Paul Barnwell is a High School English teacher who wrote an article for The Atlantic titled, “My Students Don’t Know How To Hold a Conversation.” Barnwell wrote about a class project testing his students’ ability to exchange ideas and hold conversations. In the form of a podcast, students worked in small groups to study topics and discuss them in real time. To Barnwell’s dismay, the students struggled to effectively carry out the task.
Even with plenty of practice, the task proved daunting to students. I watched trial runs of their podcasts frequently fall silent. Unless the student facilitator asked a question, most kids were unable to converse effectively. Instead of chiming in or following up on comments, they conducted rigid interviews. They shuffled papers and looked down at their hands. Some even reached for their phones—an automatic impulse and the last thing they should be doing.
Barnwell blames much of the students’ failure on addiction to technology and teachers overlooking an important fundamental:
…Conversational competence might be the single-most overlooked skill we fail to teach students. Kids spend hours each day engaging with ideas and each other through screens – but rarely do they have an opportunity to hone their interpersonal communication skills. Students’ reliance on screens for communication is detracting—and distracting—from their engagement in real-time talk.
Many students will exit high school and attend college while others will begin searching for jobs immediately. If young people are rarely taught the importance of communication (in high school or university), how likely is it that they will be successful in job interviews? Employers routinely ask questions to discover a candidate’s ability to address issues and handle difficult people. They also pay close attention to nonverbal expressions, levels of confidence, articulation, and the candidate’s ability to listen. These are qualities often built through practice and experience, yet if technology serves as a hindrance to learning these attributes, young people searching for a career are less likely to land the job they want and grow towards their true potential. With instructors like Paul Barnwell highlighting the shift in how young people learn and think, teachers can begin focusing on exercises that strengthen communication, critical thinking, and interpersonal skills that are too often weakened by a tech-dominant society.
When students apply for colleges and jobs, they won’t conduct interviews through their smart phones. When they negotiate pay raises and discuss projects with employers, they should exude a thoughtful presence and demonstrate the ability to think on their feet (or at least without Google).
Read the full article here.