140+: In the Moment


Is the NAEYC Draft Technology Statement really controversial?


Get your point across no matter whatIt’s interesting to see how people who are weary of change react when change becomes inevitable. Take, for example, the recent flap over the draft update to the NAEYC Technology Position Statement. Some very respected leaders in early childhood education, including Diane Levin, Meg Merrill, and Susan Linn, have taken exception to the draft, and have issued a “call to action” to the field to respond to the draft. While I also urge everyone to take (hopefully) one last chance to weigh in on the draft, I (with all due respect) take exception to some of the extreme assertions and misinformation they published about the draft.

Now, bear in mind that this Position Statement has been in the works for more than a year, and there was already one comment period. The authors incorporated the comments into the most recent draft.  In order to accommodate all the viewpoints, another comment period was offered to members. This (hopefully final) comment period ends May 31.

So is all of this much ado about nothing? I think it is. I believe the arguments set forth by many of the “anti-technology” contingent muddle the waters with inapplicable arguments and inaccurate insinuations. While the detractors of the draft statement sometimes make meaningful points to consider, they are obscured within exaggerations and out of context statements. Don’t get me wrong, I think a little refinement might be in order, but many of the statements completely off-target.

Point, Counterpoint: My perspective on the drama

I’ll address the points in the statement entitled “Do preschoolers need mandatory screen time?” on the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood website:

If we don’t act now, the pressure on early childcare programs to incorporate screen time into their core curriculum will intensify.  With preschoolers already spending an average of 32 hours per week with screens outside of classrooms, the last thing they need is mandatory screen time in school or daycare.

1) “Pressure” and “screen time”? Position papers do not pressure or direct association members to do anything. They state positions from a high level.  No obligations are stated, implied, or intended in this draft or any other position paper NAEYC has ever issued.

2) If children are already spending time in front of screens at home (which is clearly a class issue) shouldn’t we issue guidance to parents instead of ECE programs? Shouldn’t parents turn off the TV and shut down the computers to spend quality time with their children? Isn’t it more likely that professionals will make constructive use of interactive technology than parents who don’t know a lot about child development? Do we not trust the programs who are members of NAEYC to use technology judiciously?

3) The data, including the statement “32 hours” of “screen time” used out of context. Numbers are bandied about recklessly.  Is this data about children birth to 8? Is the data reflective of TV/Video use or interactive technology, or what? All screens are not made equal. It’s irresponsible to generalize data and use it when it does not apply. That is a tactic for extremists. Extremism is bad for early childhood education.

4) Remember, the concept of Developmentally Appropriate Practice was developed by NAEYC. Clearly NAEYC does not advocate sitting groups of children down for instruction on computers or for anything else.

Prescribes that screen technologies should be included in all early childhood settings, regardless of the age of the children served or type of program.  Even play-based and outdoor preschools will be expected to incorporate screens.

Provides no objective criteria or guidance to educators about whether or when to incorporate screens into their classrooms.

Does not address the growing problem of screen-based commercialism in preschools.

4) The draft does not prescribe anything. It does not “mandate” “screen time”.  It is clear that NAEYC does not and cannot “mandate” anything. It is a voluntary membership organization that  offers high level position statements. How can you make the leap from a position paper from a membership organization to “…expected to…” do anything?

5) In general, position statements are not standards. They simply outline an organization’s position from a very high level. They:

  •  do not include in-depth summaries of research, but do include citations upon which the statement was built.
  •  do not include a lot of direct guidance. They outline the position of the organization, which sets the stage for books, articles, policies, and procedures that will offer more guidance.
  • cannot encompass detailed discussions of every possible negative result, but should offer high level guidance about the possible consequences and problems, as this draft does. Commercialism in media are not a part of a statement intended to discuss the use of interactive technology in the classroom. The authors of this draft  were careful to carve out a specific path to discuss interactive technologies in the classroom to set the position statement apart from discussions about violent and otherwise harmful media and commercialism.

I’m issuing my own call to action: Let’s all agree that we are doing our best to help early childhood educators learn more about how to use interactive technology with intention and responsibility. Let’s take extremism out of the equation, use information in context, and think strategically about how to make progress. While I also urge everyone to send comments, I also urge you to use reason and offer ideas within the context of a position statement. If you need to write a book that builds upon or contradicts NAEYC’s position statement, have at it.

