Can technology help students be responsible, organized, self-sufficient?

I had the pleasure and privilege of seeing Julie Lythcott-Haims speak a few weeks ago, and if you haven’t heard her, stop right now and listen to one of her 50 talks. She is a lot more interesting than me. Here’s even a link. Or better yet – run out and buy her book, How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success.

Julie Lythcott-Haims and Student Responsibility

Julie talks about how to raise an adult in the new age of helicopter parenting, and her self-deprecating stories made me laugh, made me cry, and because of the work I do, made me think of the poor teachers and coaches caught in the middle of this controversy.

Both of my daughters ice skate. I don’t have an athletic or graceful bone in my body, so watching them is a bit unbelievable. I don’t imagine, with my genetics, that either one will compete at Calgary, but like all good helicopter parents out there, I have still made sure they have a private coach to keep them in the game as long as they hope to play. It also gives me lots of opportunities to watch my fellow parents. I have seen six-year-old daughters screamed at because they had to go potty and it was time for a lesson to start. I have seen seven-year-olds told to “Get back on the ice; I don’t care how cold you are.” One parent asked the coach that was teaching her toddler on his first day on the ice. “What kind of skates should I buy if I want him to win the Olympics?”

But that’s not even my favorite story. My daughter’s coach teaches little kids all the way up to, what seems in my ignorance, some very talented young adults. One particular girl is beautiful, super sweet, but clunky on the ice. And it is not for trying. That poor kid is in ballet a few days a week, yoga for stretching, pilates for strength training, off-ice coaching for moves, and she skates six days a week. She has a spinning coach, a choreographer, a moves coach, and a head coach. None of that has helped her, because when she skates, bless her heart, she looks like she is trying really, really hard. You can almost feel the sweat dripping down her face; you can almost hear the ice thud under her landings. It never looks natural or graceful. So what happens after every competition where she comes in 6th out of 8, 5th out of 7? Her mother marches into the office and demands to know what the coach did wrong. “Why didn’t my daughter win?” she yells.

So what do coaches and teachers do in this new world where nothing is the children’s fault, and everything, including talent, is someone else’s responsibility?

Well, they can either speak the truth and become seriously unpopular or they can start helping to carry the load. I don’t see parents freak-out on teachers like the parent with the coach, but that is because teachers have closed classrooms and planned one on ones with parents, not because it doesn’t happen. I see the carnage, just not the actual battle. One day I walked into my older daughter’s fourth-grade class, and a student was crawling and rolling around on the floor. The teacher asked the child if she thought that this behavior could explain what was keeping the kid from completing her schoolwork in class, or “would Mom still think it was just me?” You don’t catch many moments like that in school; for the most part, I think the teachers keep the bitterness inside. I thought this cartoon captured the sentiment perfectly.


What happened to Student Responsibility


In a world where there is no student responsibility, teachers  have to send multiple reminders for upcoming appointments and tests. They send post-it notes with past due reminders. My daughter’s fifth-grade teacher sends a 1/2 page typed personalized note every week, letting me know her scores on all of her assignments and tests, what was missing and what’s coming up. Don’t get me wrong– it’s amazing! But sometimes I wonder what else this fantastic, educated teacher could be spending his time on. It’s not like I don’t also see the tests. Why do I need the additional typed note with the results? Because the note requires my signature and he then knows I have seen the work come home. If there are 38 weeks of school a year, it means 38 notes per student; with 26 students in the class, the teacher is writing 988 separate notes this year alone because kids can’t be trusted to show their work to their parents? Because he’s afraid of the scene with the angry parent yelling, “Why didn’t you tell me my son was getting a B??” Take a look at that cartoon again and try not to cry this time.

All of this reduces the child’s need to remember, the kids’ ability to organize themselves, the students’ competency to get the job done. We have students at the top schools in America that can’t function without being told what to do next. As adults entering the marketplace, these people need to be coddled and are unable to function in today’s workplace. Teachers are being pulled further and further away from the job of teaching and closer to the job of an administrative assistant to a classroom of complacently dependent and yet blindly confident youth.

