My colleagues and I are noticing an ever-growing and disturbing trend with our middle school students. We call it DFS: Dead Fish Syndrome. If you’ve taught school in the last 10 years, you have experienced this even if you didn’t know what to call it. This is the tendency for students to stare blankly at your face, mouth open, when presented with a question. They stare blankly ahead instead of working to find the answer or *gasp* thinking before blurting out a response just to fill the silence. It’s like they’re waiting for the answer to scroll across my face. Even when they have the notes, text, figures within reach. Teachers are trained (in worthwhile training programs) to pay attention to “wait time”. This basically means that teachers should WAIT after posing a question in order to give students time to process and respond. But I don’t think anyone told the students that the silence is actually for their benefit. Silence that does not have to be filled immediately and can be used to compose a response.
In an age of digital information where facts, statistics, and diagnoses are literally at our fingertips on SmartPhones, tablets, and laptops, today’s rising generation is a product of the Instant Gratification Generation. Having to wait more than 20 seconds for a web page to load is agonizing. Not answering a text immediately makes them feel anxious. The thought of leaving the house without their cell phone makes them shudder. And this dependence on immediate, global connection to everyone and all types of information is creeping into the classroom. Not just the high school classroom either-I’m seeing this affliction in my 7th graders. Don’t misunderstand me – I think technology and its use in the classroom is essential if students are to be successful outside the classroom. But DEPENDENCE on technology and an inability to function without technology is a step backward. It’s about using the technology and its information to inform decisions, not MAKE decisions.
Students can’t seem to stomach the idea that if they don’t know something immediately, they might have to work to get to the answer. Their idea of “finding the answer” equates to Asking and Receiving. They ask Google; Google provides the answer. When presented with text of any kind that they have to peruse, they are immediately defeated because there’s not a hot-link or navigation bar with their answer in bold. They say things like, “This is too much!” when faced with several pages of text they must pare down to salient facts. I asked my students to contemplate the character traits belonging to our read aloud’s main character and after blurting random emotions for 10 seconds, one student finally moaned, “Just tell us the answer!” They are losing the ability to discern, rationalize…to THINK. In reality, they’re not losing the ability because they’ve never had it. They don’t know how to do basic things that are hallmarks of a thinking populace: read continuous text for extended periods of time, take effective notes from prosaic text, problem solve in social or non-math situations…THINK before speaking or writing.
So how do we combat this loss of…student wait time? How can we encourage them to slow down and THINK instead of slowing down to “look it up”? How do we move from this spoon-feeding of information into legitimate inquiry borne from a true desire for information? We’re working on some ideas in our neck of the woods but what are you doing in yours?