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19 Responses to 'Is the NAEYC Draft Technology Statement really controversial?'

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  1. Just chiming in on the debate. First, I want to say that I really appreciate the respectful and intelligent dialogue here, as well as the fact that there are so many who have a vested interest in ECE. That makes my heart sing. That so many brilliant and highly skilled people take the time to “think out loud”
    and process this bodes well for the early childhood field. May we always care enough to take the time to think out loud with each other like this.

    Here are my current thoughts on the matter:

    All in due time…

    Yes, technology is here to stay. So are automobiles, algebra and alcohol. But we wouldn’t necessarily put all of those things into an early childhood classroom or curriculum, just because they are part of our culture. We recognize that the understanding of and use of some of those things and substances requires other fundamental building blocks, growth and physical and psychological readiness before they can be utilized safely and with more understanding. Some of our preschoolers will one day become physicians and surgeons, but we do not put cadavers into early childhood classrooms…that is because there are some very primary developmental tasks that are far more important at this age.

    My current thinking is that delaying the use of technology as it relates to individual computer use in the classroom would be wise. This technology is of most concern to me because we really don’t have any hard and fast research that can say “yea” or “nay” to the use of personal computers. We need to keep a balanced perspective and we also need more information.

    It is developmentally inappropriate to teach two and three year olds to read, and from everything I have gleaned, it is developmentally inappropriate to engage preschool aged children with this technology as part of the curriculum. I don’t think this would do anything to propel us forward as a people or as a society.

    I am not anti-technology, I am anti-rushing-our-children-to-do-things-before-it’s-necessary.

    I very much respect the work of Dr. Bruce Perry and he was quoted in an article by Scholastic as saying:

    “And at the heart of any healthy child is the opportunity for enriching and nurturing interactions with other human beings. I think the key to making technologies healthy is to make sure that we use them to enhance or even expand our social interactions and our view of the world as opposed to using them to isolate and create an artificial world. Unfortunately, technology is often used to replace social situations and I would rather see it used to enhance human interactions. And I think that can happen.” (http://teacher.scholastic.com/professional/bruceperry/using_technology.htm)

    I believe that can happen, too. But I don’t believe we know enough about providing guidance as to “best practices” in the use of technology (specifically, the individual use of computers) in ECE classrooms. I would lean towards introducing some technologies (such as computer use for games or learning) at the latter end of early childhood. In Perry’s article, he talks about the human interaction that makes sense of learning tools (including computers) as an important element. I can see that happening far more in a 1:1 setting, such as the home, more so than in the ECE classroom (especially as it relates to preschool aged children).

    There is no doubt that technologies can enhance human understanding and even relationships (I think of some of the incredible individuals I have met through this medium…present company included), but I am not convinced that it should be incorporated into the early half of ECE. The latter half of ECE (First and Second Grades) appears to perhaps afford better timing. And as Perry points out on more than one occasion, timing is everything.

    Thanks for letting me think out loud about this with all of you!

    When research changes to show how the use of technologies (specifically, PCs) supports the growth and development of preschool-aged children and that those gains are maintained over time, I could well come back and post an addendum.

    Until then, I have some serious concerns about HOW it will be used, and ultimately, how it will impact our youngest children over the long haul.

    I guess the biggest question in my mind is, “Is it really necessary during the preschool years?”

    Time will tell.

    • Fran Simon said,

      HI Wendy:

      Thanks for commenting. I am also very encouraged to see so many people engaged in dialog about issues that matter in ECE. It’s through this dialog that we will eventually make progress. I have to admit, this progress is painful. In general, It is frustrating to see how entrenched our field can be in terms of embracing change. However, I hope we all agree to disagree and keep up the dialog.

