Unplugged: Old-fashioned paper, pens, books are instructors preferred toolsWhen students enter the language arts classroom at Tower View Alternative Learning Center, the first thing they do is turn off their cellphones. And that doesn’t simply mean putting them on vibrate; they actually have to switch them off.
By: Sarah Gorvin, The Republican Eagle
When students enter the language arts classroom at Tower View Alternative Learning Center, the first thing they do is turn off their cellphones. And that doesn’t simply mean putting them on vibrate; they actually have to switch them off.
The reason, teacher Jamie Lorentzen said, is simple.
“They are the sexiest, most seductive distraction,” he said.
And the entire goal of Lorentzen’s classroom is to provide a space free from distractions — a place where students can read, write, think, reflect and daydream.
“I see this as a space where kids can escape the noise and speed of the digital world,” Lorentzen said. “The technology is not the demon. It’s how we use or abuse it.”
Lorentzen said he’s seen students become increasingly more distracted over the years. It’s taking a toll on students’ attention spans and their desire to read, he said.
“It is common everywhere that kids aren’t reading,” Lorentzen said. “(Reading and writing) are solitary acts in a world that has become socially oriented.”
While it may seem that teenagers wouldn’t want to hit the “off” button on their cell phones, many of Lorentzen’s students say they appreciate his “no cell phones” policy.
“I’m easily distracted,” student Audrea George said, adding that it’s hard for her to stay focused on work if her neighbor is texting.
In fact, not having cell phones go off in the language arts room is a welcome reprieve.
“In other classes, you hear the dinger go off, you hear the vibrator go off,” student Tyler La Porte said.
“It’s a big distraction,” student Jef Hildreth added.
But the “no cell phone” policy isn’t the only thing that’s different about the way Lorentzen conducts his language arts courses. Students are also required to handwrite their assignments — no computers allowed.
“There is an intimate relationship between thought and words and handwriting,” Lorentzen said, adding that handwriting is slower than keyboards.
In fact, much about Lorentzen’s classroom is slower, including the pace.
“If you’re going to teach a kid how to read, you have to give them time to read,” Lorentzen said.
With Tower View’s no homework policy, that means the time for reading must be in the classroom. In Lorentzen’s room, students get every class period for reading or writing.
Lorentzen helps each student pick out a book that is at their level. Because Tower View students have varied reading levels, Lorentzen put together a library with books ranging from a fourth-grade reading level all the way up to college-level books.
“One of my biggest jobs is to find them a book they will want to read,” Lorentzen said. “Want is the key word.”
That is key for the students as well.
“If it’s nothing that interests you, you’re not going to want to write about it,” student Chase Meyer said.
Every 25 pages, students are required to write about what they’ve been reading. Lorentzen said they’re free to do anything from simply summarizing what they’ve read to more in-depth reflection.
“I’m providing a time to think,” Lorentzen said.
And if a student just can’t keep their eyes open, Lorentzen said he doesn’t have a problem with them taking a nap every now and then. In fact, he said time spent sleeping is more constructive to time spent texting.
“At least students are taking care of their sleep-deprived lives …. To me, that’s a more justifiable distraction than a cell phone,” he said.
Lorentzen’s strategy, the students say, is working.
“I’m pretty sure we’ve all improved,” Hildreth said.
“I know I’ve improved in reading and I know I like reading now,” La Porte said.