Using Technology to Augment Good Teaching: A Review of Screen Schooled

by Hee Jin Bang, Ph.D., Director of Research & Strategic Learning

We read with great interest the recently published book, Screen Schooled: Two Veteran Teachers Expose How Technology Overuse Is Making Our Kids Dumber. It affirms Classroom, Inc.’s (CI) belief that technology must be used thoughtfully and in moderation in teaching and learning, and that well-prepared educators who design lessons to address the needs of their students cannot be replaced by technology. At CI, a nonprofit organization, we create free digital learning game programs that help struggling readers succeed by inviting them to take on the role of the boss in a professional workplace. As stated in the book, we believe that “whenever possible, lessons must focus on the skills students need to survive in our world” (p. 218); therefore, in Read to Lead (RTL), our suite of digital learning programs, students develop 21st century literacy skills, including close reading, evidence-based writing and the ability to apply these skills to make informed decisions and solve authentic workplace problems.

For example, in one of our games, Community in Crisis, students take on the role of the Director of Common Ground Community Center. As the director, they must help a mother find her missing son the day after a hurricane devastates the community. The director must collect and analyze information, consider multiple points of view, and apply critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. Using all the information collected, the director must guide the community center staff and a group of volunteers in determining where to look for the little boy. Students collaborate with their team members in and out of the game experience, engaging in discussions and applications of these virtual experiences to real world problems.

In addition, we are cognizant of the fact that “[t]eens are spending more time on screens than …on any other activity in their lives” (pp. 24-25). Therefore, we have divided our games into twelve to fifteen 30-minute episodes, each of which immerses students in a work day and engages them in practicing close reading of informational texts (e.g., newspaper articles, emails, workplace memos), gathering evidence to support claims, and making important decisions that affect the lives of others in the workplace. The digital learning game, however, comprises only 20% of the CI program. An equally, if not more important component of our program is the wrap around curriculum and educator resources that accompany the game.

We also recognize that educators determine the quality of the learning experiences that their students experience (p. 211), so we provide our educators with a variety of resources such as pre-game mini lessons and key vocabulary to build essential background knowledge, checklists/guides to support students during gameplay, and post-game discussion questions designed to aid student reflection, analysis, and application of skills they learned in the game. Moreover, our dedicated team of instructional coaches work closely with the educators to help them use the formative data and appropriate lessons to support a diverse range of learners. Our educator resources and the continuous professional support that we provide to educators using our programs highlight our belief that educators are critical partners in our mission to have all children develop the 21st century literacy skills they need to succeed in school and in life.

In sum, the three guiding principles for optimal teaching and learning that are offered in the final chapter of the book (Simple, Skills, Social) resonate with the values on which our programs are based. First, our program simplifies instruction by providing educators with real-time data that indicate individual students’ performance on various in-game exercises. Our programs not only adapt the difficulty level of the exercises to individual students’ performance, but it also equips educators with data that inform instructional decisions, such as whether additional support or enrichment activities should be offered to various learners. Second, our program is available free of charge, making it accessible to all educators, and the learning games focus on developing skills that students need to become functioning citizens: problem solving, decision making, critical thinking, leadership and collaboration, and self-direction and initiative. Third, our program encourages students to engage in face-to-face social interactions through the pre- and post-game lessons, discussions, and projects which offer them opportunities to extend their learning and work collaboratively on a community action project.

By providing free, skills-focused programs that facilitate instruction and foster social interaction in the classroom, we are confident that our Read To Lead programs promote mindful use of technology and serve to reduce the inequalities in education. Over the past 25 years, we have served over 775,000 students and 15,500 educators, and with the release of our new educator hub, where learning games, data, curriculum, and support come together in one user-friendly interface, we are poised to expand our reach and exponentially increase the number of lives we touch.

Clement, J. & Miles, M. (2017). Screen Schooled: Two Veteran Teachers Expose How
Technology Overuse is Making Our Kids Dumber.
Chicago, IL.: Chicago Review Press Incorporated.

Questions and comments are welcome. Please send them to hjbang@classroominc.org.