Thursday, April 30, 2015

Reflections on Old Skills

I realize technology keeps our lifestyles going. I appreciate being able to listen to directions when I travel. I blog, and I love what digital has done for photography. But I am a bit of a luddite when it comes to young children and electronic gadgets. It is not the use of technology I question, but rather the skills it may be replacing.

"Research suggest that shoring up mental reserves as we age may also protect against the onslaught of Alzheimer's. This approach may delay onset of the disease or possibly help retain cognitive function longer if it does strike. Building cognitive reserves (which is also being done when we use maps instead of depending on GSP) begins in childhood as we expand reading skills.

Reading does wonderful things for the brain. It stimulates the ability to remember, to empathize, to learn. Reading improves vocabulary and helps us create worlds in our minds through the use of word. "Stanford University researchers have found that close literary reading, in particular, gives your brain a workout in multiple complex cognitive functions."  Many children today, however, would rather play a game on their tablet than get lost in a book.

I also wonder how cell phones will affect language acquisition. A mother talking constantly on her cell phone while she cares for a baby, may not be speaking in the wonderful parentese speak
(exaggerated lip movement and intense eye contact) that people throughout the world use to communicate to infants. What does a baby learn when a parent appears to be continuously talking into space? How many parents dilute the time they spend with their child to check a phone text or Facebook? A UK study suggested "technology gadgets are blamed for a 70% leap in speech problems in the past six years."

Attention is another changing aspect of the digital age. We talk of multi-tasking but research shows that we don't multi-task. The human brain merely jumps rapidly from one thing to another, giving both activities short shrift.

Research indicates that while learning occurs when "multi-tasking", it is less flexible, more specialized, and harder to retrieve when needed. It is also difficult to transfer, generalize or extrapolate the information to a different setting. Depth and continuity of thought are disrupted when multi-tasking. MRIs reveal that different parts of the brain are used when multi-tasking compared to focusing on a single activity. The article reported "In cases where individuals switch between tasks their performance is worse than when they perform the same tasks individually." (Delbridge, 2001). " Multitasking: The good, the bad, and the unknown

Those who marvel at the benefits of technologies forget that most people still have underlying abilities which support their use of that technology. Researching on the Internet is easy for those with good reading and organizational skills. Twenty years ago a second grader might do a book report on an age appropriate topic. Today many students are asked to do research on the Internet before they have the ability to scan, select, and organize large amounts of material.

We know how children learn language, gain social skills, master reading, and acquire the ability to attend to a task. We realize mastering these skills takes time and practice, and that some children have to work harder and require more time than others. In the rush to utilize technology, let's not rush young children through this learning period. Let's not direct their interest to fast moving games with immediate rewards. Let's not use technology as a way to reduce parent interaction with children. Technology is supposed to work for us. It should expand our knowledge, not limit our abilities.

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