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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Are You There Google? It's Me, Lev.

I work in a department with some forward thinking people who have nudged us neophytes to bravely go forth and embrace the digital landscape.  Like many educators, the focus in my department is currently on the promise of the behemoth known as Google.  Admittedly, I have just skimmed the surface of what Google can do.  I am comfortable with Drive, love that I can create sites with cool little forms that look semi-professional, and I admit it, I get a little giddy about my ability to provide instant feedback (even with voice!) to my students on their course assignments.

Despite this, I still need to understand the Google context in K-2 literacy learning: Where the heck is Vygotsky in all of this?  How does Google engage emergent readers and writers with the rich oral language experiences that they need? How is learning socially mediated in first grade classrooms with 1:1 chrome books? How much modeling and scaffolding do Google kids receive from a More Knowledgeable Other (MKO)? Moreover, who or what is the MKO in a Google classroom? But am I asking the wrong questions...dare I ask, has the MKO lost relevancy?

Teachers, we know that technology is sickly engaging to kids (just watch a 10 year old play Madden NFL or observe a teenager watch Cameron Dallas Vine videos). Entertainment, however, isn't the only mediator of technological engagement: kids want to know stuff and they want to know it now. My son didn't go the library this summer and he only read the first 10 pages of his "planned" summer reading. However, he could give  you a first class lecture about lizards, frogs, and snakes based on all of the daily Internet reading he did.  Did you know Bearded Dragons fart?  Or that you can estimate a frog's age by how many warts it has? Or that there's a lizard called a Tagu that roams around your house like a dog? Creepy.

Since my son is eleven and divorced from many of the literacy needs of emergent readers, perhaps Vygotskian theories hold greater prominence in early learning contexts. Young children learning to read need explicit instruction about the alphabetic code; they need access to critical language and literacy environments (actually we all do). Most importantly, they need MKO's who are human teachers. However, as learners grow and become more self-directed they engage within Activity Systems with redefined MKO's human and otherwise (multiple sources of knowledge, peers, online communities, etc.).  So, it is not that Vygotskian theories are irrelevant, it is that they are melded into the digital age; understood with in the cultural context that Vygotsky intended them to be.

Addendum:  I recently discovered that Google invested in the giant Renaissance Learning, a.k.a Accelerated Reader.  As Google increasingly permeates classrooms, what might this mean for literacy learning?  I shudder at the thought.  We all should.

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