      Part of the problem in this conversation is that we are all talking about the concept of “technology” at a very, very high level. I believe if many people who believe “technology” is inappropriate could see masterful teachers using technology well, they would open their minds to the possibility that not all screens are made equal and that all “technology” is bad, bad, bad. Take for example, Brian Puerling http://ow.ly/555NT, an outstanding teacher in Chicago and a Masters Candidate at Erikson Institute and a winner of two PBS Innovations Award..http://ow.ly/555U5 Brian has documented his work using technology as well as other techniques in his highly developmentally appropriate classroom. If you take a look at his videos, I think you will see just how developmentally appropriate technology can be.If you are truly interested in seeing the vision behind what is intended by the NAEYC position statement, you MUST see Brian’s site and watch some of his videos: http://bpuerling.yolasite.com/

      Finally, Wendy, you asserted that computers are not developmentally appropriate. I just want to point out that NAEYC coined the phrase, developed the concept, and provides incredible direction about Developmentally Appropriate Practice. Doesn’t it seem likely that the position statement issued by the very organization that is the steward of DAP would ensure that the guidelines set forth in all of their position papers are consistent with that concept?

      • Deb Pierce said,

        I’m happy to see this point of view, Fran. Sometimes the initial reaction to any call for change brings “frenzy” and overreaction… oftentimes, without cause. I agree with the draft, in that early educators truly do have an obligation to provide technology experiences for children. Like it or not, technology is part of life as we know it today, and a grasp of how it works is becoming increasingly critical for navigating our careers, our interactions with one another, and our learning. We can’t go along pretending this is not the case and feel we have to somehow “protect” small children from this interloper for as long as we can. To do so can be crippling for them once they enter school, especially those who are on the wrong side of the technology divide. Obviously, the best means of learning for young children is hands-on experiences through person-to-person interaction. I don’t think anyone is challenging that. If one is an experienced and well-trained early care and education provider, the importance of developmentally appropriate practice is primary. I don’t feel the careful and educated choice to include rudimentary technology into the curriculum is crossing over to the dark side. It is, however, important to consider that there may be a dark side to waiting until a child gets into school to do so. Unfortunately, the holy grail of developmentally appropriate practice is not usually appreciated once a child gets into elementary school… and in many cases, not even in Kindergarten. They are just expected to be “ready” for whatever the standards require, and that includes technology literacy. Those who are not can fall behind, or become candidates for redshirting. I don’t believe NAEYC is in any way calling for a major shift from long-held beliefs about appropriate curriculum for young children. Rather, it is a call to find appropriate ways to address the societal changes we are facing…. keeping young children’s best interests in focus as we do so. There will, of course, always be providers and programs that will not do a very good job of it, and perhaps this new position statement will provide guidance back onto a reasonable path. It may also be beneficial to families, as well… many of whom are not getting the message about appropriate use (and misuse) of technology for their children. As early childhood professionals, we can’t hope to stop progress, nor should we expend our energies trying. A better use of our positive energy would be to find appropriate, intelligent strategies for giving children the tools and understanding they need to be successful.


    • Some great thoughts are being shared here. Let me put this out there. Sometimes we forget the historical perspective of things. Let’s take the iPAD for example. How different is this from a picture book.

      Imagine the ancient griots, transmitting knowledge solely through spoken word, drum, and dance. What they must have thought with the advent of books. Surely this new technology seemed damaging. Kids were going to now spend hours with their noses in a book.

      Yet, we still had people interacting with one another. People still found ways to get outside. Some people in the cities would read books about nature and want to go places they had never been. Young children would see picture books and have their imaginations captured. People still interacted with each other, and still got time outdoors.

      So, what is the difference? The difference now is 3 fold.

      1. We sequester our children, putting them in an environment where their only recourse for entertainment is technology.

      2. We built our cities focused on GDP and “progress”, and forgot to preserve our environment and play spaces.

      3. Our society began to think of children as beings for whom every moment needs to be scripted, thus robbing them of their interactive, exploratory nature.

      To Lisa and Wendy – these are the real problems. We must address those problems. But an iPAD or smart board is really no different than a picture book. Bright colors and pictures meant to capture the imagination. They have the added ability to show children things in 3 dimensions that they might never see otherwise, and show information in new ways.

      I think of how unfortunate it would be if we just stuck kids inside in isolation with picture books, or by themselves with blocks and not interacting with each other. Thank God that most teachers don’t use those tools in that way.

