May 7, 2020
If I could pack a powerful punch of irony, put it in a box with a big bow, and hand-deliver it to you on a silver platter–this is it.
Not only is this based on a true story–it is a true story.
And I find it absolutely fascinating.
In recent blogs, I reflected on how the medium can influence the message or even alter outcomes. This was true when comparing 2D versus 3D instructions whenever there’s Some Assembly Required. And, when kids can just Google It, the message is no longer that pot-of-gold, mysterious destination at the rainbow’s end of a multi-step science fair project. Even more, there’s no such thing as The Perfect Video. So, when recording in Screencastify, Seesaw, Flipgrid, and GoogleMeet during remote learning, pandemic times, for example, all we can really do is Playback, Reflect, Grow.
Yet, in all of these experiences, I thought the medium was only slightly influencing the message or impacting the learned outcome.
I mean, after all, you can’t hug Google. You can’t have a girls-night-out with Alexa. You can’t sue Siri for mapping you in the wrong direction. And you can’t roll down your Windows to have a good ol’ heart-to-heart conversation, face-to-face.
But what if I told you that the medium was the message?
As a curious, administrative intern, I chased down opportunities. So badly, I wanted to grow my leadership skills and learn from others all around me, that colleagues would frequently see me running down the hallways, around all the campus spaces, to other schools, to central services, to conferences, to grad school class, and even to social media spaces in pursuit of another chance to learn something new.
In the middle of February, 2020, I happened upon an assistant principal and a reading intervention teacher. Deep in a philosophical conversation, I approached cautiously. Their nonverbals approved my presence as an intern, and I cozied up to the campfire.
Just moments in, however, I felt my perspective forming. Surely, there was a simple solution to this one. Being a lover of all-things-edtech, I was thinking about basic technologies and specific platform features to enhance learning.
I was thinking about the medium.
In short, the conflict in conversation was highlighting a lack of time for quality, reading intervention. In this particular example, the reading intervention teacher was making the case for more read aloud time.
They were thinking about the message.
Off-the-cuff (which is not always a good idea), I kindly interrupted:
“Why do you have to be the one to read aloud to the kids? Why can’t kids just watch a video with closed captioning?”
Heads turned. Eyes opened. Eyebrows raised. Gasps.
And finally, a response (that I’m paraphrasing):
“There is no connection more personal, meaningful, valuable, or imperative to the learning experience than the human connection. Learning to read is both an academic experience and a life experience. Interacting in the moment, together, presents opportunities to nuance a child’s literacy journey with differentiation, nurturing, and pinches of TLC. That will never be replaced. You can’t replace the face-to-face, human connection of reading aloud together with a video. Videos can’t replace humans. Kids in front of screens is not as meaningful as kids with people in real life. It’s about the people.”
Yes, during these remote learning times just weeks later, I’m still reflecting.
I’m circling back to their central theme: “Videos can’t replace humans.”
The medium changes the message.
Yet, this wasn’t a simple classroom management or technology shift. The quest for more intervention time and more read aloud time speaks to the deeper, pedagogical philosophies of reading and learning themselves.
People are more impressionable from conception to age 12 than at any other time in their lives. Reading is paramount to a quality education. Therefore, the quality of our reading instruction directly impacts all future learning and life experiences. Creating and facilitating high-quality reading experiences may lead to a well-informed citizenry. At the very least, we should be investing wholeheartedly in the reading journey throughout our lifetimes.
What’s more, we can’t make assumptions about individual students. After all, some kids can’t access prior knowledge because they didn’t have similar life experiences. Not every child has had similar exposures to print concepts or language-rich environments. Regardless of community, school, or family, assumptions can’t be made about reading experiences or learning abilities from one child to the next.
While getting to know the individual child may eventually change the medium most appropriate for learning, the simple truth remains:
The message and the medium are about people.
"Reading is so much more than memorizing graphemes. Reading is not just reading a word off a page. It's gathering or communicating information to make meaning of the world around us." I'm reflecting on my @letterland session with @mrslintontweets.
— Kyle Hamstra (@KyleHamstra) May 7, 2020
One of my favorite parts of attending a major conference near my hometown is that I can still make it home for our nightly reading time with our two-year-old son, Myals. What do you wonder? Tonight, we read: I Wonder. #MyalsMoments #LittleH1 #HamstraHighlights #ncties2020 pic.twitter.com/evqXfVa8sD
— Kyle Hamstra (@KyleHamstra) March 5, 2020
Reading books and creating #booksnaps with my eight-month-old continue. Being a stay-at-home dad for a few weeks has given me great perspective. So happy to have this time together. #Lifelonglearners do #lifelonglearning. #babybooksnaps #HamstraHighlights #MyalsMoments #LittleH1 pic.twitter.com/LzP3Lpx4kv
— Kyle Hamstra (@KyleHamstra) July 12, 2018