Kids and Adults: How To Avert Communication Breakdown

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By Matt Levinson

Kids operate in a blizzard of communication -- texts, social media, music, photography, games, and videos. They're eager to share any and all new media they discover. In fact, their default action is to share and distribute as they're living the moment.

For the most part, adults take on a more contained, traditional approach to communication, and are more accustomed to face-to-face interaction or talking on the phone than kids.

Schools, meanwhile, serve as the point of intersection for kids and adults, who are often trapped in the cross hairs of different modes and patterns of communication. Frustration invariably surfaces as kids and adults struggle to figure out how to co-exist in schools where technology is being introduced and integrated, especially through the very devices they use for social interaction.

Kids think of mobile devices holistically, in that the device encompasses everything – email, video, photos, games, music, social media – all existing as one system. Their online world is one world.


For teachers, mobile devices in schools are used specifically as tools to enhance learning. In the adult mindset, there's a time and a place for looking at photos or videos, playing a learning game in the context of a specific discipline, or making or listening to music as part of a project. But for kids who are growing up in a world without walls, this adult mode of compartmentalization seems confining. And therein lies the tension.

Ironically, parents are often frustrated that their child does not share enough with them about what happens at school. When parents ask, "How was school today?" kids' response is often an unsatisfying "fine or okay." But check their Facebook or Instagram, and you'll likely find play-by-plays of their day's events.


There are often two separate worlds between adults and kids and technology and schools have the perfect opportunity to bridge these two worlds with thoughtfully designed learning experiences that account for the holistic, sharing mindset that students bring with technology.

How can schools bring students into the communication process? By providing day-to-day examples in class of how to use mobile devices for communicating with each other and with adults.


For example, educators can have students generate projects around topics of interest. For example, in a recent fifth-grade conservation action project, students debated and discussed the correct wording of a problem statement in order to look at ways their school can better conserve resources by examining behavior, resources, and systems. Having the students creating the problem statement invites ownership over the project -- plus they examined specifically the act of communication through words.

Students can work on problems in design teams and create their own online communities so they can work on projects at home, at school, or wherever they are, with whatever device they have available to them.

Educators can seize on opportunities to talk about digital citizenship. In online spaces at school, students will engage in ways that are appropriate, but they will also bring their out-of-school online dialogues and patterns into the space. This is natural and expected, but educators can take the time to create norms for acceptable communication. Including students in the creation of these norms will go a long way in getting buy-in from students.

And finally, teachers can make time and room for sharing. Along the way, through the fifth-grade project, students share their progress, receive feedback, then go back and conduct further research to deepen their understanding of the issue under investigation. Students are learning about search literacy and building their research skills, exploring different types of online sources to figure out which will yield the most data to further understanding of the issue.

Through this process, students hopefully learn that their devices can connect them to more than just their friends' ephemeral doings, but to meaningful work and communication.

Matt Levinson is the Head of the Upper Division at Marin Country Day School in Corte Madera, Calif. and the author of From Fear to Facebook: One School’s Journey.