For the Parents:

For the parents reading this article: teachers are aware this is a problem. But what should they do when, after recommending to the helicopter parents that their children may need to be taught both home and student responsibility, the parents respond by pointing fingers and citing the teacher? Add this to a job environment that depends on students’ test results? Teachers are left without options but to comply with the new parenting trend. They too begin to surround the student with reminders, pat’s and more activities while they create all of this additional material.

For the Teachers:

For the teachers reading: I am sure you’re thinking, “So what? You have just said there is nothing we can do.” Well, I can’t make Billy’s parents force him to straighten his room or make his bed or remember his book report. But there are tools that move this student responsibility off of your plate and onto, if not the student’s, at least onto the parents’ plate, without adding any work to your plate.

Imagine how happy these parents would be if you (the teacher) created and controlled individual student calendars. These calendars would be customized to coordinate across all of the student’s classes to be completely customized for that student. All of her teachers could add daily notes, lists of and links to materials used in class and for test preparation, and she could easily print out the assignment for today. Teachers could put graded papers in privately named folders, and offer additional learning options in these same folders for greater differentiation and learning opportunities. They could add post-it notes, reminding students of changes for tomorrow, and let them know they didn’t get that paper due yesterday.

Obviously, all of this could be done by hand, but it would take hours and hours every day from the job of teaching and it would be overwhelming, to say the least. Teachers are there to teach kids, not to organize backpacks or to remind students constantly of previously provided due dates.

Canary Learning provides students with all of this data, handling the student reminders and organization. Providing this data can even help with student engagement.


Student view

Canary Learning appears to be a simple daily planner when viewed by students: displaying the lesson for today, materials to be used, and in-class and after-class assignments. Students see clearly what is due today, tomorrow, and later this week. Students receive immediate and continuous feedback on assignments they forgot to turn in as well as anything that is past due. Not only do they have access to the teacher’s feedback on their prior assignment, they can see every test, quiz, assignment or even lab work they have ever turned in, the teacher’s comments, and they can find all of it by type or work or unit the work was in. What is required for the Unit 7 test? –Everything in the Unit 7 category.

Now I assume teachers don’t want to do extra work. So Canary Learning ties the due date entered one time by the teacher to the assignment and manages the rest of the process from that moment on. If the teacher needs to change the date, they can swipe and change it with a single keystroke and all those notes and calendars will be automatically updated. Copies to the students whose parents thought Disneyland was more important than going to school that day were already delivered. The notes you used in class were handed over without you having to follow up.

Moreover, Canary Learning’s grading feature automatically tallies all of the full point and half-point marks the teacher writes on the paper – like a red pen attached to a calculator. It also remembers any comments written by the teacher for that assignment as well as the top ten comments used by the teacher on any assignment so that they can be used again and again without retyping or re-entering.

All of this information and data are available to the student (and their parents) at any time. Materials and information are organized by default into lessons and units, and students and parents can quickly view all the tests, assignments, quizzes…or they can reorder the materials in any way they wish to come up with their own solution as to why Junior can’t remember his states and capitals.

The software creates individual student calendars. It coordinates with every teacher using Canary Learning to create a customized calendar for that student.

How does this help teach the student responsibility?

It is now the student’s responsibility to read their calendar, It is the student’s responsibility to see what’s due today, tomorrow, and next week. They will not need to be reminded of an upcoming test because you entered that test in a calendaring system, and they know where to look it up. If they don’t, parents can’t complain that “my son didn’t understand” or “How can you expect my daughter to remember?” Instead, teachers can log into the student’s account in front of the parent, show them the reminders and tools provided, and if needed, encourage the parents to check out the Canary Learning application themselves to see how data is being organized and kept up to date. The student responsibility requires him to log into the same app every day for notes, for assignments and for updates, that same tool (one tool) reminds them of upcoming dates without requiring multiple logins, check the web for that the app for this… No it is one location all the data. Parents have access to the continuous stream of graded papers and those parents can helicopter away. It moves from being the teacher’s burden to that family’s responsibility and hopefully leads to student responsibility. And if you’d like to send them a copy of Julia Lythcott-Haims’ book, anonymously, that might help in the long run as well.

Unfortunately, nothing has been built yet to help my daughter’s skating coach… but Canary Learning is free, so please let me know if I can help you out and please send me your best stories so I can keep spreading the word.