      Lisa, before you get dismissive, look me up and see what I actually do for a living. I do nothing BUT advocate for and provide Active and Interactive Play for children.

      I just don’t believe in vilifying a tool without addressing the real problems first (this part I believe we agree on). Nor is anyone here advocating for anywhere near the majority of a child’s time being spent with tech, or “hurrying it along”. But I do believe that with judicious use, an iPAD or smartboard is a great alternative to a picture book. They can be wonderful assistants for story time. And, used the wrong way, can be detrimental to a child – just like the overuse of any other tool.

  2. Karen Nemeth said,

    This is a very difficult topic to me – because I just don’t understand why anyone would say just because they don’t particularly like something, it should never be seen in any preschool class. My mom did her student teaching at Bank Street. I grew up making my own play dough and acting out stories in my living room while my mom accompanied me on the piano and building fairy houses in the garden. My children grew up the same way – but they also watched TV and took photographs of things and played with making videos of their skits. They used technology in their pretend play and both became accomplished actresses. They used technology to listen to music and they grew up playing 4 instruments each. They grew up with books and TV and both won awards for their creative writing. The real, honest, bottom line truth is: we know that active play and outdoor adventures are absolutely necessary. But if you were being honest, you would admit there is no research to say that every second of every day MUST be spent in those endeavors to make a difference. We know there must be a lot – but if you want to say there’s no room for anything else, you are just stating an opinion. There really is not a shred of evidence to support the statement “technology does little to enrich the lives of children”. If you have an opinion about which early childhood curriculum is best – would you expect to make a statement demanding that every early childhood classroom MUST follow the curriculum you like and nothing else is acceptable?
    Technology takes so many forms. Technology opens so many doors. Technology makes it possible for teachers to find information to support children’s interests and discoveries on the spot. Technology makes it possible for teachers who have a frequently changing parade of different languages in their classroom to support the critical goal of supporting each child’s home language. Technology in preschool provides one of the many wonderful tools that can be used to engage children and support teachers so that the thousands of children who have nothing at home can experience all the wonderful things our world has to offer. Technology is a CD player. Technology is a screwdriver. Technology is the pedals on a tricycle. Technology is a Smart Board. Technology is a mixer and a microwave. Technology is a camera. Technology is a laminating machine. Technology is a scale and a measuring tape. Technology is here to stay. Computers and mobile devices are here to stay. Cars are killing people every day, polluting our environment and contributing to obesity. Why aren’t we fighting to eliminate all cars on earth? Blocks and playground equipment injure thousands of children each year. Are we getting rid of them? I hate those ridiculous plastic ‘counting bears’ that teach nothing, relate to no real or authentic experience and demonstrate nothing but a child’s ability to sort those bears on that table in school while allowing no creativity or problems solving or any use at all. I don’t like them. But lots of people do. So they won’t be in my toyshelf – but they can be in yours if you want them.
    I’ve seen technology used in such rich, interactive creative ways – two heads bent over the device talking and puzzling and discovering together. I have never seen a single classroom where technology is used more than other tools for playing. It’s just one of the many tools. Why do some people assume that if a teacher brings some item of technology into her classroom she will be incapable of using it with good judgement? When thousands and thousands of pieces of technology are already in use in preschools throughout this country, why would anyone fight against an effort to inform teachers how to use them effectively and responsibly? When we know that thousands of homes already have – TVs, computers, cd players, video games, video cameras, smart phones, digital cameras, power tools, frozen dinners etc etc, why would we presume that what happens in preschool classrooms could have a numerically significant impact on this firmly established trend? Why would anyone assume that the word ‘technology’ only refers to ‘screentime’? Why would anyone assume that time spent on technology will be time taken away from outdoor play? In classrooms with no computers, I’ve seen ‘science kits’ stay unwrapped under a table for months. I’ve seen piles of acorns in a corner that no one looks at. I’ve seen classrooms where the teachers spend more time on paperwork and the dreaded ‘two-step table washing process” than they do talking to kids.
    There are so many ways we can improve what’s happening in young children’s lives. Fighting to block all technology does not seem the best use of our time.

