I took my class to the library to work on “book research.” It is the first of my classes to start on the 1:1 program this year, and I realized that while we had done lots of research, it had all been online work. They had used the library’s online resources, but I had never taken them into work with books. I had the librarian introduce them to the areas of the library and show them how to use the online catalogue. They had each come to class with 3 people that they thought they might like to research. The time in the library was to narrow down their choices to a single one.
As I was working with some of the students, I realized that most of the times I told them to go to the encyclopedias and check for information, they were nodding and not moving in the direction of the bookshelves. I realized that for them, encyclopedias were totally unknown. When they wanted to learn about anything, they did not need to look in the family’s World Book or go to the library and search in encyclopedias. They had it at their finger tips at all times, usually on their phones.
So I told them, “See those books over there. They are like wikipedia in book form,” and suddenly they got it. Big smiles, followed by “Really? Cool!”
It was another time when I realized that I think I understand the differences in the learning and thinking of my students, but that often their experience of school is fundamentally different than the way students in previous generations experienced it. And by previous generations, I really mean generations that are only a few years separated from them. We teach them how to learn from books, but when they need information, that is not where they go. They go to Google, to Wikipedia, to YouTube. They search and grab information, often moving rapidly on, having satisfied their initial interest. They do not have to make some deep commitment to learning in order to find a fact. Facts float all around them, easily acquired, a veritable waterfall of information.
To teach them effectively, we need to remember that they are splashing around under the waterfall of facts, images and videos. They speak a different language in many ways, and we need to learn it, just as they need to learn what an encyclopedia is, if only to know that they might not need one.