Writing Nowadays–Techo-Schools 1.1

Continuing our series on what writers of YA fiction need to know about schools . . .

Twelve years ago, I invented out of thin air a class called media literacy.  The students dissect commercials and movies and magazine ads and product placement and more.  During the music unit, I told my students to bring in a favorite song so we could trade and discuss in groups.

When the class began, my students brought in cassette tapes.  Then CDs started showing up, along with personal CD players.  The bright little discs finally edged out cassettes entirely.  Six or seven years ago, a few showed up with MP3 players.  Then more and more followed suit.  One year the MP3 players supplanted CDs entirely.  Then, practically overnight, the MP3 players vanished.  Now all my students play or stream music through their cell phones.

Ten years ago, LiveJournal was THE social network.  My students asked each other what their LJ name was instead of trading phone numbers.  Then MySpace showed up, causing a stampede.  MySpace ruled the social networks for several years–until Facebook appeared.  Within three years, teenagers considered MySpace as dead as LiveJournal.  Most of my students have heard of neither one.  (To a teenager, five years ago is most of a lifetime.)

Ten years ago, a student with a cell phone was a bit of an oddity.  In Michigan, it was even illegal for a student to bring a cell phone to school.  (I remember a teen comedy set in a wealthy school.  A cell phone went off, and all the students in the vicinity reached for their pockets or purses to check if it was theirs.  Big laugh.  It was funny because the idea of a whole bunch of teens being able to afford cell phones was ridiculous.  Ho ho ho.)  Now it’s a rare high schooler who doesn’t have one.  Texting, which didn’t exist eight years ago, is now a standard, even preferred, method of communication.

The point is, technology changes FAST, and your YA readers change along with it.  They =will= keep up with it, and as a writer, you have to as well, or your readers will drop you.  If you aren’t teen tech-savvy . . . tough.  You need to be.  Your readers are.

I’m actually a little hesitant to discuss what’s going on right now in schools, technology-wise.  In a year, or even a few months, the information may be out of date.  But I’ll give it a shot.

We all know teens text.  But here’s the thing–text-speak is dying.  (“RU?” for “Are you?”)  Now that phone have full-blown keyboards, abbreviating texts is seen as annoying or kid stuff.

Most school don’t allow students to text or otherwise use their phones during class.  It’s a distraction from instruction.  Penalties vary.  The phone might be confiscated until the end of the day, or the student might get a detention, or any number of things.  Exceptions can be made if the teacher wants it, such as the lesson above in which I want the students to show off some of their favorite music.

My school allows students to use their phones between classes and at lunch, but this is a brand new rule, created just this year.  Previously, their phones had to be shut off in class.  The second the bell rings, they snatch up their phones to check for texts and they plug in their headphones.  Other schools have their own policies.

Students, of course, became adept–or so they think–at sneaking texts to each other.  As a teacher, I see their wrists moving under the table.  They think I’m blind, or something.

I used to find paper notes on my classroom floor all the time.  I haven’t seen one in years.  Texting has destroyed the age-old tradition of writing notes.

Students do use their phones to surreptitiously record what their teachers do on video or audio, and they sometimes post this stuff on social networks, causing trouble and controversy.  This can be an interesting plot point for a YA book.

Me, I’m betting that within five more years, cell phones will be integrated into classroom instruction.

Computer access varies wildly from school to school.  The more money a school has, the more computers it will have.  Some schools give out laptops to all students.  (They either have some serious cash or, more likely, they got a grant.)  Any school with a computer lab will likely have a wireless network.  This actually causes problems because students love using the school network for their smart phones.  When class lets out at my school, the network slows considerably.  Legally, the school is allowed to monitor anything and everything students do on a school computer or school network.  This includes web surfing, downloads, and email.  Speaking of which . . .

What is this email of which you speak?

Seriously, students rarely use email.  About the only thing they use it for is to transfer files.  When they want to communicate, they text.  They don’t email.

Some teachers accept homework via email, some don’t.  I don’t, despite my reputation as a tech guru.  It’s slower and more annoying to grade electronic homework.

Teachers, on the other hand, email quite a lot.  We email each other, we email administrators, we email parents.  By law, however, all email of public employees must be archived and made available to anyone armed with a FOIA form.  And, naturally, the administration can read anything and everything.  Me, I always pretend that the superintendent and a reporter are reading whatever I send from a school computer.  Because they can, if they want.

Next time: Technology 1.2 . . .

–Steven Harper Piziks


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Writing Nowadays–Techo-Schools 1.1 — 6 Comments

  1. My 16 year old uses texting as her preferred mode of conversation–which means I do, unless there is protracted negotiation involved:

    Daughter: “WHY can’t I stay out until 1?”

    Me: “Call & I’ll explain.”

    Daughter: “No, just tell me WHY!”

    Me: “Too many words to type with fat thumbs. Call me.”

    At which point the negotiation continues via phone, or not at all.

    I worry sometimes that she is becoming even more interrupt-driven than her parents, which is saying something. The phone cannot buzz without her reaching to find out what the text was.

  2. I have had people yell at me because I didn’t respond to a text. They consider me rude because I have disabled texting on my old stupid phone. 1) I get charged for them 2) I’ve been burned by other people hacking my number and charging their texts and ring tone downloads to me.

    Unlike many people I don’t need to be connected to the entire universe all the time, day and night. I don’t need to share every mouthful of food and trips to the bathroom with my circle of friends. I don’t want people to find me sometimes. But in teen culture, that is rude I guess.

  3. I’m a teacher at a school in Germany. Makes me glad we have some rules that are stricter, I have to admit. Kids don’t get enough instruction in what harm they can cause with their tools – to themselves, their friends or their school. Also, I like my privacy. Then again, I’ve never googled whether I’ve been filmed – the one time I was my principal told me, because the cellphone was confiscated in connection with a happy slapping incident.

    And you can play popular music in class? We’d get problems with the copyright holders over here.

    I don’t usually carry my own cellphone except on long car trips or on a day trip with students ^^ – but I’m happy to e-mail or comment or post on the net.

  4. Around here — near Washington DC — a brief movement to ban cell phones flourished. It was blasted out of the water on 9-11, when it became clear that every kid should indeed have a cell phone in her backpack. When my son started college in CA, the dorm counselor started their first floor meeting by getting them all to pull out their cells. They had to program in the emergency-notification number, so that texts and calls could be made in case of earthquakes.

  5. Texting has become a standard method of communication, whether we old fogies like it or not. YA authors who write in modern-day settings, however, need to look at it from the teen point of view, specifically that texting is like talking. Any YA writer who lets his or her scorn for texting show up in a POV character is sabotaging the book–YA readers won’t buy it unless the character has a hugely, enormously, utterly compelling reason to dislike texting when everyone around him/her does it as readily as breathing.

  6. Fascinating stuff.

    The local schools in our rural area have major tech innovations going on–an all-electronic high school for example, one of the first to do this (they got grants). A couple of years ago they started installing wi-fi on the buses. With the long commutes down through the mountain passes, they figured kids could do homework.

    Mostly of course they play games. But it keeps them from taking the buses apart.