    • Fran Simon said,

      Karen:

      Your passion is evident. I appreciate the effort you took to actually parse the issues behind the controversy. I have emphasized the importance of staying rational and on point in terms of the role of position statements rather than the heart of the issue, which is to tech or not to tech. I could not agree more about how we should be using our time to improve practice, funding, regulations, professional development and systems of care, rather than arguing about blocking technology. There are so many more important ways to use our energy, brain power, and our technology on behalf of children and families.

      Thanks for taking the time to craft such a passionate response.

  3. Fran Simon said,

    Kwame:

    Thank you so much for extending this thread to build bridges to outdoor play. It’s obvious (at least to me and other technology advocates) that play and technology can not only co-exist, but can be mutually beneficial. You are right that ECE leaders need to set the stage by modeling judicious and meaningful use of technology outlining judicious policies and practices, and leading the charge for the development of applications that live up to the spirit of the Technology Position Statement and the principles of developmentally appropriate practices.

    Keep up the great work on behalf of children.


  4. I agree with your assessment Fran. But I will go one step further – condemnation and extreme statements are just lazy. The fact is, technology isn’t any more evil than spending too much time in the sun, or being out in the cold too long, or eating too much food.

    It is our wisdom in dealing with the technology that matters most. In fact, some use of some technology can actually be used to BRIDGE to the outdoors. The key is to do things in such a way that it promotes not dependence on technology, but instead the use of technology to bridge to nature, to physical activity, to social interaction.

    We live in a different time, with children that have different needs. Everyone doesn’t grow up on a farm or with ready access to vast natural space. We should try to improve the access to natural space and Active Play outdoors as an integral part of a child’s daily life. And we can do this by tempering the use of tech. We don’t have to vilify all screen use to do it.

    • Lisa Sunbury said,

      Children have the same needs they have always had. It’s adults who would like to think the needs have changed.Technology isn’t evil, (did anyone say it was?) it just shouldn’t have a place in the preschool classroom. It’s much more likely that children are going to be involved in active outdoor play, and exploration of their environment, if technology isn’t an option in classrooms during the early years.
      The idea that technology is a bridge to nature and the outdoors is laughable to me, because in my observation and experience, the exact opposite is true.
      The ECE field is rife with problems such as inadequate funding, poor quality, poorly educated, and poorly payed staff, high turnover, and on and on.Introducing technology into this mix does little to enrich the lives of young children.
      We (as a whole) need to work on implementing the wisdom we already have about how children develop and learn best, before we jump on the technology bandwagon. Unfortunately many do look to position statements and interpret them as standards, or as permission- “if NAEYC says it’s OK for two year old children to use computers, it must be OK.” It’s a slippery slope.Further parents take cues from early childhood educators, and how is it possible to tell parents they should limit (or eliminate) screen time at home, when screens are being used in ECE classrooms? Finally, I’d argue that for young children, all screen time is created equal. I just can’t for the life of me understand what the big rush is to introduce computers in the classroom. What exactly are young children supposed to gain from computers,that they can’t get from interaction with the people in their environment?

      • Fran Simon said,

        Hi Lisa:

        Thanks for reading and thanks for chiming in on the debate. Overall, I think it’s important to point out that NAEYC, as an organization that answers to members, has a responsibility to work with the best minds in the field and the members to offer statements about how to manage changes in society as they relate to young children and families. We all agree that children respond to and interact with familiar things, and in 2011, technology is very familiar. It’s impossible to ignore technology, even when you are two. NAEYC has done due diligence by collaborating with experts. leading organizations on both sides of the debate, and the members. All of the feedback has been and will continue to be incorporated into the statement. Unfortunately, in any large membership organization with 60,000 members, some people are bound to be unhappy with aspects of just about anything that is done. The authors of the statement have boldly gone where no one else wants to go because it is so difficult to make change in our field.

        Regardless of the position statement, early childhood educators will use interactive technology in the classroom more and more frequently. Doesn’t it make sense to set forth some leadership about how to use a wide range of tools appropriately and well? Shouldn’t we plan to educate teachers about developmentally appropriate practice in the 21st century rather than having them try to figure it out themselves? Resisting technology completely is ignoring the inevitable.


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