typically work on “graphics, clip art, powerpoints, or adding sound and visual effects to video shorts.” Or students go to “Wikipedia for material to cut-and-paste into powerpoints or word files.”

. . . I had a chance to spend a couple days visiting acclaimed “technology-infused” high schools. Yet, most of what I saw the technology being used for was either content-lite or amounted to students using Google-cum-Wikipedia as a latter day World Book Encyclopedia. Making powerpoints and video shorts is nice, but it’s only us “digital tourists” who think it reflects impressive learning.

A “digital native” who uses an iPad to find Wikipedia’s entry on the Harlem Renaissance isn’t learning more than an encyclopedia-using student 25 years ago, Hess argues. Today’s student may learn less because it’s so easy to cut and paste text instead of copying information (or taking notes!) by hand.

I’m a huge fan of using technology to rethink schooling. But it’s the rethinking that matters, not the technology.

Amen.